ASSOCIATES (vol. 3, no. 1, July 1996) - associates.ucr.edu
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_SOMEDAY MAN WILL WALK ON THE MOON_ by Beverly Barkley Library Associate LSUMC Shrevep, Louisiana.email@example.com For those who love books and knowledge, one of the most difficult things to do is weed a collection. Whether in a large academic library or a small home library, it is never easy just to throw away a book, something that we have been taught to cherish and protect, even though it is outdated, no longer relevant or even inaccurate or harmful. The practice of using the number of volumes, rather than quality of information, to measure the value of a collection does nothing to help the situation. When numbers rule, most administrators find it almost impossible to part with even the most outdated material, for fear of the appearance of not properly maintaining the growth of the library and its image in the community. Experience sometimes proves otherwise. While shelving books in a small public library, I stopped to browse through the books on epilepsy. One of the first books I picked up used the term 'feeble minded' to apply to those who had 'fits'. There it was in black and white in the public library just waiting for the next family who was trying to learn to deal with this illness. Because a member of my family had seizures, I recognized some of the other books on the shelf as being on the reading list published by the National Epilepsy Foundation. There were good, accurate books on the shelf, but what if the only one that was available when someone was trying to understand the illness of a family member or friend was this out-dated book that reinforces negative stereotypes rather than providing accurate information and frightens rather than brings understanding. Would that book be better than none at all? Hardly. If the patron who knows something about this subject picks up this book and determines that it is indeed out-dated, he may decide that the whole collection is questionable. Few patrons check publication dates and most just assume that if it is in the library, it must be accurate. Library leadership needs to see that those who use their libraries find the most up-to-date, comprehensive collection possible and that involves getting rid of material that is no longer useful, takes up space and may leave a negative impression with library users. Once it has been determined that there are some materials that must go to maintain a relevant collection, the real fun begins. Where to start? How to be good stewards of tax money and discard books at the same time? What makes a book a "keeper"? What sections should be done first? The following guidelines address these questions. 1. Do those sections dealing with subjects that go out-of-date quickly, like science and technology, first. These are also among the most in demand in public libraries. 2. Run circulation statistics if circulation is automated. Though the number of times a book has been circulated is one of the factors to be considered, numbers alone do not take into consideration those books that should be in the collection but may not have the circulation of some that are more attractive but less informative or accurate. Obviously, books by Tolstoy may not be checked out as many times as those by Tom Clancy or Danielle Steele, but that does not mean they do not belong in the collection. 3. Consider publication dates. As with circulation statistics, however, there can be no definite cutoff dates. The available information on some subjects doesn't change very much with time, some sources are considered classics on a subject and others give a historical perspective or provide an alternate view. Some just have the best pictures or a unique format. 4. Call in local experts in certain areas to evaluate the total collection in their fields and make suggestions for discards and purchases if there is no one on the staff with that expertise. One middle school science teacher spent one whole summer going through the science section of his school library after the school librarian decided that books that still stated, "One day man will walk on the moon" were no longer relevant. 5. Reading lists can be requested from organizations like the National Epilepsy Foundation, the American Cancer Society and other nationally recognized groups specializing in educating the public. After those lists have been used for making decisions about what to keep and what to replace, they can be put in the Vertical File or otherwise made available for patrons who request information on those topics. 6. Library Journal regularly publishes articles on collection development in specific areas. This can be a good guide for what to keep and what to discard. A good weeding program can become a good collection development tool and the basis of on-going selection and acquisitions. That small public library eventually went though a systematic weeding program at the main library and some of the branches. For a short time some of the shelves were a little bare but new acquisitions soon filled in the gaps making a more accurate, up-to-date and even more comprehensive collection. The library system and staff were small, one acquisitions librarian had done most of the collection development for a number of years and had a good overall view of the entire library system collection and the library leadership believed that their only reason for being was meeting the needs of their patrons. It may not be as easy to weed a very large or special collection or convince the powers that be that it is important to do so, but that does not preclude the need for determining that there are some materials that no longer belong on the shelf.