After completing this session, you'll be able to:
- discuss the purpose of deselection.
- discuss barriers to weeding.
- discuss criteria and procedures for deselection.
- apply models for weeding.
- discuss real-world issues in weeding.
Begin by viewing the class presentation in Vimeo. Then, read each of the sections of this page for more detail.
Explore each of the following topics on this page:
- Weeding and Deselection
- The Purpose of Weeding
- Barriers to Weeding
- The Deselection Process
- Deselection Models
- Roles in Weeding
- Discard Decisions
- The Real World
Deselection is commonly referred to as weeding the collection.
The collection must be examined periodically to determine what materials need to be repaired, replaced, or removed. Whether you're examining the copyright dates on your book collection or editing broken links at your library website, maintenance is an essential aspect of collection development.
There are many definitions of weeding. If you look at your garden, you weed to remove something unwanted for which you are not responsible. In the library, you weed to undo something that was purposefully done. Weeding could be considered "re-selection" because you are considering whether you would select the book the second time around. It is therefore a combination of selection and evaluation. You are evaluating the piece based on subject definition, depth, format, etc., taking into consideration past decisions and future considerations.
ODLIS defines deselection as
"in serials, the process of identifying subscriptions for cancellation, usually in response to subscription price increases and budgetary constraints. In book and nonprint collections, the process of identifying titles for weeding, usually on the basis of currency, usage, and condition."
You need to have a weeding policy written into your collection development plan. Here are a few examples to explore:
- Academic Library
- Public Library
- Meredith Public Library (Meredith, NH)
- School Library
- State Library
Deselection policies often contain details on how to weed particular aspects of the collection.
For example, the book on the right titled Space Flight: The Coming Exploration of the Universe by Lester Del Rey (1959) might be found in the science section of the library. The information in this book is over half a century old.
Purging is officially withdrawing an item from the collection. You'll want to destroy or deface purged materials to avoid "haunting materials." These are items that mysteriously reappear in your check-in bin years after they were discarded.
A policy is an important part of the weeding process. If you don't have a policy statement, how are you going to respond to questions?
- What happened to "The Wizard of Oz"?
- What happened to "Future of the railroad"?
- What happened to "Sally the nurse, Fred the Fireman"?
Consider the physical condition, qualitative worth and quantitative worth of the item.
First, check the physical condition. Should it be repaired, replaced, or tossed?
Second, think about the qualitative worth of the material. Do you have anything else on the topic. Is the information negative, harmful, or subjective?
Third, examine the quantitative worth. Do you need multiple copies for classes or could you toss the copy in the worst shape?
Go to the Collection Development & Weeding by Dewey Class page. Notice how they've broken down weeding activities by topics.
Go to Collier Library Weeding. Notice how they broke their collection down by LC numbers.
Go to Wesleyan University's weeding blog. Notice their approach.
How would you describe the needs in each area?
Moroni, Alene E. (September 15, 2012). Weeding in a digital age; shelf clutter can be a problem for ebooks as well. Library Journal, 137(15), 26.
So why should you weed. For one reason, you may need the space. Or the funding body may need the space. This was case with the Medical Library on campus when the Medical School needed more classroom/lab space so the library gave up entire areas that meant that they had to weed. It is difficult to get funding for added space, so what do you do when you are running out? Weed!
Wedding actually saves time because patrons don't have to go through all the bad books in the collection to find the plum that they are seeking. It could save you money if the deselection is in the area of electronic resources or subscriptions that are no longer relevant to the needs of your patrons.
It should make your collection more up-to-date and reliable. In one study conducted by Marilyn Irwin, a parent of a child with a disability said she didn't trust the library to have anything of interest to her because the collection on Down syndrome still had materials that were 25 plus years old in it, most calling the disability Mongolism and stating that the child should be institutionalized. If you were that mother, would you go back to that library that featured books like the one below:
Finally, continuous collection evaluation helps with ongoing repairs, replacements, updating, and overall assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the collection.
Why doesn't every library weed as they should?
Time and Cost. First and foremost, there is often the time and cost barrier. When the library is understaffed, it's easy to put weeding on the back burner. This may also be an excuse used when the real reason is procrastination. Another reason is that many libraries hold the principle of "anything is better than nothing". In these times of financial difficulty for libraries, few new materials can be purchased; therefore, it is difficult to discard the only book on the planets, for example, even if Pluto is still listed.
Space. Another reason often used is that if the shelves are packed, that's justification for needed additional space. When the IU Bloomington library stacks were so tight there was no reading space left, the crowding was used to justify construction of the Auxiliary Library Facility, or ALF, a climate controlled storage facility. But that was for a major research library that may or may not have had justification for keeping everything that is in the stacks.
Reactions. You may also receive negative reactions to weeding from administrators and users – hearing things like: You just bought that book five years ago! Or I donated that book from my father's outstanding collection of engineering textbooks! Furthermore, some of the outdated groups that provide those all-important rankings use number of volumes over the quality of the collection to determine a library's ranking among its peers.
Personal Reasons. Finally, most librarians are book people, and they have difficulty throwing a book away. All of this means that outdated, ratty, unused items are sitting in library collections when the deselection of those items is as critical, if not more so, than the selection of new ones.
So how do you go about weeding your collection? What criteria do you use to deselect materials?
If you just use age, you'd remove classics from Treasure Island to Winnie to Pooh.
If you just use popularity, you'd weed specialty topics like genetics and keep koala bears but weed the underappreciated worm.
Develop a systematic process for deselection to ensure that you keep what needs to be kept and discard items that need to be weeded.
Policy Review. First, review your mission and collection development policy. As you look at the piece in your hands, does it still fit?
Usage Statistics. Second, look at usage statistics. Based on the collection, this may be more of an indicator than a solid tool; however, materials that are not moving that were selected by the academic library to support a culinary arts program that ceased to exist five years ago can probably find a new home. The classics are tough for most libraries if they don't circulate because most libraries should have Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, for example; however, how deep should you go with everything that Ms. Austen has written? Again, go back to your mission.
Identify Issues. When you have the item in your hand, are you considering it from the basis of intellectual issues (e.g., out of date, not a match with mission) or physical issues (e.g., dirty, torn)? If you would keep the item based on the intellectual issues, but it is worn out, you may need to consider ordering a new copy. Before you reorder, look at your mission, collection development policy, and usage data. It may have been sitting on the shelf for years in its current condition; however, it may be sitting there because no one wants to check out a ratty old book.
Context. Look at the item in context of the rest of your collection and in relation to the community the library serves. Has the focus of the collection changed since the book was purchased? Has the community changed? These factors may also impact your decision about reordering a new edition or a clean copy of a book you are discarding.
Cooperative Agreements. You will also need to consider any cooperative agreements. If you know you can easily and quickly acquire a copy from a cooperating library, do you need to have a copy in your collection? On the flip side, if your cooperative agreement has your library as the "expert" collection on the topic the material covers (e.g., Latin American studies), do you have an obligation to keep it?
A couple of models have been developed to help librarians with the weeding process.
The first is CREW – Continuous, Review, Evaluation, and Weeding. This model provides a continuous loop for collection development. You start with Selection and Acquisition, move to Cataloging and Processing, followed by Circulation and Reference, and then come to CREW. But the loop doesn't stop there, because the CREW process informs Selection and Acquisition, which impacts Cataloging and Processing, and Circulation and Reference informs CREW. Hence, CONTINUOUS.
Go to the CREW website and READ the resources.
Think about your approach to weeding.
The second acronym is MUSTIE – Misleading, Ugly, Superseded by new edition or better books, Trivial, Irrelevant to patron interests and current CDP, and easily obtained Elsewhere through interlibrary loan or online.
Who should have the final say on weeding?
While staff can assist with the weeding process by pulling books that don't circulate or look unappealing, the final decision should be made to discard by the librarian responsible for the collection development in the subject area of the book.
There may be a reason to act beyond tossing the book, and the librarian needs to be the one to make those decisions.
Some school and public libraries have a “re-cover the book” project that involves young people in creating attractive covers to bring new life to an old book.
What do you do with the weeded items?
If the item is pulled because it is worn and you want to keep it in the collection, consider repairing or rebinding. If the item is beyond help, consider replacing the item.
Check out the dog photo on Flickr by Michael May.
Decisions to mend or replace the item should go through the same selection evaluation criteria that you would use if you were purchasing the item for the first time. Yes, mending, too. That takes time and materials, and both of those take money.
There are a couple of things you can do with discarded items other than throwing them in the trash. Many libraries offer the books for sale and acquire extra funding from those sales. Sometimes this is done in-house, often operated by the library's friends group. There are also businesses that will buy library discards for resale. There are pros and cons to both methods.
If the item is still current, you could also consider donating it to another collection where it would have a more appropriate home. If the book is of no use to anyone, you could dismantle it for recycling.
Looking for some fun? Check out the Awful Library Books blog and think about the importance of weeding!
Should I weed now or later? The answer to this question is WEED NOW! There are two laws of nature concerning weeding. First, no matter how strange, one person will find the item useful. Second, no matter how long you've had it, ten minutes after it's gone, someone will want it. Don't worry, it happens.
So, how do I deal with guilt over tossing materials. Weeding involves guilt. You feel bad because you are throwing away books, videos, or software. Think about it. Do you want a student to get inaccurate information? Do you want a little girl to think she can't be a doctor because only boys are represented as doctors in the career book she is reading? Do you want students to handle old, moldy books? At times, there are so many old books that students can't find the good ones. Weeding is essential.
With changing needs and limited space for expansion, you don't have a choice. The following list discusses why weeding is important:
- saves space; makes room for items to breathe on the shelf
- improves access and visibility
- gets rid of poor materials
- makes collection development worthwhile
- the good items can be found
Even if the criteria scream that the item should be discarded, there are some things that you should probably not weed. Items of particular emphasis would be definitive resources for a particular discipline, local history, works by local artists, other items that may have historical value, and possibly works with local settings. The following list provides some examples.
- research value - good photos
- out of print
- local title
- unusual illustrations
- balance a topic
- rare items
- list for core collection
If the library is to be seen as a clean and up-to-date source of information, education, and recreation, weeding must be a part of the collection development policy. So what will you include in your policy?
There are many excuses for not weeding. You may say you don't have time. In the long run weeding saves time by helping you see what you've got. you won't keep wasting time with old materials. You may say you're scared of making a mistake. Deselection criteria will help you make good decisions. You may fear throwing things out. Purging just takes practice. Repeat to yourself, quantity does not insure quality.
There are many types of weeders. What kind are you?
Weekly Weeder. This person has a schedule for weeding. For example, every Friday afternoon might be devoted to weeding. Or, Tuesday morning after the staff meeting.
Whenever Weeder. This weeder knows that weeding need to be done, but doesn't seem to be able to fit it into the schedule. There's a master plan, but it may take years to get it done. Weeding may take place when there is no other choice. For example, if you're looking for something, you might weed the poor items around it. Or you might weed the video collection when the shelf is full.
Quarterly Weeder. This person has a schedule like the weekly weeder and keeps on the schedule. It will be done, slowly but surely.
Inventory Weeder. Weed while doing inventory. This makes inventory take longer, but both are accomplished at once.
Major Project Weeder. The person does weeding as part of a larger project. For example, they may dive into the geography section as part of a project focusing on social studies standards.
Remind yourself: like a healthy garden, a library must be weeded.
Looking for more ideas? Sustainable Collection Service helps libraries with deselection. They maintain a great list of articles and resources related to weeding.
Matlak, Jeffrey (2010). Weeding older social sciences journals. Behavioral & Social Sciences Librarian, 29(3), 169-183. Although this article have a very specific focus, it provides a nice overview of the issues related to weeding.
Soma, Amy K. & Sjoberg, Lisa M. (2010). More than just low-hanging fruit: a collaborative approach to weeding in academic libraries. Collection Management, 26(1), 17-28. Subject matter expertise is essential when weeding a collection. Explore ways collaboration can be used for successful deselection activities.
Banks, J. (2002). Weeding book collections in the age of the Internet. Collection Building, 21(3), 113-119.
Baumbach, Donna J. and Miller, Linda L. (2006). Less is More: A Practical Guide to Weeding School Library Collections. American Library Association.
Francis, Mary (2012). Weeding the reference collection: a case study of collection management. The Reference Librarian, 53(2), 219-234.
Jones, C. (2007). Maintaining a healthy collection: The need to weed. Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services, 20, 170-2.
Larson, Jeanette (2008). CREW: A Weeding Manual for Modern Libraries.
Matlak, Jeffrey (2010). Weeding older social sciences journals. Behavioral & Social Sciences Librarian, 29(3), 169-183.
Moroni, Alene E. (September 15, 2012). Weeding in a digital age; shelf clutter can be a problem for ebooks as well. Library Journal, 137(15), 26.
Soma, Amy K. & Sjoberg, Lisa M. (2010). More than just low-hanging fruit: a collaborative approach to weeding in academic libraries. Collection Management, 26(1), 17-28.
Sustainable Collection Service. Helps libraries with deselection.
Portions of this page were adapted from Collection Development & Management by Irwin and Albee (2012).