"Next to emptying the outdoor bookdrop on cold and snowy days, weeding is the most undesirable job in the library. It is also one of the most important. Collections that go unweeded tend to be cluttered, unattractive, and unreliable informational resources."
Will Manley, The Manley Arts, Booklist, March 1, 1996, p. 1108.
"For the librarian, weeding has ... advantages. It finds the gaps in your collection so that you can make new purchases with confidence and creates space for those materials. Paradoxically, weeding is a good way to increase circulation by drawing attention to materials that had previously been overlooked."
From the Arizona State Library Collection Development Training website
- "It takes too much time."
- "I can't bear to throw away books."
- "I'm worried someone will get upset if I get rid of anything."
- "I don't feel comfortable getting rid of public property."
- "If I toss it today, I'll need it tomorrow."
- "If I weed, I won't have enough books."
- "I'm afraid I'll throw away something valuable."
- "Weeding means admitting to mistakes."
Assembled by the Arizona State Library from the 1976 CREW manual, pp. 19-20; 1995 CREW manual, pp.53-55.
All of these statements can be refuted, and countered with the question "Can you afford not to weed?"
How to begin
1. Plan: Goals, stakeholders, criteria
2. Develop processes: who, what, how, when
3. Assess and modify: What worked? What's not working? What do we change?
At Potsdam, we have completed three small weeding projects and have two ongoing weeding assessments underway. All five had different criteria.
- Curriculum Weeding: A collection overhaul, focusing on poor physical condition, and items more than ten years old. The Collection Development Committee felt that textbooks more than ten years old were a disservice, not a service, to our teacher education students, and were discarded.
- Reference weeding: A targeted space-gaining weed, focused on long runs of outdated sets and selected items. Back runs of indexes and abstracts now online, superseded statistical sets, and single items which no longer fit the collection policy for Reference -- ie, bibliographies, handbooks, etc. Some materials were moved to stacks in lieu of discard.
- Periodicals weeding (ongoing): JSTOR runs We believe that, for SUNY Potsdam's needs, JSTOR is a sufficient archive and access mechanism. Titles are being discarded as space is required in the stacks.
- Microfilm weeding: Duplicated in print or in reliable online access, short runs, obscure titles. We collected much more broadly in microfilm than we now do; we now see the collection as a preservation archive and/or sole access source for unique materials.
- Stacks weeding (ongoing): Condition of item, Age of item, Inclusion of item in relevant core lists, Circulation history of item, Other holdings on the subject, including more recent editions and other titles of equal or higher relevance, Relevance to college curriculum and support of unique SUNY Potsdam programs
Once you have goals, criteria, and stakeholder buy in, you have to figure out how to actually do it
- Who will do the evaluation at the shelf?
- Who will do the catalog and OCLC discarding? Who will do the physical processing?
- Who needs to know regular reporting details about the work?
- Who will be responsible for coordinating and communicating between library units as necessary?
Always stop to look at your work, and consider what's working and not working.
- Watch for burnout Are our librarians burning out on assessing? Are our tech services staff crying because there are just too many musty books in their offices?
- Watch for overload Is tech services drowning in discards? Are our storage shelves overflowing? Are the dumpsters spilling over?
- Watch for outcry, internally and externally Are stakeholders freaking out? Is this too dramatic for your users? Did you underestimate the effect on your staff and community?
- Watch for under-performance of pieces of the plan Were we too cautious? Can we expand, refocus, or re-market the project to increase enthusiasm, effectiveness, and output?
According to Joanne Fazioli, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Business Services, State University of New York,
"Chapter 122 of the Laws of 1992 (new subsection six of Section 178 of State Finance Law) allows campuses to dispose of library books or journals after the department head certifies they are no longer needed. While technically a record of each transfer or disposal, along with certification, is to be filed with OGS, I know of no campus filing with OGS nor do I think OGS is looking for such paperwork. My advice is that the campus maintain any disposal records for an audit trail -- that books/journals may be used as trade-in, donated to another entity (school district), dumped/recycled or sold for such nominal income as may be generated. The campus must collect sales tax and deposit revenue to appropriate account or transmit to General Fund based on source of funds of the original purchase (ie., State approp. - General Fund; IFR - IFR account)."
[Text of email dated November 5, 2003, forwarded to the SUNY Librarians Association email listserv on November 2, 2005 by Carey Hatch, Assistant Provost for Library and Information Services, State University of New York]