How NOT to weed a library collection

Over the last week or so there’s been a lot of discussion around the mass weeding project being carried out at the Urbana Free Library, in Illinois. It’s even got its own Twitter hashtag – #bookgate. Apparently the library director prepared a list of all books in the collection which were published prior to 2003, and asked staff to remove them from the shelves. That was the sole criteria for deciding which books would stay on the shelf, and which ones would be weeded. The rationale for the weeding seemed sound – trying to reduce the number of items which needed to be processed as part of an upcoming RFID tagging project. However there has been quite an outcry over this way this process was carried out. I first read about it here, and it has been discussed here, here and here.

During the 10 years that I’ve worked at Macquarie, I’ve never been involved in a major weeding project. About five years ago, we moved some of our duplicate monographs and print journals into an offsite store, in order to try and increase our available shelf space. As far as I know, there wasn’t any weeding undertaken as part of the move.

The other major collection-related activity I was involved in was moving the collection from our old library to the new one. Because we were introducing the ASRS, we had developed a set of principles which set out which items would be stored in the ASRS, and which ones would be on the open shelves. We consulted with the academic staff when we were drafting the principles, and again when we had applied them to the collection before we moved. The academics had the opportunity to ask for items which we had designated for the ASRS to be placed on the open shelves, and vice versa. Most of the science departments didn’t provide much feedback and were happy with what we were planning to do. Some of the humanities staff provided quite a bit of feedback regarding the location of items.

All in all the process went very smoothly, and I think that was partly due to our communication and consultation with the academic staff. In the case of #bookgate, it appears to me that the library director had the best intentions in the world i.e. trying to ensure that the RFID tagging project went ahead as efficiently as possible, but the execution was a major fail. I can see this whole affair being used as a case study as part of collection development/management units in LIS schools.

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About Andrew

I'm a health librarian in Sydney, Australia, who also happens to be a geocacher.

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