on pruning (and weeding) the print collection…

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My resolution for 2016 is to be a better gardener and caretaker of my print collection. Over the years I’ve seen weeding of print collections written about and discussed, but I have come to realize that in addition to some good weeding, my print collection needs some skilled pruning…

We are a 1:1 iPad school moving rather ambitiously toward embracing our increasingly digital future. Given the size of our student population and the wide range of grades that our library services, we have a very tiny print collection–I’m fine with this. Because of the kind of school that we are and the kind of school we aspire to be, a previous library director and various administrators made the decision a while ago to move fairly aggressively into use of databases and ebooks, but continuing to maintain and support a more modestly-sized print collection.

The issue…

While our students are remarkably comfortable researching with digital sources, I have come to realize the need to improve their ability to locate, access, and use print content.

The Garden…

I spent my first year and a half in my new position coming to grips with our library’s online presence, database access, and eBook collection. While all of that continues to be  a work in progress, I have finally gotten around to doing more of a deep dive into addressing care of our print collection.

A reconfiguration of the library’s physical space in 2013-2014, the year before I started here, precipitated a reduction of the print collection from about 23,000 volumes to the approximately 17,000 volumes that we currently house. When your print collection is as small as that, the reality is that there’s no way to have a print collection deep enough everywhere to be able to be all things to all subjects (remembering that we’ve been building more heavily in the digital realm) so I’ve chosen to build deeply in print biographies and in the 900s.

Given that our social studies teachers from middle through high school like working with us and often build projects around historic/significant figures that exemplify broader concepts or serve as jumping off points for student-driven exploration, continuing to collect deeply in print biographies and in the 900s allows us to have areas of the print collection deep enough to allow students to engage in some robust research in print sources.

The Process…

There’s no way to put this delicately so I’m just going to say it. Currently, our biography section is is pretty decent shape. We have a nice selection of figures represented, works appropriate to a variety of age groups, and the cataloging is consistent. Our 900 section, on the other hand, has the potential to be great, but is going to need some pruning and weeding.

Pruning (aka recon)…

Our 900 section can use some good weeding (Whose 900 section doesn’t?), but I don’t feel like I can weed thoughtfully or well until we re-catalog SIGNIFICANT swaths of our 900s in order to resolve cataloging inconsistencies that came about because of changes in versions of Dewey or inconsistencies in the way books were cataloged by different librarians.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not a cataloger and re-con has never been on the list of my 25 favorite librarian tasks, but at some point you’ve just got to bite the bullet and get the job done. The holocaust books need to be near the holocaust books; the internment of Japanese-Americans books need to be near the internment of Japanese-Americans books; and the country books that someone put in the 917s should be with the appropriate other country books living on the shelves where I want them, ultimately, to be…

Weeding…

Only after everything has been reconned and moved to where it will, ultimately, live in the stacks close to the other books on the same topics can we then get out our machetes and weed.

Sigh…

Honestly, if I think about the enormity of the task I get overwhelmed so the only way I make it to Friday is to take tasks one at a time. Recon (prune), re-shelve, then weed.

Yay…

If you’re looking for me I’m probably in the stacks. Please don’t ask me about my garden until a year from now…

 

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10 Responses to on pruning (and weeding) the print collection…

  1. Kimberly Gnerre says:

    Have you considered weeding and assessing for recats at the same time? Why recatalog an entire section only to have it weeded. When we weeded last year (which we will be starting back up again this year) many of us encountered books that need recat or updating. We handled those along the way. Perhaps have two carts working in a section, one for definite deaccessioning the other for re-cataloging. Friendly suggestion… hate to see a fellow librarian do double work.

    • David Wee says:

      Hi Kimberly,
      I hear you and that is exactly the process for weeding and recataloging that we used in my previous library. I’m finding, however, that the inconsistencies in our call numbers are so significant that other than slam dunk weeds like the books on “West Germany” and “Yugoslavia” it’s proven impossible to get a bead on exactly what we have in specific subject areas. As inefficient and as frustrating as it may seem, I’m forcing myself to be disciplined enough to wait until I have subject-similar books together in the right places before I start my weeding. Thanks for the great food for thought!

  2. Shelagh Straughan says:

    Wishing you strength & fortitude, David – and more time 🙂 Kudos to you for starting the daunting project. And I don’t think your collection, at 17,000, is too tiny – we’re at 9,000!

  3. Hi, Dave–I’m weeding right now in my office with a cartload of books from our biography section, when suddenly your post pops up in my inbox! That’s good, because this is a really good excuse to put down my current candidate for weeding, a book on Akhenaton (with several possible spellings), aka Amenhotep, and quit looking at reviews of more recent books that we might need to buy if/when we discard this one, originally written in 1910, revised in 1922, and reprinted in 1970. The book is still available in digital format and on-demand printing. It last circulated in 2005 and is in excellent condition. Ingram’s vendors say it’s a rare book, but Abebooks has a good copy of the hardback for $20. Do I need to know all that before I decide? Well, probably not. But it’s often a judgment call. We do have classes who do research projects on ancient Egypt, and in addition, I hate to let go of a beautiful, classic, cool book on an interesting subject without at least investigating and considering a possible update or replacement. So weeding takes a lot of time, if you care about your collection, and you want to have in-depth materials for your students when a teacher comes up with a new assignment. It’s a tough job, but at our library, we intend to stick with it, as our building isn’t getting any larger and we still want to buy new books. But thanks for bringing the subject up and getting my mind off this cartload of books!

  4. Thanks for the thoughtful piece. I’m trying to “get a handle” on weeding art books. The section is overcrowded, but the are books have quality images-

    • Claire Hazzard says:

      Rhonda, the art section is my (12 years and counting) work in progress too. I find it very daunting – art is not something I know much about, and there are SO MANY books!

    • Kathy McGroarty says:

      Rhonda, Our art section is also crowded. Since I don’t know much about art (except what I personally like!), I ‘ve enlisted the help of the art teachers. Whatever they say I can get rid of, I do and as an added bonus they’ve taken some books to house in their studio classrooms.

  5. Kimberly Gnerre says:

    Our big Art section weed was a two year process. We worked closely with the Art department. We weeded books that were yellowed, aging, hadn’t circulated in 5 years+ and covered by better collections in Artstor, Bridgeman and various online collections at museums around the world (we’re in the process of creating a libguide to curate all those collections and the others they represented.) Other books we hung on to were exhibition books unless they were in really bad condition (a couple we had rebound because they just weren’t replaceable.) From here on out, books that were borderline or questionable will be revisited in a year or two to see if they’ve gotten some circulation. The Art department also went through the books to see if they wanted any for their inter-departmental use. They probably took about half. The rest went to an organization who takes the books and either resells them or donates them. Hope this helps…

  6. Christina says:

    Good luck! I have to say that I’ve never felt happier to have inherited a young library with extra space. There is certainly some yearly pruning, but nothing that is quite so extensive.

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