Why I’m Not “Weeding” Right Now

I am pretty sure I’m not the only person who struggles with removing books from the collection.  Not the easy calls. Not the books that meet the MUSTY (Misleading, Ugly, Superseded, Trivial or not right for Your collection) guidelines.  We can all laugh at the science text that says “Someday, computers will fit on a desktop” or the copy of Twilight with the cover half off and the text block falling out.  When I came here 10 years ago, this library had sections in need of heavy culling, and I was equal to the task. But I have worked here for a while now.  Many of these books were purchased under my watch.  Maybe that’s why the word “weeding” sticks in my craw. Weeds are interlopers. Weeds are things that pop up where they are not wanted.  These books I am contemplating removing don’t feel like “weeds” to me.  I can look at many of them and tell you exactly why it was purchased, and which readers loved it…six years ago.  I can remember when we couldn’t keep that one on the shelf….in 2010.  When a teacher (now retired) used this video every semester, like clockwork.

The CREW standards (Continuous Review Evaluation Weeding) from the Texas Library and Archives Commission, updated by Jeanette Larson in 2012, offer ongoing ideas for a continuous process of …what shall I call it?  “Deaccessioning” is a bit unwieldy, but accurate.  Downsizing? Right Sizing? Grooming? (Thanks to my colleague, Cindy, for that one!) Removing books from the collection?  Lots of phrases sit more easily on my heart.

Part two of the process is what to do with what is removed.  Since the collection is fairly current, much of what is removed is in good condition (just outdated or low in popularity) so we are making categories.  I will take a batch to give away at the 7th /8th grade study hall, where the pop-up library sets up once a week.  We will invite interested 5th and 6th graders to take a book home.  Upper School students will have their chance.  We will invite teachers to come by — in the past we have invited the whole school at once, but I think we will sort by discipline, and invite smaller groups, with the hope they can more easily see books for their classroom collections.  Less “look at the weeds on our compost heap” and more “look at these interesting things that have fallen out of fashion.”  We will undoubtedly end up with a “free to a good home table” and then a trip to the recycle bin, but I am not coming from a place of yanking something out but from a place of cultivating and grooming a collection.

What sounds right to you, when removing books?  Do you have tips and tricks to share?

Spring is Sprung!

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Here in Southern California it’s been garden time for awhile now. I’m already into my second wave of bulbs, and the forget-me-nots have shown that they have not yet forgotten me, spreading throughout my garden with their cheerful blue flowers. We’ve had AISL blog posts on weeding lately, and on tending our collections, and I find myself continuing the “Library as Garden” metaphor as I sit out in my back yard pondering possibilities.

Spring is our biggest research season at Harvard-Westlake Upper School. A solid 66% of our student body is actively working on serious research projects, and an additional 15% or so has research going on in some fashion. We love it– it really is exciting, and the interaction with students looking for one more primary source or additional material on Degenerate Art (oooh, fun!) is invigorating. But we can only manage this level of activity if we’ve done our own ‘homework’, if we’ve built the collection to support all these projects. Every year we have a number of repeat projects, so we are not surprised when all the Pope Pius XII books go out, or Stalin, or the aforementioned Degenerate Art in Germany titles are in high demand. If we’ve done our Collection Management well, we’re set.

Then there are the cycles. Topics that go out of fashion for one reason or other. For years we had very little research done on the Revolutionary War era. After a quiet spell, out of the blue (or sometimes, due to changes in curriculum or some big anniversary of an event) suddenly Revolutionary America is all the rage again.  Often all it takes is one really good Ken Burns Documentary Series and suddenly there is new interest in … Jazz! or Baseball!

Because most of the research done in our library is through the History department, we know there will always be interest in primary sources and good solid standard scholarship.  If something is on the list of suggested topics for sophomores, we know there will likely be interest. Where it gets trickier is the open ended topics chosen by juniors. Our job as librarians is to develop our collection, our garden as it were, to make sure it includes items that will be needed by our students. As with any garden, we can’t build just for this one year.

Here’s where the long view comes into play. Occasionally there’s a new wave in education, or (as they say in Country Music) The Next Big Thing. If the rising tide of momentum gets too powerful without having a focus on proper priorities, then you might end up with a long term solution to a short term problem. The issue might be space, for example. Some bright-eyed administrator might come sweeping in saying that since no one uses books anymore, you need to weed 50% of your collection and they’ll be using that space for… something important. So– major weeding project, loss of books and shelf space, reconfiguration. You might get rid of all those American Revolution books. Just wait 5 years, and you can be sure they’ll be back in demand. Only then you’ll need to fork out good money to build your collection again. Sure, you can weed the chaff (if you have any left after the previous weeding projects) but there are a lot of treasures by experts in the field that are a lot harder to replace than they were to get rid of.

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There was an article in American Libraries (January/February 2015) expanding on the Library as Garden motif in a very creative way. “Not Your Garden-Variety Library,” by Greg Landgraf, tells the story of the Fairfield Woods branch of the Fairfield (Conn.) Public Library. They have developed a seed catalog where patrons can ‘check out’ seeds, complete with instructions for growing them, and can even ‘return’ seeds harvested from their crops. Apparently there are hundreds of seed libraries operating in the United States. Who knew?!? The Common Soil Seed Library in Nebraska organizes its seeds by how difficult they are to save, and their whole collection is housed in an old card catalog cabinet. How cool is that?

Volunteers sort through donations to the Common Soil Seed Library and repackage the seeds. The seeds are filed by Latin name, with the common English game following, in an old card catalog.

Volunteers sort through donations to the Common Soil Seed Library and repackage the seeds. The seeds are filed by Latin name, with the common English game following, in an old card catalog.

Whether you’re planting, weeding, or still dreaming of golden garden hours in the warm spring sun (while you’re all cozy by your fire), gardens everywhere are an inspiration. Springtime in our library is inspiring as well, with all that youthful energy directed towards the treasure hunt that is a good research project. Spring is a time of renewal, fresh starts, new energy, and the return of the sun’s warmth.

Happy Spring, everyone!

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Red light, green light

I’m actually so swamped it was hard for me to find time to compose this blog post, and my calendar reminds me I’m late with it, too. I’m sure everyone knows the words to that song, but nonetheless it’s true, and I think particularly so for solo librarians to whom all responsibilities fall. (And no nearby professional shoulder to cry on, either.)

Not only is it research project season across all grade levels, I’m also working towards some major changes in the library, both physical and philosophical. By August 2015, we expect to have finished construction on a brand-new upper school building that comprises a ground-floor academic commons with café, offices, outdoor pavilion and a writing center; and a second story with a STEM lab and technologically innovative spaces such as a virtual conferencing room. At the same time, we are also retrofitting several of the older buildings to accommodate growing middle school needs, such as a dedicated middle school library space and science area.

For me this means engaging in complex and thought-provoking conversations about print versus digital for middle school users, what to do with weeded assets, where to house what parts of the collection, if I anticipate future growth or reduction in particular ranges, and so forth. As well, I am also responsible for some very mundane stuff, such as literally packing weeded books into boxes and driving them to a dropoff point, or putting colored stickers on books to designate their ultimate destination. Every day is a peculiar combination of engaging with students and faculty in classrooms as I give research lessons; having deep philosophical debates with my office mate about the looming digital horizon; and ripping stickers off spines with my fingernails. I’m never bored (but I am constantly confused about how to dress every morning. Am I speaking in front of a roomful of peers and professional superiors, or am I doing the library equivalent of gardening today? Or both?) Did I mention I’m also helping to plan and host the spring AISL conference? Y’all should come, if only to check on me and see how I’m doing.

Just like we tell the students, you gotta break the task into manageable pieces and check them off one at a time or else it’s overwhelming and that’s why your paper is late your library doesn’t have any books in it because they’re still in boxes.

I have a clear deadline to meet and it’s all up to me, so I try to spare time each day for these things:

•Tagging books for removal, retention, allocation to the middle school, and “maybe I’ll get rid of this if there’s a digital version but I have to check.” I have several packets of transparent round stickers in red, green, yellow and blue. Red books go, green books stay, blue books go to the future middle school space and yellow ones are in that liminal zone above, so I attack one shelf at a time and sticker as needed. Unscientific, but I’ve been here six years and I know my books and my users. I see the little red and green dots in my sleep now, hence this post’s title.

•Meeting with the physical plant manager to discuss space; with the library interior designer to discuss book storage, workflow and furniture choices; with my office mate to delineate who and what will go where after the new space is built. This seems to change daily, so I also devote a few minutes each day to meditating on the illusory nature of permanence.

•Packing and delivering weeded books. I know that re-homing discards is a challenge for many of you. I am fortunate in that just this past August, a new independent school opened nearby and they are delighted to receive current books that I have weeded – all I have to do is show up and open my trunk and away they go. Other books will go to Thrift Books or to a recycler to have their paper pulp reclaimed.

•Exploring digital equivalents to things I might either weed or retain depending on what I discover. I am tasked with keeping physical growth under control, so I devote such time as I can to looking for alternatives and building a case to present to those who make budget decisions.

It’s a heady mix, and among all those things I still have a sixth grade advisory to work with, research lessons to schedule and give, books to shelve, periodicals to manage and all the other daily business to which I am sure you can all relate. I know many of you are on a similar cusp, in that you may also be charged with planning for a new space or conversion to an academic commons rather than a traditional reading-room library. If what I have posted here is of use to you, then please avail yourself of it, and best of luck with your journey! Please comment and share as your own process moves forward.