Some Common Weeding Problems

and Possible Solutions, Page 2

Rare books.  Another fear that librarians have is that they might weed a book that has considerable value because it is rare.  The first thing to remember when considering this problem is that rare books have value because they are rare.  The chances of finding such a book in a small library are therefore remote.  In general, the following criteria must be met before an older book gains value as a rare book.

    1.  The book must have literary or scientific value.  In other words, it must be an important book.  An old but uninteresting book by an unknown author and unknown publisher is not likely to have much value as a rare book.

    2.  The book usually must be a first edition.

    3.  The book must be in good condition.  If the book has your library stamp or impression on it, its value will be considerably decreased.

The Wyoming State Library in its Weeding Manual: A Self-Help Guide for Small and Medium-Sized Libraries suggests the following criteria that might also be useful:

    1.  All books printed before 1700; American books from before 1850.  Western Americana can be later than this date and still be considered old or rare.

    2.  Signed editions or first editions of very limited runs.

    3.  Books containing fine plates, especially those which have been laid in or glued in or that are hand colored.

    4.  Books or materials of local archival interest.

    5.  Books or an exceedingly high purchase price (over $120).

If you have a book that you think meets these criteria, you can check the title in a number of reference sources, including American Book Prices Current, Mandeville's Used Books Price Guide or Bookman's Price Index.  A very useful website is the site for the Antiquarian Booksellers' Association of America.  The site lists member bookstores and also has a search feature that might help you determine whether the book you have is considered valuable.

Eventually, if you feel that you have a rare book, you will need to determine what to do with it.  Most small libraries do not have the expertise or the resources to maintain a rare books collection.  It is therefore best to either sell such books or to give them to a university library that has the capability to maintain the security and atmospheric conditions to preserve such a collection.  Thus, even if you find a rare book in your collection, it will normally be more responsible not to keep it, but to sell it or pass it on to a library that can maintain it properly.

Finding time.  Perhaps the most difficult problem with weeding is finding the time to do it.  Most librarians have more than enough to do without taking on a major project like weeding.  Looking at weeding an entire library can be a daunting task.

Remember, however, that you do not have to weed all of the library at the same time.  By carefully dividing the library into logical sections.  Even if you cannot weed all of the library, the library will be better off with part of the collection weeded.

Remember too that the librarian does not have to perform all of the weeding processes herself.  A well-trained assistant or even a page can carry out many of the weeding procedures.  For example, the assistant can make the first pass at weeding, removing materials and placing them on a book truck for later inspection by senior staff.  The assistant can also search to see if any of the items are available in other libraries in your area.  Based on this information, the senior staff members can decide how each item will be handled.  For items that will be removed from the collection, the assistant can pull catalog records from the catalog.  All of these steps, of course, must be coordinated so that large numbers of books are not off the shelf waiting for final evaluation, but by using your personnel wisely you should be able to get weeding done even as you work on other projects. 

A final category of problem is how to dispose of weeded materials, but we will wait until the next section to cover those issues.

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