Some Common Weeding Problems

and Possible Solutions, Page 1

As was already stated, weeding can be one of the more difficult collection development processes.  In the final analysis whether or not a book should be weeded is always a judgment call.  Yet the experience of most librarians is that attractive, smaller new collections will generally circulate better than larger, dilapidated and old collections.  Thus, libraries and their governing authorities sometimes are pulled between the desire to keep materials, "just in case someone needs them," and the desire to have an attractive and useful collection.  This dichotomy leads to some of the problems that people have when weeding.

Governing authority objection to weeding.  Sometimes objections to weeding come from the library board or school board that govern a library.  When this occurs, it is important to find out exactly what the objection is.  In some cases, it may come from an "exulted view of the book," which assumes that books never lose their value.  For school boards, the objection may come because of standards that emphasize the number of volumes as a criteria for the school library, rather than the quality of the collection. 

One way to deal with the "exulted view of the book" problem is to demonstrate the kind of books that will be weeded.  Find some of the worst examples of older books that would be weeded--perhaps books that have blatantly false information or even dangerously outdated information, and show these to the governing board.  You may also want to show them what a shelf of newer books would look like compared to your current collection, so that they could see the difference in the perception that weeding would create.

Dealing with standards can be somewhat more difficult, although the standards themselves may help.  Get a copy of the standards that apply to your school.  The Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges Commission on Schools Standards for Schools do use the numerical standards for collections.  However, they also require that there be an annual renewal rate of 5% a year, which means that most of the collection should theoretically be less than 20 years old and that half the collection should be less than 10 years old.  If you have an automated system, you may be able to provide statistics that show that the library's collection is considerably older than that.  

Also the standards state that the school media program provides "a collection that reflects students' individual reading levels and interests."  Materials that are clearly out-of-date do not meet this standard.  Again, a demonstration of the materials that would be weeded may help the school board to understand the problem and possibly to increase the school library's budget to meet the numerical standard.

Staff objections to weeding.  Another problem that sometimes occurs is that part of the staff does not understand the weeding process and fears that the library "won't have the materials" that users want or need.  This problem should be handled with an educational process that clearly explains why weeding is necessary.  As much as possible, staff members should also be involved in the design of the process.  For example, the staff may be asked what section should be weeded first, so that they can see the effect of weeding on a section that is least likely to cause the problems they fear.

Part of the educational process for staff should be to explain the alternatives for clients who have asked for materials that have been weeded.  One option, for example, is interlibrary loan.  Perhaps the following story will illustrate the point.  One librarian overheard a circulation staff member tell a client, that the library's only book on boilers had been weeded, so the library could not help him with a problem that he had.  The librarian stepped in and asked the client if the boiler he was working with had been made before the 1940's.  The client said that the boiler was less than 20 years old.  The librarian then told the client that the book that had been weeded had a 1935 copyright date, and the client said such a book would not have been useful for him anyway.  So the librarian ordered a more up-to-date book on boilers on interlibrary loan, and in fact the book was on the specific kind of boiler that the client was working with.

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