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Weeding – a.k.a. Recycling, Withdrawing, De-selecting

March 18, 2010

One of the challenges of being a small library is that we cannot collect or keep everything.  We don’t have the space to keep things “for historical purposes.”  We would like to keep acquiring materials, and this means that we have to find space somewhere.  This means weeding materials from our collection (aka, recycling books and journals).

Outside factors can make these space pressures more acute – in the summer, our library will be kicked out of one of our on-campus storage locations (the building will eventually be demolished).  We will be simply moving some of the materials to another location, but other materials will be withdrawn from the collection to make room.

I have been working on several projects to make this possible.

First, I have been looking at our print indexes to see what can be withdrawn.  Sometimes this is an easy decision: We can withdraw the print versions of Chemical Abstracts and the Bibliography of North American Geology because we have subscriptions to their electronic versions, and those subscriptions won’t be going away any time soon.  I know that some librarians will say “but those print indexes are valuable learning and research tools – it’s easier to use the electronic version when you know how to use the print.”  To be honest, I’m not sure that I agree with this statement, especially since the electronic tools offer so many more options for finding information.  In any case, we simply can’t afford to hang on to them.

The next items to go are low use print journal volumes that we have stable electronic access to.  This is a bit more complicated, because what does “stable” access mean?  Publishers who have made certain journal volumes open access now could always take away that access in the future.  What happens when we can no longer subscribe to online access for a journal?  These decisions were made on a individual basis.

At the same time I am looking at our collection of USGS documents with our government documents librarian.  Our collection is a bit odd.  Much of it was never entered into our OPAC, so we don’t have a complete sense of what we have.  Much of it is now available online, but access is a bit dodgy for students used to clicking on the open url resolver button in GeoRef (which doesn’t work as we’d like for these documents).  I’ll be meeting with our geology faculty in the next couple of weeks to develop a plan for these documents – I suspect we will withdraw items that are available online.

Recycling books is never pretty. Image courtesy of Flickr user Mark Blevis

And finally we have a large collection of books in the storage location that is being closed.  These books were moved out of our main library 5 years ago, based on their previous usage.  At the time, these books hadn’t been used (checked out or taken off the shelf) in 10 years.  Students could still check them out by requesting them from storage.  If they were requested they were put back in our main library.  So right now, the books in storage haven’t been used in 15 years.  Most of them will be withdrawn.  I plan to have a quick look through them, however, since they were moved before I arrived here.

Of course, one of the trickiest parts of this is communicating this with the faculty.  The most visible part of all this is the big recycling dumpster into which all of these volumes are thrown.  It isn’t pretty.  And you don’t want that dumpster to be the first clue to faculty about what is going on.  So I have been trying to communicate with faculty about what we are doing.  Sometimes I am asking for advice, sometimes I am simply informing them of our decisions.  And I haven’t always done this in the best way possible.  For example, I didn’t give the faculty a lot of notice about the Spring Break withdrawal of indexes.  At this point the only thing I can do is make a plan to communicate with faculty about the next phases.

So I will send emails and request face-to-face meetings with our department representatives over the next couple of months in an effort to be open with the faculty about our decisions.  Hopefully they will still see me as an advocate for science resources in the library.

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