The right way to weed: Stanley Sloteâ€™s â€œShelf Time Method.â€
Stanley Slote devoted much of his career to studying library weeding, and methods of doing so. His book Weeding Library Collections (the 4th edition came out in 1997) summarizes these nicely. Sloteâ€™s own research showed that the amount of time since an item was last used is the best indicator of whether it will ever be used again. Iâ€™ll say that another way: The longer it has been since an item was checked out, the more likely it is that it will never be checked out again.
Slote also discovered, in several studies, that after removing books that had not been used for awhile (he gives several ways of judging what that time period should be, depending on the space available on your shelves and other factors) circulation went up! This is the root of the truism that â€˜Weeding will increase circulation.â€™ The full sentence should be: â€œWeeding by the shelf-time method will increase circulation.â€
How to get a list of books that havenâ€™t checked out in awhile. (We are talking circulating collections here.)
With the data in computerized Integrated Library Systems, it is usually easy to run a list of items that have been in the collection at least X years . I suggest starting with five, and have not circulated for the last Y years. I suggest starting with five again.
So, you ask your ILS:
Give me a list of books that have been in the collection at least FIVE years, and which have not circulated for at least FIVE years.
(So a book that was in the collection for seven years, but hasnâ€™t been used after the first 2 will show up on the list. A book that has been in the collection for four years wonâ€™t.)
Get the title, call number, location and status of the items.
Slote says to just send a circulation worker into the stacks, go get the items on this list and withdraw them. Iâ€™m not crazy about that, partially because of local authors and history, and other things that your library just should have.
Instead, send your lowest-paid COMPETENT circulation worker into the stacks to tip down the books on the list. (Like circulation workers in training do. They take a cart of books to shelf, and put them on the shelf tipped down on thefore-edge. The trainer then goes by and sees if the books were shelved correctly.) For books not where the catalog things they are, have the worker write â€˜NOSâ€™ (not on shelf) on the list. Technical Services can then change those to MISSING status, or just withdraw the item, whichever applies best.
In this case, the librarian in charge of the weeding (or that section of the collection) goes by with a cart, looking ONLY at the tipped books. If the book isnâ€™t worth keeping, it goes on the cart. If it should be kept, it is just returned upright. If it REALLY should be kept, the librarian takes it to the circulation desk, checks it out and then checks it in again. That way the book is â€˜safeâ€™ for another five years.
Set aside a section of the shelf for the tipped books that should be repaired/reordered/moved to another part of the collection. But mostly, you just fill those carts. This goes FAST! And even if you miss a few books on condition, etc. you are still improving the collection, and doing it efficiently.
Naturally, academic libraries can use this method to place an item into storage, rather than weeding.
I think the â€˜shelf timeâ€™ method is better than C.R.E.W. because it reflects how your patrons at your library use the collection, and it is faster. Certainly, if you spot a hopelessly out-of-date computer title, or one in filthy condition, weed it as well, but the â€˜shelf timeâ€™ method eliminates the tedious title-by-title weeding process.