Weeding, Part 2

The right way to weed: Stanley Slote’s “Shelf Time Method.”

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. Slote’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. I’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 ‘Weeding will increase circulation.’ The full sentence should be: “Weeding by the shelf-time method will increase circulation.”

How to get a list of books that haven’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 hasn’t been used after the first 2 will show up on the list. A book that has been in the collection for four years won’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. I’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 ‘NOS’ (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 isn’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 ‘safe’ 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 ‘shelf time’ 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 ‘shelf time’ method eliminates the tedious title-by-title weeding process.

Tony Greiner

Weeding, Part 1

‘Weeding will increase circulation.’

Really? Any weeding at all? Of course, you need a method to weed properly. The problem is, too many of us were never taught the right method.

Probably the most common method is C.R.E.W. (Continuous Review Evaluation and Weeding) It was developed by the Texas State Library, and gives guidelines of how long to keep materials in various disciplines. Here is a link to a pdf, last updated in 2008:


There are worse ways to weed, but I’m not entirely happy with it. My gripes with CREW are two:

1. It relies on someone else’s idea of what your collection should be like- not what your library’s readers want.
2. There has never (to my knowledge) been any sort of study to show if weeding by the CREW method makes for a better, more responsive collection. It ‘sounds right’, but we don’t know if it is right.

There is a companion method to C.R.E.W., the acronym ‘MUSTIE’ Misleading, Ugly’ Superseded (new editions have come out); Trivial; Irrelevant; Elsewhere (may easily be obtained elsehwere.)

These are cute, but I’m uneasy about UGLY and ELSEWHERE. I see people reading all sorts of ugly books. I think ugly bothers librarians more than it does readers. I especially dislike weeding an item that continues to get use simply on condition. If the reader doesn’t mind condition, why should the librarian?

And Elsewhere? You gonna pitch your copies of “50 Shades of Grey” because it is readily available? What about LOCKSS? (Lots of copies keeps stuff safe.)

Next time: If CREW ain’t right, what is?

Preserve and Protect

weedWeeding! It’s a swear word for a lot of academic librarians. Our public library counterparts are more amenable to the whole thing. (See Awful Library Books.) Academic librarians, however, take very seriously the charge to preserve the scholarly record. In an online discussion recently with my literature librarian colleagues, many of them said they would NEVER weed a literature book. I think that begins to be an untenable position. Space in academic libraries rarely grows at the rate that the collection grows. Given that situation, you can choose to either to stop growing the collection or begin to dispose of items that are not vital for your local population. The response to that is typically: “well, I thought about getting rid of a book once, and lo and behold, 10 years later I really needed that book.” Most anti-weedenists are willing to push that number years to infinity. What if someone needs it 20 years, 50 years, 300 years from now?  It’s not sustainable, my friend.

Here is what IS sustainable: a coordinated approach to preserving the scholarly record. Librarians need to think and work in a collective way, across multiple collections. Each library focuses its efforts on preserving a section of the scholarly record. The rest of the collection is gravy, as it were. It can be maintained as long as it is serving the local needs. When it is no longer serving that need, it becomes expendable. But not to worry. Some other library considers that material to be part of its preservation responsibility. So, the University of New Mexico, for example, is pledged to preserve materials about New Mexico, the American Southwest, Hispanic and Chicano culture, Latin American studies, and Pueblo culture. Of course, we also preserve anything published by our university press and by authors associated with our university or our state.

We would also keep a core of materials that serves any our of curriculum needs. Undergraduates would have the assurance that they can study any subject that interests them…to an undergraduate level of depth. A research level collection we would let be driven by whatever the current needs are, but we would not feel compelled to keep that material beyond the period of its current need, unless it was in one of our areas of pledged preservation interest.

There are now many tools that make this kind of distributed preservation work possible. JSTOR was intended, from the beginning, to be a way that librarians could have peace of mind about disposing of particular journal volumes that were available in a safe online archive. Most libraries never took JSTOR up on the offer to get rid of those journals that are in the archive. But there are other resources that begin to provide additional layers of preservation. LOCKSS, CLOCKSS, and Portico all offer additional preservation of digital content. Google Books provides digital copies of many public domain books. Many of those digital copies are further preserved by the Hathi Trust.

Several consortia are also developing a means of preserving print materials in a distributed way. WEST, the Western Regional Storage Trust, is developing plans for libraries to cooperate in creating a distributed repository of print journals. Most of their initial target materials will be items that have significant digital preservation and duplication as well.This list goes on and on of library consortia and organizations that are preserving print elements of the scholarly record: California Digital Library, Greater Western Library Alliance, Center for Research Libraries.

All of these factors can work to make a distributed preservation plan work:

  • mass digitization (Google, Internet Archive, Hathi)
  • cooperative, distributed print respositories (WEST, CDL, GWLA, etc.)
  • cooperative digital preservation initiatives (LOCKSS, CLOCKS, Portico, Hathi)

More initiatives like these will flourish in coming years. At a certain point, we need to say, these materials are widely available digitally, a print copy is safely housed in a library repository, and the level of use locally suggests that I don’t need a copy sitting on my shelves any longer. Time to make room for something else.

Photo courtesy of tobym on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/48089670@N00/179449318/