Friday, January 7, 2022

PSA - Weeding: It's Not Just for Gardens!


Collection development, collection maintenance, weeding books

If you've followed my blog, know me from the various library-related Facebook groups, or know me IRL, you may have picked up on some of my soapbox issues: reading levels, "one right way" thinking, people presenting penguins as Arctic animals, reading levels, snowflakes that are anything but 6-sided, library school, reading levels...  Well, I've discovered a new one - collection maintenance and development!

Let me just start by saying, if you are ever going to work in a library, but especially if you are ever going to manage a library or children's department, PLEASE get properly educated and trained in collection maintenance and development!!!!!! Whether it's by a formal course, workshops, webinars, or self-education, and even if you don't think you will ever be in charge of a collection. You never know, you might be some day, and even if not, all library staff should have some understanding of the principles and best practices.

I was very fortunate to have had a good collection development course in library school (one of the few useful classes I took) and I strongly feel that it should be a required course in all MLIS programs, but sadly too many do not. And I was even more fortunate to work with some excellent children's librarians and observe (and participate in) good collection maintenance and development in practice for several years in the library system where I started out. I just kind of took it for granted and thought that's how it was in most libraries.

I have since discovered that it is not, and good collection maintenance and development may even be the exception rather than the rule. At the last library I worked, I was shocked at how many books that were just falling apart were still in circulation, how many missing materials were never replaced even when still in demand and available, how many incomplete series, and how items were weeded strictly based on some report with unknown criteria, without ever being reviewed by a librarian! 

I then moved to my current library and position as a youth services manager and found I had inherited a neglected and fairly stagnant collection. There are so many old books that haven't circulated in 5 or more years on the shelves, so many ancient copies of still popular classics with horribly dated, faded cover art and brown pages that weren't circulating, series gaps. Non-fiction books more than 10 years old with misinformation and disproven theories. Very few picture books or early readers that were less than 10-20 years old! Very little diversity, and an overwhelming amount of materials reflecting one particular belief system. Shelving certain materials in sections for audiences older than the items are intended for. The deeper I get into it, the more appalled I become.

I've found books in poor condition that have been in the collection for over 40 years, during which time not one single librarian ever thought to remove them and replace with a new copy for still popular titles, or something else for others. My predecessor apparently was one that fetishized books and could not bear to ever get rid of books unless they were just absolutely falling apart and irreparable. They also didn't seem to see a need to add new or diverse materials unless specifically requested by a patron, and indulged their own biases. 
I've been inspired to start a "Shelf of Shame" and collect some of the most egregious offenders to use as examples of what *not* to do!

It's one thing to hold onto old books in your own personal collection, but not in a public or school library when you have the budget to replace them (and we do!). We want the books to circulate! But few kids are going to want to check out a book that looks like it came from grammy's (or great-grammy's) attic! You need a vibrant, carefully curated collection of attractive, relevant books in good condition that kids will WANT to check out! Popular titles, new books, books that provide both mirrors and windows; books needed for both leisure reading and school assignments. Yes, some classics are still popular and should be kept in the collection, but not the same copy your grandmother may have checked out out as a child! They need to be replaced every so often with new editions or reprints with new, contemporary cover art. Nothing screams "this book is old-fashioned and boring" like a faded cover with dated art from the 1950s.

If you haven't learned the "CREW' methods or "MUSTIE" standards, I strongly encourage you to do so! They are very helpful, and provide guidelines and criteria for continuous review and for each type of material. What I really like about the CREW method is that while it does provide specific criteria, it also allows for some tweaking based on your library and community, and professional judgment. Learn all about it and download the manual Here. And of course, you must have a well-crafted collection development policy in place to guide you in both weeding and selection.

I definitely have my work cut out for me, and it will probably be 2-3 years before I get the youth collections where I want them, but it will be something I and the community can be proud of. I am so grateful to those who trained and taught me the importance of continuous review, having a well-curated, vibrant collection; and how to do so!

Coming soon, "Adventures In Weeding" with examples of some of the worst offenders I find as I begin overhauling my collection, and explanations of why they are bad, what should have been done, and what I did to remedy it.

1 comment:

  1. I definitely hear you with this one! And so much of children's collection weeding is so obvious, it shouldn't even take an MLIS! Recent examples from my actually quite reasonably weeded library: wavy from decades old water damage (with a careful note about it in the front), the actual card catalogue card pasted in the front and is always on display so it obviously never goes out, copy of the Very Hungry Caterpillar chewed on two corners and has four torn (but carefully taped) pages. Argh!