It’s summer, and I’ve been engaging in one of my favorite hobbies, gardening. I’m sure I share this hobby with many of you, or so it would seem as I drive or walk around our community. My second favorite summer hobby, besides working in my own garden, is admiring all the blooming trees and flowers, and prolific vegetable gardens that I see on my daily walks.
Any gardener knows that having a successful plot depends not only on planting the best seeds, but also on keeping up regular maintenance of growing plants by watering, fertilizing, thinning, and – of course – weeding.
Keeping up with successful library materials collections requires the same type of work. In this blog, we’ve already explored the library’s selection policy, which would be akin to selecting the proper plants for a garden. Gardeners know that plants require certain conditions to grow optimally; in much the same way, library staff use our selection criteria to determine if an information resource will be likely to “grow”, or circulate well, in our community. This work requires attention to detail and a knowledge of the community’s information needs.
Just as important as purchasing new books, DVDs, audiobooks, magazines, and other information sources for our collection is maintaining materials from those collections. Collection maintenance is a large part of many library staff members’ daily duties.
“Maintenance” usually refers to just that – checking the condition of books and other items, repairing or replacing as necessary, researching whether new series installments are released, and other duties required to keep a collection up-to-date and relevant to the community’s information needs.
A major part of this maintenance work is deselecting the materials that are no longer the best choices for our collections; in fact, we call this work weeding, and it is very much like the work we gardeners do when we weed. Just as a gardener would not want to inadvertently pull up a new plant, mistaking it for a week, library staff take good care to make thoughtful decisions about the books and other materials we remove from our collections. And, just as in a garden, weeding is a job that helps us optimize our space and remove materials that may negatively affect the experience, or use, of the collection.
When beginning a weeding project, a librarian will usually set general parameters to help identify potential candidates for weeding. One very common parameter will be the circulation data about the books in the collection; so, for example, a librarian may set “last circulation date”, with a certain time limit, as a parameter. Once one or more parameters are set, the staff person can run a report of all the books in the collection that fit those criteria. This gives a list of books on the shelf that merit a closer look.
At that point, the librarian will remove every book on the list from the shelf, and then the real work of weeding begins, as each book is reviewed individually to determine its status for the collection. Making this determination requires following a weeding scheme, which is another, more detailed set of criteria that guide decisions. One weeding scheme that is widely followed and taught in most library school programs, is the “MUSTIE” scheme. Each letter in this anagram refers to a criteria that is considered in determining whether or not a book remains in the collection:
M: Misleading. One important role of library collections is to provide information that is accurate and up-to-date. “Misleading” information is weeded from the collections. A historical example of the application of this criteria happened in 2006, when Pluto was re-classified from a “planet” to a “dwarf planet.” Books that listed Pluto as one of nine planets in the solar system were rendered misleading because the information was not reflective of the reclassification; those books were, therefore, removed from the collection.
U: Ugly. The application of this criteria happens every day as books are circulated and returned, but it is also relevant to larger weeding projects. The “ugly” criteria refers to the overall physical condition of the book. A book can be weeded because it is torn, has a broken spine or missing pages, or has been damaged in some way. Usually, when books are weeded because of this condition alone, replacement copies are ordered.
S: Superseded. Many nonfiction resources are issued in regular installments, and older editions are removed to make space for updated versions. Computer manuals are great examples of this, as software and operating systems change so quickly. As new manuals are published, outdated manuals are removed. Not only does this maximize the shelf space required to house the collection, it also helps patrons find information that is relevant and up-to-date without having to browse through obsolete resources.
T: Trivial. This criteria refers to works that have no lasting literary or scientific value; it applies mainly to works of popular fiction that pass out of popularity after a time. Librarians review circulation statistics to make this determination; if a book has not circulated within a reasonable time period, it is considered trivial. However, there are manuals of core collections in all genres which are consulted before making this determination; these core collections are comprised of works considered to be of lasting literary or scientific value, and that, for the most part, should be retained in library collections.
I: Irrelevant. A work is considered irrelevant if it does not meet the needs of the target population. For example, an academic library serving a community college has little need for large collections of popular adult fiction, as most of its population uses the library for academic work. However, if that same community college offers degrees in education, a small collection of children’s literature would be relevant to students in those programs.
E: Elsewhere. A book that is readily available elsewhere will sometimes be discarded in order to make room for newer books. This criteria is usually applied to books that do not meet the criteria listed above, but that have mediocre circulation statistics. “Elsewhere” can mean anything from the material being available at another branch of the system or through interlibrary loan, to being available in an alternate format.
After all these criteria are selected, if an item is weeded from the collection, it usually goes into the Friends of the Library book sale, at least here at CCPLS. There, the public can purchase the book for a reduced price, and the Friends’ earnings are invested back into the public library. Books that are too damaged, or too outdated/misleading, to be sold back to the public are discarded.
The advantage of doing all this work to weed a collection? Pretty much the same as the advantage of doing the work to weed a garden: a cleaner, healthier collection that meets the needs of its patrons, with space for new growth to flower.