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Olson Library Weeding FAQ


Q: Why weed? We spent good money on those materials, so why get rid of them?

Q: Why continue to spend money on new materials that will only get weeded?

Q: How do you decide what to withdraw?

Q: The North Wind (12/2/2010) said the library was reducing its circulating collection by 50%. Isn't that a lot of our books to withdraw?

Q: It still sounds like a larger-than-usual reduction. Why?

Q: Why does it look like you're doing all this weeding in secret?

Q: Why can't library users review the books before they're withdrawn?

Q: What about the books you decide will be withdrawn? Can users review those before they're sent off?

Q: If library users can't review the books before they're withdrawn, how can we participate in shaping the collection? After all, we use it for teaching and research.

Q: Why can't withdrawn books be given to faculty members?

Q: Why let materials go for only a portion of their sale price? Wouldn't it make more sense to hold a book sale here and keep all the proceeds?




Q: Why weed? We spent good money on those materials, so why get rid of them?

Librarians review collections for several reasons:

  • To keep the collection updated. In the sciences especially, information is rapidly outdated, and in some disciplines, like nursing, outdated information is not just misleading but potentially dangerous. In disciplines where works remain relevant for longer periods, reviewing the library's existing titles helps identify opportunities to seek out newer or more complete editions.
  • To keep the collection relevant to current curricula and research needs. Academic subjects no longer taught do not need the same resources devoted to their support as current disciplines. Some books with outdated content can still be useful for historical purposes, and we consider retaining them.
  • To identify areas and subjects that need strengthening.
  • To improve the visibility of the materials remaining available. In unweeded collections, older books always outnumber newer ones, and when a shelf appears full of only older books, the newer ones are harder to find. As more and more older materials become available electronically, whether via purchase, subscription, or the open Web, we are actively transitioning to electronic access when the electronic version provides the same information as the print.
  • To maximize efficient use of resources. While the library continually acquires new materials representing new human knowledge, it does not have continually expanding space. As we consider what space might be allocated for new acquisitions, we recognize that some of the most-requested items in the library are study rooms, and we don't have enough of them. Today's educational practices call for much more collaborative classwork than when the library was built, and the library is here to provide what's needed most. Collaborative work still requires information resources, and it also requires space for using those resources the way students use them today.

Q: Why continue to spend money on new materials that will only get weeded?

Human knowledge is perpetually expanding and advancing, and given that our financial and physical resources are not perpetually expanding, we routinely have to choose which resources will best serve NMU's needs. We always do our best to identify materials that will have lasting value in the collection, but we know without a doubt that some, especially in rapidly advancing fields, will be outdated sooner rather than later. Many materials, because of their lasting value to scholarly work, will never be considered for weeding. Other materials will be targeted for electronic format.


Q: How do you decide what to withdraw?

Librarians use a number of tools and methods to make retention decisions, including:

  • Currency and age, with criteria varying across academic disciplines.
  • Usage, the importance of which also varies across academic disciplines.
  • Relevance to current curricula and research needs. Sometimes librarians and faculty members select books based on predictions of how their discipline will develop in the future. Sometimes they're wrong. Who knew, in 1925, that the Home Economics major would vanish entirely?
  • Appearance in a standard bibliography of works important for various academic disciplines, or positive reviews in standard sources like Books for College Libraries, Choice, and discipline-specific publications.
  • Prominence of the author. Well-known authors' lesser works are often retained.
  • The item's physical condition (sometimes a well-used volume ought to be replaced with a new copy, and regular collection review helps us spot these).
  • Format. If a book is now available online in full-image format, we'll consider it for withdrawal unless the physical volume has an intrinsic research value.

Q: The North Wind (12/2/2010) said the library was reducing its circulating collection by 50%. Isn't that a lot of our books to withdraw?

We could have been clearer in the interview for that article. We've set a target to reduce the footprint of the circulating collection, which will involve both reducing the number of volumes there and shifting how materials are shelved in order to make better use of the space. That 50% target isn't cast in stone, and as we review the collection, we might very well find that the items we need to retain add up to more than 50%. If and when that happens, we'll simply have to revise the target, since we don't want to eliminate materials still needed and used. We should note also that our present work is focused only on the print book collection; periodicals, music, film, and other kinds of materials are not currently being reviewed as part of this project.


Q: It still sounds like a larger-than-usual reduction. Why?

As in most academic libraries, for many years costs and space demands weren't problematic enough to force rigorous collection review. It's always been safest to retain things we weren't certain about letting go. The Road Map to 2015, however, asks the library to re-examine its use of space. It's become clear during this more extensive review that many volumes we've kept over the years could have been withdrawn and the space (with its indirect costs) used for other things. In other words, like many libraries, over the decades we haven't really kept up well with maintaining the collection according to evolving needs. In all fairness to our predecessors here in the library, the information landscape has changed radically and very rapidly recently, which is now forcing us to confront decisions that weren't so critical for previous librarians.


Q: Why does it look like you're doing all this weeding in secret?

We haven't intended to be secretive, but we recognize how it could look that way. Reviewing and keeping the collection up to date is a regular part of a librarian's work, so to us it didn't seem out of the ordinary. The call for a "library of the future" appears explicitly in the Road Map to 2015, to which the library responded by creating a strategic-directions document. The Academic Senate has an Academic Information Services (AIS) Advisory Committee, which has an open Web page where that document can be seen. In addition, AIS representatives report regularly to the Senate on activities, challenges, and opportunities within AIS. We do realize that everyone on campus is bombarded with information (we know it very well here in the library!) and that communications can get lost in the noise.


Q: Why can't library users review the books before they're withdrawn?

Library users can review lists of the titles, which we've posted on Web pages for each subject librarian. These lists comprise our entire catalog of circulating books, so they're extremely lengthy (more than 350,000 items in all). That's why we've broken them down by general subject area.


Q: What about the books you decide will be withdrawn? Can users review those before they're sent off?

We wish we could offer that option. The process is continuously ongoing, and there is neither time nor space to set aside multiple book carts for review. In addition, librarians are twelve-month faculty and continue working over the summer and other breaks, meaning that we can't pause reviewing and withdrawing materials until it's feasible for users to review them. And finally, despite its apparent simplicity, the process is quite complex and requires close coordination from a lot of people; we don't have a way of modifying the workflow to accommodate additional review stages. We do offer participation at earlier stages of the collection-maintenance process (see next question).


Q: If library users can't review the books before they're withdrawn, how can we participate in shaping the collection? After all, we use it for teaching and research.

The best way to take part in shaping the collection is to work regularly with the subject librarians to identify materials useful for current courses and research, and to help with updating and refining the collection on a continuous basis. That process helps keep librarians abreast of your activities, effectively guiding the library toward providing what faculty and students need in support of their work.


Q: Why can't withdrawn books be given to faculty members?

The library must observe state and university rules governing disposition of material assets. We have a contract with Better World Books to sell the items they can sell. Part of the sale price comes back to us for use in acquiring updated materials, an amount that's risen to equal a year's book budget for some of our subject areas. Another part of the revenue goes toward literacy programs abroad, so the arrangement benefits both the University and less-fortunate communities. Especially in these times, librarians have a duty to make maximum use of our resources; if we can sell something for the longer-term benefit of the collection and its users, we must do it. And finally, if faculty members who participate in shaping the collection--including identifying materials to be withdrawn--can benefit personally, we've created a conflict of interest.


Q: Why let materials go for only a portion of their sale price? Wouldn't it make more sense to hold a book sale here and keep all the proceeds?

Holding a book sale requires considerable staff time and effort, which is worth more than the amount of money we "give up" by contracting for sale services. In essence, Better World Books is an outsourced ongoing book sale where individuals can purchase materials, which benefits the library's collection and its support of NMU's teaching and research activities.



More questions? Contact Douglas Black, Collection Development Librarian.


Librarian Liaisons Collection Development Policy


Revised 3/16/2011



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