In the Spring, A Man's Thoughts Turn To…Weeding?

And not the gardening kind either (although we are in spring cleaning mode at our city home (ie. Regina) since I took a few days off before the SLA conference later this week.  Take a look at the program and see if you can spot two of my former colleagues who are presenting.  Hints:  one is also a former Spirit of Librarianship award winner who was also my student mentor  and one is a published author who I think I had given his first public reading as part of the “Lunch Bucket Speaker Series” to a rapturous crowd of, oh, about four.)

Anyhow, back to the subject at hand…

I've done a bit of weeding here and there during the past year but a couple weeks ago, I had my first opportunity to do some more involved weeding in (of course) my hometown branch. 

(I should note that I'm really trying hard to temper my natural biases, working in my home region and having family and friends in so many of the 48 communities I serve including having grown up in one that I seem to end up spending a lot of time at.  But Indian Head just happened to be the first of about four (so far) branches that have asked for me to come help with weeding this summer – honest!) 

Here are some random thoughts and impressions…
– one of the hardest things you have to learn as a librarian (and presumably a book lover) is to be ruthless when weeding.  The book is tattered?  Gone.  Hasn't been checked out in five years or more?  Gone.  Has outdated information?  Gone.  Has less than one use per year in the last few years?  Gone. 

– the weeded
books get a chance at second life in the library's book sale but I
suspect many of them end up in that big book sale in the sky after that
brief reprieve.

– this is a point of contention for some librarians (yes, we get worked up about this stuff) but there are different views on what constitutes a “perfect shelf.”  Some like to see the shelf fully stocked so that you can barely squeeze a finger in and all the books in your collection are available to the patron.  Others like to have their shelves 80-90% full to make re-shelfing easier.  Others go even lower – maybe 60- 75% – which aids reshelfing and also gives the advantage of allowing to place more books face out and… (warning: Jason actually endorses a retail marketing concept ahead ) …increasing the chances that the book will be picked up by a customer.  (Ooops, Jason goes too far!

I know one library that did an aggressive weed taking out 10% of their books.  You'd suspect that their circulation would fall by 10%.  Instead, it went up by 25% because they could do face-out shelfing and because the books that were left simply looked nicer and/or newer which made patrons more likely to take them out.

– even worse than killing the books is seeing all the work of somebody who came long before, back in the day's when a cataloging record wasn't a mouse click away but each entry had to be manually typed and labourously inserted into the book.  I guess that's the nature of the beast and it happens in all fields but it's still tough to think of that work disappearing with the rip of the barcoded page.

– being in my hometown library, it was a bit eerie to see familiar titles including at least one series of sports tips for youngsters books I am positive I checked out in my younger days.  (GONE!)

– further to that last point, I know all of the security and privacy issues around it but I still regret that libraries don't at least give us the option of keeping a permanent record of our borrowing.  It's too late for me, having grown up in the analog age of date due stamps and handwritten library card numbers on the date due slip but wouldn't it be amazing if Pace could look back on his entire reading history when he turned 25 or 40 or 80? 

– What happened in the early 2000's that kids simply stopped reading juvenile non-fiction?  It's a bit early for the Internet so it must've been something else.  CD-ROM's?  So many of the books I looked at had good, regular usage and then 2000-2002 hits and they just stop circulating. [Edit: I'm an idiot.  The Internet came into popular consciousness in the mid to late 1990's which coincides perfectly with this drop-off in reading of juvenile non-fiction, especially if you assume it took a bit longer for the Net to grab hold in rural areas.  I first got online myself in 1995 so why I thought the Internet didn't exist in the early 2000's, I have no idea.]

– The date due slips aren't just a history of which patron # took the book out and when but also, like marginalia that you often find in library books, a bit of insight into the history of the book itself.  Notes from the librarian about the book: “Called M. Smith re: overdue.  Said she'll check again.” and from one librarian to another (“I enjoyed this one so thought you might too.”).  Card numbers are used instead of names but occasionally (usually when teachers borrowed a group of books or for non-local fulfillment), the full name and community of the borrower is written in instead.  So I get to see that one of our current branch librarians (who I'll be weeding with in the next few weeks) was borrowing books for her children long before she began working for us.  Or that one of my elementary school teachers regularly used public library books to supplement her lessons at school. 

– when you go to delete the records of the books you've weeded, you should always ask someone who knows the system better than you do if you're doing it right.  Otherwise, you could end up doing twice as much work.  Or so I've heard…

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