Weed, Weed, Weed! Collection Management – the Joy, the Pain, the Sorrow…

by Shayna Monnens, Head Editor, INALJ South Dakota

Weed, Weed, Weed! Collection Management – the Joy, the Pain, the Sorrow…Shayna.Monnens.SD

One of the best aspects of being a librarian is being able to survey your kingdom of written and published subjects. From well loved (and well used!) picture books to fact-filled nonfiction to the awesomeness-on-a-stick YA hits, your library collections have it all. The classics, the one hit wonders, the duds. They are all there. The best part is, MORE IS COMING! Yay! More books! I love mo—wait……I don’t have room for more books! How will I fit in more babies? How can I continue to share the joy of books and magical worlds and wardrobes and underwear and sparkly puppies and unicorns? HOW!?!

That leads me to one of the worst parts of being a librarian. The sad, inevitable fact that we cannot have them all. There is not room. If you are blessed with a library that has massive amounts of shelf space, you are quite fortunate. However, you yourself cannot have them all. If you library is that large, chances are you library is frequented by hundreds of thousands of patrons each year, and sadly, one copy of a popular book is not enough. Heck, maybe even 5 copies won’t tide you over.

There is not room for them all. Repeat after me. We cannot have them all. We cannot have them all.

But we try! We try to maintain the most relevant, best loved, most popular, and most useful material we can possibly have. Sometimes we have to make painful decisions on what to keep and what to weed. But if we are smart, check the circulation records, keep an eye on trends and ear for upcoming releases, we can make it work.

Massive weed/collection management projects scare me. I will admit it. One of my biggest fears as a librarian is that I will for some unknown reason eliminate a book from my collection and come to ask myself later “why did I get rid of that?”. I hadn’t worked in my current position too terribly long before I was assigned the task of the mother of all weed projects – Juvenile Non-Fiction. Do you know how nerve-wracking that was?? Every book I questioned. Every book! Do I keep it? Do I get rid of it? What do I do? I really hadn’t been there that long to really know the collection and understand what is used and relevant, but I muddled through.

Then I got to the 800s.

Interesting fact about 800s. For those of you aren’t familiar with Dewey Decimal System, 800s is where the children’s literature is kept. This will either be the most used or most abandoned section you will have. Some people won’t really care about what is maintained, and others will guard it with the force of a thousand Wings of Freedom Scout Regiment soldiers (shameless manga plug. Google it!). I had very mixed feelings on this section, but after some research, found some VERY helpful tips on a good collection management for the 800s. These tips are courtesy of Rebecca Vnuk at BookList Online.  Seriously, go check her stuff out. It’s incredibly helpful.

811–812: Poetry; Drama
Unless your library has a mandate to collect poetry or plays, most items should be weeded after five or six years of no circulation.

Yep. I did that. Worked wonders. The “classics” that people would cry murder over if you got rid of will most likely fall into the category for being circulated at least once in the past 6 years. You are safe on that one.

A really handy tip that I found when it came to the 92s is to at the very least maintain one book on each person you have in the collection already, if not more! We have a smaller library, very limited shelf space and like 40 books on General George Armstrong Custer and like one or two on Amelia Earhart. Depending on your location, geographical setting, fanatical historical followings in your area, base your collection’s individual needs. Needless to say, I kept the Earhart books and eliminated quite a few of the Custer’s (due to non-usage, condition, etc).

It was hard, but I had to remind myself that while a good public library does should have a fairly comprehensive non-fiction collection, the area schools have a much better setting, requirement, and need for the mass amounts of non-fiction. I replaced old science materials with new. Ok, seeing all the space books go that no longer listed Pluto as a planet made my heart break. A lot. Refreshing old materials, getting more relevant, newer stuff is great. We don’t have much space to add more, so for me it’s all based on need. Where do we need more? Where do we need replacements? Where do we need new? My collection of juvenile non-fiction is right around 9,000 items, and I am good with that. Maybe you don’t agree with me on this and that is ok, but I now know what circulates in my library. I would most likely bet on that your library has different trends than mine does.

I haven’t had the chance to really delve into collection management of Juvenile fiction yet. I am dreading this. Some collection shifts are occurring in my library, and the need to combine two sections is creating a bit of space issues. Therefore, I have dipped my toes into this cesspool by looking at our series fiction (American Girls, Geronimo Stilton’s, Nancy Drew’s, etc. you get the picture). We have done some major weeding on these, mainly due to the space and some faulty shelving. It’s been interesting.

As librarians, we hate to see stuff go. We all have our favorites that we clutch to our chest and really, just really want to share with the rest of the world! However, as Rebecca states, “libraries are not museums”. We aren’t repositories. Someone’s favorite book can always be interlibrary loaned from another location, chances are one that has much more space to have a large collection.

Weeding can be very tough. Sometimes right in the middle you will have feelings of overwhelming doom come over you as you clutch each book saying “my precious”, and other times you might become Elsa and be all “let it go, let it go!” as you look at every book. These are the times you need to walk away. For an hour, for a day. Walk away. Danger and bad things happen down that path. Sadness and crying children and explosions are your future.

However, if you are clear-headed and sensible about it, looking at circ numbers, trends, condition, and relevancy, weeding and collection management is a lot like spring cleaning. Worth the time and trouble, and your shelves look shiny when you are done!

Naomi House

Naomi House, MLIS, is the founder and publisher of the popular LIS jobs resource INALJ.com (formerly I Need a Library Job). Founded in October 2010 with the assistance of her fellow Rutgers classmate, Elizabeth Leonard, INALJ’s social media presence has grown to include Facebook (retired in 2016), Twitter and a LinkedIn group, in addition to the interviews, articles and jobs found on INALJ.com. INALJ has had over 20 Million page views and helped thousands of librarians and LIS folk find employment! Through grassroots marketing, word of mouth and a real focus on exploring unconventional resources for job leads, INALJ grew from a subscription base of 20 friends to a website with over 500,000 visits in a month. Naomi believes that well-sourced quantity is quality in this narrow job market and INALJ reflects this many new jobs published daily. She was a 2013 Library Journal Mover & Shaker and has served on the University of Maryland iSchool Board from 2014-2017. Naomi was a Reference, Marketing and Acquisitions Librarian for a contractor at a federal library outside Washington, DC, and now lives part time in Western NY and Budapest, Hungary. She has heard of spare time but hasn’t encountered it lately. She pronounces INALJ as eye-na-elle-jay. 

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