08 March 2011

In defence of weeding

Awesome interior views

This is a silly beat-up: Books get the shove as uni students go online

It is poorly written and makes a number of awful errors and assumptions:

Most libraries have weeding programs. We do at UTS. With collaborative collection sharing programs like our Bonus+, there is no longer a need to each and every library to hold at least one copy of every book. Where would we put them even if we could afford them?

In many cases books are disposed of because they are worn out, beyond repair, or we cannot maintain multiple copies of texts which have been superseded by subsequent editions.

Newspapers are not always valuable or rare just because they are old. Copies are generally held by the state and national libraries and they are busy digitising them now for improved access. They are a right pain to store and preserve as they were not produced for long term maintenance. Very few academic libraries have the resources to maintain old newspaper collections. By their very nature they are ephemeral in their original form. I disposed of a large newspaper cuttings collections in the collection of the Australian War Memorial for exactly these reasons. All were held by the National Library.

A lot of those encyclopaedias, dictionaries, journals and books contain information and knowledge that has been superseded. They become redundant. This also relates to the point attributed to Professor Miller at the end of the article.

Weeding programs are carefully managed by professional staff and books are written off only after careful determination of their continued usefulness. They are not simply dumped in skips without consultation.

It is outrageous for anyone to claim they are all extremely good books without seeing them, nor assessing them in light of other collections held.

The “former library assistant” is probably not the most reliable source to quote on whether a certain library sees its function as an archive. In fact, most academic libraries do not function as archives. (I have managed both an archive and a library.)

The Starbucks claim is a complete emotional beat up and easy mud to sling. Libraries are to be about people, not just books. Time marches on and so too should the professor. Books are no longer chained up in libraries and controlled by monks.

Serendipitous discovery is still possible without all books on the shelves and in open access. Most European academic libraries operate like this. UTS will be providing serendipitous discovery to our collections in an underground Library Retrieval System, in different ways online. They may well be more effective means of browsing for something useful than someone browsing shelves, mostly at eye height, for books that stand out because of decorations on their spines. We have been talking to academics within UTS to explore this kind of assisted and extended serendipitous online discovery since 2010 and I am going to talk to some students tomorrow afternoon regarding a project to address issues such as this.

8 comments:

Peta Hopkins said...

I seem to remember this whole thing being gone over for other institutions on numerous occasions. A good point is that libraries are thinking sustainably and making the most of resource sharing rather than duplication.

Mal Booth said...

Yes, sustainability and resource sharing are points that should be underlined.

moonflowerdragon said...

I look hopefully forward to hearing about the mechanisms by which UTS will be facilitating serendipitous discovery online.

markwashere said...

“Next to emptying the outdoor bookdrop on cold and snowy days, weeding is the most undesirable job
in the library. It is also one of the most important.”
Will Manley, “The Manley Arts,”
Booklist (March 1, 1996)

Gary Pearce said...

Agree that it is a bit of a beat up. These complaints really do seem like these academics are advocating libraries become museums of books. In fact, access to books and journals is incomparably better now than just a decade ago (when I was a postgrad student).This goes beyond the question of weeding, of course, but to issues and choices all libraries face re space, digitization and changing patterns of use. I'd be interested to know what is happening at UNSW to draw specific fire on them? Are they taking a particular approach eg zero growth collection or the like? The idea of (past) targets for weeding suggests this might be the case(?) I wonder if it is too much to hope that the up side of all this is that there may be room for libraries to explain their response to the issues above and engage in a wide-ranging discussion (minus the hysteria) with the academic community about this.

Andrew said...

Whilst I agree that this article shows an ignorance of the weeding process, I also think it's indicative of the attitudes that members of a library's community often shows when they become aware of weeding.

Especially teaching staff.

My main concern - and this is nothing new - is that there isn't the professional courtesy, faith even, in the library and information professionals to simply do their job. Furthermore, paranoia over weeding, if anything, can fuel a lack of trust between teaching staff and the library.

At the same time - and this can vary from library to library - there isn't always transparency displayed by the library when it comes to its weeding practices. If the library's community were made more aware of the complexities that go into constantly weeding a collection, then there would be a better overall understanding, and articles like these wouldn't see the light of day.

Ben Harris-Roxas said...

@Andrew I work for a university but not as a librarian, and I think there's something in what you say. Many academics tend to fetishise printed works, particularly if they're over 30 and relied on them in their early careers. They tend to see librarians as the gatekeepers of books. People to be treated with suspicion :)

It'll change in time, but it will take time.

moonflowerdragon said...

Could there be slightly more to this than a misunderstanding of weeding? While I still assume that is a huge part (never trust a paper to give a complete story + lack of specific titles + expectation that academic libraries practice caution when weeding); some follow up comments appeared with one providing a specific example.

Apparently a Dr Geoff Lambert had sought "a 19th-century Government Gazette (for which there was no electronic version) only to be told by a distressed librarian that they had been found in a skip in the basement" - and after some time and effort to retrieve, apparently sent to Timor.

Unfortunately his first comment was to strangely compare the incident to Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. I wonder how long since he's read the book if he has forgotten the gist of the story underneath the drama of book-burning (which cannot compare to weeding). After reading that it took me ages to realise his next comment was more direct, and I'm still wondering whether inaccuracy is a possibility, but I am also curious what might have disappeared in that 50,000 or more.

Another perspective from a Keith Russell was rather keen: "Next thing they will put giant posters on the walls that depict students holding books just so visitors will know it is the library and not another coffee shop".

Which reminds me of a request I heard the other day from one of our mature aged students who felt we ought to have in the computer commons (so they didn't need to log out of their computer) a shelf of self-help guides for the software they need to use and a dictionary. Such students would take a lot longer to work out how to access the online tutorials.