Library collection maintenance, or: how I learned to stop worrying and love weeding

Since the library is currently closed to the public due to COVID and our physical book circulation is limited, this is a great opportunity for librarians to do some much needed weeding. Weeding, or deselection, is often met with fear by those outside of the library. Libraries are supposed to house books, not get rid of them, right? In actual fact, weeding is an essential part of collection maintenance and part of librarians’ professional practice.

Withdrawing material from the collection isn’t done simply for space reasons, although space is of course a consideration — shelf space is unfortunately an exhaustible resource. E-books, for example, take up no physical space but are also evaluated and weeded on a regular basis. The main goal of weeding is to ensure that the collection still serves its purpose. In Langara’s case, this means supporting current course and program goals including curriculum needs of students, instructional needs of faculty, course development research and implementation of new courses and programs. We want to make sure that the resources that we have are useful and valuable to the community.

When weeding, we consider factors such as currency, content (especially looking for outdated or inaccurate information), physical condition, research value, historical value, uniqueness, availability of later editions or other formats, and usage. Low usage or an old publication date don’t mean automatic withdrawal, nor does high usage mean we will automatically keep something if we realize the information is inaccurate or misleading. Withdrawal of material is a holistic, but evidence-based, decision.

And weeding doesn’t always lead to withdrawal! Weeding also helps us identify gaps in the collection  and determine why resources that we think are useful aren’t circulating the way they should be. The weeding process often leads to more purchases and enhanced cataloguing to make the resources we keep more findable.

As faculty members, your subject librarian may call on your for your subject matter expertise and feedback during the weeding process. Don’t let this worry you! We don’t want to destroy the collection; we want to keep it in peak condition, and sometimes this means removing books that no longer serve their purpose.

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