Thursday, February 13, 2014

"Why are you throwing out all the books?!"

There's been some concern about this lately, and we understand. Most of us came to work in libraries because we really love books, after all!

We've talked about this a couple of times before, but it's an important topic and one worth re-addressing. So let's answer some questions that people have been asking! Here's more than you ever wanted to know:

Why are you doing this?

The short answer is because we're about to move the whole collection to the lower level of the building this summer, and it a) needs to fit, and b) we don't want to move and re-shelve things that shouldn't be kept. It's exactly like how you go through your stuff for a Goodwill donation before you box up for a move. 

Collection management is an important part of regular library maintenance. Worn out, unused, tattered, and superseded books need to be removed on an ongoing basis to have a usable library collection. Old, falling-apart stuff that isn't being used actually makes it harder to find the up-to-date, helpful information. For a variety of reasons, collection evaluation was not a focus here for a long time, and we are dealing with a backlog of weeding that should have been done little by little over the last few decades. That's why the scale of our current project is so huge!

How do you decide what to pull from the collection?

We held several events over the last year to encourage faculty to come take a look at the collection in their areas of expertise, and in many areas (like the sciences and education), they made most of the decisions. Faculty were easily able to identify materials that contained incorrect information or terminology and ideas that are now considered offensive or outdated.

In areas where librarians have been making more of the decisions, we take several factors into consideration. The most important factor is whether or not the item has ever been checked out. We run usage reports before making any weeding decisions, and most of the materials in the discard pile haven't been checked out even once since the library acquired its first computer system about 25 years ago. 

Circulation statistics are only part of what we take into consideration, however. Another important factor that we consider is whether or not the material is easily available elsewhere. In the literature sections, for instance, many of the materials are in the public domain and are available for free online at or  If a book has not been checked out at all in 20 years and you can download a copy for free from the internet, it's a candidate for weeding.

Of course, if something is in really bad condition, that is also a reason to pull it from the shelves. In cases where we have more than one copy of the same book, we keep the copy that is in better condition and pull the one that's in worse shape.

One librarian makes the initial decision, and then a different librarian reviews the books to make sure that nothing is being removed that should be kept.

Here's an example of sets that we pulled and why:

Most of the volumes in these sets had never been checked out, with a couple of individual volumes having been checked out once or twice in the last 20-25 years. The entire text is available online (Schiller) (Goethe). And perhaps most importantly, the leather binding on the books is degrading into an orange powder that rubs off on your hands and clothing when you handle the book (just ask our student aides!).

What happens to all of those books that you're discarding?

We send all of the discards that we possibly can to Better World Books.

BWB is a fantastic organization, and we encourage you to check them out and to support them when you are buying books online. Part of the proceeds goes to literacy-focused charities, and the rest is split between their administrative costs and a small cut that comes to us. Anything that they aren't able to sell, they recycle. They take great pride in never sending anything to a landfill.

Faculty and staff have taken a lot of books, and students have taken others. Some are being turned into art projects or iPad cases! "Throwing books out" is an absolute last resort.

If you are interested in giving a good home to any of our discards, we welcome it! Just please make sure to check with the staff and ONLY TAKE BOOKS THAT ARE ALREADY ON THE FLOOR. This is important because we have some record-keeping to do to withdraw the records from the catalog and aren't done with the ones on the tables yet. Those still need a final review and processing before we can let them go.

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