My co-worker, Mary Kelly, and I are speaking at the Loleta Fyan Rural Libraries Conference next week. We will be talking about how to do a physical inventory of library collections. We will also discuss what kind of data can be gathered from a physical inventory and how to analyze that data. I wondered how many librarians out there would be interested in this topic (I think it's exciting, but I think the word "inventory" scares people!). As it turns out, 125 people have signed up for our session! It's some kind of record, apparently. This is so exciting!
In our preparation, we have been thinking about the weeding step of the inventory process. A general weed is crucial to getting a manageable collection to work with. You don't want to inventory items that are old, broken, and useless to the community. Before you get a printed shelf list, we recommend weeding pretty aggressively. It makes the shelf list easier to work with.
I recently put in some ILL holds for old, ugly, and ridiculous holdings at other libraries. Today I received a book copyrighted 1980 called "How to Get Out of Debt." In today's economy, in a southeast Michigan community where many, many people work for the Big Three automotive companies (or should I say "worked," since they are laying off more and more people every day...), how is a 1980 book about debt and bankruptcy helpful? I would even go as far as to say it is actually causing harm. The library who owns this book is located in an economically challenged community where a high percentage of people currently need a book like this. They need the most current information available to them, though. They come to the library because they don't know where else to go. And that library gives them THIS?? Really?
I've tried to put myself in that library's shoes. What excuse do they have for keeping this book on the shelves? Maybe it is that if they weed their collection, they won't have anything left and they can't afford to buy anything new. To that I say that they should ask the libraries in their cooperative to share donations with them. Lord knows that my library gets donations that are too old by our library's standards (5 years for anything financial), but still two decades newer than the library in question has. If I knew a library was looking for something specific, I would even send them some current donations that come in. Or, maybe they could ask their community groups or even residents to make donations. Maybe they could print recent articles from the wonderful, CURRENT, Michigan eLibrary databases and create files of information where the weeded books vacated space.
I know it looks bad to get rid of a lot of items at once, so maybe libraries with severely out of date collections are hesitant to weed that much at once. It is hard to explain to the public why books are "no good" anymore. They don't have librarian training on currency, relevancy, authority of sources. That's why libraries must keep up with weeding! One or two items a day is reasonable, as well as manageable in terms of time commitment to weeding.
Check out our new blog - http://awfullibrarybooks.wordpress.com. We're not trying to be mean, just practical. Should librarians be sued for malpractice if they give flat-out WRONG information? That's a drastic idea, but how can we inspire libraries to cut the dead weight from their collections? It is not the public's job to know what is good information and what is old. They come to us because that's our job.