There have been a number of messages about the project sent to the faculty forum listserv since my last post a few days ago; this post is to answer some of the new questions that have been posed. Thanks again to everyone who is participating in this discussion!
The weeding process
LC classification—which we’ve used sort the weeding candidates by subject—was originally created over 100 years ago for the use of the Library of Congress. There are changes and adjustments made to the classification system every year, but it still handles some subjects better than others. For many disciplines, books are split into several LC classes and so the weeding candidates are split as well.
To spread out the work of processing weeded material to be manageable, we’re doing the project in three phases. This is phase 1, and we’re looking at books with call numbers beginning with A-G. In January, we’ll announce phase 2, in which we’ll be reviewing lists of books with call numbers beginning with P. In the fall of 2012 we’ll begin the last phase, looking at books with call numbers beginning H-N, and Q-Z.
We’re now working on a process to offer to departments and faculty members books that have been withdrawn from the collection, and as soon as we finalize this we will let everyone know how it will work.
The library’s FY12 budget is $7.2 million. 50% of this is for materials (primarily books and serials), 42.5% is for librarian and staff compensation, and the other 7.5% is for all other expenses, including student salaries, library systems and equipment maintenance, and supplies. When the library’s materials budget was cut in 2009-10, the monograph budget bore the brunt of this and was reduced by 47%. This has been somewhat mitigated by the fact that many reference books and other works that used to be paid for out of the monograph budget, are now available online as subscriptions and are therefore paid for out of the serials budget.
But raw budget numbers aren’t necessarily useful in themselves—the budget can only be assessed in the light of how much it costs to run the library. With the library’s staff, materials and operations budgets, it would not be possible to pay the costs of off-site storage without major cuts in services or materials.
Alternatives to weeding
I confess that I did not explore the alternative of storage (on- or off-site) when we planned the project, because it doesn’t seem to be the best way to use the money that would be needed to create a facility and maintain it. Staffing for the facility and for deliveries would be one expense. But of more concern would be the cost of creating a space with appropriate equipment and environmental controls, and then keeping the temperature and humidity at a level that would inhibit mold growth and other damage. Within the libraries we are able to monitor this because staff members regularly work in the stacks; in a storage facility of little-used and perhaps little-requested material, there is the potential for unchecked problems without careful monitoring and controls.
The decision was made to move the Art Library into Olin because there isn’t room in the Squash Court building for a library reuniting the art and architecture collection, now split between the Art Library and Olin.
Factors to consider
Weeding duplicates: Several years ago the library did a project to weed some duplicate copies of books, leaving at least one copy in the stacks. Although some of the books being considered in this project are duplicate copies, many of them are not–it would be impossible to weed 60,000 volumes and not weed the last Wesleyan copy of some books. We also thought that it was important to consider as weeding candidates books that had been useful at one time, but are less useful now.
Changes in scholarship: Authors and ideas wax and wane in importance over time, and it is impossible to know in advance what books will be useful in scholarship. It is what makes selecting books to add to the collection so tricky–we’re essentially selecting for current Wesleyan students and faculty, but the books we don’t select may turn out to be more useful in the future.
That being said, by only considering for withdrawal books that are held by over 30 U.S. libraries and by at least two of our Connecticut partners (Connecticut College, Trinity College and UConn-Storrs), we will be able to provide withdrawn books on request via CTW or interlibrary loan. In the longer term, usable electronic versions of both old and new books will become available, and regional depositories of print books will be established to ensure that the complete scholarly record is preserved and accessible in its original form. A few regional depositories already exist; this summer I attended a meeting of New England academic library directors to explore the possibility of establishing a New England Regional Depository (with the unfortunate acronym NERD).
What is a library?
Certainly one function of the library is as a repository of print books, and we will continue to serve that function. We have many print books in the collection that few other libraries hold, and we take seriously our responsibility to scholars to retain and preserve these books. But we also must provide books, journal articles, images, statistical data, video and audio in a variety of forms for Wesleyan students and faculty to use in their work. So we are and will continue to be a print book repository to preserve the scholarly record, but we also are and will continue to be a place where students and faculty go (either in-person or online) to get the materials they need to do their work. The library might look very different in 10, 20 or 50 years, and the ratio of print to online materials may be very different. But the library will continue to fulfill the same functions as it does now.
I think that Wesleyan faculty, University administration, and librarians all have the same general vision about what a library is and what functions it should perform. But we have different ideas about how we should go about fulfilling these functions, and their relative importance. As difficult as the current discussion has sometimes been, one positive result may be a more unified vision of the role of the library at Wesleyan.