Campus discussion begins – A(T)R summary

Thanks to everyone who attended the February 7th A(T)R on the weeding project and participated in the discussion afterwards.  For those of you not able to attend, here is a summary:

The project

Last fall the library began a project to withdraw 60,000 volumes from the general collections to make room for new books and for the Art Library, which is moving into Olin.

When announcing this I underestimated the faculty’s level of interest and concern, and the amount of time librarians and faculty would need to review the weeding candidate lists in their subject areas.  I also thoughtlessly used a term, ‘weeding,’ that is common in the library profession for these types of projects, without considering its connotation outside the library world.  My apologies for these missteps!

As a result of the concerns expressed last fall in the faculty forum and elsewhere, Rob Rosenthal approved delaying the move of the Art Library so we could have a campus-wide discussion of the project this semester.

Shelf space

These shelves used to be on the ground floor of the Science Library, before compact shelving was installed several years ago.  But now, most of the stacks in Olin and all of the stacks in the Art Library are similarly overcrowded.   We are about out of shelf space.

In the past 25 years or so we’ve done a number of things to increase the library’s shelf capacity and decrease overcrowding:

1985:  The last major addition of Olin was completed.  It created additional stack space which lasted about 20 years.

1989:  The Art Library ran out of shelf space.  Since then, it has transferred approximately 1,000 – 2,000 volumes per year to Olin Library; currently almost half of the Art collection is in Olin.

2005-06:  The library conducted a project to review books of which we had several copies, and withdrew those that were no longer needed.  We withdrew about 13,000 additional copies from the library.

2006-07:  The library withdrew selected volumes of bound journals available electronically on JSTOR.  JSTOR is a stable, well-established platform for online journals, and we felt comfortable relying on them for access.  We can—but haven’t had to—provide access to the bound volumes via a storage facility managed by the Five College Consortium in western Massachusetts.

That same year, compact shelving was installed in the basement of the Science Library.  This allowed us to move materials out of storage at Amato’s Toy Store downtown, and from PAC storage (where conditions were terrible for books).  The library also gained free shelf space, into which we have been moving less-used sets of books from Olin.

2008-11:  Because so many reference materials are now online, the reference librarians were able to withdraw or transfer to the general stacks about 1/3 of the reference collection in print.

From P- to E-

In the meantime, the nature of our collection was changing radically.  Starting in the mid-80s, we began to purchase some electronic resources to supplement our print collections.  The first resources were indexes such as DIALOG, then journals, and now books, videos, sound recordings, data sets and images.

In the past few years Wesleyan’s use of major electronic journal packages has steadily increased, with just under 300,000 uses in 2011.  The use of the library’s print collections, measured by the number of check-outs (not the only way print collections are used, of course), has slowly but steadily decreased over the same time period, and was at just under 150,000 items checked out in 2011.

The current situation

  • We have very little space for new books in Olin, and none in the Art Library.  We have limited growth space in the Science Library.  In the past few years there have been mold outbreaks in Olin directly attributable to overcrowding in the stacks.
  • The 30,000 volumes in the Art Library are scheduled to move into Olin in the summer of 2014.
  • Wesleyan students and faculty are increasingly using online materials, and the use of print materials is slowly decreasing.
  • More than ever before, we can access information about other libraries’ holdings and combine it with data on our own books.  So we have more data on which to base decisions about withdrawing or retaining materials.

For these reasons, we decided it was time to conduct a weeding project.

Weeding criteria

With 1.5 million volumes in our collections, the first thing we needed to do was reduce the number of books to consider for withdrawal.  By using the criteria below, we reduced the number of books on the weeding candidate lists to about 90,000, or 6% of the print volumes in our collections—still a lot of books, but more manageable to review than 1.5 million.

Here are the criteria we used:

1. We wanted to ensure that books that were used or useful were not considered for weeding.  So books on the weeding candidate lists:

  • have circulated only once or not at all since 1996;
  • are available through interlibrary loan, since at least 30 other libraries have a copy;
  • are available via delivery service from our Connecticut partners (Connecticut College, Trinity College, and UConn-Storrs), since two or more of them have a copy.

2. We know that many books are not immediately discovered on publication.  We didn’t want to withdraw books that had not had time to be discovered and used by scholars.  So books on the weeding candidate lists:

  • were published before 1990;
  • were added to our collection before 2003 (before 2003 we do not have information about when an item was ordered).

Retention criteria

3. Finally we share with other libraries a commitment to preserve the complete scholarly record, in its original form. So in addition to the weeding candidate lists, we have also prepared a preservation list of books we will retain no matter what.

The books on the preservation list meet these criteria:

  • there are fewer than 5 copies in U.S. libraries;
  • none of our partner libraries (Connecticut College, Trinity College and UConn) has a copy.

The selection process

We separated the weeding candidate lists into three groups, using Library of Congress classification.  Each group has roughly the same number of books on the lists, and will be reviewed in its own ‘round.’  We did this to spread out the work of reviewing and processing the withdrawn volumes, since this takes an enormous amount of faculty, librarian and staff time.

In each round, faculty and librarians have the opportunity to review the weeding candidate lists and mark books that they believe should be retained.  At the end of the round, the lists will be reviewed by a librarian one last time.  Then any book that has not been marked to retain will be withdrawn.

The delay in the Art Library move has allowed us to add a fourth round, which will only happen if we do not meet our 60,000-volume target in the first three rounds.  Round 4 will be a review of the books that received a single vote to retain in the first three rounds.  Faculty and librarians will determine which of these might be withdrawn in order to reach the 60,000-volume withdrawal target.

What happens to withdrawn books

We’re still working out the details, but here is the general plan:

  • First, the books will be offered to faculty and academic departments for their office collections.
  • The books that are left will be put into one of a series of book sales, probably organized by the Friends of the Wesleyan Library.  The Friends uses book sale proceeds and other revenue to support projects to catalog and preserve the library’s collections.
  • Books left over after each book sale will be given to an organization that will donate books to libraries or schools that need them, and recycle those that cannot be donated.

Campus discussion of the project

But before all this, we’re going to have a campus-wide discussion about the project this semester.  We’re not suspending the project—you can still get to the all the weeding candidate lists and mark books for retention—but we’d like your ideas on how to do this in a better way.  In addition to this A(T)R, here’s what we hope to do this semester:

  • consult with the Library Faculty Advisory Committee;
  • discuss the project at divisional meetings/lunches;
  • request to attend meetings of academic departments;
  • bring in R2 Consulting, a firm that works with libraries who are doing weeding projects, to do a presentation on trends in academic library collection management;
  • conduct a discussion in a spring faculty meeting;
  • talk with the WSA Academic Affairs Committee to find out how to engage students in the discussion;
  • continue communicating through the faculty forum, weeding blog, Wesleying, Twitter, …

In conclusion …

Weeding is a difficult, controversial process in any academic library.  But I think that a carefully-thought-through, conservative weeding project can be beneficial in giving the library the additional shelf space it for new books and for the Art Library collection, and eventually providing space for new study areas.

A(T)R discussion

  • In comparing use of print and electronic materials, it is important to compare the use of the same materials, where the format is the only variable.
  • Installing compact shelving in Olin is problematic, because of the structure of the stacks and the load-bearing requirements of compact shelving.
  • Emeriti faculty members can access the weeding candidate lists and mark books for retention, but they have not been formally notified of this.  The library will formally notify emeriti through the Wasch Center.
  • Special Collections & Archives materials are not being weeded; in fact some rare books now in the general collection will be transferred to Special Collections.
  • Bound volumes of many journals available electronically in JSTOR are stored in the Five College Library depository in western Massachusetts.  The Five College Consortium consists of: Amherst, Hampshire, Mt. Holyoke, Smith, and UMass-Amherst.  Wesleyan, Connecticut College, Trinity College and a few others are affiliate members of the depository.  As such, we are able to have bound volumes delivered to Wesleyan as requested (although no volumes have been requested in the five years since we became members).  Because of space constraints and other issues, the Five Colleges do not accept from affiliate members books  to store in the depository.
  • A storage facility is an alternative to withdrawing and disposing of little-used books.  But the money needed to create and maintain such a facility, for books that are widely available elsewhere and receive little or no use, would be better spent improving study spaces or providing more books, journals and other resources.
  • An alternative to a storage facility would be to create an Arts Library, that included art, music and other arts collections.
  • It would be useful to post on the blog a case study or two of a book that is selected for withdrawal, and exactly what happens to it.
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2 Responses to Campus discussion begins – A(T)R summary

  1. Mike Nelson says:

    Was shifting more of the Olin collection to the Science Library considered? Could compact shelving be handled there?

    It isn’t the prettiest option, but it may be practical. Here is an image from UCSD’s biomedical library:

    • Pat Tully says:

      Hi Mike,

      It is a good question. We fit in as much compact shelving on the ground floor of SciLi as we could, and the upper floors were not constructed to handle the additional weight of compact shelving. But if we could install additional shelving, I’d have the same reservations that I have with creating a storage facility. Is it the best use of University money to install additional shelving for materials that are readily available elsewhere through interlibrary loan, and that have received little use in recent years? Or would it better to use that money to improve library spaces and services, or provide access to more resources (new journals, books, etc., are always becoming available)? Thanks for your suggestion, and for participating in the discussion. Pat Tully

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