Round 1 winding down …

As you know, the deadline for faculty to review and mark the Round 1 withdrawal candidate lists is the end of this month.  Round 1 includes lists of books with call numbers beginning A – G.

What happens next (Round 1)

Finalizing the lists:

Any book on the lists that has gotten one or more marks from faculty to ‘Keep this copy,’ will be removed from the withdrawal list.

Any books that have circulated in the past year will be removed from the withdrawal lists.

The librarian(s) in charge of selection for each discipline will review the lists a final time, in particular those books that have been marked to ‘Keep an edition,’ to determine whether there is another copy or edition in our collection:

  • If there is no other copy or edition in the library’s collections, the book will be retained.
  • If there is another copy or edition, the librarian will determine which copy or copies to retain.

Processing books for withdrawal:

Once the withdrawal lists have been finalized, the books on the lists will be pulled from the shelves.  A book that is on a list but missing from the shelf (and we anticipate that there will be some of these), will have a mark put on its record and a search will be done for the book.

The books pulled will be processed for withdrawal, and their catalog records marked so they no longer appear when someone is doing a search.

We will periodically run statistical reports from the catalog on the number of books withdrawn as a result of this project, to track our progress toward the 60,000 target.

Withdrawn books:

Just before the fall semester begins, the books will be placed on the Withdrawn Book shelves.  Faculty and academic departments can take the withdrawn books for their office collections through mid-October.

Book sale and after:

In mid-October the Friends of the Wesleyan Library will hold a book sale that includes any withdrawn books that have not been taken by faculty or departments.

Any withdrawn books not sold in the book sale will be picked up by B-Logistics, a company that will sell the books if possible, sharing the proceeds with the library, or recycle the books that cannot be sold.

Rounds 2 and 3

The withdrawal candidates lists for Rounds 2 and 3 are available for faculty to review:

  • Round 2 lists (for books with call numbers beginning with P): Deadline for faculty review is October 31, 2012.
  • Round 3 lists (for books with call numbers beginning H – N; and Q – Z): Deadline for faculty review is March 31, 2013.

After Round 3 is complete and the books have been processed for withdrawal, we will determine whether we have met the 60,000 volume withdrawal target.

Round 4

If we have not met the target, we will have a Round 4 in which we review books that have gotten a single mark to retain in the first three rounds.  Faculty will be invited to participate in this review if it is necessary.  No more details are worked out just now; if we need to have a Round 4 we will let everyone know.

Thank you

Many, many thanks to all of you who have participated in the Round 1 review, and to this semester’s conversation about the weeding project.  Please continue to let us know your thoughts, suggestions and concerns about the project.  You can contact your department’s library liaison, the University Librarian Pat Tully (x3887, or, or the weeding project email,

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Update: April 10, 2012

At the April faculty meeting last week I did a short presentation on the status of the weeding project.  Here is a summary of the presentation and of the questions following it:

In the past several months we have gotten many objections to the word ‘weeding,’ and many suggestions for what to call this project instead, including, but not limited to, the ones above. But the issue seems to be less with what the project is called than with what the project is.

What is the project?  The objective is to reduce the size of our collections by 60,000 volumes, to make room for new books and to move the Art Library into Olin.

Wesleyan’s libraries have 1.5 million items.  Of these, over 750,000 volumes are in the circulating collections; they are the books that check out.  We decided to focus on the circulating collections for this project, since we know how often each book has checked out since 1996.  This is not the only way books are used, of course, but it is a way to eliminate often-used books from the withdrawal candidate pool.

Criteria for withdrawal candidates:  Since it is not practicable to evaluate 750,000 books for possible withdrawal, we needed to find a way to reduce that number.

We worked with a library consulting firm, Sustainable Collection Services, to come up with a list of criteria for withdrawal candidates.  In order to be a candidate for withdrawal, a book had to meet all of these criteria:

  • published before 1990,
  • added to Wesleyan’s collection before 2003,
  • circulated less than twice since 1996,
  • held by 30 or more libraries in the United States,
  • held by two or more of our Connecticut partner libraries (that is, Connecticut College, Trinity College and University of Connecticut, Storrs).

Withdrawal candidates:  The books that fit all the criteria came to about 12% of the circulating collection, or 90,000 books.  This graph shows the total number of circulating books per LC classification, with the green section of each bar indicating the books not being considered for withdrawal, and the red section indicating the withdrawal candidates.

Classification P, Languages and Literatures, is so large that it is out of scale with the other classifications.  Within the P class, 199,938 books are not candidates for withdrawal, while 31,134 are withdrawal candidates.

We will end up withdrawing about 8% of the books in the circulating collection, or 4% of our total holdings.  This is not an insignificant number.  But the withdrawn books are held in many other libraries, so they are available through interlibrary loan if needed by Wesleyan students or faculty.  And usable electronic versions of old and new books will become increasingly available in the next few decades.

Reviewing the lists:  Wesleyan’s faculty, emeritus faculty, and librarians have been invited to review the withdrawal candidate lists and indicate which books should be retained by the library.  The lists are at:

The deadline for faculty review has been staggered into three rounds, with a fourth round if necessary:

  • May 31, 2012 deadline:  Round 1 (A–G classifications)
  • Oct. 31, 2012 deadline: Round 2 (P classification)
  • Mar. 31, 2013 deadline: Round 3 (H-N and Q-Z classifications)
  • Dec. 31, 2013 deadline: Round 4 (only if withdrawal target is not met)

Withdrawn volumes:  This summer we will begin pulling from the shelves and withdrawing Round 1 books faculty have not marked for retention.  What will happen to the books once they are withdrawn?

They will first be made available for Wesleyan faculty and departments to add to their office collections.  For Round 1 books, they will begin to be available in late summer or early fall.  The remaining books will be offered in a Friends of the Library book sale later in the fall.  Any books that do not sell in the book sale will be taken by B-Logistics, a company committed to the sustainable disposition of library materials.  They will sell the books they can, sharing the proceeds with the library. The books they cannot sell will be recycled.

The second and third rounds will proceed in a very similar way.  At the end of the third round, or the fourth round if it is necessary, we will conduct a major shift of the stacks in Olin to make room for the Art Library collections.

Space for Art in Olin:  A committee of Art and Art History faculty, with the library and students, are developing a proposal for an Art space in Olin, designed to meet the needs of students and faculty.   Once approved the space will be created before the move of the Art Library in the summer of 2014.


Did you cost out the creation and maintenance of a facility to store these books instead of withdrawing them?  Alternatively, did you cost out the installation of additional compact shelving in the Science Library or in Olin?

No, we did not.  We decided that the cost of creating and maintaining a storage facility or additional compact shelving, for books that have gotten very little use over a long period of time, would be better spent either acquiring new resources that would get more use, and/or to create better study spaces.

Are libraries working together on state-wide or regional repositories of print books?

Yes, I attended a meeting last summer with many academic libraries in the Northeast, to explore creating a regional repository so that the complete scholarly record in monograph form is preserved in its original form.  Although there are not as yet plans to create this repository here, there is a repository in the Western U.S.  The private repositories of Harvard and Stanford preserve large parts of the scholarly record, although they are not easily accessible to scholars elsewhere.

Did you look at how other libraries have successfully conducted similar projects, so they might act as a model for the project here at Wesleyan?

Yes, we worked with the library consulting firm, Sustainable Collection Services, and they gave us advice based on their experience working with many other libraries.  Vassar College and Bard College have done similar projects in the past, and their experiences were particularly helpful as we designed this project.  In an academic library, weeding projects are always controversial–even those that are successful—because of the importance to research in maintaining the entire scholarly record.

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Weeding: It’s not just for monographs …

UPDATE, April 2, 2012:  Thank you to everyone who responded!  Because of the concerns you expressed about the usability of the online versions of many of these titles, we have decided to retain several of them (see below for indications of which are being retained).  We will only re-consider them for withdrawal if we get to the end of the project and have not made our 60,000 volume withdrawal target.

We will withdraw the volumes of the other titles listed below and recycle them (the print versions are widely available elsewhere and there are stable online equivalents).  The 332 volumes withdrawn will count toward the withdrawal target for the project.

Thanks again for your comments and your patience!

Original March 6, 2012 post:  In addition to the monographs that meet our weeding candidate criteria, we are also considering the withdrawal of other items, including selected bound journals and sets that are also available online.  So far we have identified the following journal volumes and sets that might be weeded:

The Nation, 1866-1966 in Olin (201 volumes) – Will retain.

The Nation, 1912-1948 duplicate volumes in SciLi (36 v.) – Will withdraw.

New Republic, 1914-1975 (170 v.) – Will withdraw.

Economist (London), 1868-1976 (232 v.) – Will retain.

Hansards, 1803-1908 (420 v.) – Will retain.

Investor’s Monthly Manual, 1869-1916 (44 v.) – Will withdraw.

Bulletin of the Pan American Union, 1913-1948 (82 v.) – Will withdraw.

The Living Age, 1844-1941 (360 v.) – Will retain.

Total volumes that might be weeded: 1545

These are all available in full-text online on very stable, reliable platforms.  We are currently reviewing other journals the library holds in both bound and online versions, to determine what other volumes we might withdraw.

All the journal volumes we withdraw will count toward the 60,000-volume target for the weeding project.

We plan to withdraw these volumes later this spring.  If you have any questions, comments or concerns about our doing so, please let us know by the end of March by contacting me (Pat Tully, that is), your departmental liaison, or using the weeding project email address:

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Rethinking Library Resources presentation on Feb. 28

The campus conversation about the library weeding project is continuing.  On Friday, February 17 Andrew Klein, Science Librarian, spoke about the project at an NSM lunch, and there was an excellent discussion afterward.  Thanks to everyone who took part!

The next event is a lunch presentation on Tuesday, February 28 from noon-1pm in the Develin Room, by Rick Lugg and Andy Breeding of Sustainable Collections Services (SCS), on ‘Rethinking Library Resources.’  Rick and Andy worked with us to analyze our collections, combine it with information about the collections of other libraries, and create the weeding candidate lists for our project.  Both have Master of Library and Information Studies from Simmons College, and years of experience working with a variety of libraries to analyze their processes and collections.  In 2007, SCS (then R2 Consulting) came to Wesleyan to assess the library’s technical processes; as a result we made a number of changes that increased our efficiency and positioned us to take advantage of upcoming developments in library systems and services.

In their Feb. 28 presentation, Rick and Andy will talk about the revolution in library collections in the past few decades.  How is the shift from print to electronic resources changing the nature of library collections?  What strategies are libraries using to deal with space and financial constraints?  How are they balancing the needs of their patrons with the necessity of preserving the complete scholarly record?

Please join us for lunch on Tuesday the 28th to discuss these and other questions, and how the answers have shaped the library weeding project here at Wesleyan.

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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.
Cartoons from
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Update: January 13, 2012

Just before the holidays, the newly-formed Library Faculty Advisory Committee (LFAC) met to discuss the weeding project and the move of the Art Library into Olin.  LFAC recommended to Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Rob Rosenthal that the Art Library move be delayed a year until the summer of 2014, so that a campus-wide discussion of the project can take place.  Rob approved this recommendation, and we have adjusted the project timeline accordingly.

So what happens now?

1. The deadline for faculty review of the Round 1 lists (LC call numbers beginning A – G) has been extended to the end of May, 2012.

2. There will be a campus-wide discussion this semester about the weeding project and the move of the Art Library.  We do not know all the details yet about how the discussion will take place, but we will announce them as they are finalized.  Some students have expressed their concerns, and we will be exploring with the WSA how best to include students in the discussion.

On Tuesday, February 7 there will be an Academic (Technology) Roundtable lunch in Usdan 108 on the weeding project.  There will be a very short presentation followed by (we hope) a full and frank discussion among faculty of their concerns.

3. The lists for all three rounds are now available for faculty review: Librarians will be working on each round of lists in turn according to the schedule in the timeline, but faculty can access and vote on items in the lists at any time before the deadline of the round for that call number range.

Round 1 (LC call numbers beginning A – G): deadline for faculty review is the end of May, 2012.

Round 2 (LC call numbers beginning with P): deadline is the end of October, 2012.

Round 3 (LC call numbers beginning with H-N and Q-Z): deadline is the end of March, 2013.

Round 4 (review of selected books retained in the first three rounds; will be done only if necessary to meet the 60,000-volume target): deadline is December, 2013.

4. Librarians will begin identifying some serials volumes and large sets that the library now provides online, and posting the list for faculty comment before withdrawing them.

Thanks to all of you who have participated in the discussion so far, and especially those who have begun reviewing the lists and voting to retain books you believe are important to keep.

If you have comments, concerns, questions or suggestions for conducting the discussion,  or proposals for books or other materials we might consider withdrawing, please let us know!  You can contact the library liaison for your department, contact me directly at or extension 3887, send an email to the general weeding email:, or comment on this blog or elsewhere.

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Update: December 8, 2011

In response to concerns about the project expressed in the facultyforum listserv and elsewhere, we are working with faculty leadership to make adjustments that we hope will address some of these concerns.

To this end, Rob Rosenthal has re-established the Library Faculty Advisory Committee (LFAC); the following members of the faculty have agreed to serve:

  • Sally Bachner, English
  • Hilary Barth, Psychology/Neuroscience & Behavior
  • Ron Cameron, Religion
  • Demetrius Eudell, History
  • Michael Roberts, Classical Studies (EPC representative)
  • Jolee West, Academic Computing (ITS representative)
  • Sam Ebb, Class of 2013
  • Rebecca Rubenstein, Class of 2015

Pat Tully (yours truly!) will be the library representative, with librarians and other library staff brought in to discuss issues in their area of expertise.

The first item on the committee’s agenda is a discussion of the library weeding project and what changes might be made to it to address faculty concerns.

In the meantime, the December 2 deadline for faculty to review the Round 1 lists has been extended to February 1, 2012.  To get to the Round 1 lists:

Thanks to everyone who has participated in this discussion, and please continue to send your concerns, questions and ideas to me or to another member of the committee.

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Recent faculty forum discussions, part 2

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.

Library budget

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.

Art Library

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.

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Recent faculty forum discussions

In the past several days there have been a lot of messages about the weeding project both on the faculty forum listserv and sent directly to me.  I’ve responded to people individually, but since these concerns are no doubt shared by many others I decided to address them in this blog as well.

Thanks to everyone who has participated in the discussion so far!   Please continue to send along your comments, concerns and suggestions.  Weeding is a difficult, controversial, and complex process.  The more open discussion we have about it, the better the result will be in the long run.

The weeding process

The books on the weeding candidate lists have not been pulled from the collection or deleted from the catalog; they are only being considered for weeding.  They are on the list because they meet all the initial criteria for weeding candidates:, and because they were not identified to be retained in the initial librarian review of the lists.

We set the 60,000-volume weeding goal (out of almost 1 million books in the circulating collections) for two reasons. One reason is that the Art Library is being moved into Olin, and the other is because we are out of space in Olin and in Art for new books.  (We’re close to running out of space in the Science Library as well.)  There are close to 90,000 volumes on the weeding candidate lists, so we do not have to weed all of them to meet the goal.

Some of the lists are long (I did the initial review of the E and F lists, which are very long indeed!).  The initial criteria reduced the lists to about 10% of the books the library holds in each subject area, but even 10% is a lot in many cases.  We really appreciate the time you and your colleagues are taking to review the lists.

The online list tracks how many faculty members have recommended that a book be kept, but not who has made the recommendations.  So we are not able to provide a list of the books each faculty member has recommended be retained.

In December, the library liaisons will do a final review of the books on the weeding candidate lists for their subject areas.  They will make decisions on which books to withdraw based first on the recommendation(s) of faculty, as well as the subject itself and the librarian’s knowledge of how Wesleyan students and faculty use the collection.  We cannot guarantee that a faculty recommendation will result in the retention of a book, but faculty recommendations it will be the single most important factor we consider in making these decisions.

Once the decisions are made, we don’t anticipate having an appeal process for withdrawn books.  However, we are working on a process that would make it possible for faculty members and academic departments to take withdrawn books for their office or departmental collections.  We would love any suggestions about how we might do this.

Criteria used to create the weeding candidate lists

The criteria we used to create the lists of weeding candidates were not intended to determine which books were and were not valuable for scholars, but only to reduce the number of books to be considered for weeding.  They served that purpose; the books on the list represent only 10% of the library’s total holdings in the collections that circulate.   We always intended to review the lists ourselves and invite the faculty to do so, in order to retain books that meet the criteria but are valuable for scholarly or other reasons.

It is true that many books get used in the library but are rarely taken out.  After compiling the lists of weeding candidates that met the initial criteria, librarians reviewed the lists and deleted titles they knew were used in this way.  But of course faculty members know better than we do about this, and that is one reason it is so helpful for faculty to review the lists.

We are only considering weeding books that are readily available in a variety of other libraries through CTW or interlibrary loan.  Librarians are very aware of the importance of preserving many print copies of each book in existence, so that they continue to be available to scholars and students.  As a profession, we are working to develop processes for managing our collections with this in mind.

Are the books on the candidate lists available online?

When we were compiling data on the books that were weeding candidates, we included data on whether each is available electronically through the Hathi Trust.  (The Hathi Trust is a consortium of several large research libraries that are digitizing their holdings and sharing access to them among themselves.  Many of them are participating in the Google Book project and the digital versions of their books are both in Hathi and in Google Books.)

We decided not to base any weeding decisions on the availability of an electronic version.  One reason is that the quality of the scanning is often poor.  Because the books are being scanned quickly and en masse, there are pages that are illegible and some maps and fold-out pages are not scanned at all.  Another reason is that technical limitations of the text files and the devices used to read them make online books less usable in many cases than the print equivalent.  A third reason is that both Google Books and the Hathi Trust are in litigation over copyright.  All these issues will be worked out over time–just as many of the problems with electronic journal articles have been worked out over the years.  But electronic books are not yet usable and accessible enough to enable us to weed the print volume on the strength of electronic availability.

Preserving the scholarly record

There is currently no guarantee that Trinity or Connecticut College will not weed their collections of books and withdraw some of the same books we do.  However, CTW is actively exploring how the three libraries might coordinate both the selection of new books and the withdrawal of unused volumes.  Once this is worked out, it will prevent us from withdrawing the last CTW copy of books that our patrons need, even occasionally.  There is a delay in access through CTW, but very little more than it would take to retrieve the book from a storage facility.

The library is iconic for a number of reasons, and one is that we preserve and celebrate knowledge.  As stewards of the collections, librarians have to balance this essential purpose with the equally essential purpose of supporting the academic work of Wesleyan students and faculty, now and in the future.  New resources, in print and electronic form, come out each year and are often of great potential research and pedagogical value to Wesleyan.  They also require library funding, time and space (for print collections).  No matter how much of these a library has, there is never enough to preserve everything we have and to provide everything that is now available.  So the library needs to make difficult decisions about some of the least-used older material in our collections.  The weeding project, done as conservatively and responsibly as possible and with the faculty’s help, is one way to do this.

The library has a responsibility not only to current Wesleyan students and faculty, but to future scholars within and outside Wesleyan. As a profession, librarianship is committed to the preservation of the scholarly record in its entirety.  This is the reason that we are not weeding books that fewer than 30 other U.S. libraries hold, or that are held by fewer than two of our partner libraries in Connecticut. But I do know that no library–not Wesleyan and not Harvard, Yale or the University of Michigan–has the resources to hold and maintain the entire scholarly record for even selected subject areas, and each library relies on many others to provide library materials to their patrons.  Each library must balance the needs of current scholarship with our stewardship of a part of the scholarly record.  I believe that this weeding project helps us to do this, by creating space for new books that are needed both now and in the future.

For a university of its size, Wesleyan has a magnificent collection.  Wesleyan’s library has been described (and not just by us!) as one of the finest small academic libraries in the United States, and I am committed to ensuring that this remains true.  But collections are a tricky thing nowadays.  They include, as they have for centuries, print books, journals and other physical materials.  But they include as well an increasing number of electronic resources that many students and scholars expect to be able to access.  A truly exceptional library like Wesleyan provides resources in the form that is most usable for our students and faculty, as well as working with other libraries to preserve the entire scholarly record.

Alternatives to weeding

Many have suggested that we create a storage facility instead of weeding.  But I’m not convinced it would be the best solution for the library.  The money needed to create a storage facility and then to maintain it every year, in order to house books that receive little if any use, might be better put to providing access to materials that the library currently does not have but which would be useful for Wesleyan students and faculty.  There are more resources out there now than any one library can acquire, and we need to make thoughtful decisions about how to spend the funds we have to best serve our users.

Before compact shelving was installed in the basement of the Science Library several years ago, we had off-site storage at Amato’s Toy Store downtown.  The annual, ongoing cost of maintaining the space and providing delivery services to and from Amato’s was several thousand dollars a year.  I do not know the cost of recreating the space in Amato’s or elsewhere, but it would be substantial and include shelving, environmental controls to inhibit mold growth, and installation costs.

The library could certainly use the additional space that would be provided by an expansion of Olin, more compact shelving, or a new building.  We have an outstanding Special Collections & Archives that has very little space for collections, students and researchers.  The World Music Archives needs space with the proper equipment for preserving and accessing these unique recordings.  Because of the space and equipment needed to study images, there is a great need to develop a state-of-the-art image/media study area for students and faculty. And the library could definitely use more spaces in which students and faculty could work individually and in groups with print, electronic and other library resources.

I’m not convinced that providing access to books that are readily available elsewhere through CTW delivery or interlibrary loan, and that have gotten little or no use in the past 15 years, is the best use of additional library space.  There are always more library resources than any library has the money, space or staff to acquire and maintain, and so we have to strike a balance between maintaining and preserving older material and acquiring and using new resources.

Why weed at all?

Some librarians as well as faculty have reservations about the weeding project, particularly the timeline. Two years is not much time to withdraw 60,000 volumes.  But most of us think that there are books that might be withdrawn from our collections without hurting the library’s ability to support the scholarly work of students and faculty, now or in the future.

There is value in browsing the shelves, and right now there is no comparable way to ‘browse’ materials in an online catalog or database.  Some companies are working on making that possible, but there have been no breakthroughs yet.  And I completely understand about needing to keep books for months when working on a research project–there is a flow to research that is delayed when you have to order a book and then wait for it to come in, or send it back in a month.

Selectively withdrawing some books that are held in over 30 U.S. libraries and two or more Connecticut libraries, and that have gotten little or no use in the past 15 years, is–I believe–a responsible way to balance the need of scholars for new books and other materials, with the need to access older materials.

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Concerns and questions …

October 12, 2011:  Thanks to Phyllis Rose, Professor of English Emerita, for allowing us to post this exchange via the project email:

Phyllis Rose (PR): Hello and good luck with your project, which seems as necessary as it is complex and delicate. I see that works of fiction are not in Round 1 of your weeding, but I wonder if you could tell me what the criteria for elimination will be? The task seems obviously different from the task of weeding non-fiction, and I am wondering how you will proceed.

Pat Tully (PT): Thank you for your interest in the project!  Yes, we’re anticipating that the factors we use to review the fiction lists will be quite different than those we use for non-fiction.  We’ll use the same criteria to create the initial lists of weeding candidates.  But in reviewing fiction we will be looking at maintaining complete sets of works by major authors, working closely with faculty to determine just who those authors are.  In fiction we have several copies and/or editions of the works of many authors, some of which might be weeded while retaining at least one copy of their complete works.

The review is interesting–I’m doing the initial review of the American history list now and I’ve developed a list of specific factors to consider in determining which weeding candidates to retain. These include books containing primary sources such as letters and diaries, local Connecticut publications commemorating community anniversaries and events, and publications with a Wesleyan connection.   I suspect that the list in each subject area will need to be looked at a little differently.

(PR):  As there is so little consensus these days on who “major authors” are, I would advise you to cast your net for reviewers as widely as possible — not just current faculty, but retired faculty; not just current students, but alumni. I think the public posting of lists of books being considered for weeding is a wonderful practice. I would merely encourage you to make it as public as possible. Even the widest of nets may not be wide enough. if your reviewers span only two generations, you could be getting the taste and values of one generation of teachers ratified by their students, when taste and values may just be on the verge of change. Trollope has become the gold standard of enduring literary value recently, but when I was in college he was regarded as somewhat trashy for a Victorian novelist. Literary reputations take a long time to play out. Shakespeare himself took over a century to become sacrosanct. Between contemporary popularity and canonization, a long time may go by, and that may be exactly the period of five to fifteen to even fifty years in which no one checks out the work of that author.

I would also say that I have some reservations about aiming primarily to retain complete sets of writers, major or minor. I’m sure you realize that for literary scholarship variant editions can be important, especially if there are actual textual variations between the editions but even if succeeding editions are just accompanied by different introductory essays. Even the fact that one novel is reprinted more than its fellows could be important for literary study. It’s one thing to see the complete works of Walter Scott on the shelf, for example, and another to see the repeated reprintings of Rob Roy. How the same literary work is regarded at different times is something a student should be able to investigate at a university library which they might not be able to at, say, a large urban library. In that context one edition of each book might be enough.

(PT): I think the idea of asking retired faculty to review the lists is a great one and I’ll ask our technology person if she can make this happen.  And I completely take your point about authors’ literary reputations waxing and waning–I love Melville, and I know he was largely ignored until the 20th century.

We’d like the review and commenting on the weeding lists to be driven by faculty, since they and their students are the primary users of the circulating collections.  But I think we could have a great discussion of authors in a more public forum, perhaps using the blog or some other means to get wide participation in a discussion.  Let me talk to our librarian selectors for fiction.  If they are on board, we can start the discussion even as we’re evaluating the Round 1 lists. The discussion would inform the librarians’ review of the fiction lists and help determine what volumes to retain.


October 12, 2011: Wesleyan student and interlibrary loan worker Jessica Jordan, had this suggestion:

Jessica Jordan (JJ):   [I’ve heard] it was yet undecided as to what was going to happen to the discarded books, and that many of them would probably be thrown away.   As a tremendous lover of books, this seems a real shame to me. I know there are lots of students who stay here over the summer, so I was thinking you might want to consider at the end of each week putting the discarded books in the lobby and announcing that they were free for the taking. By the next week, when you had more books to put out, you could get rid of the previous week’s books. It’s not a perfect solution, but perhaps it will keep from so many of them having to be thrown away. You could advertise around campus–I’ll bet lots of students and professors would be interested.

Pat Tully (PT): We’re going to be doing the project in three phases, so we’ll pull the first lot of books this winter, then another in the summer, and then a third in the spring of 2013.  The Friends of the Wesleyan Library have an annual book sale in the fall (the next one is this Saturday, October 15), and during the project we’ll probably have a book sale in the spring as well as the fall.  Books that are in really bad shape will be recycled, but we’ll only recycle other books if they can’t be donated and they do not sell in the book sale.


October 5, 2011: Barry Chernoff, Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences, recently expressed his concerns about the weeding project.  Thanks to Barry for allowing me to post them! Here are his concerns and my response:

1. Barry Chernoff (BC): The proposed mechanism for discovering which books should be de-accessioned is usually based upon the frequency of how many times the books have been signed out.  This underestimates the vast majority of books that are used within the library and are not checked out.  Many times I use a book at one of the tables or carrels and place the book on the cart for re-shelving.  Just because I do not charge out the work does not mean that I have not used the materials in the book for my teaching or research and have not cited the un-checked-out works in my publications.

Pat Tully (PT): You are right that one of the criteria we are using is the number of times the book has checked out over the past 15 years.  All the books on the weeding candidate lists have been checked out no more than once in that time.  Unfortunately we have not captured in-house use or browses for the titles, and you’re right that books in some areas are not checked out but heavily browsed. The librarians who are doing the initial review of the lists are keeping that in mind and removing from weeding consideration those books that they suspect are used in-house.  In a few weeks (we’ll announce when) faculty will be able to review the lists and indicate which books should be retained.

2. (BC): I find a significant number of relevant works by browsing the areas in the vicinity of the book(s) that I am searching for.  This is an important aspect of my library work – I always allow time for browsing.

(PT): Not at all; we hear this all the time from both faculty and students.  In fact we encourage students to look at the books shelved around the book that they’ve identified, because often those books prove very valuable for their assignments.  Of course, because our collections are smaller than those of Yale, Harvard, Princeton or other R1 institutions, we do not have all or most books on any subject.  To that extent browsing in our stacks is somewhat limited.  But you are right that this weeding project will reduce the number of browse-able books.

3. (BC): Having been a curator at major museums, I also view the library as a collection.  Collections increase in value based upon their holdings in number and in completeness.  Weeding books, discontinuing journals lessen the value of the Wesleyan collection.

(PT): The circulating collections in the library are not entirely comparable to a museum collection.  The items in a museum collection are unique or rare, and the loss of any item in the collection does indeed reduce its value and the completeness of its focus.  The library has collections of this kind, most notably in Special Collections & Archives and in the World Music Archives.  We will not be weeding these collections.

But the purpose of the library’s circulating collections is to support the work of Wesleyan students and faculty. Because Wesleyan’s curricular and research interests change over time, the collections’ foci changes as well, growing in some areas and shrinking in others.  And this makes sense for a working collection, for although some books in our circulating collections are of timeless utility, others are of current interest but are less useful over time.  If needed, these books can be obtained through CTW or interlibrary loan.  We’ve checked that the books on the lists are not rare– there are at least 30 other copies of each book held by libraries in the United States.

4. (BC): Why is the Wesleyan Library being treated differently from other academic units?  When a department or collection of departments become too congested to function adequately (e.g., through increased faculty hires, etc.) we modify the existing facilities or construct new facilities to solve problems.  Yes, I realize that this is often a longer term solution but we don’t “weed- out” professors, coaches or administrators.  The library is central to the core mission of Wesleyan, it should be treated as such.

(PT): I completely agree that the library provides essential, core support for the academic enterprise (and thank you for saying so!).  We are absolutely committed to this mission.  But with the conversion of many library materials from print to electronic format, how we fulfill that mission is changing.  With journals the conversion is much farther along, and we can confidently rely on electronic access to many journal articles that are as useful and more accessible than the print versions. Books are far behind journal articles in the conversion from print to electronic format, and a variety of technical and copyright issues need to be resolved before books in electronic form are as useful as print books.  But these issues will be resolved in the next decade or so, and as they are we will provide access to more and more books in electronic form.

Once the conversion takes place–which will take many years–the space in the library that are now devoted to stacks can be converted to a variety of study spaces for individuals and groups, with appropriate furnishings and technology to do assignments and research.  At that point we probably won’t need a bigger building, just different spaces within the building we have.

5. (BC): There is a rumor that the necessity for weeding the collection is because there are plans to move the art library and collections into Olin.  This is not a reason for reducing the value of the Olin Collection and reducing our ability to do effective scholarship.

(PT): There is talk to moving the Art Library into Olin after the weeding project is done.  The Art Library has been full for 20 years and art books annually transferred to Olin; currently half the art books are in Olin and half are in Art.  Reuniting the collection would help students and faculty to efficiently do their work.  I can’t speak to the plans for the Squash Courts.  But I believe that the weeding project we’re planning will not reduce the value of Olin’s collections or the ability of students and faculty to do effective scholarship.

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