Weeding project – Round 1

Update, Nov. 23, 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.  In the meantime, the December 2 deadline for faculty to review the Round 1 lists has been extended; as soon as we have a new deadline we will announce it in the facultyforum list and on this blog.  Thanks to everyone who has participated in this discussion!


Conducting a weeding project is very labor-intensive for everyone who works in the library as well as faculty and others who are involved.  We have split our project into three rounds so that the volume of work is not overwhelming.   In each round, we will review weeding lists from a different range of LC call numbers.

In Round 1, we are reviewing lists of books with call numbers A through G.  What subjects are covered?  Here’s the breakdown:

Class A – General Works (encyclopedias, general reference works, collections of classic works)

  • AM – Museums and collecting

Class B – Philosophy / Psychology / Religion

  • B – BD – Philosophy
  • BF – Psychology
  • BH – Aesthetics
  • BJ – BX Ethics; Religion

Class C – Auxiliary Sciences of History (history of civilization, archaeology, numismatics, inscription, heraldry, genealogy)

  • CT – Biography

Class D – History: General and Old World

Class E – History: United States

Class F – History: Americas

Class G – Geography / Anthropology / Recreation

  • G-GF – Geography, Oceanography, Environment, Ecology
  • GN – Anthropology, Archaeology
  • GR-GT – Folklore, Manners, Customs
  • GV 1-1570; 1800-1860 Recreation, sports
  • GV 1580-1799 – Dance

A librarian is assigned to each of these subject areas and will do an initial review of the list for their call number range(s), flagging the books they recommend the library retain.  By mid-October, the lists will be posted for faculty to review and make retention recommendations.  We will notify faculty when the lists are available for them to review.

In December, we will review the recommendations and make final decisions about what books to withdraw.  In the winter and spring of 2012 these books will be pulled from the shelves and processed.  At the same time, we will begin the review process for Round 2 (Round 2 LC classes are still to be determined).

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More than you want to know about weeding criteria …

This past summer the weeding committee worked with R2 Consulting to analyze the library’s collections and compile data to determine what volumes we might withdraw from our collections.  R2 Consulting is a firm specializing in library workflow analysis, organizational structure, and strategic planning.  R2 consultants have extensive experience working in and with academic libraries.  Rick Lugg and Ruth Fischer, who founded R2, came to Wesleyan University Library in 2007 and conducted a very successful analysis of the library’s internal processes.

The library provided R2 with data on our circulating book collections, including acquisition and circulation data.  (Books that do not circulate are not being considered for weeding at this stage in the project.)  R2 combined this with information on the holdings of other libraries, and used this to analyze our collections and provide us with lists of books to consider withdrawing.

Summary collections data from R2 (click on the table to see larger version, then the Back arrow to return to this page):

Criteria used in the creation of the potential withdrawal lists:

1.       Books published before 1990:  Many—not all—scholarly books are most useful, and most used, in the several years just after they are published.  Books that are over 20 years old are less likely to be used and are therefore good candidates for weeding.

2.       Books added to the library’s collection before 2003:  Books added to the library’s collections recently may prove useful, but have not been in the collection long enough to be proved useful or otherwise.  We are retaining books added since 2002 so that they have more time to be discovered and used.  Why 2003?  In 2003 the library migrated to our current online library system, and we know what books we ordered before and after 2003.  So 2003 is a convenient breakpoint for this criterion.

3.       Books that have not checked out since 2003, and have checked out once or not at all since 1996:  Books with one or fewer checkouts since 1996, and none since 2003, may be of less use to students and faculty than books that have checked out more frequently during the same time period.  Why 2003 and 1996?  As noted above, 2003 is when we migrated to our current online system, and we have detailed circulation statistics for each book since then.  We have summary circulation statistics for each book from 1996 to 2002, when we were using a different online system.  Before then we do not have online circulation statistics.

4.       Books held by more than 30 other libraries in the United States:  If a withdrawn book is later needed by a Wesleyan student or faculty member, we will order it through interlibrary loan (ILL).  Books held by more than 30 other libraries in the U.S. will be easy to find and order via ILL.

5.       Books held by two or more partner libraries:  Wesleyan University Library is part of the CTW Consortium, with Trinity College and Connecticut College.  The CTW Consortium, with the library at the University of Connecticut at Storrs, share collections through a delivery service.  We can be confident that books held by two or more of our partners in this service will be quickly available if needed by a Wesleyan student or faculty member.

How we combined these criteria (for fans of Boolean logic):

The books on the list of potential withdrawals meet all of these criteria. So, they are published before 1990 AND added to the collections before 2003 AND have not checked out since 2003 AND have checked out once or not at all since 1996 AND are held by more than 30 libraries in the US AND are held by two or more of our partner libraries.

If a book does not meet all these criteria, it is not on the list.

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Why weed the collection?

(Revised from University Librarian blog post posted on Feb. 1, 2011)

“Plant and your spouse plants with you; weed and you weed alone.”  ~Dennis Breeze

Weeding.  It is not a fun subject, either for librarians or for faculty and students who use the library.  But from time to time it is a necessary thing.  Over the next two years, the Wesleyan University Library will be conducting a major weeding project, reducing our 1.3 million volume collection by 60,000 volumes.   (If you are not familiar with weeding, it is when a library selectively withdraws books that no longer serve the needs of its users.)

Wesleyan University Library is almost out of space in the stacks, and we have to do something about that.  And since the collections support the work of faculty and their students, we want interested faculty and other members of the Wesleyan community to be as involved as possible in the process.

The library’s mission:  In doing this kind of project it is essential to keep the library’s mission in mind.  The primary mission of the Wesleyan University Library is to support the teaching, learning, research and cultural enrichment of Wesleyan students and faculty—both now and in the future.

In addition to this, we have a responsibility to larger scholarly community to maintain and preserve books and other materials in our library that are rare or unavailable elsewhere.  This is true of materials not just in Special Collections & Archives and the World Music Archives, but also many books in the general collection.

The conversion of print to electronic content:  As you know, more and more of the library’s collections are online.  But different kinds of content are in different stages in the conversion to an electronic format.

Journals and other serials are pretty far along in the conversion, and are widely accepted and used in that form by students and by faculty.  Online video and audio are becoming more usable, and certainly our students and faculty prefer online video and audio (as long as it is of high quality) to physical forms such as DVDs and CDs.

Books in electronic form are also gaining acceptance and becoming more usable, particularly for recreational reading.  You may have heard the press release from Amazon that sales of electronic books have now surpassed not just books in hardcover, but in paperback as well.  Scholarly books are also being digitized and provided in electronic form, by a variety of book vendors and publishers.

However, so far technical and copyright limitations have prevented electronic books from being as usable to students and scholars as print books.  Yale University Press, for example, often does not include images in the electronic versions of their books, because of the difficulty of negotiating permission with the copyright holders to do so.  And another factor is the place of publication.  Publishers in the developing world still primarily produce their books in print form because they often do not have the resources to convert to online publishing and because their primary customers—libraries and scholars in their country—often do not have technology that would allow them to access electronic content.

All this will change in the next few years—scholarly publishers are beginning to see the advantages and inevitability of making their ebooks usable.  But we’re not quite there yet.

Why weed now? Libraries are in the middle of a major shift in the way we provide content.  In several years most of the working collections of the library will be online. So why bother weeding the print collections now?  If we wait several years, we may be able to withdraw print books with the confidence that there are good or better electronic versions available.

1. Space! We have almost no free shelf space in the libraries.  And although we are purchasing fewer books in print form—about 13,000 this year down from 21,000 ten years ago–for the next several years the library will continue to add print books as well as electronic books.

2. Relevance.  Another reason to weed is to keep our content relevant.  Wesleyan’s curriculum and faculty research interests are constantly evolving, as are academic disciplines and research methods.  Some books in our collection are no longer relevant to the work that students or faculty do here.  Of course there is an historic value to these books.  But if no one at Wesleyan is doing work on the history of an academic discipline, it can be hard to justify taking up shelf space with these books if they are available elsewhere.

3. Physical condition.  Some of the books in the stacks are in poor physical condition because of deterioration over time or from vandalism.  I’ve had the experience of going to the stacks and finding that the book I need is so brittle I’m not comfortable using it.  And if a book in the stacks isn’t useable we should withdraw it, although if the book has been used recently or is important we may get a replacement.

Deciding what to weed:  How are we going to decide which books to weed?

Past use and patterns of use.  We can get statistics from our online catalog on how often and when books have checked out.  This isn’t the only way books get used, but it is one important way and it is countable.  So we know, for example, that a book has checked out seven times since we purchased it six years ago, and that all of these uses occurred in the first year after we purchased it.  We have these detailed statistics for the past seven years since we migrated to our current system, and also have summary statistics from our previous system.

The number of copies of a book we hold.  We sometimes acquire more than one copy of a book, either because of its popularity or importance when we purchased it, or because the book was requested for reserve.  In some cases it is necessary to keep duplicate or multiple copies of some books, because they are heavily used or difficult to replace.  But in other cases the added copies may no longer be needed.  (You may remember that several years ago we did a weeding project to selectively cull added copies that were no longer needed, but it is useful to look at these again from time to time.)

We also have several editions of many classic works, and need to consider whether it is necessary to retain all of the editions of all these works.

Physical condition.  We cannot tell the physical condition of the books until we get into the stacks, but once we are there we will definitely consider it in determining what to weed.

The number of copies held at other libraries.  For over 20 years now we have shared our collections with our CTW consortial partners, Connecticut College and Trinity College, via a daily delivery service.  If Conn or Trinity have a book, it may not always be necessary for Wesleyan to hold it as well.  In the past few years, the consortium has been working intensively on policies to build a strong consortial library collection across all three schools, to meet our user’s needs in a more coordinated and cost-effective way.

For books not held by CTW, we have interlibrary loan.  Sophisticated online systems have revolutionized interlibrary loan services in the past several years; even print books can be provided much more quickly than in the past.  Ensuring that the library retains rare materials is important not only to Wesleyan students and faculty, but to the larger scholarly community.

The weeding process:  Although the process has not been finalized, the weeding project will go something like this:

Creating a list of potential weeds.  Using our online system, we will create a list of books that have gotten little or no use in the past several years, or that we hold multiple copies of in the collection.

What other libraries hold these books? We hope to be able to run this list against the holdings of our CTW partners, and the holdings in OCLC’s WorldCat database to determine how many books are available elsewhere.  If our copy of a book is one of only a few copies that are held anywhere, then we will strongly consider retaining it.

Librarians’ review.  The librarians will then do a review of the list to determine what books they think should be retained and struck from the list.

Faculty review.  Since faculty and their students are the people who use the collections most, we will post the list online, divided by subject, and let faculty know so they can review the parts of the list they are most concerned about and identify books that need to be retained and struck from the list.

Special Collections & Archives review.  The Head of Special Collections & Archives will review the list for rare books to be retained and transferred to Special Collections.

List of books to be weeded finalized.  Once librarians, faculty and Special Collections have completed their review, we will finalize the list of books to be weeded.

Processing the books.  The books on the list will be pulled from the shelves, the records removed from the system and from our OCLC WorldCat holdings, and the books marked ‘withdrawn.’

Disposing of the books.  Depending on the subject, age and physical condition of the weeded books, some will be donated to other libraries, others put into the Friends of the Wesleyan Library book sale, and still others recycled if their condition does not permit them to be donated or sold.

Shifting space to where it is needed.  The shelf space that will be created by the weeding project will almost certainly not be where we need space in the collection.  So the books will be shifted so the space will be where we anticipate collection growth in the next several years.  The stacks will then be relabeled and the stack guides updated.

In conclusion …

Weeding a library collection is a challenging, labor-intensive, and time-consuming project.  The reward is having a collection that meets the changing curricular and research needs of Wesleyan students and faculty.

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