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Find more Weeding Tips
Weeding the 800s isn’t really that much of a challenge, mainly due to the fact that the content of the books in this section tends to age well, and the materials are often in constant circulation to students. It becomes a personal point, however, because many librarians cry “Sacred!” when they think of literature. Based on your shelf space, you may be able to keep classic items longer. However, there are some specific sections to pay extra attention to.
In general, use the same guidelines that you would in any section: if it’s tattered or hasn’t circulated well, it’s time to go. But what does “circulated well” mean in the 800s? This is where it’s important to know the needs of your patrons. Criticism of classic writers is always in use by students, so if something hasn’t gone out in two to three years, find out why. Is that writer no longer assigned? Are there newer, more interesting works on the author? Are teachers requiring a specific cutoff of copyright dates? I once helped a student gather all of our library’s literary criticism on George Orwell only to be told that she couldn’t use most of our books because the teacher wanted citations no older than 2000. Make the effort to contact your local schools and community colleges for reading lists.
811–812: Poetry; Drama
Unless your library has a mandate to collect poetry or plays, most items should be weeded after five or six years of no circulation. Inspect your single-copy plays for damage such as highlighting or margin notes. Replace poetry anthologies with new editions—The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, for example, has been recently updated.817: Humor and Satire
This is an area that tends to be trendy. Do you still have books by Jerry Seinfeld or Paul Reiser on the shelf? Have they been checked out recently? 822.3: Shakespeare
Most small- to medium-sized libraries will be fine with keeping only one edition of the “complete works” while also collecting current paperback editions of the most popular plays. Never underestimate the power of an attractive, fresh copy.
Weeding the fiction collection usually gives even the most hardhearted librarian pause. After all, we’re supposed to be the guardians of books, the keepers of the fiction flame, and that novel from the 1980s that hasn’t gone out in 15 years is surely someone’s favorite book! Even though I’m a ruthless weeder, I’ll admit that I’m thrilled that WorldCat shows me almost 500 libraries still own a copy of Juffie Kane.
It’s very difficult to remain objective when it comes to fiction. What works depends on your shelf space, your readership, and the overall size of your collection, so there are a lot of variables. Naturally, you’ll want to refer to your library’s collection-development policy and mission as reminders and keep your community’s demographics and interests in mind. But here are some guidelines you can use to make the task easier.
As a starting place, if a fiction book has not circulated in the last three years, it should be considered a candidate for weeding. For some libraries, that time period may be shorter, depending upon the size of the collection. Other libraries may be able to stretch out to five, but that’s really only when space is not a consideration.
Condition is another easy place to start, but it’s not as simple as just pulling and tossing the ugly copies. Keep in mind that titles become worn out because people are reading them. On the flip side, if a book has been on the shelf for several years and is still in pristine condition, that tells you something, too. And never underestimate the power of replacements. Replacing a tattered or outdated-looking copy may boost circulation of that title—I’ve seen it happen over and over again.
Classics and Old Favorites
One of the biggest issues that comes up when weeding fiction is the balance of classics and popular titles. Find a list you are happy with (Great Books, the Modern Library 100 Best list, Fiction Catalog), and use it as a guideline for weeding items that aren’t circulating well but might be good candidates for keeping. If staff members are crying foul over seeing their favorite authors headed for the chopping block, try a display of staff favorites to see if there is any interest.
Your library’s collection-development plan should address multiple copies—how many to purchase, when to purchase (hold ratios), and how many to keep. This is purely based on your budget and shelf space. Once interest in a title has waned—which will vary, naturally—simply retain the number of copies specified in your plan.
Because most fiction series are sequential and best read in order, it is helpful to retain the complete run if the size of your collection permits. In addition, the release of a new title in a series may create interest in older titles. I’ve had great luck using AbeBooks and local used bookstores to obtain near-new hardcovers of older series titles. That said, if older series books haven’t gone out in seven years or more, it’s hard to imagine that even a new release will make them circulate, so feel free to weed—and weed the whole run. Which is another point: if circulation stats show you could weed two or more books from a series, you need to either keep those two, or weed the entire run.
A Few Notes on Youth and YA fiction
Getting Over It
As I mentioned in my first column on weeding, the response to “This is someone’s favorite book!” is, “And we’d be happy to ILL it for them.” Don’t get me wrong—I do respect that weeding can be hard for librarians who hold every book near and dear to their hearts. And I have my favorite authors and titles as well. But libraries are not museums, and they do have very real space constraints. Popular fiction makes up the majority of circulation in most public libraries, and it’s our job to maintain a useful, attractive, and interesting collection.
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