Thoughts on Weeding

As much as I enjoy the technology-focused projects I work on as an emerging technologies librarian, I also don’t spend as much time as I might like with our print collection. Since I am also a our psychology liaison, I do have collection development responsibilities which require a better familiarity with relevant areas of the collection. I see the books quite a bit while roaming around the library or helping students locate materials during reference and instruction interactions, but I don’t always have regular occasions to just browse our stacks. This means it was a rare treat for me to spend about an hour of quality time in my liaison area’s reference section this morning.

My time with the books was not all fun and games. Due to space constraints and collection reorganization within the library, we need to reduce the size of our physical reference collection. Which means – that’s right! – I was weeding.

Weeding (or “deselection”) can be controversial and anxiety provoking. But it’s also a necessary reality for academic librarians who manage an infinitely growing body of information while faced with limited resources (time, money, space, etc.) to manage such information and a mission to curate collections that are useful and relevant within the context of our institutions.

As I was working with this subsection within our larger reference collection, I realized there are several reasons why weeding may be a particularly important learning activity for new librarians.

You learn what is in the collection.

Of course, there may be half-a-dozen other ways to learn what is in your collection. Simple browsing may be one way. Another may be discovering gems during other routine duties. And through my reference and instruction activities this semester I’ve certainly spent time looking for books on particular topics and gained a greater sense of some of our more popular materials. However, I find that picking up each book in turn and evaluating its place within the context of the rest of the collection gives me a much more intimate connection to the the collection as a unit.

You learn what you don’t have.

During a recent lunch discussion, one of my colleagues referred to weeding as “pruning.” I like this analogy, because weeding can lead to growing and strengthening the collection. Although I was looking to remove items, I also learned which topics are covered in the collection but need updated or more balanced information, and I found areas which should be completely revamped. For instance, I chose to pull an older volume on human intelligence. However, as I moved through the rest of the section and later checked our catalog for e-reference sources, I discovered this item was the only reference work about intelligence available in the collection. Given that “intelligence” could be a topic in several different courses across our social science curriculum, it’s an important gap to fill. Knowing this, I can seek out alternatives for replacement.

You learn to identify good places for new resources.

Since, as discussed above, I found myself needing to replace items removed to the collection, weeding led to a search for new material. Although I remember learning about finding quality, authoritative materials in graduate school courses on reference services and collection development, it was definitely no substitute for real-world librarian-esque shopping. Particularly in the reference collection, where cost of materials can be significantly higher than materials for the general collection, learning where and how to find the best materials is a vital skill for new librarians learning to curate useful and authoritative collections.

You learn from your colleagues across the library.

For me, weeding led to a lot of questions. Of course, there are questions about how to evaluate materials and what type of information should be used in making deselection decisions. There are then additional questions about the process for physical removing items for the collection. And there are questions about selecting and purchasing new materials. These questions have been great conversation starters to learn from more experienced colleagues, and are a significant reason to talk to people in several different departments (reference and instruction, technical services, etc.).


Since I was working with a relatively small subsection of the reference collection to begin with, I did not remove more than a handful of books. And several of those will be moved to the stacks or are available electronically, so the net change in the collection is relatively small. But, in just an hour or two, I gained a greater understanding of the types of reference materials available within my liaison area, as well as the areas which need more attention in the future. I learned more about collection development at my library and enjoyed several conversations with my colleagues regarding the state of our collection and the complexities of deselection. Although it is a bit daunting, particularly as a new librarian, to be responsible for deselection decisions, I’m inspired to continue investigating further collection development and analysis projects within the general collection.

Conference Highlights

A few weeks ago I attended the 2012 Library Assessment Conference in Charlottesville, VA. In addition to being a great opportunity to learn more about a huge variety of library assessment activities, LAC12 was also my first experience at a professional library conference.

After three straight days of listening to paper and plenary sessions, perusing posters, and chatting with librarians from around the country, I am just now digesting and synthesizing everything I learned. In addition to the many projects I would like to consider adapting to my library, there were several themes that resonated to me as a new academic librarian.

Try Saying “Yes.” Originally, LAC12 wasn’t even on my radar.  But due to some unexpected staff change-over just a few weeks before the conference, I was asked to attend. Although there were some stressful last-minute travel arrangements, planning for time away from work, and a poster-presentation to get up to speed on, (oh and, as it turned out, Hurricane Sandy to prep for), I decided to say “Yes.” And I’m glad I did. It turned out I learned a lot not only about library assessment activities, but also about being flexible, taking chances, and exploring deeper domains without hesitating to ask questions. While we’re all operating with a limited amount of time and attention, I think in the transition to a new career it’s particularly important not to cut oneself off from unexpected opportunities.

Own the Change. John Lombardi gave an interesting keynote about the transition to the “library cloud” in which he told us to “own the change.” Not only is it important for us to “own” the future of librarianship, but it’s also crucial to remember during any transition, personal or professional. When I started my new job, other librarians advised that it could take 6 months to a year for me to consistently feel like I know what I’m doing on a day-to-day basis. One thing I’ve found to help with the transition from student to professional is simply to “own the change.” I feel lucky to be in a profession and a position that, to a large extent, allows me to shape my future and follow my interests. Finding the edges of my job, exploring my new city and, as one of my fellow FYALE bloggers mentioned, trying to figure out what to do with my new-found spare time are all opportunities to take ownership over the student-to-professional transition.

Collaboration is Key. One comment I received on my previous post is that collaboration is not limited to working with library colleagues, but should also extend to colleagues across campus. While this has been stressed during new faculty sessions on campus and in my work building relationships with faculty in my instruction and subject liaison areas, it also came up over and over again during presentations at LAC12. In each session I attended, at least one presenter mentioned collaborating with someone outside of the library. Have an instruction theory or technique you want to test? Find a faculty member who is interested in shaking up their instruction or classroom activities. Not sure the best way to design your study or run those pesky statistical tests? Contact your computer science, mathematics, social science, etc. department to seek advice and potentially find collaborators. Equally important to remember – collaboration can be key in seeking grant funding. As a new librarian, I’ve found it’s extremely easy to stay busy and never leave the library. This conference helped remind me that forging relationships outside of the library is an important part of my daily job.

Finally, after chatting with my colleagues a bit after the conference, it was clear that we all identified slightly different important “take-aways.” And so I’m curious –  have you recently attended a conference? What were your big take-aways, professional and personal?