Goodness, someone needs to tell librarians about the proper way to weed. The weeding complaint news article has become a regular appearance these days. This time it’s the Boston Public Library.
The headline reads, “Unpopular books flying off branch libraries’ shelves.” I expected something much more dramatic after that headline, but it’s just an article about weeding. No books are actually flying off the shelves, so they won’t have to call Ghostbusters.
But books are being weeded, in the branches at least, which might see a reduction of as many as 180,000 volumes by the end of the year. These are “little-used” books, apparently. One branch will weed 40% of its collection, others close to 30%.
That’s a lot of books to get rid of at once. It makes the shelves look bare. People don’t like bare shelves, because that’s a sign that books are being weeded. There’s a solution to that problem that I’ll get to in a bit.
But first, the complaints.
Supposedly, a lot of books related to the African American experience are going, because even though people look at the books they don’t check them out. That complaint is based on a comment by one library employee unhappy with the weeding project. Apparently, diversity isn’t something a weeding list should have.
A member of the Friends group at another library says, “I can’t begin to imagine what their thinking is in this wholesale removal of books.” The news article should help that person, because the president of the BPL says the reason is for people to talk and laugh, and “about doing our part in the digital divide, and some other stuff. That should allow someone to at least begin to imagine.
“You have students in the branches — high school students, junior high students — who are coming in to do reports. You’ve got to have a certain number of books, a certain number of hard-copy sources,” says another librarian. I don’t see how having a particular number of books helps there. Seems like having the right books is more important, but what do I know.
Then we come to some more rational complaints. One student went to look for five books for summer reading, and none of them were available at that branch. On the other hand, that branch is “undergoing exterior renovations and is being considered for further improvements, a new, colorful mosaic outside the entrance greets visitors.”
Because who needs books if you have a new, colorful mosaic to greet you.
Librarians should learn an important lesson when it comes to weeding: most of the time, people don’t care about the weeding. What they care about is noticing the weeding. They see bare shelves. They see dumpsters full of books. That’s bad.
Time and again we’ve seen people being totally irrational about this. It’s the same urge the causes people to want to donate their grandmother’s 50-year National Geographic collection or that 1968 Worldbook encyclopedia set to the library.
“Someone might want these, even though I absolutely don’t,” seems to be what’s going through their minds.
But just because people have an irrational love of old books doesn’t mean wholesale weeding of old books is any more rational. If you know library patrons are going to be upset – and you should know that about massive weeding projects – then do things differently.
Here are some tips.
1) Never throw books in dumpsters openly. Box the books up in unmarked boxes, carefully place them in the dumpsters, and then slowly walk away whistling like nothing is happening.
2) Don’t leave empty shelves. This can be achieved by weeding fewer books, my weeding the books but then shifting them to the end of the collection in an area for “special” books, or by removing the shelves simultaneously.
3) If you must get rid of the books, wait until nobody is looking, remove the books, remove the shelves, place a comfy chair where the shelves used to be, and slowly walk away whistling like nothing is happening.
4) Repeat step 1.
This really isn’t that difficult to do, except maybe the whistling part since you’ll have a dry mouth from the nervous anticipation that a library patron will see you and call you a barbarian.
So you can skip the whistling. But do everything else the way I suggest, and you won’t have articles in the local paper full of complaints about you, because no one will ever miss the books they weren’t checking out in the first place.