Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

The Weeding Problem Solved

A Kind Reader sent a link to this story with the statement, “Thank god this isn’t me!” It’s another entry in the series Weeding Projects Gone Wrong. Or maybe Weeding Projects Gone Right that shouldn’t have been made public.

The University of New Hampshire’s library is weeding books, withdrawing 36,000 and moving 15,000 to offsite storage, which supposedly totals about 3% of the collection.

However, the opening sentence of the news story is “A dumpster on the campus of the University of New Hampshire is filling up with books from Dimond Library, and professors want to know why.” Because that’s more provocative.

Sometimes it would be nice if professors knew anything about how libraries operated and thought of the system as a whole instead of their little niche, but I guess that’s what librarians are for.

Regardless, the article mentions only one professor, so even that initial sentence might be wrong. “The library is weeding old books that haven’t circulated in at least twenty years to make room for new science books and one professor doesn’t like it” isn’t nearly as catchy, though.

The major complainer is an art history professor who is “absolutely appalled.” This quote is priceless: ““I don’t know what’s going on. I was never consulted. It seems to me a travesty.”

One cannot say with this particular professor, but in my experience trying to consult professors about things like this usually consists of sending an email to them that is never answered. Maybe someone could have done that. The CYA strategy.

The main point of the article seems to be that the art history professor is befuddled. “I don’t know what they think they’re doing…. I mean, you need those books to have a sense of the history of your discipline, even if they’re not the latest thing off the press.”

It’s pretty clear she doesn’t know what the librarians think they’re doing, and equally clear that the librarians know exactly what they’re doing. She could, you know, ask a librarian or something. I’ve seen buttons suggesting that to people.

As for keeping stuff that hasn’t circulated in decades to see the history of the discipline, it’s not like every copy of these rarely used books is going away. There are probably numerous copies around the country available through interlibrary loan.

“One needs even the bad books to survive so you can see what people used to think,” claims the professor. That’s a really good point. It’s just not a reason why the University of New Hampshire has to keep a copy of all the books.

If I calculate right from the percentage given, the overall collection is about 1.7 million volumes. In the scheme of things university, that’s a small library.

It’s not a member of the Association of Research Libraries. On a list of the top 100 libraries by volume in the country, it doesn’t make the list, and probably wouldn’t even if all of those were university libraries instead of only about 75 of them.

Someone really just needs to explain that it’s just not part of the mission of such a library to keep everything. Who do she think UNH is, Harvard! The Library of Congress!

But I do have some suggestions for the disturbed art historian and anyone else who automatically hates weeding projects.

First, lobby your university to spend more money to add space to the library, because space is finite. If you buy new books, eventually old ones have to go.

Maybe the faculty could vote to cut their salaries to build new library spaces. No, that’s not at all practical, so we’ll have to try something else.

Second, and this is the one that would be most ideal, reconfigure your library like the TARDIS from Dr. Who, so that time and space are relative, and the library could stay the same on the outside, but magically have infinite space on the inside to put all the books in the world!

I like that suggestion best. Then, librarians would never have to make tough weeding choices and professors who don’t have to make those choices won’t have a reason to complain. Problem solved.



  1. It’s not like this is even a tough weeding choice. The professor is squawking about the history of the discipline, but from the article it sounds like they’re mostly getting rid of Computer Science books from the ’80s. I’m sure the university’s Computer Science department can safely do without that yellowed copy of “UNIVAC and You!” that hasn’t been checked out in decades.

  2. We at least send ours to recycling! And yes, space is finite. When you introduce coffee shops, group study rooms, the Writing Center, etc into the library space, something has to go. Besides, as the administration thinks, everything is available electronically anyway.

  3. Well, if you’re turning to Doctor Who for advice, at least you’ll always have Silence in the Library…

  4. This is why I never dump all my weeded books into the same dumpster. Spread them out, people! :)

    • This should be taught in library school! ;-)

    • In my public library, we sneak them out after hours with the cooperation of our local transfer site attendant, who then buries them below the other paper recycling. Once I had about 50 boxes of books waiting to go, and accidentally left them where someone could see them. When someone complained, I put up a sign for “free books” and let her and all her friends take everything they wanted. At the end of a week, there were all of about 3 boxes gone.

  5. Ann Robinson says:

    Weeding is best done in small batches, in the dead of night.

  6. Mary Helms says:

    That is why we always call it a “collection management” project!

  7. We box them up and then dispose of them… Some of the better ones go to the friends booksale. Some of the items manage to find their way into an employees bookshelf at home. Keeping a copy of every book that hasn’t circulated in 20+ years is not in every librarys mission…

  8. How do libraries in Colorado do weeding?

  9. As a small academic library we first offer the “surplus to current curricular requirements” books to lecturing staff. It’s amazing how quickly a book becomes “non-essential” if a lecturer has to store it in his/her own office! Disposal is done “discreetly” over the summer months :)

  10. Captain Librarian says:

    I’d just like to point out that I also was never consulted…about any number of things, on a daily basis. Consider me pompously and arrogantly offended.

  11. dan cawley says:

    We have contracted a division of Halliburton to secretly dispose/destroy/incinerate/obliterate our discards in the dead of night. Dick Cheney said it would cost .10 per book. their accountant skipped two decimal points and we were billed 1.00 per item. Still, it’s worth every penny!

  12. Librarian in Texas says:

    Keep in mind that a dumpster can be taken to a recycling center. An ajacent business uses one and is picked up by the Recycling company regularly. Our Friends take our discards as well as 1000s of donations and sort for an annual booksale. Anything not appropriate for resale gets recycled about monthly. Last week almost 3 tons of books were delivered to the recycling center. The Library receives a small fee per ton.

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