The Poetic Art of Weeding Books

No, not that kind of weeding! (CC image by Barbara Carr)
No, not that kind of weeding! (CC image by Barbara Carr)

At the Lander College for Women’s library, an ongoing weeding project is in effect to withdraw books. This reevaluation accomplishes a number of goals. It allows the library to make room on the shelves for new materials and to recycle books to where they will do the most good, either by reassigning them to a new location or donating them to Better World Books.

Books are “weeded” or removed from the collection based on several criteria. Items that are out-of-date, such as those including statistics or health & science information, books that are in very poor condition, or those with very low circulation over a span of decades are likely to be removed. Books in good condition that no longer reflect the goals of a particular collection may be reassigned to another branch or donated.

There  is often an “art” to weeding, as we must surmise which books may have temporarily fallen out of popularity versus those truly outdated. Particularly in the humanities, books that may have fallen out of current fashion, might again become highly sought after texts, due to changing academic currents or new professors joining the school. Thus, we are careful not to weed out volumes important to the history of a discipline. Although we are not an archive, we do try to retain “classics of the humanities” as a matter of core curriculum.

Classics or just plain old? It's the weeder's job to decide (CC0 image via MorgueFile)
Classics or just plain old? It’s the weeder’s job to decide (CC0 image via MorgueFile)

However, it can be argued that what is one person’s classic may not another person’s classic. We all have a set of cultural biases, perhaps agendas, and predilections that we carry as a result of our individual experiences. Things like the socio-economic or religious communities we belong to, the political views we subscribe to, or just the period of history and culture in which we find ourselves, influences what we hold up as important, canonical works. Historically, many minority or non-Western groups’ core texts have been marginalized by the teaching establishment. We at LCW try to be aware of this and stay vigilant to be as inclusive as possible.

To close with the promised poetry, with regard to identifying books that may be past their prime, Sonnet 94 of Shakespeare comes to mind:

“The summer’s flower is to the summer sweet

Though to itself it only live and die

But if that flower with base infection meet

The basest weed out-braves his dignity

For sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds

Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds”

Contributed by: David B. Levy, Librarian, Lander College for Women

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