In Gardening there is a concept known as hard pruning. This is when a plant has gotten so completely overgrown that it cannot be saved by simply a standard prune. Instead you cut it all the way back to only a six inch stub and let a new plant grow out of the root system of the old plant.
Currently my collection is in need of a hard prune or what we will call a hard weed. The collection has been allowed to grow and live by its own devices for decades now. We are a small academic library serving a population of about 2000 students. We have around a 80K volumes in our collection. We have had very little active purchasing in the last ten years, only buying material specifically requested by professors. We also have done no weeding which has left us with a collection that would feel right at home in 1968. Our circulation counts are miniscule and who could blame our patrons. When you are searching for books on school management and all you find are materials that tell you how to best integrate your school you are going to get frustrated and not return. We are beginning to take a more active role in intentional purchasing and collection building, however that will not be enough on its own. Those new materials will simply get lost in the sea of dusty covers and broken spines.
So we have begun an ambitious weeding effort. We go through book by book and analyze each item. Weeding based on condition, age of material, and the amount of items already on that same subject. After material has been pulled we then have a student worker check to see if any of the items show any usage in the last five years (which is when we switched to our new ILS system). They also search WorldCat to see if the item is held by more than 50 libraries worldwide. Any books that have usage or are held by less than 50 world libraries go back to a librarian for second consideration. Everything else is placed in a viewing area, where subject professors are invited to come through and offer their discipline specific expertise on the materials. Reconsideration slips are provided that they can fill out and place in any books they think should remain in the collection.
So far we have weeded 800 volumes in just a few short weeks. Professors only asked us to retain a few titles and offered no negative feedback about getting rid of the rest of the material once they had seen it. On average each section that we weed is losing about 25 -30 percent of its volumes. While this weed may seem extreme to some it is desperately needed. The shelves in the weeded section are so much more approachable. They have no items on the bottom most shelf, and we are using book stands to display the newest books on some of the shelves. I cannot wait until the entire collection has gone through the process.
Things are slow going at the moment, since we only have four free carts in the whole library due to the rest being used for storage while we are undergoing renovation this semester. However we are trudging along and are excited to hit the ground running next semester when all of our renovations should be complete.
Has anyone else undergone an entire collection weed before? Or weeded based on shelf decisions instead of from a computer generated list? I would love to hear idea and suggestion on how to tweak the process before we could too much further into it.