Monday, November 28, 2011


Weeding is a library term for removal of items from a collection. It is the final step in the cycle of library materials. Like a gardener, the librarian goes through the collection systematically removing dead growth, looking at everything and pulling out items that detract from the collection. As in the case of a beautiful garden, your vertical file will thrive with regular weeding.

Purpose of weeding Weed to insure the quality of your vertical file as a resource. It is critical that your collection, which should seek to have the most current materials in certain subjects, be kept up-to-date in order to provide your patrons with resources they can depend on being accurate and current.

Weed to make your collection more appealing. As in a garden, if you do not pull the weeds, your patrons cannot see the beauty. Your files will look better and people will be able to find what they seek more easily.

Weed to conserve space. Even if you do not need the space now, you will someday. It is much better to stay on top of it than to wait until you run out of space and have such a huge job it will never get done.

Weed to save time in searching and maintaining the collection. Patron time and staff time will be saved by keeping files up-to-date. They will not need to reject outdated materials found in the files.

Weed to keep a close check on the collection. Regular weeding will keep you more familiar with the collection. You will be able to encourage use and see that the management of the files is carried out in the most efficent manner.

Weed to provide feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of the collection. Going through the collection in a systematic way will keep you aware so that you are subconsciously tuned in to this valuable resource. You (or the person responsible for the files) will be the most critical link in the development and use of the collection.

Negative factors to consider when weeding
There are several guides to help you in weeding library materials. (Stanley J. Slote’s Weeding Library Collections, 3d ed. (Englewood, Colorado : Libraries Unlimited, 1989)) is a standard reference for weeding book collections. Slote’s factors for weeding materials include attention to appearances, duplication, content, age, and use. Joseph P. Segal (Evaluating and Weeding Collections in Small and Medium-sized Public Libraries: The CREW Method, Chicago: American Library Association, 1980) developed a system of weeding called CREW, which stands for Continous Review, Evaluation, and Weeding. The system is based on the date of the material, time since it circulated, and whether or not the material is “MUSTY”:

M – misleading or factually inaccurate
U – ugly
S – superseded by newer information
T - trivial
Y – your collection has no use for the material or material is irrevelant to your patrons

The formula may not be applicable to your files, but the MUSTY factors are important to consider in weeding any collection. Using the negative factors as a guide gives you a basis for evaluating materials.) Many of the general factors for consideration also apply to vertical-file materials. Weeding is discussed in different terms, but the negative factors for consideration can be grouped in the following general categories.

Content. Is it accurate? Poor content or incorrect and misleading information is the most important factor in weeding.You must discard inaccurate information. Bad information is worse than no information at all.

Age. Age is a very important factor in vertical-file materials. Currency is one of the characteristics of supplementary materials. Ask yourself the following questions: Is the information more than five years old? Has the material been updated? Do you have a current address for the publisher? Age is easy enough to evaluate if it is printed on the item. The next best indication is the date that the item was added to the collection. You should be able to assume that the information was current when it was put into the file. Stamping the date received is important even when the date of publication is available so that you know that as of the date received it was considererd current.

Need. Is this the only source of this kind of information? Need based on extra copies is an easy factor. The difficulty is when you have the information available in a different source. Ask yourself the same questions you did before you added the material: Is this information somewhere else in the library? Or Is this information in another library in the area?

In the case of superseded information, there is probably no good reason to keep an old version of supplementary material when you get a new one. If you have questions about keeping older information, refer to the questions you asked yourself regarding the initial selection.

Is this information still needed? A number of items in your supplementary materials collection may seem trivial. The characteristics of supplementary materials include unique, unusual, and small segment of knowledge. There may be a fine line distinguishing unique from trivial in evaluating supplementary materials. You will have to answer that question for your own library.
Use. Is this material used? Is it used often? Circulation systems that leave a record of use make this an easy factor to evaluate. For example, the date due stamped on the back of item, a check-out card for the item, or a bar code attached to the individual record would track the use. Another way to measure use is to put a small hash mark on the back of the item each time the file is filed. It is not a foolproof system but it may give some indication of use. You will have to determine whether it is important for you to know.

Condition. Appearance is an easy factor to evaluate. When items become yellow, torn, dirty, or ragged, it is time to discard or replace them. If the material is valuable and you cannot replace the item, then you should consider marking a photocopy. If you use some protective material or preservation techniques when you add items, you can avoid some of the appearance problems for materials that will receive heavy use.

To summarize, you need to consider the following in your evaluation of materials for weeding: Content, Age, Need, Use, Condition = CAN U C (Can you see any reason to keep these materials?).

When to weed
Most librarians agree that weeding should be done once a year. It can be done as a large project all at once; you can do it continually; you can do spot weeding; or you can do a combination. Except for some special collections such as archives or local history, supplementary materials need to be weeded to give life to the collection.

Annual weeding. Many special collections are most efficiently weeded once each year. Dated items such as annual reports, newsletters, or college catalogs can be discarded at the end of the year, keeping only the current year, latest two years, or more, depending on your policy. If you know you will discard on a certain date, try using a bright coloured dot with the discard date written on it to speed the wedding process.

To do an annual weeding as one large project, you might consider some of the following recommendations: (1) put weeding into your annual schedule to insure adequate time; (2) choose a slack time in the library, for example, near a holiday; (3) set up a system for weeding; and (4) put your files in order before weeding.

Continous weeding. Continous weeding incolves setting up a system so that you are weeding some on a regular basis throughout the year. There are several ways to do continous weeding. One way would be to schedule one subject area per month for systematic weeding. Another might be to schedule a certain amount of time each week for weeding. You could do one file each day. You can establish your own schedule for a continuous weeding plan.

Spot weeding. Spot weeding means that you check some of the folders some of the time. Unless you combine it with another systematic weeding process, some folders will never be weeded. There are several suggestions for spot weeding. First, check each folder as new material is added. Do a quick check of materials in the folder to see whether (1) the new material updates an earlier edition, (2) older materials contain historical or background information that is omitted in recent works, (3) the new item adds a different dimension or restates what is already there (if it does not offer a fresh approach, determine whether it is needed anyway because of the popularity of the topic). Then detemine whether there is a need for two copies. Pencil the date checked on the file when it has been examined. Second, check each folder as it circulates. Examine each folder and discard material that is (1) no longer useful, (2) inaccurate, (3) worn or in poor physical condition, or (4) superseded with newer versions. Change subject headings that need to be updated; divide the file into finer groupings if it is too full; discard material from overcrowded folders, boxes, and drawers; and regroup materials into broader headings if needed. Pencil the date checked symbol on the file when it has been weeded.

Weeding, like the other steps in the life cycle of resources, offers a number of options. The important thing is to do it and to continue the process by locating new resources, adding them to your files, maintaining them, and thus keeping the cycle alive.

Summary recommendations
  • Establish a policy and procedure for weeding certain kinds of materials.
  • Keep your files “lean and clean”.
  • Set up a plan for systematic weeding and schedule it into your work day, week, month, or year.

Sitter, Clara L. The Vertical file and its alternative: a handbook. Englewood, Colorado: Libraries Unlimited, 1992, pp. 64-71.

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