May 17, 2014 6:12 AM   Subscribe

CREW stands for Continuous Review Evaluation and Weeding, and the manual uses “crew” as a transitive verb, so one can talk about a library’s “crewing” its collection. It means weeding but doesn’t sound so harsh.

Weeding, to such people, is akin to eugenics and murder. Some people feel the same about books: no book should be removed from a library.
posted by sammyo (65 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
The formula, from the article:
At the heart of the CREW method is a formula consisting of three factors—the number of years since the last copyright, the number of years since the book was last checked out, and a collection of six negative factors given the acronym MUSTIE, to help decide if a book has outlived its usefulness. M. Is it Misleading or inaccurate? Is its information, as so quickly happens with medical and legal texts or travel books, for example, outdated? U. Is it Ugly? Worn beyond repair? S. Has it been Superseded by a new edition or a better account of the subject? T. Is it Trivial, of no discernible literary or scientific merit? I. Is it Irrelevant to the needs and interests of the community the library serves? E. Can it be found Elsewhere, through interlibrary loan or on the Web?
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:17 AM on May 17, 2014 [7 favorites]

It's too bad this excerpt didn't talk about how weeding does or does not apply to ebooks.

They are the overwhelming mutative factor bearing down on the future of libraries and bookstores.
posted by shivohum at 6:25 AM on May 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

no book should be removed from a library

Because the library needs those thirty copies of Dan Brown's latest crap to be held as precious, precious relics even thirty years after everyone stopped reading him?

Libraries have always been actively in the weeding business. There are certainly individual cases where you can argue that particular libraries are getting rid of works they should preserve, but arguing that no library should ever get rid of any book it has ever given shelf-space to is just removing yourself from a useful conversation on the subject.
posted by yoink at 6:38 AM on May 17, 2014 [18 favorites]

Weeding sounds so negative -- maybe people would like it better if it was called curation? It has to happen, and when done well you end up with a better, more usable and interesting collection.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:47 AM on May 17, 2014 [4 favorites]

It means weeding but doesn’t sound so harsh.

Weeding is absolutely central to good librarianship. I'm of the opinion that explaining why that's so, and doing it transparently rather than furtively, not giving in to the notion that there's something shameful about it, is the most productive strategy for libraries.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 6:48 AM on May 17, 2014 [14 favorites]

The code word is a good idea - - just look at the misguided public outrage every time a story of a library discarding books hits the mainstream media.
posted by fairmettle at 6:49 AM on May 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 7:22 AM on May 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

There's an artist going around the US right now installing his paintings in libraries, Mike Stilkey. As you see, they're not done on canvas—he paints them on the spines of books weeded from libraries. (It's actually so cool! He sorts all the discarded books he gets into widths, and spends a goodly amount of his time stacking them up into usable painting surfaces, but otherwise doesn't treat them at all. He paints directly on the spines.) While he was installing one at my library recently, I heard at least 4 of the 5 managing librarians say in a charged and defensive tone, none of these books came from our collection, no!

Oh, but when the CA Historical collection was on the block y'all had no trouble throwing those Twain first eds in the dumpster. Hmph.
posted by carsonb at 7:23 AM on May 17, 2014 [4 favorites]

My experience with libraries, albeit in urban areas, is that they offer computers connected to the intarwebz. Those are pretty much camped by homeless (N=1 over a statistically insignificant number of observations, observer bias, etc.).

Sure, they need to crew (neologism) the library. The old stuff no one has checked out in years should go to those "Friends of the Library Book Sales" along with the donations.

My .02: libraries are like vinyl record stores. Technology has made them nearly obsolete. But there were always be a hue and cry from anachronists.
posted by CrowGoat at 7:26 AM on May 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

My experience with libraries, albeit in urban areas, is that they offer computers connected to the intarwebz. Those are pretty much camped by homeless (N=1 over a statistically insignificant number of observations, observer bias, etc.).


My .02: libraries are like vinyl record stores. Technology has made them nearly obsolete. But there were always be a hue and cry from anachronists.

So what you're saying is, you've identified from firsthand experience that a major role of libraries in the modern age is providing access to information to disadvantaged people, and you think this makes them obsolete?
posted by Tomorrowful at 7:28 AM on May 17, 2014 [58 favorites]

If my library didn't do this, that would be a mistake.
posted by clvrmnky at 7:29 AM on May 17, 2014

I'm always amazed when people say that libraries are obsolete, because I go to the library once a week, and it's always packed with a wide variety of people. There probably aren't scads of people in my category: middle-class, non-elderly, no kids. But there are lots of kids and teenagers, lots of older folks, and lots of people using the various services (computers, tech help, tax help, English conversation groups, the writing tutors who will look over your resume and cover letter....) My local library is totally thriving.

It seems to me to be a no-brainer that public libraries have to cull pretty ruthlessly. There's no reason to have the 35 copies of Bridges of Madison County that were in demand in 1996, and I can't see a lot of virtue in saving out-of-date guidebooks and atlases that still show Yugoslavia. But academic libraries are a trickier case to me, because the concept of "out of date" isn't as much of a thing in academia. Old stuff just becomes a primary source. You can still get things through interlibrary loan, but I've gotten a lot of mileage out of the serendipity of just going to the right place in the stacks and looking at the books there. I know that they can't keep everything forever, but you do lose something when you take that stuff out of the stacks.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:38 AM on May 17, 2014 [10 favorites]

Readers are bad for books, of course, but librarians pandering to readers are the worst of all. Would we have the Dead Sea Scrolls if they had been kept on open shelves? Of course not. How many great works of literature have been lost because librarians encouraged readers to rub their greasy paws over the text? The number must be staggering. We still have a chance of recovering them: from papier mache encasing mummies; from cannibal books with bindings constructed from their weaker brethren; from the charred cylinders of Herculaneum. What these things have in common are dead librarians and no readers. There's a lesson there for us: eschew relevance and accessability; preserve knowlege in the crypts. The ideal library, in my opinion, would be buried beneath a thousand tonnes if stone, and guarded by the ghosts of vengeful librarians. That's how to pass wisdom on to future generations: treasure it, and keep it in a cellar.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:47 AM on May 17, 2014 [5 favorites]

"We don't need publicly funded and maintained, universally freely accessible storehouses of organized knowledge anymore, because Google."
posted by overeducated_alligator at 7:47 AM on May 17, 2014 [11 favorites]

I wonder what percentage of the books on a municipal public library's shelves are actually available in digital form. In particular, what percentage of the old, haven't-circulated-for-years "weeds" are available in digital form.

It seems to me that the answer would be relevant to any discussion of the obsolescence of paper libraries.
posted by Western Infidels at 7:48 AM on May 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

The ideal library, in my opinion, would be buried beneath a thousand tonnes if stone, and guarded by the ghosts of vengeful librarians.

Have you considered moving to Nightvale?
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:52 AM on May 17, 2014 [13 favorites]

I actually think that in practice, the more relevant question to public libraries is whether the "weeds" are available via interlibrary loan. I'm not sure that most library patrons have convenient access to digital books.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:53 AM on May 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Also, guys, enough with the acronyms!
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:54 AM on May 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

Because the library needs those thirty copies of Dan Brown's latest crap to be held as precious, precious relics even thirty years after everyone stopped reading him?

This happens at academic libraries that don't own a single Dan Brown. The space opened up? It's for coffee shops and so-called learning commons where people can hang out.

through interlibrary loan

There's no quick reference when the book has to be delivered a hundred miles sight unseen.


My favorite. At my library, our subscriptions and packages routinely change. Last term a series of books were removed while students were using them during finals. Ha-ha! Nothing to be done. ILL will deliver them next week, not that it'll help.

the more relevant question to public libraries is whether the "weeds" are available via interlibrary loan

And how much does it cost to process and ship both ways?

In our consortium, culling is to be done in secret by outside evaluators because the librarians can't be trusted to be ruthless enough. This is from their own documentation we had access to (but no longer do, cf. "ebooks")
posted by 5ean at 8:04 AM on May 17, 2014 [8 favorites]

My only concern about weeding is that...well, I am interested in old stuff. I'm interested in old small press and regional stuff in particular - I collect, for example, feminist science fiction from the seventies and eighties wherever I find it. I'm also interested in left-wing novels set in radical political milieux, regardless of quality. And in a bunch of other similar stuff where the point of looking at the thing is not "my goodness, this is just as entertaining as Harry Potter!" but "what can reading this book tell us about the history of the genre or the history of the milieu?" A lot of that stuff gets checked out rarely; some of it is very poorly known since it was published Before The Internet, and since it's less well-known it's less likely to be digitized. Since I was a kid, the thing I've noticed about libraries is that it's getting harder and harder to find original documents - I might be able to find a book about left wing novels, but the novels themselves have been purged.

While I know that libraries can't hold onto everything, I am a little concerned by the idea that something is only worth preserving if it's in constant circulation.
posted by Frowner at 8:06 AM on May 17, 2014 [11 favorites]

I work for an urban public library and we're packed to the brim every single day. We serve folks from across the socio-economic spectrum in a dizzying array of ethnicities and try to provide the information and services that will help/entertain/enlighten/educate them all. We circulate huge numbers every year and we buy tons of popular reading. If we didn't weed constantly, we'd be drowning in John Grisham and James Patterson books. All our weeded materials go to a local charity, so we know they'll have a second life with a good home. I don't think we need a new acronym or secret phrase to hide weeding. Seems like obfuscating an activity that's already done behind the scenes, just in case someone might get riled up about the word "weeding", is a bit silly.

And by the by... Every time I hear someone claim that libraries are obsolete (we all have kindles/only the poors go there/the intarwebz has all the informashuns), it makes my blood boil. Anyone who makes that claim has absolutely no idea how much money their local library can save them, let alone the wealth of free information available through electronic resources and the expertise of the librarians. Libraries are one of the last vestiges of civil society in our increasingly dystopian, libertarian inspired, "fuck you, I've got mine" society.
posted by Lighthammer at 8:13 AM on May 17, 2014 [27 favorites]

For a humorous take on the subject, see Awful Library Books (one of my favorite blogs).

I am always amazed by how busy the local library branch is in my fairly affluent suburb. It's absolutely a valued community resource and seeing it put to such heavy use always chips away at my despair just a bit.
posted by trunk muffins at 8:29 AM on May 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

it's getting harder and harder to find original documents - I might be able to find a book about left wing novels, but the novels themselves have been purged.

This is unlikely to be just a function of low circulation and the public's lack of familiarity with the material. This sort of work frequently doesn't get reprinted, so when it's sufficiently mangled that it's not suitable for the shelves, there's no easy option for replacing it. Libraries don't have unlimited budgets for rebinding, and not all books are physically suited for it.

I did a lot of weeding during my library years, and always took pride in keeping the weird-and-hard-to-find available by all the means I had at my disposal. Sometimes it just can't be done, though. (And over time, the sometimes-it-can't-be-done overtakes us all.)
posted by asperity at 8:30 AM on May 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

One of my fellow librarians once argued that any weeding was censorship since it was removing information from public availability. I was kind of staggered by that assertion, since I thought it misunderstood both censorship and physics. Censorship is driven by political motive, not practical concerns, and physics dictates that every book kept means less room for future books. So if no book is ever removed, at some point your library becomes a time capsule to an era which most people won't care to visit. The only sensible option, if the library wants to remain relevant as a library, is to curate the collection on an ongoing basis so that it continues to reflect the community's current needs and interests.

There's not really an option not to weed, especially since most libraries aren't flush with money to add storage space (and especially not to add storage space which would be rarely accessed). On the contrary, quite a lot of libraries are fighting to maintain existing budgets, or to return to previous ones, thanks to the "fuck you, I've got mine" mentality which posits that public goods cause some irreparable harm to enterprising businessmen. Running a library as a business would inevitably result in curtailing access to the poor, who'd be considered a drag on the system rather than part of the community just as deserving of access as everyone else.

And no, for fuck's sake, everything is most assuredly not available online for free. It would take ages to compile a list of all the things I've had to look up which were not available through Google.
posted by johnofjack at 8:35 AM on May 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm actually curious about how anti-weeding people think that libraries should handle the pressures on space. Should they stop buying new books? Should they build new stacks? What happens if there's not any space available nearby to build on? (Part of the reason my public library is so popular is that it's right in the middle of things, and there is literally no adjacent space to build on. Maybe offsite stacks? That has some of the problems of interlibrary loan, though, plus it's incredibly expensive.) Where is this money going to come from, given that libraries are constantly fighting just to maintain their current levels of funding?

Seriously: what's the alternative to weeding?
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:43 AM on May 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

While I know that libraries can't hold onto everything, I am a little concerned by the idea that something is only worth preserving if it's in constant circulation.

Yes. I'm a public librarian and I have to say that's one of the things that I feel most conflicted about. One of my supervisors at a previous job said that ideally we would have no books on the shelves because they would all be checked out! - And that ideal, which isn't just about weeding but also affects how we select books and whether we replace old and damaged books, is one that definitely privileges majority points of view over minority points of view. We've swung from an ideal of public library selection that privileged the elite that essentially said "librarians know better than you what you should be reading" to an ideal that says "you know best what you should be reading," and that's on balance a good thing! But it's a "you" that is really susceptible to the tyranny of the majority.

I try to err on the side of keeping the great-but-obscure books, and the books that I know serve underserved populations -- if I weeded just by circulation, we might have no YA books with transgender characters, rather than the sad 2 or 3 that we do have.

I think most librarians wish that we had the space and funding to keep the quirky older small-press stuff (though not travel guides to Yugoslavia or 30-year-old diet books or the entire run of Buffy novels...), but it can be hard to justify to the general public in the way that arts funding is hard to justify. "Why is the library buying this stuff if nobody checks it out? This is elitist and nobody cares about it."

(I am both really hopeful and quite wary of how digitization and ebooks are going to play into this in the future, but I think for now people have to remember that a lot of people don't have access to ebooks and a lot of books haven't been digitized. If it's an obscure small-press book from the 1980s, is it even going to get an ebook edition? And if it does, are any libraries going to buy it?)
posted by Jeanne at 8:50 AM on May 17, 2014 [5 favorites]

I often wondered about the ordering process, which was one department I never worked in during my time in the public library.

When the new, fancy, five floor downtown library was built, I had the pleasure of helping to haul over the old collection to the new building AND integrate a massive book order that was made to help fill the giant space. Lots of fun (sincerely), and very illuminating to see a bulk order all at once. I remember doing the Film section and finding four, four copies of the official behind the scenes tie-in book for Eddie Murphy's "Haunted Mansion". Man, if there was ever a strong candidate for weeding...
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 8:55 AM on May 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Don't believe what they say about CREWing - this is Obama's plan to burn all of our Ayn Rand books to build more Priuses and that's it!
posted by oceanjesse at 9:03 AM on May 17, 2014 [8 favorites]

Public librarian, here. Weeding, which I do a lot of, might be my favourite part of the job. Reduces clutter, improves the look of the collection, makes room for new books and valuable but low-circ items are offered to other branches and\or made reference. If they created a full-time roving weeder position I'd be all over it.
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:14 AM on May 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

In no particular order:

1) What happens to the books the libraries weed out is that my husband buys ALL THE OUTDATED BOOKS and then they come live in my house forever and never get orphaned again because my husband has NEVER HEARD OF CURATING YOUR COLLECTION and I want the libraries to stop weeding theirs not because weeding is bad but because their weeding leads directly to my overcrowding.

2) ILL is the best but it is the double-best when combined with the Bookmobile that stops a block and a half from my house, because I can request a book for ILL online and they just send it to the bookmobile which is basically one step removed from having it delivered directly to my door. Just about every library in Illinois, delivered to me within two weeks, a block from my house, for the low low price of reasonable taxes. I love it even more than I love my kindle, and I love my kindle a LOT.

3) I always thought my college library was missing out by not having a small "popular fiction" room with recent best sellers and pulp and People magazine. A lot of people read trashy fiction to relax but it was really hard to get your hands on if you didn't go off campus to a Barnes & Noble (the campus bookstore didn't carry fiction then either)! Given the quantity of people who accompanied friends to the library to study, and the wild popularity of even semi-mainstream magazines as while-away-the-time reading material in the periodicals room, why wouldn't you have a couple of shelves of trashy fiction in a 13-story library? (In fact, they could have just have some "take a book - leave a book" shelves down in the library coffee shop and let the students stock them themselves.)

4) The library where I grew up used to take all those extra copies of Bridges of Madison County when they stopped being popular and in addition to selling a few, they had a pair of small shelves installed at the local commuter train station as a "take a book - leave a book" and they'd periodically seed it with these bestseller leftovers as their popularity waned. There were always commuters browsing through for something to read and people were very diligent about leaving their own pulp novels there for others. The library came and weeded it once a month or so. Even with the advent of smartphones and kindles, the train station shelves are still there, and there are always people browsing it when I visit my parents. It is a great idea (like little free libraries for commuters!) and more library systems should do it!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:16 AM on May 17, 2014 [14 favorites]

Weeding. Whiting. Withmatic...and then there is WEED, inhale. hold. exhale...nice, wight?
why so caught up in the name of the process?culling, deleting, weeding, cleaning up, tossing etc
posted by Postroad at 9:18 AM on May 17, 2014

why so caught up in the name of the process?

I dunno, but for me, culling has connotations of killing (as in "culling the peep that's clearly not going to make it"). "Weeding" is better -- ridding the unwanted to make room for the desired. But "curated"? We love our collection, and want to bring you, the reader, the visitor, the researcher, the very best stuff that we come across, and are conscious of not wasting space or time on the less-than-good. Terms matter.

/says the volunteer who has sorted and arranged books at more than a few sales at local public libraries
posted by MonkeyToes at 9:33 AM on May 17, 2014

I always thought my college library was missing out by not having a small "popular fiction" room with recent best sellers and pulp and People magazine

My grad school library had this. It was great! It was just like a well-stocked new book section at a public library but with more literary and translated fiction, and still plenty of trashy stuff. That and the popular periodicals (with a lot of non-English magazines) were right next to the library cafe for perfect study breaks.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:39 AM on May 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

While I know that libraries can't hold onto everything, I am a little concerned by the idea that something is only worth preserving if it's in constant circulation.

I know we use circulation as a criterion, but not the sole criterion [academic library though.] One of ours is over 50 libraries in WorldCat, which means that hopefully we're not throwing out the sole and only copy. (Not that WorldCat is the end all and be all of catalogs, but...)

I always thought my college library was missing out by not having a small "popular fiction" room with recent best sellers and pulp and People magazine

The parents of an alum who died tragically young donated a fund to my college for this express purpose: it can only be used to purchase fun books, and it's the best. Thanks, Quita.
posted by jetlagaddict at 9:56 AM on May 17, 2014

Weeding. Whiting. Withmatic...and then there is WEED, inhale. hold. exhale...nice, wight?

Postroad, you are my very favorite octogenarian stoner.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 9:59 AM on May 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm in favor of smart weeding, of course. Not every stupid old book belongs on the library shelf.

But I cringe sometimes when I try to browse or search our collection here at my library and find that apparently the MUSTIE formula has determined that we only need the third volume out of a seminal scifi trilogy, or that there is no reason to have anything for adults about plate tectonics because "Hey, we checked and the circs were too low."

There are some titles and topics which a public library just needs to have on hand. I imagine patrons who have never set foot in a library in 20 years--and never will again--because they came in the doors, did a search, and accurately determined that our collection has an ugly hole where their interest is. Granted, that is just my imagination. But I know that good service can turn long-lost patrons into regulars.

These long-tail demands are not detected by the MUSTIE system. These patrons do not talk to Reference Librarians to make a suggestion for purchase, they are not interested in ILL, and it would never occur to them that it is their job to tell the library it should at least have a copy of A History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (and No, just part II of the audiobook version doesn't count.)

We have lots of room on our shelves, and I hate knowing what was thrown out because it had an apparent circulation of just 1 or 2.

In a perfect world, we would have plenty of intelligent, experienced librarians dedicated to carefully gardening our collections by subject, with personal interest in particular fields of research and study. In a perfect world, that is.
posted by General Tonic at 9:59 AM on May 17, 2014 [5 favorites]

Without weeding, the finite capacity of a library would soon prevent the addition of newer works. It's a delicate job that requires an experienced sensibility and an utterly necessary service for patrons.

Without decay or carrion eaters, we'd soon be drowned in the bones of the living past. Some people lament the majority of missing films from the silent era, but they're gone for a reason. Once a famous person is gone, interest in them shifts to the living famous. The details of lives that went before ours are pruned for a necessary and sufficient reason: our lives are too short to appreciate them in detail.

All readers are burdened with books we know we should read but never will. Who knows what fatigue lurks in the hearts of readers? The librarian knows.
posted by Twang at 10:03 AM on May 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

CREW MUSTIE TUIE always has the best book-themed float in the Mardi Gras parade.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:05 AM on May 17, 2014 [6 favorites]

I feel so lucky to have access to the Hennepin County Public Library. 90% of what I'm looking for, they have. Maybe greater than ninety percent. Everything from current ebooks, to the complete multi-volume set of Toynbee's A Study of History, which is now out of print. The stacks are open to the public, so you can browse books collected back in the latter half of the 19th century when it was the Minneapolis Athenaeum. Usually I have books delivered to the branch near my house, but whenever I visit the large downtown building I leave feeling a mixture of awe, hope, and anxiety for its future. It is a literal storehouse full of treasures, and from my layman's perspective it appears to be curated quite well.
posted by spacewaitress at 10:34 AM on May 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Crewing / culling / weeding / whatever is so critical. I know it can be misapplied, and often is, but your library simply does not need Windows 4.1 for Dummies or a job-searching guide from 2003. What they DO need is Windows 8 for Dummies and a job-searching guide from 2013.
posted by KathrynT at 10:42 AM on May 17, 2014 [6 favorites]

my academic library has a notoriously tight collection, they buy bits and peices, but spend most of the collection on new tech, but then the new tech (like ebooks) often does not work off site (and they have weird gaps, like nothing by nicholason baker) . i also collect weird religious work, often from the 1960s and 70s, from tiny markets--i need it for my work, ad it is weeded fiercely.
posted by PinkMoose at 10:50 AM on May 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I feel I should revise my comment; it seems to me my library has closer to 95% or even 98% of what I'm looking for. It is very seldom that I come away disappointed from a catalog search. The downtown branch also has neat stuff like a grand piano in a soundproof practice room, and old stereoscopic images with viewers, and a pretty good collection of sheet music; I've checked out viola music there a few times. It's just astonishing to me that such a wonderful thing exists.
posted by spacewaitress at 10:53 AM on May 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

On this subject I am torn (ha)...I get that libraries do not have infinite amounts of space, however, if diligent weeding had been done at my local library back in the day then my very snarky high school book report (subject: biography) on 'Neville Chamberlain, the Great Appeaser' (pub early 1939) would never have happened.
posted by sexyrobot at 11:03 AM on May 17, 2014

I should add that I have worked at branches where the librarian(s) apparently did not believe in weeding anything, and the result was shelves stuffed to bursting with travel guides from the '90s, manuals about the internet so old they called it The Information Superhighway, books that looked and smelled like they'd been pickled, etc., etc. They looked terrible (until I got through with them, that is) and if I were a patron at a place like that I'd assume not that the staff so loved books they could not bear to part with them, but that they didn't give a crap about what was on the shelves.
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:25 AM on May 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Clearly, the CREW formula is not in the same class as E = mc2.

The class of formulas that are trivially incorrect?
posted by belarius at 12:59 PM on May 17, 2014

It's not just whether a book is continuously checked out that's important, but whether someone might check it out in the future, because that opportunity itself is a virtue. Knowing some book is available is useful even if you haven't checked it out yet.

If you present the issue in terms of only formerly-popular books that had multiple copies you're being a bit disingenuous, as there aren't really many of these books to begin with. The real problem is single copies of that obscure 1950s mystery novelist who might still be interesting to read, or that 1930s horror writer who unbeknownst to you is developing a cult following. Or maybe even that 1990s manual on getting around in MS-DOS, that could be interesting for giving a sense of where computing's been. Books that a judgment call must be made concerning. That can be maddeningly difficult; if you throw out the book you've forever limited your library's collection in that area, but the odds are most of those old books are not going to suddenly become popular or useful again.

The code word is a good idea - - just look at the misguided public outrage every time a story of a library discarding books hits the mainstream media.

I emphatically disagree here, the acronym is silly and misleading. Making up a word that sounds like another, unrelated word to hide what you're doing is just playing stupid games. Fight your battle where it should be fought, in the sphere of public opinion, otherwise you're just delaying it until the public catches on, and then you have the same situation only you've degraded your language a bit more, which as a librarian, shouldn't you be caring about?
posted by JHarris at 1:01 PM on May 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

Like Eyebrows McGee's husband, I go to the Friends of the Library booksales and buy all the outdated books. They hold the big booksales twice a year now and I routinely come home with four boxes full (actually, the sale last April was the first time it was JUST four boxes - usually there's an extra bag of books that wouldn't fit in my boxes), which is usually about 150 books.

I know that most of these are not culled, but rather donated - but it's always a surprise to me that so many people think they are so worthless. (In one sense, of course, they ARE worthless - if no one will buy it even for a dollar on Sunday, when everything costs a buck, well, it's pretty unwanted.) I find them delightful and informative and magical and worth much more than the couple of bucks I pay at the sale - but I'm thrilled that they're only $2, because I wouldn't be able to afford so many if they cost more.

I'm especially fond of the Pelican non-fiction series; I'm sure I've got 100 of them at least by now, and they cover so many interesting subjects: the history of England, Chinese art, Greek science, opera, poverty in America, Stalin, materials science, Descartes.

They are not available as ebooks.

And I've also been able to pick up several volumes in the Abrams Discoveries series, which are like little paperback coffee-table books - full of full-color images with lots of interesting info. I have Discoveries books on Einstein, early alphabets, Vikings, the origins of the universe, Pompeii, several artists - the one on Van Gogh has photographs of Van Gogh at 13 and 18, which I'd never seen before, and says the first sermon he preached was in English!

Like the Pelicans, I can pick these up for $2 each; like the Pelicans, they're not available as ebooks.

(But then, I avoid "buying" books and music in digital form anyway, because I don't actually own that stuff - I'd just get a license, and no right of first sale or right to transfer ownership to someone else when I'm done.)

And I've also picked up some Armistead Maupin and Dava Sobel and Tracy Kidder and A.S. Byatt - recent books as well as outdated ones.

I'm a huge fan of my city's libraries - I visit our local branch every week (because the thousands of physical books I actually own aren't nearly enough, hah). I'm very happy that they do keep a lot of older, obscure titles on the shelves, even while they provide dozens of copies of recent releases, both best-sellers and slightly less obvious choices that are part of the "On the Same Page" series. I'm glad they cull as necessary, because there are always new books (and CDs and DVDs!) and they don't have room for everything.

But those out-of-print books are not worthless to me, and physical books offer things that ebooks don't, both in terms of reader experience and in terms of legal ownership.

I really worry about the probable black hole looming, when a large swath of books will still be under copyright but won't be available - out of print, with the physical copies lost or pulped or deteriorated too much to risk lending. I buy my books mostly because I love having them on my shelves, where I can pluck one down any time and learn more about ancient Greece or the Russian revolution or Monet ... but also a little because I'm afraid that at some point during my lifetime they just wouldn't be available to me otherwise.
posted by kristi at 1:40 PM on May 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

When I weed, it's just my fiction section. Since I've only been in public libraries for, what, seven months now, I tend to approach things mechanically with circ records in hand. My first pass knocked out the low hanging fruit - self sitters who have not moved in 5 years and has fewer than 10 lifetime circs. There were a surprising number of them, but a goodly portion were 'saved' by virtue of being part of a series or by a popular author. Still, I managed to get my fill rate (linear inches of books/linear shelf space) down to 80% on the backs of first novels and disappointing followups.

Problem is, they keep publishing new books! And I have to spend 18k on fiction every year (paying on average 60% of the cover price, so the retail amount I have to spend is much higher) so clinging to that 80% will be pretty hard without making some difficult choices. I know I can't trust the circ numbers only - we'd be a PATTERSON BY JAMES PATTERSON PATTERSON library pretty quickly - and the Fiction Catalog is a woefully poor fit for my community's reading tastes, so I'm gong to have to be clever, maybe deploying some reader surveys and Awesome Boxen to get make sure I keep what our patrons want to read and collect what they might be interested in.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 1:53 PM on May 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

I really worry about the probable black hole looming, when a large swath of books will still be under copyright but won't be available - out of print, with the physical copies lost or pulped or deteriorated too much to risk lending.

I worry about this too. The most frustrating slice of books are those that are out-of-print, never that popular to begin with, and too old to find in eBook form. Oftentimes used copies of these books can be found for sale online for $40+.

Fortunately, I'm usually able to find what I need at the library, (but then I worry about unscrupulous people stealing these books to sell online!)
posted by spacewaitress at 2:02 PM on May 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Taking this opportunity to make sure everyone knows about the Internet Archive's book drive. Donation details at that link.

Mail your can't keep but don't want to get rid of books to them, and they will scan them and then place physical copies in long-term storage. Duplicates are not pulped, but donated to other organizations. Here's an article about their storage facility.

Here's one about their largest donation to date: 130,000 books from the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library.

They are archiving other physical media as well, if you've got it.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 2:14 PM on May 17, 2014 [7 favorites]

Mail your want to get rid of books to them too, to be clear. Mail all the things.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 2:16 PM on May 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Can I just note that a CREW is also a coherent radiation emission weapon?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:38 PM on May 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

I had an acquaintance with the most magnificent occult library. It lined 3 walls of his bedroom. There wasn't room for a single new book.

And his collection got better each year. His policy - for each book that was added to his library, he would remove a book. This strict curation policy had impressive results; it wasn't the quantity of his books that was impressive, but the quality of them.
posted by el io at 4:00 PM on May 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

Can I just note that a CREW is also a coherent radiation emission weapon?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe

If *you* can't, no-one could!
posted by mikelieman at 6:36 PM on May 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I propose the establishment of a Library of Awful Library Books, perhaps with a more euphemistic title, such as Book Orphanage, Wordhoard, or Entropic Library. This library will deliberately collect, house and curate all the books that other libraries and readers don't want and that are often uniquely useless and unreadable to the majority.

Unless its own collection is limited (and thus itself subject to weeding), it will have to be in some low-rent area with vast space. It will become a resource for academics dismayed by the weeding of academic libraries and a treasure trove for hipsters, snarkmeisters, and aficionados of the obscure and obsolete.

To drop the irony, I'm highly aware of the need for weeding and I believe that weeding and the acquisition of more up-to-date books better serves the needs of students and the public in school and public libraries. Because the school library where I work doesn't have much money to buy new books at list prices, I in fact do spend more time than I want to in such places where books go to die: secondhand bookstores run by Friends of the Library, book donation warehouses. I also can't start such a library in my own house, as I live with two other people who are already objecting to the number of books in the house.
posted by bad grammar at 6:37 PM on May 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

perhaps with a more euphemistic title

P.G.S.F.T.P.O.V.P ?

( Pan Galactic Society For The Preservation Of Vogon Poetry , of course. )
posted by mikelieman at 7:17 PM on May 17, 2014

I find it fairly bizarre that someone finds the word "weeding" to be excessively negative, and in the same breath promotes an acronym like MUSTIE, which connotes that the materials in question are mildewed. FFS. You give the public a chance to buy them for their own collections if they think that the book should be immortal, and if they won't, then they can help you find the money to warehouse the books forever and ever, and if they can't, well, then Happy Mr. Dumpster is going to take them out to a nice Carnegie in the country where they can play with the other books all day.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:03 PM on May 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'm a law librarian and weeding is my second favorite library task, second only to reference work. I love pulling out dated information that doesn't have any historic usefulness for my patrons and tossing it. We're prepping for a major renovation right now and I am gleefully pulling books that are covered in a decade of dust and tossing them in the recycle bin, it's so satisfying.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 4:19 AM on May 18, 2014

I go to an urban library and between my husband and I we've probably checked out more than 200 items (mostly books, but also audiobooks and DVDs) over the past year. However we tend to order our items online and drop off and pick up our items on Saturdays, which takes no more than five minutes. Thus, despite being extremely heavy users of the library, you are unlikely to actually see us there. Given how few people are actually in the library and the stacks of items waiting to be handed out, I suspect this is true for most patrons. So don't draw too many conclusions about library usage from the number of people you see at a random visit to the library - it's likely that people are just using the library in ways different from what you expect. The rise of ebooks will only intensify this.
posted by peacheater at 5:00 AM on May 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

I hate breaking up of series. My local library has 3 out of 7 of an out of print mystery novel series that I am now debating hunting down online, although I only want to read them once. They are not likely to be made into ebooks anytime soon either (the author is alive, they were lower midlist books). What decision was there to keep three books for the warehouse (there is a warehouse for rarely circulated books that have to be ordered for collection a few days later at a branch library) and bin the other four?

And my kids have and do borrow the Buffy novelizations. I've read 'em all. That's a pretty popular series a decade-plus on, still.

I wish there was some copyright allowance that if a book was weeded because of physical limitations, a single digital scan could be kept like the archival rip of a purchased CD is meant to be.
posted by viggorlijah at 5:07 AM on May 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Somebody screwed up, assuming there wasn't any other pressing reason to discard those particular series books. (Though if there was a good reason to discard those, the out of printness of them really sucks for the library as there's not much to be done about it.) Series completion is one of the most important criteria to consider when weeding fiction.

If you haven't asked about options for interlibrary loan on those missing entries to the series, give it a go. Or, hell, contact the author about the possibility of ebook release. Sometimes we do get the pleasant surprise of ebook re-releases late in a book's life (Rosemary Kirstein's books are now out that way; she's gotten the rights back.)
posted by asperity at 8:31 AM on May 18, 2014

"While I know that libraries can't hold onto everything, I am a little concerned by the idea that something is only worth preserving if it's in constant circulation."

If a book is unread in a library, does it provide information?
posted by fairmettle at 9:02 AM on May 18, 2014

If a book is unread in a library, does it provide information?

How often does a book have to be read to be valuable?

If a library houses, say, a collection of rare small press feminist novels which are accessed by interested parties and academics a few times a year, are those books useless? If they contribute to scholarship but are not read by a mass audience, are they useless? If I'm working on a book about radical history and I need particular material but the material has been junked and I can't include it in my book, is that a loss to scholarship or just consequences for the unpopularity of the topic? If a book - like, for instance, the criminally neglected SF novel Red Spider, White Web, by a Native feminist author, is checked out a handful of times between 1990 and 2005 and then there's a huge revival of interest because of a change in SF fandom, was the shelf space wasted? Should the book have been junked? Small press books can be lost to history if enough people are dedicated to junking everything that isn't circulating regularly. Again, I know that libraries can't keep everything - but those are real questions, not something you can push aside by saying that a book doesn't "provide information" if it's not circulating frequently to a mass audience.
posted by Frowner at 10:12 AM on May 18, 2014 [5 favorites]

Frowner, I get your theoretical point, but it is part of the weeding librarian's job to know their patron community and to respond to their needs. At some point you have to trust in the ability of the professional librarian to do their job to the best of their budget and abilities. In your example, if such a collection was intentionally curated, it's very likely that the librarian will be balancing the needs for future research with the limits of physical space. I can't speak to public libraries, but in the law library world there are email lists that regularly get announcements of books that are getting weeded, in the hopes that if another library wants/needs them, they can be rehomed. If a collection of rare small press feminist novels might actually get more use somewhere else, I'd bet that a librarian who knew what they were doing in amassing the collection would also know some other libraries to reach out to as potential recipients of castoffs.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 12:03 PM on May 18, 2014

If a book is unread in a library, does it provide information?

Law books in a library may not be used often, but it's still important that they're there. The availability of information can be as, or even more, important than the number of times it's actually used.
posted by JHarris at 1:15 PM on May 18, 2014

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