Ferguson, C. (2015). In Favor of Weeding. Serials Review 41(4), 221-223. DOI: 10.1080/00987913.2015.1103573
An examination of the faculty and student objections to the storage of hard copy monographs and serials in favor of creating more study spaces during a library renovation at Colby College leads Ferguson into a contemplation of the future role of the library in campus life and what being a library will mean as technology and pedagogy advance, and what role weeding plays in the space allocation considerations of libraries going forward with a modernization of their physical space. Colby College moved almost 40% of its monographic collection to off-campus storage to make room in the library for more learning commons type spaces in the facility. Faculty objected to this move, arguing for the utility of browsing and serendipity, which are more difficult using electronic discovery resources, in research. Ferguson argues that while these are valid concerns, “…ultimately, at the heart of most objections raised against weeding and storage initiatives in libraries is a debate on the role of the library itself” (221). These questions and determinations often come from users, Ferguson cites MIT’s recent survey revealing students wanted study spaces and a café in the renovated library, rather than from the library apparatus itself. Ferguson also points out the financial cost of a hard copy collection, saying a recent estimate in Library Journal put the cost of storage at over $11 per book, although renovating an existing space into a learning commons can run as high as $457 per square foot. Preserving space for other uses becomes a higher priority than maintaining a certain collection size, which makes whether an item is worth the space it takes up the number one weeding criterion. Ferguson makes several best practices recommendations, such as including the community in the decision-making process to both reduce user anxiety over library changes and ensure that the changes truly serve patron wants and needs, transparency of the reasoning behind the weeding criteria and the need for a weeding project, ensuring responsible disposal of weeded materials, and making weeding a regularly undertaken part of the collection development process instead of waiting until it is urgently needed and removing a giant chunk of the collection at once.
I agree with Ferguson’s best practice recommendations, even though they are largely geared toward alleviating patron anxiety over weeding rather than with the process of weeding itself. Particularly valuable is her suggestion that weeding be an ongoing process rather than an occasional large project. Not only are patrons reassured by regularity, it’s a lighter burden on the library staff to have something they can incorporate into their routines instead of a big thing they have to drop everything else for. My main issue with this paper, and it is not necessarily with the paper itself but with the larger issue, is the assumption that study spaces and the like fall under the libraries’ mission and ought to be a part of them. Is the campus community truly best served by bolting these areas onto the existing library instead of having an exclusive, purpose-built space? Or is it that library renovations present the first, or only, opportunity for the community to request these paces be created on campus? I know when I worked in an academic library (very recently), students using the study spaces did not simultaneously use other library resources, such as going out into the stacks or interacting with the reference librarians. Although they may have been accessing electronic resources such as databases during their group study time, this could just have easily been done anywhere on campus. Asking such questions falls outside Ferguson’s purpose with this article, though, and I think she gives a brief but thorough argument for weeding as part of not only collection management but management of the library’s physical space.