Alima McMillan                                                                                                                           

Almost anything that can be said about the systematic approach to deselection (weeding) of library books is available online. There are even trainings available and geared for library staff to withstand the backlash that can occur when weeding takes place.  It is clear that the response to weeding is varied and that it can be highly charged and emotional. What is not entirely clear to me is how to depict the function of the public when it comes to the weeding process.

The word “public” is largely accepted as meaning “open to general observation or use”.  It does not imply any inalienable rights nor a pathway to a political and democratic process by the public unless it would be to protect the Constitution in some regard (ex.- if something like censorship or preventing freedom of speech would become an issue. Also, “self-dealing” laws might come into effect if personal gain were made from books, although libraries nationwide do lawfully sell books from the library, hold fundraisers, give commission to people who will sell books for them and have stores which their Friends of the Library affiliations oversee).

Public also does not imply ownership or a sharing in the entity of a public library unless there would be a structure in place that redefined the public function of a specific library. Yet the public unofficially figures significantly into the affairs of any library. The public gives voice, appreciation and hard criticism to a public service. It may even be extreme at times and claim lack of transparency and ineptitude, but it does not have the privilege of ownership, nor participation in a voting process, direct, democratic action nor decision making.  The public may inquire, rebel, create chaos, bully and even cause services to shut down in some parts of the country, but to what end?  The deselection process is strictly a function of the library administration, is it not?  

In some instances in the US, as many as 250,000 books per year from one library alone may be weeded, go up for sale, be given away, destroyed, etc. Yet, the numbers don’t seem more significant than 1000 books from a smaller library when it comes to triggering the responses/reactions of people around the weeding process. Of the reactions to weeding and the attachments to the written word, one will never finish trying to understand nor analyze them. Do emotional and psychological factors shape the policies of a library’s weeding process? Do educated opinions or advice weigh in from the public? What are the responsibilities of library administrators to the public? How do they view the function of the public?

One viewpoint that a large number of librarians nationally may agree upon is that weeding is not a priority unless there would be a specific reason(s) to get with it. In fact, putting it at the bottom of the list is reported as routine until moved by necessity for shelf space when funding comes along to purchase new books. The “little by little” approach to weeding or when time allows throughout the year is frequently adopted.  There are no “weeding police”. There are no memos distributed that tell one when or specifically how to do this thing (unless an isolated policy item would exist within an individual library). There is only information distributed by agencies as a courtesy and notification of what has been developed in library systems.  Each library has its own needs and requirements and in some libraries, others will be brought in to do this work which can be thought of as a specialized task.

A couple of things going around that keep returning to me are these questions:  “How can it be allowed a person to proceed to deselect with possible bias, lack of awareness and no training - and no Library Science degree (when that would be the case)?” The other, “How can a person deselect if they are not well read?”


Regarding the first question:  The Village Library is just a cut above being a strictly volunteer library.  I haven’t seen the application, but I doubt there is a requirement for even a Bachelors in Library Science (perhaps a training certificate is required), though the library has evolved considerably over the last decade not only with its continuously upgraded collection but with ongoing projects, educational programs, computer lab and WIFI access for students.* Perhaps the Village cannot afford the salary even if the normal requirements (stringent, actually) for librarian would be warranted. The library could conceivably continue to prosper without degrees and certificates. However, culling books with bias or lack of awareness - or worse, if it would ever happen, conscious/unconscious intent of censorship, are all unacceptable and assistance is required.


The second:  What implies being well read takes us, or could take us back into the realm of emotional dynamics. At the very least the question will be responded to with:  “What is well read?”  I feel strongly that being well read applies to one’s specific work in this case.  A librarian or a volunteer “weeder” isn’t obligated to have read the Classics, studied root languages, the Argentinians nor any of the romance novels, etc., etc.  What is needed is an understanding of how one engages the process and information. Being well read or informed in this case means being familiar with the intentions of the library, the community, the plan and intent for existing at all, future collections, and how other libraries handle specific weeding issues. If one chooses a popular method such as CREW as a guidance, one has to use caution and not fall into routinely following what are merely suggestions and meant as a large package of considerations. One doesn’t just look at check-out dates or assume that the cover of the book is undesirable, especially if there is no urgency in clearing the stacks. One must have an affinity for or one’s fingers on the pulse of what is happening in the community and across the nation.  This usually comes naturally with those interested in their field. For example, I doubt that any library would responsibly weed out:

  1. Local history

  2. Local authors

  3. Regional settings

  4. Award-winning books or first editions

  5. Reference materials not outdated by other

        materials such as philosophy, religion, art instruction, etc.

     6. Volumes that are part of a developing collection

     7. Important books assumed inter-library loan will cover

     8. Materials related to classes, courses, reading clubs

     9. Books that will eventually enlighten and inform a community

        rather than submitting to dumb-down decisions

Books that have not been checked out in some time are known to revive, have a cycle and will begin trending again. I have become quite emotional myself when I have ordered books to discover that only one other person checked out the books over a period of many years - as long as 13-20 years, in fact.  I am very moved by this kind of thing and grateful to have received what I was after, but it does not blind me to the fact that weeding is necessary; it has evolved to extraordinary standards, yet there must be familiarity and discernment around it. I confess that I am a strong supporter of weeding (and of resale of books) yet the intensity of alarm I experience at the thoughts of what might be discarded is more than I really care for. What are the checks and balances for deselection?

Further questions around the Village Library:

  1. Is there intent? Is there a plan, a direction for the materials housed in the library, and is it known what the  former administrators put into motion?

  2. What are the motivations, the criteria to weed? Is there need to weed excessively?

        (possibly monies in the budget for new books)

     3.  Are there any signs of bias or censorship regarding ethnicity, the visually impaired, intellectual preferences           or other?

     4.  Are the shelves sparse at this time to make room for specific materials?

     5.  Is the staff seeking any assistance around weeding, direction for collections or vision for the future of the           library?

     6.  How and to what extent is the library inclusive of the public?

     7.  Does the library indiscriminately allow being dumped on by the public with cast off books, possibly adding           to a problem?

On closing and with a personal note, there was a period of several years when foreign correspondents from world class publications were coming into the Village. I recall one of them saying to me, "What's up with the library?" I didn't know what he meant and I asked him. He laughed and said that he was surprised to find such a library here. ("Here" meaning border culture and in the top percentile of the poorest of the poor in the US.) Although I am not active at this time with the library, I have been quite so in the past. I admit that I had a certain amount of pride by association when I realized that the man was pleased with the computer lab and with a brief assessment of titles on the shelves. I always loved to see the journalists working in the computer lab and talking to people. I appreciated that the service was and is available for them. They brought something to the Village of the world. They were living books in the library and they took us along with them as a paragraph or two.

As a young woman I sought out fabulous libraries to sit at old tables, in big leather chairs, on deep window sills or the odd staircase to read books. The Village library has been absolutely the central and most significant place for the Village. I wish for everybody to have the opportunity to experience something of the elegance and privilege of knowledge. If it would only mean great reads not checked out often, so be it. Perhaps a nice fire in the Winter, a meeting of friends and a good art opening is what is needed.

* Internet access is still regarded as a luxury according to my research and nailing the percentage of those without access is difficult due to regional factors, but it is high. The library or imposing on neighbors are the means for students whose parents or guardians cannot provide internet. School systems require the use of internet to complete studies.

                                                                                                       Beauty & the Beast - Edmund Dulac