This is an interesting post on a subject I don’t have a lot of experience in. Weeding. At the NCCO, we don’t really throw much of anything away, unless it’s too dangerous to exist. In which case there is a lot of paperwork. According to our government mandate, we are actually supposed to keep all related materials indefinitely or unless ordered to dispose of them by an act of parliament, which has happened only once and the details of which are strictly classified. Having effectively infinite shelf space helps with that.
What is it about book weeding that gets library patrons so panicked? I can sort of understand the furor over that weeding project gone awry in Illinois last year, but it seems to happen all the time.
A late example is the library at Emporia State University in Kansas, which has had its weeding project halted until an internal auditor can examine the situation. Some people were complaining, and it must have been bad considering this sentence: “the library has slated a good amount of books to take out of the library, but not in the book burning style that many have imagined.”
Were people really imagining book burning?
I know it’s Kansas and all, where just like Arizona conservatives proposed anti-gay legislation and then voted it down when they realized how much like pre-Civil Rights Era southerners it made them seem, but hating gays so much you want to deprive them of civil rights isn’t necessarily the same thing as burning books.
Well, maybe. Anyway, this isn’t the Kansas legislature, but a bunch of librarians doing the weeding, and librarians are about as fond of burning books as they are of wearing uncomfortable shoes.
The librarians even provide all the standard and irrefutable reasons why a place like Emporia State should weed books: it’s not a research library, space is finite, etc. This isn’t weeding gone awry. It’s just weeding that people notice.
I would think the faculty could figure out that if the library keeps buying physical books and doesn’t have more physical space, something has to go. University libraries aren’t like faculty offices. You can’t just start piling books in random places and hope for the best when finding them.
And although it’s called a university, and even has the prestigious honor of having an ALA-accredited MLS program, it’s not a research library. The only ARL library in Kansas is the University of Kansas.
Therefore, it has no special obligation to keep materials indefinitely, or to build the offsite storage that makes this possible. Heck, maybe even the U. of Kansas doesn’t do that, but it’s still the sort of thing big research libraries do.
Now it could be that people fear they won’t get the material they need for research. That’s a possibility, although since it’s not a research university, they likely don’t have the funding to support everyone’s research.
Instead I suspect the panic is driven by one thing, bibliofetishization. I thought I’d coined that term, by the way, but it got 13 hits on Google, so I guess I didn’t.
Anyway, bibliofetishization, or having a fetish about books if we want to sound less pretentious, seems to be a universal phenomenon, at least among people who read books at all.
How many libraries have had to deal with people offering to donate hundreds of worthless books they found in their granny’s attic because the potential donor couldn’t just throw them out?
“I just want the books to have a good home,” they’ll say. The librarians are thinking that a dumpster is a good home for garbage. Leave them in the dumpster on the way out. “Impossible!”
People who don’t work with books professionally don’t think of them as commodities. Every book is sacred, and every magazine, too, judging by the old sets of National Geographic people are always trying to donate to libraries.
Thus, while it could be that there’s something alarming at Emporia State, I somehow doubt it. Rational explanations about space and such aren’t working well, either.
It might be time to sit down individually with everyone who hates weeding in the library, offer them a cup of tea and a biscuit, and tell them in a sorrowful voice that the librarians are terribly sorry for making any changes at all, but sometimes, every once in a very long while, we have to make a few changes or else things get chaotic, and nobody wants that.