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QUESTION ON WEEDING / DISCARDING Frieda Rosenberg 21 Nov 2005 20:14 UTC

This is forwarded from a colleague who worked with the World Library
Partnership in Africa.
Frieda Rosenberg, UNC-Chapel Hill
For the last 8 years I've lived in South Africa or Zimbabwe, working for
a small NGO helping folks build and run libraries. I really truly
understand your dilemma. In libraries that have so few books and often
little or no money to purchase new materials it is often painful to get
folks to allow you to discard weeded books. Here's what I suggest:
1. always take a look at your collection development policy or, if you
don't have one, look at your mission statement.Consider who users your
library and for what purposes.  Each book you have in your library
should be there because it fits your mission and because it serves your
user population.

2. I do truly believe that people can be turned off by a library filled
with too many useless books. In a new library near the border with
Botswana I attended a very exciting workshop for teachers wanting to
start a library in their area or school. After the workshop we were all
going to get a first look at a new library next door,  about to open to
the public. We excitedly entered the door but we were hit by the musky
and moldy smell of old books. Undeterred I followed a group of new
friends as they looked at the collection. They were pulling out books,
written between 1900-1960's and published in the US, the UK, Canada and
so on. Many were in the languages other than English. Not a single one
was in local languages like Shona and Ndbele. There were books on
microwave cooking, how to learn to ski, the 1902 dress codes for coeds
at the University of Pittsburgh and my favorite, a 5 volume listing of
physicians approved by a medical insurer in Connecticut. Now all of
these may be of interest to some library somewhere but they were of no
interest to folks living in Donkwe Donkwe, Francistown or Nyanga! As we
continued through the library the group started to exclaim, "these put
me off, they really put me off." After we left I talked to the group I
toured with - their enthusiasm for building libraries had left them. It
seemed the same old thing- they heard about the promises of interesting
and useful books that would appeal to their communities, lead young
people to read but the reality was a library full of things that would
turn off most prospective users.

True, out of the thousands of books there were some real gems:
interesting books, books with good information in them, stuff I've seen
in the hands of people in other southern African libraries.  I imagine a
much better scenario if the staff of the new library had been able to
weed out the useless books, the moldy books and so on. It is much better
to have a collection with just 200 good, interesting books that fit your
collection development plan than to have thousands of books that your
users have to spend hours searching through to find the those 200 good
books. In fact, I believe it is your duty to weed and discard those
useless books.

Keeping books that should be discarded has several bad effects:
1. Affect on users: it turns off people trying to find something useful
2. Economics: people see such a lot of books in your library, many of
them totally useless. When government officials or other funders are
asked for money for your library they see you have such a big
collection, why give you more money when other places need water
treatment, medicine, plumbing?
3. Economics: it costs a lot more money to keep up those thousands of
books, it takes so much more labor hours of the library staff to process
them and keep them up.

What to do with the weeded books and magazines:
1. store them (someone already suggested this but be careful- storage
conditions can lead to bugs, bats, rodents making a home, can go moldy
and musty)
2. have a sale - sell those books and journals, many people will buy them
3. donate or sell them to local schools who can:
   a. cut out useful passages, use them as reading cards- success breeds
success, allows kids to successfully read a reading card instead of
feeling bad because they've failed to read a whole book.
   b. cut pictures - teachers can use these as prompts to get kids to
write about what they see happening in the picture - good for kids from
1st grade on up
   c. use the pages to create papier mache masks
   d. use the pages of books and non-glossy magazines in a technology
class to make new paper (boil only non-glossy pages into a mush, stretch
out  mesh vegetable bags, pour mush over the bag, set outside in the sun
to drip off the excess water and when it dries it is paper. It is best
to use this paper for art or wrapping packages, it is usually too lumpy
to write on. Cut out pieces of old tin, shape into picture frames, cover
the frames with this paper and sell them.
4. have a big community recycle campaign: ask for help from paper
pulping companies and NGOs or universities to help you create a recycle
paper drive. See -
what is happening in Mutare. Link this up with local schools for
technology classes, info about getting jobs in the industry etc. Have a
big fair and donate the weeded books to the project. You might even win
some funding from the paper mill folks.

My ideas will help small libraries through medium sized libraries, but
perhaps not be as helpful in University libraries. But big libraries
really need to look seriously at weeding and discarding as well. I'm
doing my masters thesis on this topic. If you need any more ideas or
help let me know. I loved living in your country and working with
Zimbabweans. I'd be back there in a second if I could afford it. I wish
you luck.

Yours, Maggie Hite

Maggie Hite
Catalog Department
Academic Affairs Libraries
CB# 3914 Davis Library
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill