Before You Begin
Get a firm idea of how much the administration wants to reduce the reference collection. Survey the collection and determine how much you're going to have to weed to get it to that point. Review your library's collection development policy--you may actually be unable to weed some items, such as those related to local history. Some parts of the reference collection may provide greater or smaller opportunities for weeding, depending on how they were developed in the past and how much time-sensitive material they hold. Understand that--unless your task is to do away with the reference collection entirely--this will probably not be the last time you have to go through this process, so make notes as you go along.
Weeding reference materials can be tricky because there are no circulation stats to show that the items are being used or how often. Therefore if you can get an idea of what your patrons actually use, you'll have an advantage. If you have some time to accomplish the weeding project, start keeping track of what materials patrons and staff are using by using a "count use" function in your ILS or by keeping tabs in an Excel spreadsheet. Make sure that all items taken from the shelves are counted before they go back. You might also ask some regular patrons what they use and what they would like to have (without giving away that you're about to decimate the collection). The same goes for your co-workers; they may have reference sources that they regularly use and would be disappointed to find missing.
In my (urban, public) library, patrons regularly use the Hill-Donnelly street index, books of names, and the dictionary and thesaurus. These are the items that they have to come to the desk to get or are always out on the tables at the end of the day, so we know they're getting used. Keep in mind that most libraries are not research libraries with historical collections--there is no point in keeping outdated materials that are not being used by your patrons and co-workers. On the flip side, not everything has to be replaced or removed just because there's a digital option. If you have the space to keep reference materials, keep what's useful to your patrons and your staff.
- Review the CREW manual's advice on reference materials (https://www.tsl.state.tx.us/sites/default/files/public/tslac/ld/pubs/crew/crewmethod08.pdf, starting page 33, for tips on how to deal with specific items such as almanacs, encyclopedias, dictionaries, handbooks, and legal forms). Your library may not be able to afford all that they recommend updating, but it's good to see some guidelines for public libraries.
- Follow weeding guidelines for non-reference materials (see Booklist's "Weeding Tips: Shelf by Shelf" for some good, section-specific advice, login required for earlier articles).
I'm focusing on public libraries here, because that's what I know, but hopefully what I'm saying here will translate. Feel free to add a comment if you have information to share.
- Go section by section, rather than trying to tackle the entire reference collection at once. "I'm working on the 790s today" sounds so much more achievable, doesn't it?
- Go through the section with a cart and pull items that are obviously outdated, in disrepair, duplicates, have superseding editions adjacent to them, etc. Don't fill more than one cart at once with the material you want to evaluate.
Should I Weed This Item?
A lot of weeding, especially in the reference collection, comes down to common sense. For example, weed anything that:
- Contains the words "modern" or "the present" or "updated" and was published in the 80s or earlier.
- Is a style manual or other guide that does not mention how to cite internet or database sources.
- Is a collectible or antique/stamp/coin/memorabilia pricing guide which is more than 5 years out of date.
- Contains information that people (including librarians) no longer use books to find. For example, I weeded a guide to the Tony Award and one about the Academy Awards, both circa the 1980s, because they were both outdated and obsolete. I also weeded the Thesaurus of Book Digests: 1950-1980, which contained descriptions of different book plots.
- are easy for patrons to find and use,
- make sense for your community's needs,
- are as up to date as possible, and
- need to be located in reference so that they are always available.
Keep it in the Library, but Not in the Reference Collection
Some items are still useful, but don't need to stay in the reference collection. Move to the circulating collection those items that people might actually want to check out and take home, but which have been traditionally considered strictly reference:
- Foreign language dictionaries
- Books of quotations
- Recently superseded editions (other than medical)
- Auto repair manuals
Reference Must-Haves, a Subjective List Compiled with the Aid of Twitter
- Dictionaries and a thesaurus
- An atlas
- An encyclopedia (most mentioned World Book)
- The most recent pricing/collectible guides, if your patrons use/request them
- Up to date legal form books (with downloadable/printable forms) and Black's Law Dictionary
- The latest edition of the driver's manual for your state
- Your state constitution and town or city bylaws, rules, codes, and regulations
- Local street maps
- A street list, reverse phone listing, and current phone book
- Style manuals (APA, Chicago Manual of Style, etc.)
- Robert's Rules of Order
- A Bible, a Koran, etc.
- The DSM-IV (soon to be DSM-V) and the Merck Manual
- Statistical Abstract of the United States
- Consumer Reports
- Writer's Market
- The Value Line investment research guide, if your library is already subscribed
- The latest Guinness Book of World Records
- Chase's Calendar of Events