Thursday, September 19, 2013

Weeding Shakespeare

Yesterday, I was casting about for a reasonable weeding project--one that I could complete within a day or two. I am always conscious of the need to weed in my part of the 800s, which includes more than 13,000 items. Sometimes I even make progress toward this end. Then I remembered that I had been planning to pare down the Shakespeare section, which would allow me to create space and clear out some dead weight.

I'm not sure what other large public libraries have for Shakespeare in nonfiction; the section here includes the plays and criticism. (There is also a shelf full of the plays among the YA paperbacks.) For the purposes of this weeding project, I only targeted books with the 822.33 label--yes, Shakespeare has his own call number all to himself! When I started this project, we had nearly 600 items with an 822.33 call number that took up approximately 18 shelves. The average publication date of these items was 1969, and a few of the oldest were from the 1800s.

One of the oldest residents, published in 1879.
It's actually been checked out recently, so it gets to stay.

Forty-six percent of the Shakespeare collection had not circulated in (computer) memory. The average circulation per item was 2.18 times, which is slightly better than the books in the rest of my part of the 800s.

Statistics of Note

The top five circulating items:

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Shakespeare (1999) -- 30 circulations
Shakespeare for Dummies (1999) -- 19 circulations, but currently missing
Alias Shakespeare, Joseph Sobran (1997) -- 18 circulations
Will in the World, Stephen Greenblatt (2004) -- 17 circulations
A 1990 copy of Hamlet -- 15 circulations

Which play circulates the most? In a hard-fought battle of stereotypical English assignments, circulations of copies of Romeo and Juliet slightly edged out copies of Hamlet, 68 - 62. [Edited to add: If I include the YA copies of those two plays, Hamlet beats out Romeo and Juliet 113 - 102, despite having fewer copies in the game.]

The word "Shakespeare" appears in this section's titles about 60% of the time. Some of the books are old enough that there are variations on the name, such as Shakspeare.

What am I Weeding?
A lot of people don't seem to understand that they
shouldn't write in library books.
The spine on this was faded to white, and the
plastic covering was torn.
Broken spine! What a tragedy!

  • Duplicate copies of items that don't circulate much.
  • Worn, faded, and damaged materials.
  • Basic biographies of Shakespeare (c. 1900-1970) that haven't circulated and were sent to the bindery at some point. No one wants these because of their brown and orange seventies sensibility, even though they may be good books and would probably last forever.
  • I am also weeding most of the "dusty" literary criticism. As I've mentioned before, my library once had a more college-oriented academic focus, but (as is clear from the most-circulated list above) our current audience is the lay reader and high school/community college student. Our patrons simply aren't interested in books such as the one pictured below:


Scholarship changes, and we stopped trying to keep up with the latest criticism. Dusty is the operative word here, as my hands were absolutely filthy by the time I finished going through the shelves and shifting materials.

I also consulted the 822.3 heading in the Public Library Core Collection: Nonfiction (14th ed.)--which contains 28 items--to see how my library measured up to the recommended collection and make sure I wasn't throwing anything vital away. Most of the books mentioned were already in the collection, aside from a few reference sets. The few monographs that we didn't have (and were still in print), I ordered through Baker & Taylor. 822.3 is "Drama of Elizabethan period, 1558-1625," but all the books in the Core Collection are Shakespeare-related.

I'm about halfway through this project now. I've gone through nine shelves and deleted 82 items, clearing off two shelves in the process. I've found a few items that were marked missing and confirmed that other items really are missing. I've identified a few items for repair and will order replacements if they're available. The process has taken me somewhere around four hours so far. What I hope to come out with is a leaner, meaner Shakespeare collection that looks more appealing to patrons. This collection is already popular, but if I keep up this weeding pace, I may even have the space to face books out as display items.

"THE MANTICHORA," an illustration from
The Animal-Lore of Shakspeare's Time (1883)

ETA: An additional photo gallery of my weeding operation.