Weeding a Forgotten Section

One of the areas of my responsibility in the nonfiction collection is the 840s. Officially this is "Literatures of Romance languages"--on a practical level, this translates to "French literature and related stuff." There may have been a time when French poetry, plays, criticism, and novels were incredibly popular at my library, but now is not that time. The average copyright date of items in this section is 1965 (the median and mode are both 1967). The Spanish-language (860s) and Russian-language (890s) sections are both over capacity and much more heavily used at my library, and weeding the 840s will help provide some additional space in that area. The weeding list I am working from encompasses the majority of the items in this part of the collection. So what do you do when you have an area to weed and you could theoretically delete almost every item?

I was given responsibility for this area because I have a mild grasp of French and opinions about literature.* Also I volunteered, which is probably how these things usually come about in the library world. I typically only buy a few items each year that would end up shelved here, a recent example being Balzac's Omelette, which has circulated three times in the last year and a half. Pretty good for an item in the 840s at my library.

The collection has a little over 850 items, only 42% of which have circulated at all since 1999, when we started keeping track through the ILS. Only 16.7% of the items have circulated in the last five years. Fewer than 40 items were published after 2000. The top five circulating items are all in English:
  • Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo (1950s?), 12 circulations
  • Voltaire, Candide and Other Writings (1956), 11 circulations
  • Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot (1982), 11 circulations
  • William F. Buckley, Cancel Your Own Goddamn Subscription: Notes & Asides from the National Review (2007), 10 circulations
  • Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays (1955), 9 circulations
The oldest inhabitants (all in the original French):

Alexandre Dumas Fils, Contes et Nouvelles (1856)

Monsieur Renan in all his glory.

Ernest Renan, Vie De Jésus (1863)

A map of the Battlefield of Sedan

Émile Zola, La Débâcle (1895)

In the 849s ("Occitan & Catalan literatures"), we only have five items. I am going to leave them alone out of pity.

Given all this, I have concluded that our patrons would rather check out English translations of French works, that the section hasn't been regularly updated in perhaps thirty or more years, and that I have a huge task ahead of me. I've developed a plan to delete at least half of the books in this part of the collection over the next week or two. After looking over my printout and the shelves, I'm going to target:
  • Duplicate copies
  • Discolored, worn, and falling-apart materials (none of the books from the 1800s really fall into this category--they really don't make books like they used to)
  • English translations for which we have other copies shelved in general fiction
  • Books of literary criticism
  • Biographical books on French authors
The two last items might be valuable in an academic library, but have no place here. At this point, author biographies can be more easily acquired through databases. When in doubt, I consult my library's collection development policy:
The collections of the Springfield City Library are not archival. Current usefulness is the determining factor in how long materials is kept, and no extraordinary effort is made to preserve or protect the last copy of any title in the collection.
Right there is all the leverage I need to get rid of most of the 840s, as it's hard to argue that a yellowed French novel from the 1960s is immediately useful to any of our patrons. However, I am sensible of the need to keep some materials; the result will likely cost this collection most of its depth, but hopefully it will end up being used more often. The big names--Dumas, Camus, etc.--will stay, along with some associated material. If that author is still being taught in a lower-level class somewhere, I'll keep it. If there's evidence that someone has wanted an item recently, I'll likely keep it.

I enjoy weeding, but I'm also a book lover, and it is difficult to for me to get rid of so many items. To prove my humanity, I will confess that I did move a 1909 leather-bound set of Balzac's La Comédie Humaine to the closed stacks. Not because they might be worth something or even because someone might want to check them out someday, but because I just couldn't pull the trigger.

*I have opinions about a lot of things, actually, which is why I write these posts.


Anne Clark said…
Wow, you have a huge task ahead of you! I'm looking forward to seeing how it turns out. Can you share a photo of the 1909 set? It sounds stunning!
Sara Marks said…
I'll take the Balzac!
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