Out with the Old, In with the New

Why thinning out the library's collection actually improves it


When you want your garden to grow lush, green and healthy, you weed it. The same is true of libraries who want their collection to grow and flourish.

Maintaining a library's collection isn't an easy task. Tens of thousands of books fill the shelves, and librarians are always purchasing more to keep current on non-fiction topics, or keep the most popular fiction stories in stock. In fact, since 2014 the Kendallville Public Library has added around 17,500 items to its collection.

For those reasons, space is at a premium. That's where weeding comes in.

It's a time-consuming task but periodically we have to clean out the collection, even though at times it can be painful for us because we love all books. But take non-fiction materials, for example. Would you want to go to Europe with a travel book that was published in 1995, do you have any use for a how-to manual for Microsoft Word Perfect, or would you feel confident about the information in an astronomy book that still lists Pluto as a planet?

You've heard the Kendallville Public Library staff use the word "relevant" a lot. It's become an important part of our philosophy.

"We collect and provide information – accurate and up-to-date information," said KPL Director Katie Mullins.

We must remain relevant to our users, and to do that, sometimes a "deep weed" is necessary.

"Weeding is an amazing opportunity for librarians to find out and gauge patron interest," said Leah Dresser, Adult Services Manager. "As each book is scanned and checked for circulations, it is very enlightening to see which topics seem to check out at our libraries.
Just because something checks out in Kendallville doesn't mean it will check out in Rome City and vice versa. Each book is looked at on a case-by-case basis. And when we find books that patrons are extremely interested in, we can buy additional updated versions of books on the same topic so that our collection remains relevant."

Quilting books are a great example of this, explained Leah. The books in our collection have very high circulation rates. As a result, most of those books were kept, and an additional order was placed for even more quilting books with updated techniques. These books pair well with the library's Beginner's Quilting Kit and the more advanced Quilting Templates that are available for check out.

"We are very responsive to patron requests," said Children's Services Manager Beth Munk.

Part of that commitment to our community means listening to what our patrons want and need. Many times, items requested by patrons that aren't already on our shelves are purchased and become part of our collection. That's one of the reasons why we are a "popular materials library."

"This means we purchase materials that reflect our community and the current times. We also try to keep somewhat of a 'Core' collection. For the Children's Department, this means that we make sure to have all the Newbery and Caldecott winning books, but that it isn't necessary to have each and every Nancy Drew book written since 1930, numbering at over 175 books."

"In the last year, I have weeded each and every collection housed at both KPL and the Limberlost Branch," continued Beth. "DVDs, CDS, and books have all left the library to find their second life in another home, classroom or even on an Indian Reservation in the South Dakota. Books are weeded most often due to the overall condition of the book or the number of times it is used."

Leah agrees that finding another home is important for the books that leave the library's collection.

"We do not throw these books away," explained Leah. "We just retire them from the library, or promote them to full time on your bookshelves."

Every book removed from the library's collection has the opportunity to be sold. The books go directly to the Friends of the Library for inclusion in book sales at both the Kendallville and Rome City library locations. Sometimes, they are donated to groups that can benefit by having books available to those they serve.

"The items that leave the library collection continue to benefit the library and the community," said Friends of the Library President LuReign Brown. "There is still value in these books, and people want them."

Outside of the regular Book Sales where items can be purchased very inexpensively by the pound, you'll often find carts of books in the lobby of the Kendallville Public Library that are available for a small donation, or sometimes even free! All money raised by the Friends of the Library group is donated back to the library to support its initiatives.

Weeding the collection can earn the library money through items sold in book sales, but it can also save the library money by giving us a way to determine what topics are of interest to our community, and diverting our money to those collections. Deleting records for items that are damaged, outdated or deemed not necessary by patrons who haven't checked them out in years, allows taxpayer funds to be put toward records for items that are new, relevant and wanted.

Because the Children's and Teen Departments have recently completed a deep weed, and the Adult Services Department is right in the middle of one, there is a massive amount of books that will be available in the next few sales.

If you've visited the Adult Department recently, you've probably noticed that the shelves look pretty bare. That's because in addition to weeding the collection to remove outdated, non-circulating and damaged items, all departments are in the midst of transitioning the collection from Dewey to Topic-Driven. In Adult Services, all those non-fiction books have been moved so they fill the last few shelving units, while making room at the front for the materials that are getting relabeled to fit with the Topic-Driven movement.

Leah only recently moved from being the Children's Librarian at KPL to heading up the Adult Services Department. She jumped right into weeding and transitioning non-fiction materials, ensuring that she's getting an in-depth knowledge of her collection, which is quickly expanding.

"No matter how big a library is, there is never enough room to keep every book forever," said Leah. "Because we are so much more than books, people use the library for meetings, attend events, and even to check out non-traditional library items such as telescopes, metal detectors, and cake pans."

Space isn't our only concern when we're weeding the collection.

"As a society we are looking for information NOW and FAST," noted Beth. "Searching through years and years of books that haven't been looked at or contain outdated information to find the newest material about a given subject is frustrating and time consuming, for the patrons and librarians."

Teen Services Manager Marie Kaufmann agrees.

"When shelves are cramped with old and deteriorating books it's harder to locate wanted items," she said. "By weeding, we ensure a more enjoyable and aesthetically pleasing browsing experience for our patrons.

Many patrons tell us that they're already finding books on topics they didn't know we had and they're finding it easier to browse the non-fiction collection.

Our goal is to keep our collection popular, up-to-date and relevant for our community. But occasionally there is a request for a unique book. In most cases, we can still come through for you.

"Because we're part of the Evergreen Indiana consortium, our patrons have access to the collections of 111 libraries around the state," said Leah. "If we don't have a requested book on our shelves, chances are one of those other libraries does have it."

Likewise, our collection has proven its value to our community and beyond. The Kendallville Public Library has consistently ranked among the top of all Evergreen Indiana libraries for transits. Our books are in demand, all across the state, by request from patrons of the other Evergreen Indiana libraries.

So stop in, watch our collection flourish. When we're finished weeding and the transition to the topic-driven format is complete, that's when we'll see the light.