A Little Light Weeding

Info, info everywhere, nor any place to shelve. (With apologies to Samuel Taylor Coleridge and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.)

In a library, information overload can mean a physical overload as well as mental. Reporting series, annual statutes, conference papers all take up shelf room; how do you know what to keep and what can safely be turfed? One of my colleagues recently called and asked if I kept a particular item on my shelves. No, I didn’t, since it was officially available online. After all, shelves do eventually fill up, and if some other organization is willing to store what I need, I’m quite willing to let them. However, no matter how long I work at my firm, I’m always wondering about what I should keep.

When I first started, the easiest thing to do was to do nothing; I was not going to throw out even a 20 year old CLE that six months later I would discover was indispensable to a senior partner. I watched what my clients used and asked why they used it. I read the CALL listserv and considered what other librarians were asking for. When it finally came down to actually removing something, I pulled it from the shelf, put it on a cart and hid it for at least six months, to see if anyone even noticed that it was gone. There actually were some items that ended up back on the shelf, but the majority headed for the garbage bin. So far, it’s been a successful strategy.

As I pondered what to do with the content in my library, I decided I also needed a policy, something that would explain to other people, particularly my clients, why I kept some books and not others. Of course, the first thing I did was search other libraries’ sites and see if there were any weeding policies already available. Naturally, there were. LibraryCo’s Collection and Highlights Standards were very helpful, and formed the core of the policy I ended up creating.

The other side of “decommissioning” material is to consider what other library carries what I’m discarding, and if can I get it somewhere else fairly easily. Since the catalogues of both the Law Society of Manitoba’s Great Library and the University of Manitoba’s Law School library are available online, it was easy, although time-consuming, to verify that older editions of some of the less-used items in my library were readily available. There’s also an informal network of local law firm librarians who I can contact to borrow other material. Sometimes I’ve been able to rely on the public library and other academic libraries for material as well. However, as Shaunna Mireau recently wrote, with the consolidation going on at the Alberta Government Libraries, I shall have to remain vigilant to make sure I can still get older material that I need.

The last time weeding was discussed on Slaw was in 2008, by Wendy Reynolds (funnily enough, I made the first comment!). Wendy used the phrase “just in time” collection development, as opposed to “just in case”. Just like the manufacturers who originated “just in time” delivery, libraries also face fiscal and physical pressures as we provide access to resources for our clients. We have to balance someone needing a copy of one particular journal article from 1986 at midnight on a Saturday night, with the cost of keeping every issue of that journal on the shelf. Every day I just hope I made the right decision.


  1. I feel your pain. It’s a tough call to decide to throw something out, but in reality, if we don’t give up old stuff, we can’t fit new stuff! One of the things that worries me a little is that we are all making decisions for our collections based on the hope/assumption that someone else out there is collecting this. We rely, openly or subconsciously, on the big institutions being able to fill the gaps we create in our collections.
    As more and more of these institutions move to e-books or e-journals, they may find themselves less and less able to assist us with resource sharing requests.
    Should we be working together or communicating collection decisions, and how bound should we be by the impulse to cooperate?

    (Welcome Karen)