Go by the numbers
Don’t start pulling materials all willy-nilly (even if it is painfully obvious to you what needs to be weeded). How much shelf space do you need? What percentage do you need to remove to create that space? Mary has a perfectly obnoxious formula for linear space (email email@example.com if you’re dying to see it!). Reluctant weeders may be more willing to trust data than philosophy.
Go easy, go slow
There’s no need to weed the entire collection in one week. Do a bit at a time so no one has reason to question what’s happening. Ease into it; create a little space, then a little more, then a little more… This gives you time to make better choices, trickle the discarded items through the system, and time to actually get other work done too. Carve out ten minutes a day, an hour a week, or whatever is practical for your situation and deal with what you can in that little bit of time. The collection grew over a matter of decades. It doesn’t need to be dismantled over night. Doing something is better than doing nothing and you will see results. They just don’t have to be shocking results on day one! Reluctant weeders may see the library as a whole and be very overwhelmed. Break the collection into bite-sized pieces that anyone can wrap their head around more easily.
Make an effort to get things circulating first
Make a “last chance” display and see what happens. Put some two-sentence teasers on your library’s Facebook or Twitter page, enticing readers to try titles from the back catalog that have been lingering. This advice does not apply to all material (legal, medical, or otherwise “harmful” old information), but could get some old fiction or biographies moving. Even reluctant weeders will have to agree that you did all you could before moving those materials to the Great Book Sale in the Sky.
Go on a field trip and compare your library to others
Compare what their shelves look like to yours in terms of spacing, cleanliness, and general topic coverage. Find a subject you are personally interested in and see if their collection of those materials are what you would consider useful. What do you wish they had? What do you wish your library had? Be honest! Are you proud of your library after seeing what other libraries have on their shelves?
Your library cooperative or state library may also be able to provide some statistics to help you compare collection size and usage to your neighbors.
Tracking and training
What reference questions do you get regularly? How do you answer them? How else could you answer them? Track the questions you get and use them as real-life examples to do reference training. Don’t forget about databases, e-books, web sites, and inter-library loan options. Also, referral is a reasonable answer to a reference question sometimes. Is there a university or special library nearby that could help with questions you don’t have materials on-hand to answer? Those who say “we might need this some day!” may just need to see that it is possible to provide the same (or better) information in other formats.
Use different terms
I attended a great session at the ALA annual conference (“Whacking the Weeds in the Library: De-Accessioning Print and Digital Materials in the 21st Century and Beyond”) where one of the speakers used the terms “rightsizing” and “planned abandonment.” Those are more business-sounding terms that are more positive than “weeding.” Weeding implies removal of bad stuff just by its very definition – which is what we’re doing – but rightsizing means making appropriate or optimum in size and “planned abandonment” at least sounds like some long-term thinking went into it. I’m not going to nit-pick wording, but reluctant weeders may like the more positive wording of “rightsizing” or the careful pre-planning of “planned abandonment.” Or, as a librarian friend of ours likes to say, “selecting for the book sale.”
After weeding, chart usage, take pictures, see the difference. Celebrate your success! Prove that the time and effort was worthwhile. Take notice of even small victories so that reluctant weeders will get some positive feedback. If you are able to have a used book sale of the weeded materials, be sure that those who did the work get some input on what the money is used for.
Anything to add? Fire away in the comments!
Image via creative commons: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jakerust/16821469876