It seems like every few months we get a flurry of angry comments, emails, etc. on how a certain title would be important for “historical preservation” or in a study of history. History buffs, collectors, and other lovers of the odd item seem to bristle at the concept of weeding. (If my tolerance is low, I will roll my eyes and whine to Holly about the more humorless elements in society.) No matter how many times we say that community standards and a library’s mission trump any comment made by a couple of cranky public librarians in Michigan, the comments still come.
As librarians, I wonder if we aren’t communicating to the user effectively on our collection missions. My small library is not New York Public or the Smithsonian. It isn’t even the same as the library ten miles away in a different town. Our library collection mission is to support popular materials. We also have a strong local history/genealogy collection which does include some preservation goals. I would imagine that many libraries, even very small ones, attempt some preservation of materials in local history collections. However, that scope probably does not include a career book for women from the 1970s
. Does it have significance in a historical context? Probably, but that isn’t what my taxpayers have hired me to collect or maintain.
I wrote the above quite a few years ago and to this day, we still get people arguing with us about the importance of items for the “historical record”. Of course we support preservation, but at the same time, a public library is about current information needs of your customers. Unless you have unlimited room and unlimited funding, choices have to be made. Of course the random patron might come in to ask for something wildly out of the realm of collection objectives of my library and it is still my responsibility to see that person get what they need. To the best of knowledge, no public library patron, in my experience, has asked for
Of course, your mileage may vary. No two libraries are the same nor are the patrons. However, I still think that probably all libraries can shed some junk and freshen things up now and again.
Updated 11-7-14 HH
Updated 2-14-15 MK