It’s a Wang!

Wang Systems coverWord Processing on Wang Systems

Submitter: Now stop laughing, Beavis. Wang Computers are a real thing and were moderately successful in the 1980s. However, the company no longer exists, and most offices probably retired their Wangs in the early 1990s. THREE copies of this book were on the shelf at my library in December 2012, hiding in the “Z” (library science) call number.

This is from an academic library outside of North America. Our university was established in 1968, and our current library building was built in the mid-1980’s. Because of the need to build our collection basically from scratch, no one thought much about weeding in the first few decades. During the holiday break, I’ve pulled not only this gem, but also books on dBase, AppleWriter, VisiCalc, Lotus 1-2-3, Quattro Pro, WordStar, and other defunct software that hasn’t been in use for over 15 years.

While I can understand librarians thinking you don’t need to weed an academic library collection only a decade after moving into your new building, these should have been pulled when it became apparent that Microsoft Office had taken the market share away from these competitors and that the companies were no longer making/updating these programs. Ditto the 18 books I see in my catalog on using the Apple II (books date from 1981-1987, the last Apple II machines were manufactured in 1993) and all those internet searching books from 2000 that predate (and therefore don’t mention) Google. It’s embarrassing how much of this I keep finding on our shelves, sitting alongside the modern 21st century computing titles we’ve bought.

Some hints for librarians hoping to find and weed similar artifacts: LCSH headings for “Electronic data processing”, “Electronic digital computers”, “Microcomputers” and “Minicomputers” were much more common in the 70s and 80s than now, and anything with this heading may be laughably dated. While there are some theoretical and programming books that are decades old that are still useful in an academic library, when those subjects are on a book about selecting a microcomputer, computerizing your business, etc., it’s probably older than most of your students.

While you’re at it, beware of ancient manuals for software still in use: There hasn’t been an “Aldus Pagemaker” since Adobe acquired the company in 1994, and “Macromedia Dreamweaver” became Adobe Dreamweaver in 2005 (seven years ago!). Also, this old stuff isn’t necessarily all in QA 76 with the computer books: I’m finding 80s computer titles in HG (finance), TK (engineering), Z (library and information science), and LB (education, especially “educational technology” titles). Happy hunting!

Holly: Thank you, submitter! I agree with almost everything you said.  I’m also laughing like Beavis.  I’ll only take issue with the part about understanding that you don’t need to weed an academic library only a decade after moving into a new building.  Now, I’ve never worked in an academic library, so feel free to enlighten me, but a DECADE is considered reasonable?  Academic librarians, please tell us how often you weed, and to what extent.



  1. Our academic library is much like the original poster, established in the 60’s, then moved to a new building in the early 80’s. Three years ago under a new director (finally) over 10,000 items were weeded. I’ve been in the job a year and weeded 3,000 books over the summer. I opened every book, if it came from the 60’s and had never been checked out it was gone, plus there were so many with outdated information. And they may or may not have smelled like 1960. Ew.

  2. In my first public library system, we weeded, literally, every day. We had a fully floating collection, so there were constantly things being placed on the shelf that hadn’t been caught somewhere else. In my latest system, the last time they weeded was in 2008, when the RFID system came in. Even then, they didn’t catch the computer books that were laughably out of date. I know that not everyone will have the latest software, but programming in DOS? The first version of Photoshop? Windows 95? I once did some heavy weeding of this section such that only about 100 books were left. The oldies were all returned to the shelf because “if we weeded everything out of date, we wouldn’t have anything.” I’d argue that they *still* didn’t have anything.

    And, yes, I remember having Wang Computers in the workplace.

  3. My first job involved programming in BASIC and COBOL on a Wang 2200 and later a Wang VS 65. It’s funny that the silhouette of the terminal shows the cooling fan, because those fans were integral to how you laid out your desk. They were loud and pushed a huge amount of air.

    The pictures here make me smile because the terminal has some sort of cheat sheet taped to the big expanse of empty above the brightness/contrast knobs. Every terminal in my office had some sort of cheat sheet taped there.

  4. I’m in an academic library and weeding frequency depends on discipline. In health sciences, it is constant, and my ideal would be to cycle through the collection every 5 years (ie. 20% of the collection is at least up for consideration in any given year, not that we wouldn’t have anything over 5 years old). We would usually keep one standard text per decade for historical purposes but That’s it. Maybe more if we had a history of science department. Other disciplines seem to only do a mad panic weed when they run out of space – just too easy to shelve it and forget it.

  5. Weeding is one of the big differences between public and academic libraries. Back in the 1960s, I think ARL had a pilot program that paid a member library for every title it weeded. It paid out almost nothing. The real challenge at the time was how to get all the stuff that was being published. Remember, the late 1940s and 1950s-1960s was an era of tremendous growth in academic enrollments and new library construction and there were many academic libraries with lots and lots of empty shelves and money to buy the much larger volume of research materials. Weeding only became a priority in academics when they began to run out of room–and even now, research libraries are much more likely to send things to storage rather than discard (yes, even old Wang manuals) because of their future potential for research. [Specifically, many people are interested in the history of technology so I can understand some libraries keeping copies of user manuals for no-longer extant products.] And “weeding” in a large research library sometimes still just means getting rid of duplicate copies.

  6. Uh oh. Are you saying the computer I bought last week from a guy off the back of his truck is from a company NO LONGER IN BUSINESS?? And here I’ve been blaming Earthlink for my slow internet connection.

  7. I worked for a company in 1996 that still had Wang terminals. Yes, the year after Windows 95 came out, we were using equipment from the seventies. Even then they were ridiculous dinosaurs, and I thought it was bizarre they were still being used. I’m gobsmacked there were manuals taking up space in a library in 2013!

  8. Academic here,
    We try to weed at least once a year, sometimes twice. We are limited in space and have to keep more books then we can fit. Therefor, we have some of site storage. Every year I purchase 1,500 books and that many must go off to storage. Students do request the materials and we retrieve it. We started in 2005 and said that anything that is not claimed in 5 years should be withdrawn. However were at the 8 year mark. Sometimes its hard to get that director to want to weed. She thinks there’s value in everything. Stealth weeding is common. Shhhh!

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