NEWBERRY COUNTY — For the bibliophiles of society, the topic of weeding, which simply means libraries removing old or superfluous books from their collections, is a hot-button issue.
“People have an interesting relationship with books,” said Nancy Rosenwald, director of Newberry College’s Wessels Library. “I get the whole ‘we treasure the book’ theory.”
Rosenwald’s a librarian with a background in special collections and rare books so she said she can empathize with those who view books in a sacred light.
However, she said, “Certain books become treasures. Others are like anything else — they just become extra.”
And when books become “extra,” they must be removed to make room for more current, relevant texts.
In the last couple of years, Wessels has weeded its journal collection to rout out dated information and clear up space for a quiet study area for students.
Rosenwald described weeding as an ongoing maintenance issue.
“The point is to remove materials that are damaged. Dogs do chew on books, pages are missing, condition is bad or, in some cases, the information is just inaccurate,” she said.
For academic libraries such as Wessels, the accuracy of information is paramount making regular weeding a necessity.
The crux of the issue is, however, what happens to those books deemed “extra.”
“A few years ago a number of students came up to me and said, ‘I have heard that books at this library get weeded and burned,’” Rosenwald said.
There was, of course, no validity to that rumor.
“I don’t know any librarian on the face of the earth that would participate in a book burning. We’re talking Nazi Germany here,” Rosenwald said.
As for what actually happens to the books, Rosenwald explained that Wessels contracts with a company called Better World Books.
“They either find a new location for those books, which could be a small library in Texas, let’s say. It could be an international site or it could be they put them on their website and sell them,” she said.
In the final scenario, Wessels actually takes in a percentage of the profits.
“With Better World Books everything has a final resting place,” she said. “Nothing is burned or thrown out and sent to the dump.”
Another reason a book could be weeded is that it simply isn’t being used very often. With the exception of areas such as history, English and art, most college’s analyze usage for an approximately five year window.
“There’s actually some horrifying statistics about when academic libraries do this they find, in many cases, 80 percent of their collections haven’t moved,” Rosenwald said.
However, this statistic is misleading, given these materials are mainly used within the library for research and are not checked out.
This can make it difficult to track a book’s actual usage but Rosenwald said, thankfully, many Newberry College students don’t reshelve books when they are finished using them.
“Then we can collect them and check them out and in and that’s helpful,” she said.
Many libraries are shifting toward offering more electronic materials which eliminates the need for shelving and minimizes the amount of weeding required by the library as the companies from which the materials are purchased perform that task.
“In all honesty we’re spending a good portion of our budget on databases, which are aggregated journals and newspapers,” said Rosenwald, who reported the databases are updated constantly to provide students with the best, most current information.
In the future, as the country becomes “greener,” Rosenwald expects fewer paper books to be printed for the simple reason that e-books require no weeding.
Reach Carson Lambert at 803-276-0625, ext. 1868, or on Twitter @TheNBOnews.