Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Why Do Libraries Throw Books Away?

Students and faculty here at the college often ask how the library can justify throwing away books.  Library staff have been confronted by folks who are upset to see books in the recycling cans with the Douglas Library stamp on them, and then marked discarded.  "How can a library throw away perfectly good books?"

Discarding books from a library, also known as weeding, is a necessary process to maintain a healthy collection that supports curricula.  In fields such as nursing and health care, older materials may contain outdated and even erroneous information that could be harmful, (medications, treatments, research findings, symptoms, etc.).  We know scientific and technological advances occur constantly, and what is available today may not be the case tomorrow (latest software programs, new discoveries in space or changes to the solar system, mechanical processes, etc.).  Even fields like the humanities and social sciences experience changes - new theories or counseling techniques, latest research findings, and statistics that students use to justify their own work. 

As a result, librarians find it necessary to review the collections and occasionally remove materials that are no longer accurate, current or authoritative, or have been replaced by newer editions.  This process allows librarians to select newer materials that are more supportive of teaching and learning on the campus, by providing the most accurate and up to date information available in a field. 

According to the library collection development policies:

Weeding of materials is the withdrawing of damaged or obsolete materials from the library collections.  This process is an integral part of collection development and maintenance.  The same criteria apply to weeding as to the selection of new materials.  Materials that fall into the following categories should be considered for withdrawal:

1)  Superseded editions
2)  Worn, mutilated, or badly marked items
3)  Duplicate copies of seldom used titles
4)  Materials which contained outdated or inaccurate information
5)  Works where information has been superseded or presented in newer, more comprehensive or accessible formats
6)  Titles of little curricular importance

Since the library does find it necessary to withdraw materials from library collections, the next question we usually encounter is, "why can't the books be given away to students or donated to another library?"  While it sounds like a no-brainer and a generous gesture, it is a bit more complicated than one would think.  Because library materials were purchased with county funds, it is not permissible to give away discarded materials to anyone other than another county agency.  That being said, the library wouldn't want to give outdated, inaccurate or erroneous information sources to another county agency.  Therefore, in an effort to be environmentally conscious, the library recycles most discarded library resources in the appropriate fashion, including print books, DVDs, and CDs.

The staff of Douglas Library fully recognizes the value of its resources, and therefore, must find a balance between maintaining strong collections that support teaching and learning, while being respectful of the its patrons' appreciation for books and other resources.  Please feel free to speak with a librarian if you have more questions about the library collections and their maintenance.

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