Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Weeding Gone Wild: Planning and Implementing a Review of the Reference Collection

Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Weeding Gone Wild: Planning and Implementing a Review of the Reference Collection

Article excerpt

A major review of the reference collection in Bowling Green State University's Jerome Library was made necessary by the decision to incorporate the materials from the reference collection in the science library. The process of planning and implementing this collection review is described, emphasizing how this process has been affected by changes in technology and the demands made by library users. Suggestions that may help ensure a successful review are included.


It had been five years since a complete review of the reference collection in the William T. Jerome Library at Bowling Green State University (BGSU) had been performed, but other priorities had delayed this chore. Once the decision was made to move the Ogg Science Library reference collection to Jerome Library, weeding both reference collections became a necessity before they were combined. As Pierce points out in his introduction to a Reference Librarian special issue on weeding, it is not unusual to delay weeding until a library is confronted with a space shortage. (1)

In addition to identifying obsolete and unused books to be removed from the collection, other objectives were to identify missing titles and volumes, superceded volumes for which the newer edition had not yet been purchased, and titles for which newer comparable materials could be purchased. Pierce explains that this large task is common because "As unplanned collections grow, shelf and seating space shrink, and works with needed information are lost in the clutter of outdated and inappropriate materials crowding the shelves." (2) In a 1982 article, Rettig equates reference collections composed of outdated information to a bibliographic Love Canal. (3) Schlachter notes that the prevalence of obsolete reference sources in library collections had not improved by 1988 and at the time called for the American Library Association's Reference and Adult Services Division to provide leadership to remedy the situation. (4) In addition to the aforementioned tasks, Jerome Library reference staff also hoped to identify and fill any previously unidentified gaps in the collection. A properly conducted review can be an excellent method of improving the staff's knowledge of the collection, resulting in improved reference service.

Reference librarians were concerned about the potential effects of adding the science reference collection into a space that was already rather crowded. They did not want to lose any of the seating in the reference area and did not want to replace the shelving in the reference area with compact shelving. Both had been suggested as possible solutions to the impending space problem.

Staff discussed the changes in reference services and resources brought about by improved technology and the move to online publishing. Students and faculty have developed an insatiable appetite for online resources, changing the types of questions asked and the forms those questions take. There has been a noticeable diminution in ready reference questions, although the number of these questions was easily replaced by requests for help with computer and printer problems.

As remote users proliferated, online resources replaced some of the familiar print ones. By 2005, the BGSU libraries had replaced a substantial number of print resources with online books, periodicals, and research databases. The availability of e-mail and chat reference service accelerated the migration from print to online resources.

The reference librarians had just finished a major review of standing orders and were acutely aware of how many formerly essential reference sources were now receiving little or no use. The discussions for this review included a consideration of the purpose of the reference collection. Mathews and Tyckoson identify two opposing philosophies of reference collection development. One, based on format, holds that any book that is formatted as a reference book, such as a handbook, encyclopedia, dictionary, or almanac, should be in the reference collection. …

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