Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Books: Weeding the Collection

I'd like to extend a huge thanks to music librarian Amy Edmonds (who blogs here), because Amy pointed me to the CREW Method of weeding a library collection.

Even though this is intended for public libraries, much of the thinking fits perfectly with weeding our own personal libraries. CREW stands for Continuous Review, Evaluation, and Weeding - which is a good practice for more than just our books. The idea of CREW could apply to almost anything we own: clothes, children's toys, etc. But for now, I'll focus on the books.

Why Weed?

CREW mentions six benefits, and three of them are just as relevant to the home as to the library:

1. You save space. Libraries and homes both have limited space - we can't add to our collections forever without running out of that space. And, as CREW says, "shelves should never be more than 85% full (and 75% is even better)." That's a good guideline for any storage container (file cabinet, closet, etc.) because it makes it so much easier to put things away and take things out.

2. You save time. Finding books, shelving books, and dusting all go quicker if you don't have "an overload of useless books and other materials."

3. You make the collection more appealing. "It is better to have fresh air and empty space on the shelves than to have musty old books that discourage investigation."

How to Select Books to Weed

CREW suggests the MUSTIE factors:

M = Misleading and/or factually inaccurate. If the information in a book is outdated, why keep it? As CREW points out, books dealing with computers, law, science, health and medicine, technology and travel are all likely to become obsolete fairly quickly.

U = Ugly. These are books with excessive wear, and books with odors - books that are "dirty, shabby, warped, bug infested." Yes, you might sometimes want to keep an old, yellowed book that's close to falling apart - but if it's a book you want to keep, you might also consider replacing it with a better copy, if that's a viable option.

S = Superseded. If you have a newer edition of a book, you usually have no need for the older one.

T = Trivial. These are the "fad" books - books that were interesting for a short time - but that time has passed.

I = Irrelevant. These are books where interest has waned. In our personal libraries, we might well have books that reflect old careers, old hobbies, prior parts of our lives. For example, a parent whose children are in grade school probably doesn't need those baby books any more.

E = material easily found Elsewhere. For individuals, these could be books readily found at the library; for the library, they could be books available by interlibrary loan. This would also include books with information readily found on the internet.

Another category, listed elsewhere in CREW, are books with a "mediocre writing style." Often these are the "trivial" books, written quickly to deal with a hot topic.

How to Weed

Much of the information here is library-specific, but there's still some good advice for the home library. "Examine each item in turn. ... Allow time for breaks to stay alert. Do not do so much as one time that you lose concentration and good judgment."

What to Do with the Weeded Books

CREW makes the point that while some books may be "hopeless cases," others can find new homes through sales, donation, etc. What's irrelevant to you may be just what someone else wants!

If the book is one that no one wants, recycling is usually an option for paperbacks. Recycling hardcovers is somewhat more difficult, since that usually requires you to remove the covers.

Related Posts:
Warning: Libraries Don't Keep All Donated Books - And That's OK
10 Ways to Find New Homes for Your Books
3 Perspectives: Not All Books Are Keepers
Clearing Out the Bookshelves


Christine Simiriglia said...

Another way to clear out the books is to get a Kindle, and keep "spirit" of the book on hand. There is a review here: http://www.organize-more-stress-less.com/kindle.html

Anonymous said...

Jeri - this methodology is so similar to the one that we use when organizing. I was struck how you can use a similar thought process when going through your closet, a collection, your garage, etc. So much of being organized is not only being practical, but also being mindful about what we choose to have in our lives.
Really interesting post - am forwarding along to a client who is also a librarian!

Jeri Dansky said...

Christine, the Kindle something to consider; what I'd appreciate is the ability to search the text! But many people are still attached to physical books - or wouldn't want to pay to replace their collections with electronic copies. Still, it's going to be interesting to see how the use of ebooks evolves, both in technology and in reader acceptance and usage.

Liz, you captured my thoughts perfectly. I was so pleased to see how something written for a specific audience had much wider applicability.

Jason Diffner said...

Jeri, thank you. I'm a bibliophile and need to purge the books from my house every few years. I "began" what I intended to be an aggressive purge a few months ago, but I got bogged down. I tried selling some on Amazon.com but it's a lot of work.

Anyway, I now have a new framework to work with: MUSTIE. I love it. I need a structure like this because it's hard for me to give up my books - even the undeserving ones.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Jeri Dansky said...

Jason, I'm so glad you found this to be helpful. I look forward to hearing how it works for you.

Anonymous said...

It all helps, but bottom line is my personal attachment to books--period. I get a little done, thanks to all your (and your "fans") encouragement. Thank you!

Jeri Dansky said...

You're welcome!

Janet Barclay said...

Excellent post! One thing that jumped out for me was the suggestion to replace books that are falling apart with a newer copy. The books in my collection that are in that condition are mainly relics from my childhood, or even my mother's, so a newer copy just wouldn't capture the feelings I get when I look at them. But for books that are worn from being referred to so often, it makes a lot of sense.