Unlike Jorge Luis Borges’ Library of Babel, all libraries do not have infinite space on their bookshelves. Consider that each year in the U.S., more than 300,000 different titles are published. In order to create a collection that is current and relevant, librarians have to balance acquisitions with deaccession, the official term for culling, weeding or more precisely, throwing away books. (Even weeding is not an apt metaphor, because if you discard a book, one doesn’t grow back; the book is lost forever.) Understandably, since librarians serve a community of readers (many who are bibliophiles), librarians speak of deaccession in hushed tones, as if discussing that creepy, old relative that no one wants to invite to family gatherings. One can imagine walking up to a librarian and asking him or her to reveal their dirty, little trade secret. “I can tell you,” the librarian would whisper, “but I would have to kill you.” Poppycock! — in the Bookshelf community no topic about books — even something as horrifying as dumping books into landfills — is off limits. So let’s get to it: how exactly does a library staff decide what books to get rid of?
Librarians, like government employees, are quite fond of acronyms (a legacy of the inscrutable Dewey Decimal system perhaps). They use CREW to weed their collections. CREW is an industry-wide practice that stands for Continuous Review Evaluation and Weeding. Librarians refer to CREW: A Weeding Manual for Modern Libraries (2008) by Jeanett Larson, the bible of book weeding, which could easily be retitled How to Discard Books and Still Be Able to Sleep at Night. In order to decide whether a book should be “crewed,” a librarian considers three factors: 1. the number of years since the book’s last copyright date; 2. the number of years that have passed since the book was last checked out; and 3. the book’s uselessness is based on several objective and subjective factors, using yet another acronym — MUSTIE.
MUSTIE refers to six factors for the librarian to determine if a title merits crewing. The first is Misleading: is the book’s information misleading because it is outdated or inaccurate? The second is Ugly: is the book worn out and cannot be repaired? The third is Superseded: has the book been replaced with a new edition? The fourth is Trivial: is the book lack scientific or literary merit? The fifth is Irrelevant: is the book irrelevant to the community’s interests or needs? Finally, the sixth is Elsewhere: can the book be easily found at another library, or is the information available on the internet?
Despite all these specific factors to evaluate about a book, CREW is simply a guideline. In the CREW manuel, Larson notes: “It is important to remember that guidelines are not intended to act as a substitute for professional judgment calls and common sense… Retain works of durable demand and/or high literary merit.” Some bibliophiles with a library of several hundred books can barely part with a single volume, so one can imagine the challenge a library faces when it needs to create substantial space, weeding out 50,000 to 250,000 titles at a time. The horror! The horror!
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