Weeding Reference Books: Why?

Recently the librarians at the Ryan-Matura Library have been undertaking a massive project of weeding the Reference Collection.  Why weed?

As discussed in the previous post, readers interact with books in various ways.  Certainly the picture book, the beloved literary book, the cookbook, and the telephone directory all are treated differently, and yet they are all books.  To be sure many would want to save the literary book, the cook book –but who really wants a bulky local telephone directory from a few years ago? 

Information ages at varying currency, and we all know that the telephone book is easily out of date, though the current one is still more useful and once thought.In addition, the advent of e-books and reference and journal databases have made earlier, printed directories obsolete –with notable exceptions.  The New York Times printed indices from decades ago are still considerably superior to the content of the New York Times online index for the same years.  Some reference books –the Oxford English Dictionary, Encyclopaedia Britannica (10th edition)– remain iconic works of scholarship despite their age or format, or presence online (in the case of the OED).

The Library at Sacred Heart University exists to support the teaching and learning of the University –and not, alas, true faculty research, for which we have too little room in the present structure.  Superannuated reference books of less than stellar quality simply are no longer used, and have been occupying valuable space on our main floor, while students have lacked seating, especially at peak periods of the academic year.

Consequently, librarians are undertaking a careful, but thorough, weeding of the reference collection, with the aim of making more student seating available, and the remaining reference collection more useful and accessible.  As reference sources migrate to online formats (or have already done so!), the same librarians are evaluating new online resources –already Literature Online has replaced many of the old Gale volumes, WestLaw has replaced a great many legal volumes, and the Oxford English Dictionary Online supplements the iconic printed volumes.

Weeding is never merely a case of "out with the old." Professional expertise strongly suggests that quality printed reference works can be consulted more when they are not so obscured by unwanted and superannuated material.  Online reference sources frequently guide users to print materials not considered before because of the sheer labor of tracing the references.  As always, the current needs of teaching and learning in the University guide our decisions towards maximizing our investment of money and time and achieving effective learning outcomes.

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