|Crowded shelves in the print reference collection, July 2012|
At Carmichael, I think one of the biggest reasons for the under-usage of our print reference collection has been overcrowded shelves. There were simply too many books, and library patrons may have had difficulty separating the proverbial wheat from the chaff (to continue with the agrarian metaphors). Sue Polanka has also recognized this as a problem at her library (Wright State University). When people seek out print sources, they want to know that what they are reading is valuable and unique when compared to other kinds of information that they could find online. In short, we weeded to reaffirm that the print reference has a valuable place in the research process.
We began our weeding process with the dictum of "less is more" in mind. We primarily got rid of things like annotated bibliographies, old almanacs, redundant encyclopedias, and quotation anthologies. These are sources of information that can be better located online or perhaps are products of earlier, unfortunate moments in intellectual history. I kept thinking about the time I read Edward Said's Orientalism or Michel Foucault's The Order of Things when we purged the collection. We took out books like Selwyn Gurney's Racial Proverbs: A Selection of the World's Proverbs Arranged Linguistically (1938), a detestable collection of sayings attributed to Japanese, Irish, and Mexican people (to name a few).
|The worst reference book ever.|
Personally examining every book in the print reference collection was a valuable experience for me because it put me in touch with a lot of excellent (and quirky) sources that we own and should be used more frequently by our community. And I discovered that the collection is not without ironies.
|The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism is located next to the Encyclopedia of Human Rights.|
Most importantly, we've created room for our print reference collection to grow. True, we won't be buying as many print titles as we have in past years, and we are constantly growing our Virtual Reference Shelf, but we will continue to add the best handbooks, encyclopedias, and companions that are published each year. Now that our collection is leaner and more efficient, we encourage you to check it out. If you are teaching a class, you might want to design a specific session in which you bring students to the first floor of the library and have them work with print reference resources only. And to all of those books that we don't need anymore, I say "good riddance."