Thanks, For Everything

I’ve been struggling to write this post over the last five weeks. It was originally going to be part history and part “thank you”, but I had trouble writing a post about Andy and Jim that didn’t also include talking about Jerry and Martha. These four people (and the families they represent) go far beyond being DTLT to me. So, I dropped the history part (that was taking way too long) and made it strictly a thank you post to Andy, Jim, Jerry, and Martha.So really, this post isn’t for anyone but me and the four of them.


A Look Down Campus Walk
Photo credit to shauser

It is hard to believe that 2006, the year I started at Mary Washington as a freshman, is nearly ten years ago now. I’m sure 18 year old me would be surprised to find out that ten years down the line she’d still be in the same town because she found family here.

If I were to write a book about my journey over the last ten years it would be impossible to not talk about a few members of DTLT and their families because they are so thoroughly intertwined in my life’s story. There are so many moments that I could talk about I don’t know how I could recount them all in a single post. And how can I ever express enough gratitude for helping me get to where I am today and for all the wonderful memories? This post won’t do it justice, but it as an attempt to say a few words of thanks. For your consideration, both serious and silly thank yous.

Magic Bottle
Photo credit to cogdog

First of all thank you for hiring me as a student aide all those years ago. I didn’t know what I was getting in to, but thanks for seeing something in the quiet and timid freshman student.

Thank you for bringing me in to the conversation. Sitting around the bullpen in DTLT allowed me to hear some of the smartest people I know talk about big ideas.

Thanks for being there for me through my darkest college days.

Thanks for the hundreds of meals you have fed me over the years. Whether it was taking me out to lunch or having me in your home for dinner. I owe more meals than I can ever repay. I plan on paying them forward.

Thank you all for letting me get to know your children. It has been an honor for me to watch them grow up. I know many of you think you aren’t perfect parents, and you’re not, but the secret is no one is, and as it turns out you are still great parents without being perfect.

Thanks for all the blog comments.

Thanks for inviting me to your kid’s shows, to outings near and far, to family gatherings, birthday parties, mother’s day and father’s day celebrations, and even family vacations. I always felt like I was part of the family when I came along.

Thanks for all the moments I laughed so hard I cried. There were many of them.

Thanks for letting me sit in DTLT at all hours of the day as a student aide. Being there often meant more to me than you knew. Although I think the times when I came in and promptly put my head on the desk was probably a sign.

Thank you for listening to my story.

Thank you for sharing your stories with me. You all come from different places and hearing your stories about where life has taken you (both the good and the bad) taught me there are many paths to fulfillment and happiness.

Thank you for all the patience you’ve shown me over the years.

Thanks for all the drinks: beer, wine, but mostly the marthinis. Okay, this is really a thank you to Martha for educating me on the superiority of gin.

Thanks for all the times you pushed me to reach further than I thought I could.

Thank you for being a friend.

Thanks for helping me through my mistakes and failures. Especially when those failures felt like the end of the world. You all reminded me life goes on and the best thing to do is learn from my mistakes.

Thanks for helping me after I graduated. Whether it was helping me edit a resume, listening to my fears over what comes next, or even convincing your spouse to let me work at her clinic ūüėČ

Thanks for setting the bar so high.

Thanks for being the biggest influences on my young adult life. I am so incredibly blessed to have had so many amazing people in my life over the last ten years. I think I won the mentor lottery when I came to Mary Washington.

Thanks for probably be unsurprised that this blog post has taken so long to write. Hey, at least I finished it before Jim left!

Thank you. I love you all.




Mucking about in databases and giving it all over to google

Shelves and Book Cart_9556678137_l

As mentioned in my previous post one of the projects I wanted to complete over last summer was digitizing as many of the paper processes that I could. One of the largest challenges was finding a way to digitize a major task my student supervisor performs. In the library the student supervisor takes time each week to spot check some of the shelving of the previous week. In order to do this the paper process was as follows:

  • ¬†When a student assembled a “ready to be shelved” cart they filled out a slip of paper and wrote down 6 random call numbers that appear on the cart. This slip of paper went in to a bin near the computer workstation.
  • They would also write their name, date, time and cart number on another slip of paper. This slip stayed with the cart until the cart was completely shelved. Each student who worked on a cart would write down their name on the slip of paper. If one student shelved the entirety of the cart they only had to write their name at the bottom. If multiple people worked on a cart there was a field to indicate where they stopped on the cart.
  • Each time a student would head up to the Stacks to shelve they had to fill out their name, date, time and, cart number on a log also kept by the computer workstation.
  • The student supervisor would have to match up the the various pieces of paper to figure out who shelved what and then they’d take the slip of paper with the 6 call numbers and go do the spot check. During the spot check they’d write down anything that was out of order and if they did find an error they’d put the slip of paper in a binder that had the various student aides names so they could go back and correct their mistakes.

How do you even begin to digitize this process?

During my first year I had been introduced to Navicat which is piece of database management software (like Microsoft Access). My supervisor had shown me some queries she had built because the reporting tool that comes with our ILS (Integrated Library System) is not very robust. So, while I was thinking about ways to digitize the process it occurred to me I probably could put together a report of some sort. Every time a cart is assembled by a student the cart gets a second check-in. This ensures that all things have been checked-in and catches other statuses a book may be on that need to come off before they head back to the Stacks. Knowing that all these second check-ins were being recorded by the system I was able to build a query based on the items checked-in, the computer they were checked-in on and, a date range. Now, a lot more than just carts get checked in on the computer in the back so I needed a way for the student supervisor to sift through the items relatively easily. I created a google form for my students to fill out:

This form gives the student supervisor the barcode information they need to easily find the carts that have been made. In, addition I’ve made my students scan a barcode before and after they check-in a cart.¬† This helps speed up my student supervisor’s process even more by giving them an easily identifiable number to search for in the report that is generated. After the student finish shelving they also fill out an after-shelving form:

The input from these forms gets dumped in to google spreadsheets that both my student supervisor and I have access to. My student supervisor then has to match up the corresponding information.¬† They look at when carts were made and choose the date range for the query (which they are able to run themselves using some nice and free software that allows you to run basic queries) and then they run the report. They then take the database query output and import it in to our shared google drive folder where they can identify all the carts that are made based on the information in the “Assembled Carts” spreadsheet. After they have identified carts they pull up the “After Shelving” spreadsheet to see who shelved the cart and write their names down. For this last part I let my supervisor choose how they wanted to format things so that when they went spot check it made sense to them. My student supervisor this year color coded the spreadsheet and came up with a system of naming when identifying errors and that seemed to work for them. All that was left to do was grab a tablet (or their phone) and go upstairs and spot check. An, additional advantage to this system of spot checking was the student supervisor now has a complete list of everything on the cart. Rather than leave it up to person assembling the cart to pick 6 random call numbers the student supervisor can be more targeted in their checking. We know certain areas of the Stacks have more problems than others so it makes sense to check those places more often.

In order to get the information back to the student aides about what errors they need to correct¬† I gave them all individual pages on (which are hidden behind a login) and on each page is an editable spreadsheet so that not only can my student supervisor record the errors, but my student aides could grab tablets and head up in to the Stacks to correct their errors and mark that they fixed them while they are up there. Many opt to write down call numbers still, but quite a few adopted picking up the tablet and heading upstairs to check. This is one part of the process I’m trying to figure out how to make more easily accessible so that more student feel inclined to pick up the device rather than write down a bunch of call numbers on a piece of paper.

We’ve done this new way of spot checking for one academic year and the experiment has been very successful and few fun side benefits have come out of digitizing this process. My student supervisor now spends half the time doing the spot checking that it used to take and now I have the opportunity to expand out that positions task to include more variety and higher-level activities. One of the more fun side benefits that I had not given much thought to is the massive data collection that is a by-product of this process. I now know on average how many carts each week get shelved, when are our busiest weeks, how many items have been shelved, who had the highest accuracy (did I mention my student supervisor was keeping an on-going spreadsheet of student aides accuracy rates?). It was very cool to tell my student during the last week of school that they had shelved over 12,000 items during the semester.

Now that I have all this data it has my brain going about a new approach to student supervisor spot checking and on an even larger scale it has me thinking about the best use of student aide time while they work. I’m going to spend the summer sifting through the data a bit and spend time thinking about better ways to record statistics, do proper analysis (finding rates of accuracy on uneven sample sizes? Got to figure that out) and figure out what data is meaningful to keep recording. I’m excited that the experiment went so well and hopefully with a few more tweaks the system will be even better for this upcoming academic year.

Just the start of things

Sayers Books 2

I’ve been working at the Simpson Library for almost two years now and I have tried several times to blog about the work I’ve been doing, but for several reasons I haven’t been able to bring myself to share what I am doing. I won’t say that this post is going to be a trend, but I’d like to talk through what I’ve been doing a bit more and try to let go of some of the fears that have held me back from writing.

When I hit my one year anniversary mark at the University it was summer and I took the opportunity of the summer time lull to revamp the procedures of my job. The biggest goal was to digitize as many aspects of the job as I could to not only reduce the amount of paper waste, but to also streamline the process and perhaps have a better way to collect data of what is going on.

Many of the digitization tasks were fairly straight forward. I wanted to put the handbooks and student aide training material online. I had been inspired by the work done by DTLT where they used a combination of GitHub and DokuWiki as the hub of the documentation for Domain of One’s Own. I liked this framework because content re-use is very easy in the wiki. If I have a set of procedures on a page and those procedures are used in multiple project instructions I’d only have to write the procedures once and easily embed them in other parts of the site. Additionally, if I had to update the procedures because they changed I would only need to change the original source of the procedures and that would get pushed to everyplace I had embedded those procedures. I also imagined if my wiki experiments were a success that this could extend to other departments within the library. If we shared a collective wiki we could all be on the same page for the various procedures. I ended up not using GitHub as the backbone because between all the things I wanted to accomplish over the summer I thought learning how the heck to use GitHub would take up more time than I wanted, plus I figured at this point I’d be the only one needing to update the content so the power of forking my content wasn’t necessary.

I had a volunteer (a student aide that had just graduated) take the Collection Maintenance Handbook and format it to work within the wiki markup. It was also a good opportunity for the two of us to update the manual to reflect current practices (wow, did I really change that many things in my first year?). The volunteer also helped put the training guide together and to help me think through what items I wanted to include on an introductory questionnaire. Traditionally student aides receive a training guide pamphlet that they go through with the supervisor each time they  work a shift until they are fully trained. Going from paper to electronic format made me rethink how I even wanted to approach student aide training which has led to lots of different experiments (a blog post for another day).  Additionally, if I was going to use parts of the Collection Maintenance Handbook in the training guide I had to make sure the handbook was broken up in ways that I could use those pieces in the training guide and that they were written in a way that would explain enough to student aides how the task is accomplished. It mostly came together, but it was a bit messy.

This summer I’ll be spending time looking at how well the digitization process of handbooks and training manuals went to figure out how I can tweak it further to make more sense to my students. I’ve also been doing plenty of reading on managing student aides in an academic setting and plan on taking some of the ideas and implementing them in training.

This is only the tip of the iceberg of what I’ve been doing and it didn’t even cover the biggest and most challenging digitization of the shelf checking that my student supervisor does. I’ll leave that for another post.

Finding The Tool That Brings It All Together

One of the hardest parts of the Digital Media Commons Initiative (DMCI) project has been finding the right tool for the job. I had a hard time creating a narrative when I didn’t have the tool that would help me imagine a framework that I needed to build within.

When I first started this project I was looking at Open Exhibits as an authoring tool, but not long after I started playing with it they were bought out by another company and it seems that support for the tool went away. The tool was also buggy and instead of spending time dealing with it I left it behind.

Around that time I was still struggling to come up with what the content would be and what story I wanted to tell. I knew I wanted to do something involving Mary Washington history, possibly utilizing a map, and using items from the Library’s Digital Collections to create an end product that could be displayed in the Convergence Gallery. So, for awhile I put away the worry about how I’d build it and I figured I’d spend some time delving in to learning more about Mary Washington history and spending time in the Digital Collections to see if anything grabbed my attention. I read through the majority of Edward Alvey’s History of Mary Washington College, 1908-1972 and also read a good portion of William Crawley’s University of Mary Washington: A Centennial History 1908-2008. During this time you’ll see I stumbled across cool things like Faulkner visiting Mary Washington. I also spent a fair amount of time looking at the Centennial Image Collection finding shots that caught my eye or made me wonder, “where was that?”. I still seem to be terrible at taking notes, but at least I wrote down citations so I could go back and find things later.

After accumulating lots of interesting facts in my head I became obsessed with the idea of building a BuzzFeed style quiz about “What Era of Mary Washington Do You Belong In?”. I figure it’d be fun to capture some of the excitement and hype of the ridiculous quizzes and I had quite a bit of Mary Washington information in my head. There is no real good free tool out there that helps you design personality quizzes, but I found a plugin for WordPress that could possibly play the role. I started building a spreadsheet, collecting images, and playing with the plugin, but once again I was not over-joyed by the tool. So, I put that half done project down and once again struggled with “what is the story?”.

Next I went on to the idea that using my knowledge in Mary Washington history I’d write an interactive fiction using Twine as a framework to tell story. The story was going to take you back in time to a day in Mary Washington and you’d be able to, through a narrative, get to learn about what life was like at Mary Washington. Once again I started in, writing, collecting images, mapping out the path. I quickly became frustrated by what would essentially be a text driven story. I love interactive fictions, but a builder of compelling fictional narratives I am not. Frustrated by my own inability to be a creative writer I put away that project too.

Sidenote: Is it a wonder I struggled so much with academics? So many half-done papers and projects haunt me.

After many failed grandiose ideas and feelings of disappointment I circled back around to the original idea of a map. This time, taking a concept from the interactive fiction iteration of the project, I’d build a map of Mary Washington as it would have been seen in 1957. I decided to build it in Prezi because it allows you to move through a visual space and I knew that Prezi works with our kiosks. I started collecting images, writing blurbs of content and piecing it together in Prezi. It happened again though. I did not like the way the story looked in Prezi. Would I ever find the tool? Would I just have to accept good enough? (ah, the joys of being a perfectionist).

Cut to last week: I shuffled in to DTLT, looking for inspiration and to vent my frustration of not finding the “right” tool. I described to Andy what I was trying to do and why I just didn’t like the way Prezi was handling it. He thought for a moment and said he might know of a tool that could be the thing I am looking for. Enter stage left:


I went through the live demo and was immediately entranced by the possibilities. It is an incredibly extensible presentation tool and it doesn’t require anything fancy to run (HTML framework, baby!). There is even a website that utilizes the reveal.js framework called Slides so you easily build presentations without knowing any code. What really caught my eye was the ability to add depth to a linear narrative. In each slide you have the ability to add nested slides. So you can have a fairly simple narrative that goes left to right, but if you want to give people the option to spend time getting in to more detail they could delve deeper by going down a level. It also has lots of little features (like native support of gifs) that are nice to see and could be used in fun ways.

So, what now?

I think since I am so close to summer I might as well take the time to learn reveal.js instead of using (although it is very slick and has great features on the free level). How do I know this isn’t going to lead to another dead-end? Well, I can’t really know for sure, but at this point I think I’ve really exhausted all possibilities (and I’m exhausted by the constant thinking and rethinking). I’m going to spend the summer learning how to program reveal.js so I can tell the story of the Sights at Mary Washington in 1957. Hopefully, if this tool is as cool as I think it is, I can easily create other projects in the future using it.

The Bullpen Experience

Ever since Martha wrote about the bullpen model that DTLT uses I’ve had this post in the back of my head. I’ve tried many times to come up with a way to talk about the influence of DTLT on my life, but I don’t think it could ever be encapsulated in one post. So, this is one attempt to talk about their influence of my life as a student and why I wish every student could get some time in a “bullpen” while they are in college.

I started working as a student aide for DTLT as a sophomore in fall of 2007 and it wasn’t hard to see right away the impact of the bullpen. From Martha’s post:

There is almost constant conversation, and, as a result, there is almost constant collaboration. It’s an incredibly dynamic, intense way to work. We see each other at our best and at our worst. We have argued around these desks; we have each at one point or another needed to leave the room because we needed to take a breather.

Sitting around the bullpen alongside the members of DTLT and watching them argue and discuss ideas helped me realize that learning is not only done in a solitude. I saw how hashing out ideas led to the creation of projects, initiatives and change. I learned many lessons in how to think and question ideas in productive ways. At some point I had that “aha!” moment where I realized, “Ah, this is how people learn to be great thinkers. They talk to each other and push each other and aren’t afraid to take positions.” It demonstrated to me that it really is okay that people have different ideas, even on the rare occasion when things get so incredibly heated someone has to leave the room, it is still okay (there is also a lesson in forgiveness and understanding in all this too).

It may seem obvious, but this was honestly a mind-blowing experience to me as a student. I vividly remember there being times when I felt true awe (a sort of brain high) after a particularly thoughtful and intense discussion. I can only speak from my experience, but the majority of my academic life up until college was spent being a passive receiver of knowledge. When I was sitting in the bullpen they demonstrated to me every day through their work and their conversations how the “life of the mind” happens. I look back on it now and think of it as form of apprenticeship. What better way to learn how to think critically about ideas and to put those ideas in to motion than to watch and interact with those who are already really good at it?

These types of interactions can’t be quantified and graded, but they are absolutely essential to becoming a well rounded individual. I wouldn’t be who I am today if I hadn’t worked for DTLT, but I can’t fit the entirety of that experience in one line on a resume. Instead their influence is seen in the ideas and the projects I come up with now. When I challenge myself and others around me to think and to try new ideas that is the influence of the bullpen shining through. So here’s to the bullpen and the myriad of people at the University who gathered in that space and transformed my life by giving me the opportunity to be a part of the conversation.

Faulkner, MWC, and Digitization

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

As part of my DMCI project (which has totally changed directions, but that is for another blog post) I have been reading through the histories of Mary Washington. Today, as I was reading through I gasped when I saw the heading, “Faulkner Speaks”. William Faulkner, one of the greatest American writers of the 20th century, here at little old Mary Washington (College). I could not believe it. I fell in love with Faulkner when I took a seminar on him and Toni Morrison in 2008. At the time, I was learning to think like a historian (or really just learning to think, thanks liberal arts degree!) through my various classes at Mary Washington and the deep connection between literature and history kept my brain constantly on fire with “wow” moments. History is a story we tell ourselves about the past. Literature can also tell a story about our past. Through the creation of fictional narratives and characters whose experiences and personalities embodied the Southern myth (story/concept/idea/theme/history?) Faulkner was able take on the post-Civil War South in ways a straight-forward history book cannot.¬† There aren’t many historical “facts” in his stories, but there are a lot of truths.

The blurb in the book about Faulkner is short, but there was a footnote at the bottom identifying the school’s newspaper (The Bullet) as the source. Lucky for me most of The Bullet editions have been digitized and are up on the Internet Archive. Shockingly, Faulkner’s visit was not enough to make the first page. I guess he hadn’t quite reached legendary status in 1957.

Click the image to see it in more detail at the Internet Archive.

According to the paper Faulkner spent some time as the writer-in-residence at the University of Virginia. During this time Mary Washington was affiliated with the University of Virginia as the liberal arts college for women. Curious to see if there were any more details I could find out about Faulkner’s visit I did a quick search and found the Faulkner at Virginia: An Audio Archive. It is a treasure-trove of Faulkner audio that I had never seen before! It appears this went up in 2010, which explains why I did not come across it during the seminar I took in 2008. I scrolled through the collection, giddy with excitement, and found the audio of Faulkner’s visit to Mary Washington broken up in to two parts. The page with the audio and the transcript for tape 1 can be found here and the audio and the transcript for tape 2 can be found here. I could not get the audio on the tape 2 page to work, but I managed to find it buried in the site (yes, I’ve contacted someone about the problem). It already appears to be fixed. That was quite fast, so thanks to whoever at U of VA got right on it!

Below are direct links to both the first and second audio tapes.

At MWC Tape 1 – April 25th, 1957

At MWC Tape 2 – April 25th, 1957

They are worth a listen both for Faulkner’s reading of “Shingles of the Lord” and the Q&A at the end.

Just six years ago, when I took the Faulkner seminar, neither The Bullet newspaper nor the Faulkner audio archive were available freely online. What was previously buried is now more easily discovered and shared. Faulkner’s visit to Mary Washington is no longer just a blurb in a book on our shelves. Sure, maybe all these pieces could have been brought together many years ago by going to the physical archives and scanning and transcribing. But to think in 2014 I can sit at my computer and within ten minutes I had it all. How cool is that?

Fits and Starts and Technology

The DMCI project has been moving in fits and starts. The initial idea was accepted,¬† I explored technology, focused an idea, realized technology we planned on using probably isn’t going to work, started rethinking whole approach. I know this is all part of the process, but it feels like I’m back at square one.

After OpenExhibits underwent its merger it seems like the product has been left to flounder. It is now freely available to everyone, but the website is still glitchy and there is minimal support. So, we have started rethinking what we are going to use to do the digital gallery displays. With this rethinking of the technology comes the rethinking of the content. In many ways what you use to create a project dictates what you say, the medium changes the message. So, here I am rethinking (once again) how I am going to approach this project. To me, Open Exhibits, was very much focused on being a container for a bunch of items to interact with, whether it was maps, images, or sound (at least at the very basic authorship levels). This approach can be useful in some settings, but with what we wanted to do I couldn’t seem to make the pieces fit inside the box. Now, that we are looking elsewhere to present the content I am more open to reconsider the narrative I want to tell. In fact, now I feel like I can tell a story rather than just give people a bunch of artifacts to touch and and fling around a touch screen.

So, the search continues for the technology that doesn’t require a huge learning curve, but is still powerful enough that we can build something that we can show-off in the Digital Galleries in the ITCC. As I was discussing this search with our assistant systems librarian, Katherine, she mentioned a tool called Zeega and a journal called Sensate Journal that features some projects the used Zeega. This one, “Hearing the Hills: An Acoustic Encounter with South Dakota‚Äôs Black Hills” not only tells a narrative, but has multiple threads you can explore while you go through. This example made the cogs in my head start moving. This was what I really wanted to do with the project. Have a semi-guided tour through a narrative that allowed the viewer some agency, but in the end moved them in a direction that I wanted them to head. I spent the better part of this morning looking at various different story-telling like websites. Shout out to 50 Ways to Tell a Story that also provided me some inspiration as I looked at through the different examples.

Another component of this is the digital galleries are touch screens and until we get the physical computers here it will be hard to test out usability. Can we build a website in something like WordPress and have it be useable via touch? So, we are playing the waiting game on that too.

I’m no closer to an end product, but it has been good to work through a lot of these issues and I am thankful for my colleagues here in the Library and around University for helping me think this through. More to come on this adventure to get something ready for the digital gallery.







Getting the Ball Rolling

break on through to the other sideThe hard part of getting going on a big project is deciding how to attack it. Currently I’m facing two pressing issues:

1) The software we are using for the Digital Galleries, Open Exhibits, is something I’ve never used before so there will be a bit of a learning curve and the final shape of the project will really depend on how easy/hard it will be to develop in this system. Additionally, Open Exhibits just underwent a merger with a company called Gesture Works so the website is in a bit of chaos right now. The first day I finally sat down to sink my teeth in was the day after the merger happened and I was watching things change on the site as I tried to find my way around. I’m giving the site some time and I hope the documentation pops back up. Expect more posts about the joys/frustrations of learning a new piece of software.

2) The second pressing issue is the scope of the project. Putting together something that is about UMW history can be an endless task. Being the perfectionist I am I want to cover it all, but it is truly not realistic. I have to be okay with deciding to cover a certain theme or time period or some buildings. I get so excited about different possibilities and aspects of UMW history that I find it difficult to be okay with narrowing it down.

My goals this week are to decide what my scope will be and now that the Open Exhibits is getting back in it’s groove I need to start playing around with the software. If anyone has any suggestions on scope please feel free to suggest. We are possibly thinking about featuring the initial 3 buildings on campus (Monroe, Virginia, Willard). Not sure if we would cover their entire history, but maybe it will be doable!

Why We Weed

“Simpson Library and Bench 3” by shauser

Here at UMW we have an on-going weeding project. Weeding means deselecting books from the collection. The Simpson Library (the building that the school’s library moved in to in the mid-80s from a much smaller building) has never undergone a major weeding project in its life. Sure, throughout the years books have been discarded here and there, but it appears a thorough examination of the collection has not occurred.¬†The project at Mary Washington started in 2011 and we are still chugging along here in 2013 (with a lot more to go).

I was hired at the end of June this year as the Collection Maintenance Supervisor and I’ve learned a lot about all the pieces that make the library run. When I was told about the Library’s weeding project I was initially hesitant. I had many questions and concerns, so I started reading up on weeding. The more I read the better I understood the reason and methodologies of weeding a collection.¬†So, why do we weed?

Libraries are like shrubberies.¬†No really, a library is like a living organism. Not only do you need water and fertilize it, but you also have to prune it back too. A collection is at its best when it gets both forms of attention. Many studies have shown that a weeded collection actually circulates better! It seems counter-intuitive, how does having less books on the shelves equal more circulation? For starters, with less books to sort through the ones that people are really looking for are easier to find. A bit of human psychology plays in to this too. Shelves that aren’t packed too tightly and have books that are in good condition attract attention. People, for the most part, don’t pick up a book if it is in poor condition and the vast majority of books that are selected for weeding here at Simpson are older books that tend to be in poor condition.

“Over the Stacks 3” by shauser

How do we decide?¬†Most literature on weeding suggests the best way to flag books for weeding is to look at the circulation count on the book. This is the most objective way that a library with a large collection can begin to tackle a weeding project. So, we look at the different circulation counts and the date the book was added to our collection. Depending on the subject area we are looking at we have slightly different criteria. For example, technology books should be weeded more aggressively (and regularly) because of the rapidly changing nature of technology. So, for that section we might have a shorter cut-off date than say for american literature. For most sections we have a cut-off date of 1998 for circulation. On our weeding slip it says, “This book has not circulated since 1998, or for its entire shelf life”. I will say that even with a cut-off date of 1998 the vast majority of the books we have been flagging are books that have never circulated or have extremely low circulation. There are a few more nuances about our selection of books for weeding, but that is how we start working our way through a section. After a section has been flagged we invite the faculty that cover the content area to come evaluate our choices. This is a critical step and without it our weeding project is blind in many ways. Faculty, the content experts, can tell us if something needs to stay. Maybe it is a superior translation of a work or it is an important part of a canon. One of the fun things for me, being down in the trenches on this project, is seeing the reasons faculty give for why a book should be saved: “Last nobel prize winner from his country”, “One of the few female poets. Mostly male poets on the shelves”. I hope that faculty, after spending time in the stacks, see not only what we have to offer, but make future suggestions about what we could add to better support their classes and their department’s mission.

But what if?¬†There is an understandable fear that the Library will get rid of something that someone might need or something rare or valuable. This is certainly a possibility, but odds are the vast majority of what we recycle consists of unusable and out-dated books, which, is why they probably haven’t circulated. It is not a goal of the Simpson Library to be a major archival library. We don’t have the space or the funds to be that. At a small school like this we do our best to support current needs and for what we don’t have in house we have an amazing Inter-Library Loan program. Studies of weeded libraries show that there end up being very few requests on the books that were weeded. If something does come back in to demand in the future we can add it back to the collection. Ask yourself, is the small possibility we get rid of a book that is needed outweigh the gains we get from weeding the collection?

“UMW Think Lab Sign” by shauser

What is gained?¬†As I’ve mentioned earlier in this post one of the gains of weeding a collection is increased circulation. I’d love to see our collection circulate more. As I commented in Betsy Lewis’s post, 73% of the books we are weeding from the PQ section have never circulated. Thousands of books that have never circulated, their stories unread, I think that is the bigger tragedy. By weeding our collection we¬†create space on the shelves for more up to date content and we are able to grow content areas that support the shifts and changes in Mary Washington’s needs. We have a fairly new Women and Gender studies major and even newer Digital Studies minor. I think it is more important to support these areas than to hold on to some unused books because of a nostalgia for the printed text. Shelf space is a precious commodity in the library and by weeding we make the best use of that space. Freeing up space in the library means we can also think about doing something creative with the extra room. The Think Lab, which is housed in the Simpson Library, is a brilliant example of what freeing up space can do.

A few more things. I hope this post gives a glimpse in to what weeding is and why we do it. I encourage faculty to get familiar with what the library has to offer and to encourage student to use it too. We have wonderful reference librarians that know a thing or two about what the library has to offer (hint: it is not just books!). Honestly, most students don’t check-out books from the library unless they have a reason to and usually that reason is a class assignment. In an ideal world students would check out all kinds of books without prompting, but that is not the reality we live in. I much rather have to discard a book because it is so well used we have to replace it than have to discard a book because it has been neglected on our shelves for decades. If you care about saving books, you have to use them, that is the reality.