By HOPE RACINE
As part of a four-year process, the University of Mary Washington’s Simpson Library is weeding through older books in the hopes of making more usable space for students.
The project started when Head Librarian Rosemary Arneson joined the Simpson staff.
“We were completely full and didn’t have any room for new books,” said Arneson. “The goal is to think critically about what we have, what we need and how we can improve the catalogue and space in the best way possible for students.”
The process of selecting which books to remove from the shelves is a time-consuming one, according to Arneson. Going subject by subject, the librarians ran reports on which books have not been in circulation since 1998. These books are flagged with a white slip of paper for future review. These slips can be seen in some of the books on shelves now.
“This is a good indication that the books aren’t being used widely, and how we start the process of deciding whether or not to keep them,” said Arneson.
However, being unused is not the sole requirement for getting rid of books. According the Arneson, she and the other librarians consider a variety of factors when making their decisions, such as the importance and relevance of the topic, whether the information is outdated, if the book is part of a multi-volume series or if it is cited in a standard biography.
“We have the librarian most familiar with the subject matter go through and pull books that they consider too important to remove,” said Arneson. “In addition, we won’t break up multi-volume sets.”
If the book has a particularly interesting cover or was published before 1850, then a notice is sent to the rare books collection librarian.
“We have some truly amazing old books, and in some cases the information is so out of date that the intricate covers are actually more interesting than the subject matter,” Arneson said.
By the end of the process, at least three librarians have looked at the books under consideration, as well as professors from the corresponding department.
“We ask professors to review the books because they know best what their curriculum is and where the department is going,” said Arneson.
One example Arneson cited was the large Russian literature collection that Simpson currently holds.
“We have a very in-depth and beautiful collection but currently have no Russian literature classes offered,” said Arneson. “When we get to that collection, there is a likelihood that we may remove some of the collection. We would of course keep a wide selection, but if the interest and curriculum isn’t there, we can’t afford to keep them.”
According to Arneson, some students reflexively become worried at the thought of getting rid of books.
“It’s librarian 101. If the shelves are too full, students won’t want to check anything out because they can’t find anything,” said Arneson. “The goal isn’t to get rid of books, it’s to free up space for more.”
The end goal of the project is to hopefully repurpose the space in Simpson library to accommodate more study areas and quiet zones for students looking to focus.
“Even though the Convergence Center is new, if I have to do a serious project I’ll go to the library,” said sophomore political science major Sara Thornton. “It’s better for focusing. At least for me, I think [the library] is better for complete focus.”
Of the 420,000 titles currently held in Simpson, approximately 10 to 1,500 books have been removed already. Since they are state property, they are sent to surplus sales in accordance with state property disposal procedures.
“I think it’s a waste of resource for us [to keep the old books],” said sophomore English major Mary-Margaret McMaken. “Its like hoarding, keeping stuff that can benefit others.”
Though Arneson said she does not foresee books going anywhere, she does anticipate the nature of the library to change.
“A lot of information and researched is published online and in articles now, and we try to make this information as accessible as possible, since this is the direction things are headed,” said Arneson. “It’s just important to remember that libraries are living organisms, not static. We’re a resource, and we’re more concerned with helping you get the information you need, and less concerned about how you get it.”