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ATG Special Report — Wading Into the Weeds and Finding Your Way Back!

by | Sep 30, 2022 | 0 comments


By Carol Macheak  (Collections Management Coordinator, UA Little Rock) and Donna Rose  (Metadata Lead Librarian, UA Little Rock) 

Against the Grain v34#4


For many academic libraries, weeding physical collections is rarely a top priority.  At the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UA Little Rock) Ottenheimer Library, weeding has always occurred, but at a basic level and sporadically.  In 2019, the library administration created the Collection Assessment and Downsizing (CAD) task force and purchased data from OCLC’s GreenGlass.  GreenGlass is a collection analysis tool that enables libraries to review, analyze, and weed its physical book collections in a structured, systematic way.  GreenGlass provides circulation usage and holdings from WorldCat, HathiTrust Digital Library, and other resources.  By using this tool and by initiating a parallel internal evaluation of non-book resources, the library started its most extensive weeding project in 40 years.  The final goal of this weeding project is to create a relevant and curriculum focused legacy collection of print materials. 

The CAD team consisted of three librarians and three support staff as well as several student workers.  During the early discussions about the project, the team agreed that a systematic plan needed to be developed along with guidelines that could be  implemented for all impacted collections.  Since an inventory had never been officially conducted, this weeding project would be the perfect opportunity for a thorough and complete inventory of all collections. 

Due to budget constraints, the library director and collections management coordinator decided to include only the print collections in the GreenGlass data.  The collection management coordinator (team leader) and the metadata librarian worked together to run reports from the catalog in order to have a better understanding of the number of titles and volumes in each collection.  While working through those reports, several non-print collections were identified as possible candidates for withdrawals due to the lack of available equipment, supported software, or obsolete formats.

As the team worked on the preliminary reports, workflows, and guidelines, the library was notified that the Special Collections area would be renovated in order to house the new UA Little Rock Multicultural Center.  The team had approximately six months to clear the space. 

The Ottenheimer Library Special Collections area housed collections in three large rooms that included donations to the university, materials on Arkansas, and university-related archives.  University-related materials and specific donations would be the priority collections and would be condensed into one room. 

The team quickly drafted a plan to review and evaluate the collections to meet the given deadline.  The team leader worked with Metadata to run reports for holdings in the catalog and created spreadsheets of titles.  In order to work more efficiently, the team agreed to make all notes in the spreadsheets, leaving the items on the shelf until the physical item needed to be pulled for the final review and withdrawal.  This strategy meant that a physical item would be handled as little as possible, taking into consideration the fragile condition of these titles.  The team divided up the spreadsheets and went to work.  For each title listed, a team member would begin the preliminary review by:

• Checking records in Sierra (ILS system).

• Verifying title still physically in Special Collections.

• Verifying that additional copies were on the shelves in other locations.

• Evaluating the condition of all copies.

• Checking for local holdings in OCLC.

• Checking HathiTrust and other online repositories for holdings.  

Just as the team developed a good working procedure, an unforeseen challenge presented itself.  The established workspace for the weeding project had to be moved to accommodate the renovation of the first floor for the new Learning Commons, a campus-wide endeavor to promote collaborative learning.  The new holdings space, work area, and staff offices were relocated to another floor, resulting in inadequate work area and limited storage space.  

Then, as the team settled into the work at hand, the pandemic hit!!  The university closed for three months and most library personnel were required to work from home.  Through many online meetings, countless emails, the establishment of a secure protocol, and a shared online drive, the workflows were modified and the weeding project continued.  As the university slowly opened back up and library personnel were allowed to return to the building, the team successfully resumed the project to continue the review and comparison of physical items by using spreadsheets and other documentation. 

The next step in the process was to identify duplicate titles that were currently held in the circulating collection.  The collections management coordinator made the final decision on which titles to transfer to the circulating collection.  If a Special Collections copy was in better condition than the circulating copy, the copies were exchanged.  The Metadata department worked quickly to add, replace, and withdraw those titles.  

While the team worked on the Special Collections titles,  the collections management coordinator reviewed the donated collections.  This work included reviewing the signed agreements, locating a list of the donated items, and verifying the holdings in the collection.  The donated collections were then relocated to a smaller designated Special Collections room.  

It became apparent that the Special Collections titles required additional review and evaluation due to age and poor condition.  Several titles required immediate withdrawal and disposal due to their physical condition (crumbling pages, broken spines, and possible mold spores).  The team required use of protective equipment and supplies while handling many of these titles.

During the review process, the team identified many Arkansas-related duplicate titles that were still in good condition.  The Acquisitions department at the Arkansas State Library (ASL) agreed to assist by reviewing lists and requesting titles for possible addition to the ASL collection or redistribution to public libraries around the state.  Approximately 500 titles were relocated due to this collaborative effort.  

With a lot of hard work and dedication, the project was finished by the suggested deadline.  The team estimated that approximately 5,000 titles were relocated or completely withdrawn from the Special Collections area.  

After completing the Special Collections project and waiting for the GreenGlass data set to arrive, the CAD task force met to discuss the creation of workflows, spreadsheets, and templates for weeding the smallest of collections — the VHS tapes, music CDs, and audio books/cassettes.  These media collections would not be included in the GreenGlass analysis and were ideal to use as a pilot project before undertaking the larger task of weeding the book collections.  As a result, the template was adapted and revised for evaluating the media materials and withdrawing the tapes and CDs from the collection and the data systems.  Ultimately, approximately 4,800 titles were weeded from the collection, freeing up space, and providing the task force with a workable plan for moving on to other, larger collections. 

Shown below is one of the earliest spreadsheets created and the committee members refined column data and duties as needed throughout the project.  Both general and specific comments were noted to assist in decision making and to record any irregular findings.  In addition, statistics were kept to determine what percentage of the collection was withdrawn and to provide data for future status reports.  The creation of templates helped to define the “workflow” process from the initial review to the most efficient way to discard VHS tapes.

The inventory continued with a review of missing volumes, multiple copies, and earlier editions.  Bibliographic records were corrected in the online catalog, OCLC, and other systems.  Examples of these corrections included missing records, incorrect holdings, and mismatched barcodes.

The final challenge of this major undertaking came when the team was notified in early spring of 2021 that the library would be switching to a new integrated library system.  All work was halted or decreased substantially while staff underwent training for the new system.


By weeding these two small collections before the GreenGlass project officially began, the team established the basic project framework, created numerous template spreadsheets, and developed the basic workflows that will be used during future weeding projects.  The dedication of all members of the CAD team resulted in the completion of both weeding projects in a timely manner, despite numerous delays and challenges along the way.

As with any successful weeding project, an inventory of the collection is an integral part of the process.  The spreadsheets provided data that laid the groundwork for the comparison of the holdings in the catalog to the holdings on the physical shelves.  The weeding of both collections resulted in an informal inventory which proved to be an essential part of the process, especially in identifying missing items in the media collections.

The CAD team continues to work on weeding the remaining collections and will utilize the developed guidelines as the larger GreenGlass project begins in the fall of 2022.  Because of the work performed on the smaller weeding projects, the team has a more realistic outlook on how to proceed with the data analysis for the print collection. 

The team remains committed to the weeding project.  As the GreenGlass project progresses, the team will remember the following lessons learned:

• Flexibility throughout the entire project is important and necessary.

• Goals and objectives should be discussed and established at the beginning of a major project.

• Team collaboration and communication are essential throughout the project.

• The unexpected should be expected and addressed as soon as possible.

• Faculty input is recommended, but it is important to allow a reasonable amount of time for feedback. 

• Deadlines are necessary and vitally important.

• Weeding any collection will take longer than planned or expected.

• Weeding guidelines should be established and followed for consistency, but expect changes throughout the process.

• Renovation and relocation can result in loss of work space.

• Team motivation can be encouraged by acknowledging the hard work of the team and rewarding both minor and major goals.

Recommended Readings

Guayu, Beth.  2017.  “A Case Study on the Path to Resource Discovery.”  Information Technology and Libraries (Online) 36, no. 3: 18-48.  https://www.proquest.com/scholarly-journals/case-study-on-path-resource-discovery/docview/1951870257/se-2

Herring, Mark Y.  2000.  “Archival treasures: Blessing–or Burden in Disguise?”  American Libraries 31, no. 7: 41-43.  https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=shib&db=asn&AN=3448953&site=ehost-live&scope=site

Johnson, Kirstin Dougan.  2020.  “The Changing Face of Academic Music Media Collections in Response to the Rise of Online Music Delivery.”  Notes 77, no. 2: N.PAG.  doi:10.1353/not.2020.0092.

Koveleskie, Judith A.  2014.  “Weeding, Wine, and Cheese: Enticing Faculty to Cull a Collection.”  Pennsylvania Libraries 2, no. 2: 171-178.  https://www.proquest.com/scholarly-journals/weeding-wine-cheese-enticing-faculty-cull/docview/1634873314/se-2, doi:https://doi.org/10.5195/palrap.2014.77.

Marquis, Kathy and Leslie C. Waggener.  2011.  “Historical Collections.”  Public Libraries 50, no.2: 42-49.  https://www.proquest.com/magazines/historical-collections/docview/861735937/se-2?accountid=41449

McElfresh, Karen R. and Robyn M. Gleasner.  2019.  “Evaluating a Historical Medical Book Collection.”  Journal of the Medical Library Association 107, no. 4: 560-565.  https://www.proquest.com/scholarly-journals/evaluating-historical-medical-book-collection/docview/2321839276/se-2

Thibodeau, Patricia L.  2010.  “When the Library is Located in Prime Real Estate: A Case Study on the Loss of Space from the Duke University Medical Center Library and Archives.”  Journal of the Medical Library Association 98, no1: 25-28.  https://www.proquest.com/scholarly-journals/when-library-is-located-prime-real-estate-case/docview/203513506/se-2  


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