This post was written by Colette Leung, a 2012 summer intern at the Smithsonian National American History Library (NMAH Library).
Hello! My name is Colette, and this summer 2012, I had the opportunity to work as one of the National Museum of American History Library’s summer interns. I am currently working towards my Master’s in Library and Information Science, as well as a second Master of Arts in Humanities Computing, both at the University of Alberta, in Edmonton, Canada. I have a lot of interest in observing how digital technology and print books are shaping libraries, and although I have been lucky enough to work on many different digital projects, I was very excited to start working on working on this internship that is offered through the Alberta-Smithsonian Internship Program.
The reference weeding project began in summer 2011, under the work of LaShawntay M. Tinker, and looks to remove duplicate materials, under-used titles, or books that are available for free online, and from reliable sources. The project began when renovations resulted in many stacks being moved to the library’s Reading Room, meaning that the room is now full of books, with not a lot of room for reading. Eventually, by weeding these items from the collection, this space might be opened up again as a better meeting place for researchers seeking to use reference materials, and for those working collaboratively. The goal for the summer was to clear the excess stacks from the room, and a weeding project of reference material in the American History Library has not be attempted on this scale for years – which only makes it more interesting to work on!
This project raises a lot of interesting questions about weeding reference collections. I’ve learned that it is important to keep in mind that any book that is taken out of a collection should have just as much thought put into that action, as deciding to add it to the collection. After all, it was brought into the library for a reason. However, I have also learned that need for space, and updates and technology, have really shaped how libraries maintain their collections. Many materials that are online, and free, from reliable sources (or multiple sources in some cases!) can be cleared away – the way we think about removing materials from a library today are very different than the way we would have 25 years ago. Finally, it is always important to keep in mind the purpose of a library when weeding it (you can read about the background of the NMAH Library here) – in our case, we seek to support current researchers and the museum collections. For example, if no researchers are using second language materials, those books and dictionaries might be more useful somewhere else!
The work consists of gathering titles of both books and microfilm, making lists of these with important information, such as how many copies are in the library system and where, and providing links to titles that are available online. After that, I consult with librarians and staff, notably Jim Roan and Chris Cottrill, and review the list to decide what needs to be sent to a different branch or collection, what needs to stay, or what needs to be withdrawn. The entire process requires intense multitasking, and very rigorous systems for insuring that we know at all times where a book is, and at what stage of the process it’s at. I helped shape this process by adding records of where books are kept online, and by labeling each book and its final destination as it is sorted – both of which were not part of the process before.
By the end of my eight weeks here, I have sorted through thousands of microfilm reels, and all of the walls of the reading room. We boxed over 44 boxes of microfilm alone, alongside hundreds of books!
I have learned a lot during my time here, and it has been a great experience. Library work is always being shaped by new technology, and that is very exciting. A lot of hard work is beginning to pay off too – the reading room is almost finished being sorted, which means that soon it will be able to be used the way it was intended!