The secret life of an academic librarian

I got a bit mucky with the weeding today. At work. Let me explain…

Library space is finite, but knowledge is forever growing and shifting. Most library users never question how it is librarians keep buying books without the shelves ever getting full.

More Flatlets for Old People

Uh oh, a green book

Well, we weed. We put books that haven’t been read into stores and, when the stores are full, we withdraw stock from stores.  I won’t bore you with the details, but, dear reader, please be assured that we define withdrawal parameters and produce systems reports to meet those parameters.  We don’t just chuck out the green books. I promise.

So, back to today… We need to clear one of our remote stores, ready for the University to build some shiny new building. This store is a cold, steel, hangar-like, window-less and woefully biscuit-free construction. It’s full, good and proper full, of stuff.  Over 30 metres of that stuff is related to architecture, the discipline I’m responsible for. There are no systems reports to assist me with the weeding here, just a netbook to check library catalogues and my knowledge of what the School of Architecture teaches and researches. That’s in my head. Which is why a librarian devoted to one subject, a subject librarian if you will, makes a good weeder. We mostly know what excites the academics and what they won’t miss. Parisian garden pavilions? Yes please! Eighteenth century churches of Dorset? Be gone with you! In addition to knowing what can be reasonably withdrawn, the subject librarian has a good gut feeling for what books are worth a bit. Sometimes we’re wrong. Sometimes that 1909 first edition can be picked up from a second-hand book dealer for 63p. But often we spot what’s going in the second-hand trade for over £100.  I found a lovely few bits and pieces in our hangar-like store worth £2,000, and they were right mucky too. (Don’t worry, we’ll de-muck those and put them somewhere safe.)

48 metres of books

About 48 metres of books

I’ve got another 35-odd hours of work to clear my bits from this store. Hours that I’d much rather spend teaching students about electronic databases, or helping academics with a tricky enquiry, or ordering more lovely books for our weeded shelves, but I know this work is crucial.  And out of sight of the library users. And totally, utterly unappreciated. Ah well, much of what the academic librarian does to keep things ticking over is secret. And, truth be told, provided our users are happy, we don’t really mind.


2 thoughts on “The secret life of an academic librarian

  1. Excellent piece. Often wonder if libraries had infinite space rather like the Tardis. Books go on loan but mostly returned causing an accumulation over a long period of time. Now I know librarians don’t secretly have a book burning session of out of print stock. Nicely illustrated with the photographs.

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