Branch Out

CONTACT INFORMATION: Marketing and Communications Office: 8:30–4:30 M–F
703-324-3100 TTY 711
12000 Government Center Parkway Suite 324
Fairfax, VA 22035
Ashley Atkinson
Editor, Branch Out

Department Resources

Related Resources

Behind the Scenes: Collection Evaluation and Maintenance

four photos of library staff and collection

By Susan Ranieri, Collection Evaluation Information Assistant, FCPL Technical Operations

This is the sixth and final installment of our Behind the Scenes series highlighting the major stages in the lifecycle of a library book (with “book” meaning any material in the library’s collection). Previous articles explored how books are selectedreceivedcataloged, made shelf-ready, and even borrowed from other libraries. This article focuses on the longest phase of the cycle: evaluation and maintenance.

Weeding Promotes Growth

“Weeding” is shorthand for the process library staff use to identify materials for review, evaluate them using professional judgment, and determine their usefulness to the collection. The CREW Manual, originally published in 1976, provides standard guidelines for public libraries carrying out Collection Review, Evaluation and Weeding (CREW). Professional recommendation resources, such as HW Wilson Core Collections, also help inform librarians’ decisions. Removing items is a necessary practice in maintaining a healthy and thriving collection, just like removing weeds from a garden it leads to better growth — hence the term “weeding.”

Assessing Use and Condition

After books have been in the system for a few years, librarians review them for condition, accuracy and use. If data shows a book has been checked out more than 80 times, it is assessed: Is it falling apart? If so, should it be replaced? 

Highly popular, heavily-used youth series — such as the Dog Man series — are often replenished with new copies every couple years. Adult bestsellers, on the other hand, don’t suffer as much wear and tear. David Baldacci's or Louise Penny’s latest titles are hot items, but, after their initial release, fewer copies may be needed to keep up with demand. Classics, like García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, are regularly retained due to their contribution to literary canon.

Maintaining Relevant Resources 

One goal of a library is to provide relevant information to its users. Determining relevance requires nuance, as some subjects have shorter timespans for remaining relevant. Generally speaking, medical information or computer sciences have less time between milestones or breakthroughs, whereas changes in history and philosophy develop at a slower pace. 

Topical sections of the library are reviewed frequently to keep them current. A business writing book from 2004? It should probably be removed; surely there is a newer edition! If there is no recent edition of that book, librarians check to ensure other contemporary books or resources covering the same subject are in the library. If not, they let selectors know of the information gap.

The End of the Lifecycle

If a book hasn’t been used for quite a while, librarians try to understand why. Is it outdated or in bad condition? Would it do better at another branch, finding a different audience? Librarians send such books to the evaluation staff at Technical Operations where they redistribute books to locations that may be a better fit. 

A Continual Circle of Life

Thus, removal beings the cycle anew. Evaluation and maintenance of materials is an extraordinarily important step in ensuring the library’s collection meets the informational, educational and entertainment needs of our communities in Fairfax County by providing reliable, up-to-date and attractive materials. The decisions made during this step lead to the beginning of lifecycles for the next books. And the library circle of life continues!

Fairfax Virtual Assistant