Sunday, October 08, 2006

Deselecting the vertical file

The GLHS Library's vertical file is being deselected, I have finally determined it is time to move on. Over the past 12 years I have had colleagues that saw the vertical file's value and argued for its continued presence, and more recently, with other priorities, I have simply lacked momentum for discarding it. For the non-librarians reading this, deselection, also known as weeding, is the very healthy and frequently liberating act of discarding library materials according to certain criteria, which include:
  • Physical condition
  • Appropriateness (age or currency of information, bias, veracity)
  • Physical space
In our situation, the space and condition arguments for the vertical files lack some relevance, where the true culprit for discarding the three file cabinets is purely for their lack of use. And this lack of use cannot be blamed solely on Google, and the GLHS student body's affinity for digital over paper-based information, but rather on my lack of advocacy as well. I have not added any new or original items to the vertical files in, at minimum, ten years, which harkens back to currency as an issue. And I have not directed a student to the vertical files for information in probably that same amount of time. Relevantly, I rarely even consider the vertical files at all, except because of geographical proximity, when I'm in the stacks helping someone find a book in the music or sports sections and I walk past the steel hulks tucked in the southeast corner of the library.

Certainly the referenced article in the title above is satire, but it has a resonating validity: contemporary secondary students, despite our best intentions, are conditioned and prone to gravitate to the computers and Google to find information. Conversely, the GLHS Library does have items of informational or archival value in the vertical file, considering the varied health pamphlets on smoking or cancer or nutrition, the numerous state maps and National Geographic gazetteers, Abraham Lincoln's genealogy, and much, much more. Our patrons would persuasively and correctly argue that, in accordance with the satirical article, most of the vertical file information is readily acquired via computer. But, consider the title "Reporting The Detroit Riot," a short monograph of the Pulitzer prize-winning articles published by the Detroit Free Press during the riots of 1968 found in the files: this document has archival, primary source value, and could be useful to students and researchers here at Grand Ledge High School. On the other hand, the petroleum pamphlet published by Shell Oil probably has a bias and was easily recycled. Still, twelve drawers of file cabinet contents are being recycled, including the pamphlets in the 'Recycling' folder, and I find that I will keep only the occasional item for archival value.

Weeding can be controversial. Librarians actually discuss and share weeding techniques on email listservs, where we learn that we have to overcome the thoughtful custodian or member of the general public who rescues discarded library materials from trash cans or dumpsters. The non-librarian, book-loving general public perceives any act of discarding books treasonous, whereas the aggressively-culling library types are keen to pitch materials that have failed to move from the shelves even in the span of one U.S. Presidency. This notion goes back to the old economic argument, and one postulated in library school as well, of 'just in case' versus 'just in time': do we keep infrequently used materials for the potential patron who may (or may not) need it, or do we acquire information that a patron needs on an as-needed basis?

Post Script: Read the Library Journal article "A Front-Page Article on Weeding Puts the Fairfax Library Under Fire" for more crazy weeding perspective.