Collection development is kind of like the study of philosophy, for me: I know just enough to be dangerous, it’s not a big enough part of my job for me to get enough practice to improve, and I’m pretty sure it’s at the heart of a lot of stuff I care about, but it’s a bit of a mystery to me.
Well, this year we ran out of room to shelve new books in our reference collection, which is the only part of the collection my department selects for in any systematic way (and I, for one, have neglected my piece of it rather shamefully, particularly given my penchant for teaching there). Not being able to shelve new books is a pain, so we decided to weed. I’ve been meaning to do that since I got here. Every summer it’s on my summer projects list. Every summer other things squeeze it out. Every Fall I get back to teaching and hope that nobody notices. “I’ll be sure to get to it next summer,” I tell myself. “This time I really will.”
Well, now I am. And it’s kind of fun.
It’s also kind of funny. I’m the liaison for literature and languages, so the Ps are my kingdom, and I can tell just how foreign a foreign language is by how many dictionaries we have for that language. We have a fair few for English what with the etymology dictionaries and the representatives from the big name dictionaries and the OED and the slang dictionaries and the dictionaries for regionalisms and… you get the idea. We have a similarly useful complement of French and Spanish dictionaries. Then we have several shelves of Russian dictionaries, and shelves upon shelves of Asian language dictionaries.
And I know why! You can’t just sit down, pick up a book, and say, “Oh, an etymology dictionary — we need one of those. Oh, three thesauri — we only need one of those.” You have to do a whole lot of work just to figure out what it is that you’re holding. And then a whole bunch more work to see how it compares to the other things you’ve got. And I’m still not at all sure how to figure out which dictionaries are the “important” ones beyond seeing how many WorldCat libraries hold that title. So the inclination is just to leave them all there unless they’re damaged.
But if you actually start doing some of the sleuthing, you find interesting things. Like several multi-volume dictionaries where we only own the first third of the alphabet, for example. Or indexes to sets where we don’t own the actual set. And so my shelves are slowly but steadily thinning out after all.