In Defense of Weeding: Not Just for Gardeners

My practicum at the JPL-A entails performing the appraisal, arrangement and physical treatment of the Jewish Canadiana Collection. The main tasks of this project involve weeding and physically re-organizing the collection because the archive is rapidly running out of space for new acquisitions.

The Collection is stored in acid-free file folders, housed in archival boxes, arranged on shelves. Re-organization is an important first step in creating space – some boxes only contain a single document or file, so rearranging the collection to fully use the capacity of each box can free up a significant amount of shelving.

The second component of the project is weeding, which is when documents, files, books or other items are removed from a collection. Weeding can take different forms, depending on the type of institution and its needs. It can include the discarding or destruction of material, the removal of material to an offsite storage location, or the transfer of material back to the donor or to another repository.

Weeding is a critical part of collection management in any library or archive which doesn’t have unlimited resources for building extensions, offsite storage and database server space (so basically, all of them). While it can be tedious, frightening and sometimes controversial to undertake weeding projects (‘WHAT DO YOU MEAN, YOU’RE THROWING THINGS OUT?!!’), weeding is necessary in the face of space limitations and changing collection mandates, as well as the omnipresent need to make room for new acquisitions and ensure that the archival collection is useful and useable.

There is no need to panic, dear reader: I assure you that nothing important was weeded. The fact is, the information landscape has changed significantly in recent years – with the advent of the internet, the situation today no longer resembles the context in which the collection was built. For example, the vast quantities of information available online make nearly all recent newspaper clippings in the collection redundant, as most have been digitized and are easily accessible online. Discarding these materials is also helpful for users. As there are no detailed descriptive tools available for this collection, weeding can prevent users from coming to the site to consult materials which they could easily access online.

So far, my fellow practicum student Andrea and I have processed 6 sections of the collection and have emptied over 100 boxes!

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