Drying up the rumors

What happens to long forgotten library books?

Rumors that books from FLITE are turned into drywall are creating a stir within the Ferris community.

This rumor derives from the comment that library books were being thrown out of specific sections, even though they could still be used for student research.

Ferris history professor Tracy Busch strongly encourages her students to use FLITE’s print material when completing the research projects she assigns. Busch learned that if books are not checked out, they are thrown away, resold to wholesalers or even turned into insulation for houses.

Ferris’ history department confronted the library about throwing away important materials that could be used for student research.

“They admitted that they were doing it, but there was nothing that we could do to stop it,” Busch said. “We did research and showed that their theory was wrong, and they decided to go behind our backs and pull the books they think are old and no good anymore. That might be true in many disciplines, but in history a lot of times the older the book the better because it’s from the time period that you’re researching.”

Busch says these conversations with the library started in 2013 when she and the history department first learned about the disposal of books from their specific section. There has been a change in who runs the library and the turn-around for books to be removed from shelves. Currently, she does not know if the destruction of books is still occurring or if things have changed.

Mari Kermit-Canfield, FLITE’s creative learning librarian and coordinator of research services, was upset to hear the rumor that books were being destroyed, as she says FLITE does its best to continue updating its collection.

“We take our collection seriously,” Kermit-Canfield said. “It is meant to support our current students’, faculty and staff needs. We are not destroying books, we are celebrating them and keeping our collection current, alive and useful.”

Kermit-Canfield says FLITE keeps its collection current through a process called weeding. Weeding is the systematic removal of resources from a library based on selected criteria. The library’s criteria to remove a book is a combination of how old the material or subject is, how relevant the information is and how long it has been since the book has been checked out.

It takes 45 to 60 years for a book to be completely weeded and recycled from a library’s collection. At the moment, Kermit-Canfield says, the library is currently weeding out a collection of books received from a smaller university that closed years ago.

“What happened was another small university closed in the ‘60s, and FLITE didn’t exist at that time. It was the Timme Library, and that library took all of the university’s books. These books were published in the ‘60s or earlier, and a lot of them are stuff like ‘Michigan’s Best Accounts of 1962.’ That’s not really content that is valuable, and it’s taking up space on our shelves.”

Kermit-Canfield says that while they have a large collection of books from the ‘60s, not all of them will be weeded. It is up to the discretion of the subject librarian to see if the book is still relevant to the other information they already have.

“It isn’t like things are just removed based on their weeding schedule,” Kermit-Canfield said. “Each title is like that individually, and then if there’s a new edition, maybe the older one is removed. It’s a careful process.”

David Scott, FLITE’s outreach and user engagement librarian, says they have not done any large-scale, systematic weeding in five to six years since the writing and tutoring center moved in, and try to do it when there is a reason to.

While large-scale removal does not happen every semester, books are still removed from shelves on a smaller scale.

“Maybe a few books that get damaged, water damage or things like that, [are removed]. So it’s certainly not very many, it’s going to be very, very minimal in the past four or five years, probably in the 10s,” Scott said.

With over 700,000 pieces of informational material, FLITE uses two databases to help in their weeding process: Alma and MI-SPI. The Alma library system helps catalog print and electronic materials. It helps the librarians and student workers easily see all their books, years published and years at FLITE. Plus, it can help determine whether something should be removed for further review. The second database, MI-SPI, helps connect libraries across Michigan collaboratively to maintain print editions of books.  

“This is a group of academic libraries that do their thing in a shared process,” Kermit-Canfield said. “So if we know a book is going to be weeded, then maybe two academic libraries agree to keep that book forever, and the rest of the libraries remove it because we have the ability to transfer books between libraries. So that way these books are available in Michigan very quickly, and we’re not losing the material. It’s just not at Ferris, it might be at Central, or U of M or maybe GVSU.”  

Deleted: Scott says that once books have been weeded out of sections, they will then look at the section and determine if there is still enough material to be read and learned from. If they believe the section needs to be replenished, the library will then purchase new books.  

Deleted: Students also have the opportunity to request books if they can be found in other university libraries, as their input helps the librarians know which books and information students are most looking for.

Many factors go into the process of weeding out a single book within the library. It is up to the communication of students, faculty and staff to see if the right books are staying and the right books are being delivered somewhere else to be better suited in academic research.