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Potential weeding candidates among 19th and early 20th century books

Andy Breeding /

Previously, we looked at the characteristics of 19th century and early 20th century books, those published between 1800 and 1923. The inquiry was inspired by our discussions with Professor Andrew Stauffer, whose work with the Book Traces project focuses on this population of titles. From this project's perspective the concern is over how many of these titles might get weeded before there is chance to review them for marginalia and other traces of use.

Among those titles encountered in SCS projects the median U.S. holdings level is 18 holdings; the average U.S. holdings level is 33 holdings. Our sample included 658,224 unique titles published between 1800 and 1923 and drawn from a pool of 1,764,448 title holdings.

In response to this post, a follow-up question was posed: What percentage of these titles might be considered withdrawal candidates in a typical SCS project?

In a typical weeding project, two primary factors are looked at: 1) Has the title circulated? and 2) It is widely held? Or in other words, is there a good likelihood we can get this title if it is needed at a future date? Other factors come into the mix, but to keep things simple we will focus on these two attributes.

When we looked at the circulation rate for each unique or distinct title, we found that 64% had one or fewer charges on average; 52% had zero charges on average. As for how many are commonly held, we see 20% are held by more than 50 U.S. libraries while 7% are held by more than 100 U.S. libraries.

If we combine these factors we see that the percent of titles that could be considered withdrawal candidates ranges from one percent on the conservative end and 12% when more liberal withdrawal criteria are used.

  Avg Circs = 0 Avg Circs <= 1
> 100 US Holdings 1% 4%
> 50 US Holdings 4% 12%

n = 658,224 unique titles published between 1800 and 1923

These are the percentages if we look at each distinct title on it's own. If, however, we look at all the holdings in these client libraries the percentages are higher as they reflect that fact that there are more copies of widely held titles in the mix. Here the percentage of holdings that could be considered withdrawal candidates ranges from 18% on the conservative end to 39% on the aggressive end.

  Circs = 0 Circs <= 1
> 100 US Holdings 18% 24%
> 50 US Holdings 30% 39%

n = 1,764,448 holdings of titles published between 1800 and 1923

In both cases, we're talking about titles at risk of being weeded. In the first case, we're quantifying the percentage of unique titles that might be weeded; in the second we're quantifying the percentage of holdings that might be weeded.

The question remains as to whether libraries will treat these 19th and early 20th century titles any differently than newer titles when it comes to deselection. For those that don't have ready access to WorldCat holding counts, I expect there would be a presumption that these titles are scarcely held and thus a reluctance to weed them. Also, to the extent that these titles are held in special collections, they are unlikely to be weeded. Finally, although 44% of the titles in our sample are freely available in the Hathi Trust Digital Library our clients seem reluctant to use this fact to inform their weeding efforts.