Finding history in weeding

I mentioned here recently that my Library is going through another wave of major relocation and disposal. Previous waves over the last 15 years have seen us moving large card catalogues, abstracting and indexing tools and older journals and putting them all into our store. This year we have disposed of (i.e. thrown away) some printed journals, thereby creating space in the Library store. Now we are moving more journals and about 50% of our printed books to the space created in the store, and creating space in the main library.
The process of deciding which items to keep and which to move to store or dispose of, is what we call weeding. Weeding journals, where one decision can see several metres of shelving emptied, is relatively easy. Weeding the bookstock is a more laborious process, where you move along the shelves inch by inch, examining each item and deciding what to do with it and making sure to record what you are doing so that the catalogue entries can be updated.
I remember my predecessor as Librarian working through the stock in this way over a long period. He was a real scholar and book lover and as such found it hard to banish books to the wilderness of our store. I am a Barbarian in comparison, interested mostly in whether each book stands an earthly chance of being used in the next five years. If not, then it goes to the store.
I am finding it fascinating to do this as it offers a glimpse into the history of the Library’s acquisitions and that in turn reflects the history of research in the Institute. I will come across a section of books on bioengineering and reflect that we used to have a whole division devoted to this topic. Sometimes I’ll see past NIMR staff listed as authors or contributors to books, or book plates indicating that the book was donated by Dr So-and-so. I even found one book on chemistry with the inscription “R. Franklin, Newnham College”. I’m not sure how that came to be there.
The organic chemistry section was particularly impressive, with a range of large multi-volume reference works and book series. A good deal of the section had already been moved to the store (and some has now been disposed of) but I have now moved most of the rest. Our acquisitions tailed off after the 1970s but before then we had just about everything an organic chemist could want in terms of literature.
Coincidentally I am also in the middle of editing and extending an article about the history of chemistry at NIMR, so I have been reading of George Barger, Arthur Ewins, Harold King, Harold Dudley, Robert Callow, John Cornforth, George Popjak and Roy Giggs. Reading about the work of NIMR’s organic chemists in the first half of the 20th century helps to make sense of that mass of chemical literature that I just have slogged my way through.
Next stop biochemistry, molecular biology and genetics.

About Frank Norman

I am a librarian in a biomedical research institute. I've been around a few years, long enough to know that exciting new things fall into the same familiar patterns. I'm interested in navigating a path for libraries as we move further from print to electronic resources to open research, and become more embedded in research workflows.
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2 Responses to Finding history in weeding

  1. Frank Norman says:

    Shameless bump, since this post missed its moment of glory on the "recent posts" page! 

  2. Frank Norman says:

     Another interesting discovery … I read  in the Royal Society biographical memoir for Robert Callow about his role in the first preparation of pure calciferol, Vitamin D2. It notes that there was a bit of friendly competition with a German research group.  Callow’s team won, and described the precise sequence of events in a statement signed by six members of the team.  The memoir says this was deposited in the NIMR Library.  I thought – oh, I wonder if I will ever find that?  It could be anywhere. 
    Yesterday I was clearing out our archive room to get ready for some building work (which has subsequently been cancelled, but that’s another story) and what should I see but a long, thin blue volume with "Vitamin D" on the spine.  And there it was – an account of the story complete with copies of correspondence and memos between the various parties. It’s nice when things work out like that!