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Weeding in December? Indoors? In a Library?

A special guest article about Falvey’s collection weeding project by Dr. Holly Sanders, history department

The directive of the weeding project boils down to this: keep the essentials in one’s field and rid Falvey of obsolete titles. With mixed feelings I opted to participate.

Perhaps historians, by trade and disposition, balk at purging old books from a library.  The notion that any title could become permanently obsolete borders on heresy in our field.  For example, a book written in the 1980s about the coming economic and military conflict with Japan has little value as a harbinger of the future, but as a primary source– the raw material of history–that book has substantial value because it conveys the fears about Japanese economic power in the 1980s.  This kind of thinking makes historians notorious pack rats when it comes to books.

Despite my misgivings I committed myself to culling the Japanese history collection.  What better way to have a say in what stays and what goes?   And volunteering came with a bonus: we faculty may keep titles we elect to purge from the Falvey collection!

So I headed for the DS 800s, Japanese history, a section with which I have developed an intimate acquaintance in many libraries.  I thought that I already had a good idea of what I would find.  To the contrary: weeding brought to light titles I had never seen, and equally important to this scholar, it revealed Villanova’s interests in Japan of ages past.

What I had expected to be a somber, even tiresome activity has proven fascinating at every turn.  Some fragile old volumes dated to the mid-19th century- remarkable considering Japan began sustained contact with the United States only in the 1850s.  These books stood side by side with titles published since the new millennium.

I now have a keen sense of the areas that need strengthening, and I am proud that my contribution of time opened shelf space for these titles.

Because I find weeding so rewarding, I have volunteered to continue with the Chinese and Korean history collections.  By doing so I contribute not only to Falvey and Villanova, but I also benefit immensely as a scholar. Weeding stimulates my thinking about curriculum and new kinds of research questions-these, I have found, often emerge from unusual places and endeavors.

Initially I had regarded weeding–essentially removing books from Falvey’s collections–as a tragedy.  But I now see that it gives us faculty the power to shape the future of the collection, and to discover gems buried in the stacks.

Happy weeding in the New Year!
Holly Sanders, assistant professor of Modern East Asian History



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Last Modified: February 18, 2009

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