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07-19 Biography

Biography, or, Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Weeds Your Story

Biography/Memoir is easily one of the most popular circulating non-fiction sections in your collection, and in these halcyon days of the internet when almost everyone has a story to sell, it is very easy to find your shelves full of the lives and times of the famous, the infamous, and the “who?!”. A quick report reveals that across BCCLS libraries over 13,000 biographies meet the CREW Manual MUSTIE threshold.

The weeding guideline for Biography is X/3/MUSTIE. Weed based upon condition and use.

The CREW Manual says: Unless the person treated is of permanent interest or importance, such as a U.S. President, discard a biography as soon as demand lessens. Replace biographies of people of ongoing interest with newer titles, at least once a decade, as interpretation of their lives and public perception of their impact will change over time.

Suggestions for Weeding

  • Biographies of outstanding literary value can be kept until worn. A lot of these titles put the U in MUSTIE. I know that you have a biography of Winston Churchill that has seen better days. I also know that a new Churchill biography is released every other year, so weed those “Uglies”.
  • Ruthlessly weed ghost-written biographies of celebrities and biographies that were published immediately following the person's death or a major scandal, or in some cases before that scandal:
    • Cosby: His Life and Times by Mark Whitaker, 2014 (9781451697971) - this is a good example of a celebrity biography that is missing some key information about its subject
  • Look at your books on the Kennedys, the Roosevelts, and members of the British Royal Family.These families are catnip to biographers and you will likely find some specialty or pop titles that would be excellent candidates for weeding:
    • The Kennedys: America's Emerald Kings by Thomas Maier, 2003 (0465043178)
  • Don't forget collective biographies. Watch for outdated interests and collections that feature gender or racial bias.
  • Biographical Encyclopedias. Both multi-volume and single volume. Their time has come.
  • As always, use your best judgment. As I was researching this I was planning on using these titles to illustrate weeding celebrity biographies:
  • It seemed to me that their 15 minutes of fame was pretty much over. To my surprise, over half of the libraries who own these titles have shown circulation within the past two years. So, half of you, weed away. The other half, consider: to weed or not to weed?

Suggestions for Purchase

  • Do you really want me to suggest a biography for purchase? If you are diligent about replacing the “must keeps” that are in bad condition, and if you purchase even 10% of the biographies Library Journal, Baker & Taylor, or Oprah suggest, you will have no problem keeping your Biography area full and in fine mettle.
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