Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Weeding your repository

We will readily weed a book collection because it is seen as a normal function. However, can we weed an institutional repository? If someone created this information which related to our institution, and it contains information that "might" be useful, can we throw it out? What if the information is electronic and is seemingly taking up "no" space?

Actually, this topic came up recently when talking to Peter Verheyen. We both acknowledged that one might weed a digital collection, deciding what to keep long-term and what to throw away. If you think of your digital assets like the books you acquire, it is only natural to think that some may only be useful for the short-term. You might even create digital assets that you intend to use and keep for a limited period of time.

Even those who blazing the trail of digital preservation acknowledge that not all things may be preserved equally. But when we think of an institutional digital repository, can we envision weeding it?

In fact, the materials should be reviewed before entering the repository and those with low value should be culled, as well as duplicates. As materials enter the repository, there should be a clear expectation for the length of time they will be kept, with the recognition that not all items will be kept the same length of time. (For example, some academic course materials might only be kept for four years, while course catalogues might be kept indefinitely.) When the deletion dates arise, you might decide to review what will be deleted (perhaps only by category) to ensure that the material is not needed.

By the way, this type of weeding is no different than what occurs with document retention schedules that are created (and used) in many organizations. [Many refer to document retention schedules as document deletion schedules, since the schedule tell you what to retain as well as what to throw away.]

Weeding is a necessary evil. It serves a purpose. It ensure that we keep what is valuable and let go of those things that are no longer of value. Could weeding delete something that we'll want later? Maybe. But in order to keep our repositories useful, it is a risk we'll have to take.

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