The Great Weed of 2015

Strap in, guys, because this will be a long post.

When I was working on my internship, the librarian I was working with gave me what I think it generally good advice. She said, “Don’t weed anything your first three years because you never know what might be used that isn’t captured with circulation.” I totally understand where she was coming from and what she meant by that. She certainly wasn’t saying I should allow the teachers and students in my school to use outdated books with misinformation in them. I know she has no problem with weeding. In fact, I suspect she believes it’s an important part of having a well-developed, up-to-date collection, just like I do. Sometimes, though, life throws us curve balls.

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I work at a really nice high school in an affluent suburb of Birmingham. While there’s no state funding for libraries in Alabama and we don’t get any local funding, I’m not begging for money. The library gets its share of donations, plus I collect some money from printing and fines. I have money to buy books, even if it’s not as much as I would like. In a school as nice as mine in an area as nice as this with the money to replace at least some of our old books, it’s a little jarring to walk into a library and see books like this one.

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That’s a copyright date of 1916, which is not even the oldest date I found. While there’s probably not much that’s inaccurate in this book, it could certainly be expanded. For me, this is about much more than collection age. I didn’t turn to the back to see when this book was last stamped, but I did pull a book off the shelf recently that hadn’t been stamped in 50 years. Most of the books I removed from the shelves this year were last stamped in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. They were older than I am! The last time someone checked them out was before I was born! That’s crazy. My students would never pick up this book.

Now, I certainly noticed we had several dated books when I first started my job. I recall helping some kids find print sources (which is something I’d like to address at a later date) for their persuasive papers, and we found books like this.

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I didn’t take a picture of it, but there was a fantastic 80s book about teen alcoholism that actually made some students and me laugh out loud. I mean, can you imagine a student finding this and wanting to use it? They do use books like this, but it’s only because it’s what we have and they have to find a print source (I’m really trying to hold off on my feeling on this right now). Of course, no kid was writing about teen marriage. It’s just a book I took a picture of that illustrates how old some of those viewpoints books were.

What actually prompted weeding was our director’s push to reevaluate our library spaces. She brought up doing a good weeding of our collections to see how we might be able to rearrange our spaces by eliminating a little shelving. The elimination of shelving was probably more for my library than anyone else in the system because there is SO MUCH shelving in my library. I began weeding in February or March, I think, and three things became clear to me very quickly:

  1. No one had weeded this book collection, maybe ever.
  2. This enormous, mostly out-of-date collection had lived in three different buildings.
  3. Some previous librarians welcomed other libraries’ discards without evaluating their need in our school.

When I say no one weeded, I don’t mean that no one ever removed books. Of course, books were removed from the collection over the years for different reasons. That had to have happened. I suspect, though, that it only happened when something was in disrepair. Sometimes, it didn’t even happen then because I weeded a lot of books in bad condition. It’s also important to note that the collection has moved twice. I’m not sure when the high school first moved (probably sometime in the 90s), but they clearly took books from the 50s and 60s with them. The school moved again about six years ago and this collection moved once again. Now, I don’t know the situation regarding the first move. I do know that a brand new school building was built for the second one. This means the design of the library in the new school, including the number of bookshelves, was made according to the collection that was in it. Yes, this unweeded collection. I found the most bizarre books while I was weeding and it’s because some librarian at some point felt the need to take every donation they ever got. I’ll admit things were different before information was as accessible as it is now, but ten books on quilting in a high school library is overkill.

Based on the above, I want to offer a little advice to other school librarians out there. WEED. It’s really important to weed a book collection because misinformation is really dangerous (I mean, have you seen the internet?). WEED, especially if you’re about to move to a new building. You don’t want to move more than you need to and you also don’t want to end up with too many bookcases because you waited to weed until after you moved. You don’t have to add every donation to your collection. This is why donation policies are important.

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I’m actually not completely done because I’ve pulled out a few extra books while I was shifting, but I’ve deleted over 5,000 holdings at this point. That’s outrageous. It’s far more than I ever expected and, frankly, I never should have had to do that. So, to all school librarians out there: please weed your collections regularly. If not for yourself or your patrons (which, for the record, is who you should be doing it for), then for the librarian who will take control of the collection after you. There’s nothing like an enormous weeding project to kick off a school library career, though, right?

Further Reading

CREW: A Weeding Manual for Modern Libraries was created by the Texas State Library and Archives Commission came and it offers a lot of terrific advice. The idea behind it (continually reevaluating a collection) is something I’m particularly interested in so I can avoid another Great Weed like the one I experienced this year.

Jennifer LeGarde’s guide to keeping your collection FRESH is a nice quick guide for assessing materials. I particularly love some of the problems with holding on to old books that she points out in the post.

Julie Goldberg’s post about recycling books particularly resonated with me because I can’t find much use for most of the books I’ve weeded. I’m sure there is some bibliophile out there who would love to stockpile them in their attic or something, but I really don’t have time to find that person. I have to get rid of 5,000 books in the next two weeks. I’ve had people suggest that I should donate them, but I would hate to be the librarian receiving them… so, no.

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