Musings on Weeding

No one likes it but it must be done.  That’s the short version of weeding a library collection.  It may seem like waste to those not versed in librarianship, but without regular weeding a collection will actually be harmed.  Why, might you ask?  Here’s the answer.  Without weeding, there could come a point that no more books could be added to a shelf.  Also, many non-fiction books could contain outdated information.  After all, if you were looking for a book on a health issue would you want one published three years ago or three decades ago?  The latter could happen without weeding.

"Books on Shelves" by Les Chatfield on Flickr Commons. This is a prime example of too many books to properly store.

“Books on Shelves” by Les Chatfield on Flickr Commons. This is a prime example of too many books to properly store.

So why focus on weeding this week?  I’m knee deep in it (well really, I’m standing at the bottom of the Mariana Trench since the collection has not been previously weeded–EVER!).  In graduate school, I participated in a small-scale weeding of the reference material.  Guidelines were in place, but not followed through.  I did pull what needed pulled.  I also write a collection development plan in my class of the same name and it included a section on weeding policies.  Sadly, this time I’m writing the guidelines as I go.

All this said, I thought it would be a good time to highlight some general guidelines I’ve learned over the years regarding weeding.  Most come from the above mentioned experiences and a session I attended on weeding at my state’s most recent library conference. While most librarians should know these standards, the general public likely does not nor would those who work in a library without attending library school (as is the case with many small town libraries).  And don’t forget, weeding applies to more than just books.  So let us begin:

  • If the item is damaged, weed it.  It may be from fluid damage, multiple torn pages, mold growth, being chewed on by a pet, or something similar.  If the item is still needed, buy a replacement copy.
  • On science and technology materials, unless the focus is on the history of science and technology, once it is older than about 5-7 years, weed it.  So many leaps and bounds are made in these field that sometimes the material is even dated by the time of publication.
  • On the social sciences, keep in mind there is more variation with disciplines.   Some will have material date faster than others.  If it is popular psychology or something similar, it will fade from memory faster than classic studies.
  • On the humanities, especially history and literary criticism, there is little need to weed based on age.  Much of the material will remain as true a hundred years from now as it is today.  That said, it can still be weeded using other factors I’ll cover below.
  • On non-book media, remove the items from the collection once the technology that reads the item is obsolete.  For example, keep the DVD or Blu-Ray, not the VHS.
  • Besides looking at the content, once can also weed based on other factors.
    • Take a look at the circulation statistics.  If it is an older item and had never circulated, weed it.
    • Also, set a timeframe that if an item has not circulated within “X” number of years, weed it unless there is a valid reason not to (such as being local history material).  For example, we are using 5 years.
    • If you once had multiple  copies of a best seller, weed it down to one (or maybe two) after the buzz dies down.  This can free up a great deal of space.
    • If the item does not fit with the library’s collection development policy, weed it.
  • Don’t review the collection all at once and create a big project unless it has NEVER been weeded.  Break the collection into smaller segments and tackle them on a regular basis.
The Book Angel I made in December, 2013.

The Book Angel I made in December, 2013.

Lastly, don’t forget when books are weeded, they can have a second life.  The books that are not damaged could be sold at book sales to raise funds for the library.  Even those out-of-date titles can have a second life as book art.  After all, even I’m guilty of creating book art.  Just take a look at the book angel I created for Christmas a few years back.  Just Google “Book Art” to see many more examples, most of which are much more creative than my work.  Some have even created book sculptures!



Would you like to know more about weeding?  Try these helpful resources:

Fundamentals of Collection Development and Management by Peggy Johnson, a library school classic now in its third edition.

CREW: A Weeding Manual for Modern Libraries” by Jeanette Larson and made freely available by the Texas Library and Archives Commission.

ALA’s “Weeding Collections: A Selected Annotated Bibliography for Library Collection Evaluation” 2015 Factsheet.

Do you have any questions about weeding?  Do you have any stories to share about weeding projects at your library?



4 thoughts on “Musings on Weeding

  1. Pingback: Musings on Recent Changes | Amy's Scrap Bag: A Blog About Libraries, Archives, and History

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