"If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales." Albert Einstein

25 April 2016

Librarian Toolbox: Weeding

If you don't weed, your shelves may look like this.
Libraries often come under fire when the public realizes that the librarians have been weeding materials from the collection. This conjures up pictures of a dumpster full of books, set out to rot and mold in the rain. The simple fact, though, is that if the library is going to continue to buy new books, some of the old books have to be weeded in order to make room.

I call this "after and before."
I have worked at two libraries since graduating from library school. The first was a middle school library, and currently I work at a public library. In both places the collection hadn't been weeded in many, many years, so it was essential that I weed profusely and soon. When collections become too big, the shelves get crowded, and it becomes harder for patrons to find the books they want to read. It's better for everyone involved if the weeding happens gradually, but sometimes there are no other options.  So, when a big weeding project hits you, what do you do?

See how attractive clean shelves can look!
Work gradually. Weeding is hard, dirty, dusty work. Only weed as much as you can handle at a time. Limit by the number of shelves, number of carts, a certain Dewey range - whatever works for you. At both locations I have limited myself to one cart per day. I don't want to overwhelm any support staff who may be assisting with the withdrawal procedure, nor do I want to use all of our book carts exclusively for things that have been weeded.

This nonfiction area is much more user-friendly now.
Weed by list and by sight. Weeding by creating lists of items that are older than X years or items that haven't circulated in X months can work to a certain extent, but this will not help you to pull that copy of Harry Potter that has circulated fifty times in the past year and is missing an entire chapter. It's good to pull lists of items, especially if someone is assisting you and can pull the items after the list is created, but it's also important to walk through the stacks and look at the physical items. This helps to locate items that are badly damaged or that look dated.

Another "after and before."
Use your newly found shelf space wisely. After I completed my initial "major weeding" at both locations, I found myself with yards upon yards of shelf space. I was able to redistribute the collection so that the topmost shelves and bottommost shelves were not used. The upper shelves were too high for my young patrons to reach, and the lower shelves were obnoxious to reshelve and way below anyone's standard sight lines.  I was able to create natural breaks between major subject areas and add more in-shelf displays to highlight areas of our collection. In both cases I received comments from patrons about "all the new books" I had put on the shelves, when really I had just removed the old books so they could see the books that were already there.

Top shelves are a great space for displays.
Dispose of your weeds wisely. Don't fill a Dumpster and park it outside the library. Find a place to donate your used books or use them for an upcycled craft project. Give them away or sell them cheaply. Make sure people see that you aren't "just dumping" all the old books. Some of them may not be fit for donation or resale, but do your work stealthily.

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