"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

21 November 2014


The shelves on the left have been weeded. The shelves on the right, not so much.

When I first started working at the school library, I noticed the collection was old and neglected. Not only were there no new books on the shelves, but the old books were so crammed on the shelves that it was difficult to find anything interesting to read.

Those who don't work in the library may be flabbergasted to discover that libraries do throw away books on occasion, but if you think about it, it makes sense that libraries eventually have to get rid of some books.  Imagine the library is like your closet.  Each year you buy a few new items to wear, and you probably wear those more often than your old clothes.  You may have a few favorites you wear often, but some of those clothes are old, torn, out of style, or don't fit anymore.  If you never clean out your closet, soon you will find yourself on an episode of Hoarders.

In the same way, the library needs to clean out its books.  If we continually buy new books but never get rid of old ones, we will run out of shelf space.  Not only that, but some older books get damaged, and old non-fiction books may contain information that is no longer accurate.  So weeding is a way to get rid of old books that aren't being used so that it's easier to find the newer ones and so that we can order even more books for people to read.

I've been slowly weeding the juvenile nonfiction collection at my library.  It is a long, slow process. First, I take an empty cart to the shelves.  I pull every book off the shelf that is more than ten years old.  For most nonfiction, especially the STEM areas, ten years is an old book. I put all those books, along with anything damaged, or books with multiple copies (sometimes we have as many as ten copies of just one book) onto a cart.

Next, the books come with me to a computer where I check the date we acquired the book as well as how often it has checked out.  If it hasn't circulated recently (we define "recently" as the last two years), then it goes.  If it turns out it's a really popular book, then I might keep it, especially if it fills a hole in the collection.  If I have twenty-five books about ladybugs, for example, I might weed as many as half of them if they're old or out of date, but if I only have one book about tarantulas, I might keep it until I can replace it with a newer book.

Finally, once the books have been deleted from the computer, I have to decide whether to save the books for a book sale (if they are multiple copies of a fairly recent book) or to box them up so they can be recycled.

At the school library, there was one teacher who insisted that we should send our weeded books to the Philippines.  Doubtless there are patrons at my current library who would feel the same. However, if we are going to donate books to people in need, whether here or abroad, it's important to make sure we are giving them current, accurate, attractive materials similar to the ones we'd put in our own library. No school or library in the Philippines needs science books from the 1970s.

Another good way to use weeded books is for book crafts.  Book crafting programs are popular, and patrons really enjoy making things at the library, so this is a good way to use your old books so they can experience a life beyond the shelf.

So, fellow librarians, how often do you weed your collection? What are your criteria? Have you ever submitted a really old or really weird book to Awful Library Books?

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