The best advice I can give to anyone who does weeding of a library collection is to take your time. Go as slowly as is practical and put some thought into the process. Not only will you make better, more thoughtful choices, but you will garner less attention from the public.
A collection that hasn’t been weeded in years probably needs quite an overhaul. There might be hundreds – even thousands! – of items to pull off the shelves. Resist the urge to do it all at once! It didn’t get there overnight, and you can’t undo it overnight.
The first step in a big weeding project is to write a weeding plan. You need to answer the who-what-when-where-why-how of the whole process. This plan will help you keep on track and focused on what needs to be done, it will make the whole process transparent to everyone who may care, and it will ensure that you have considered everything. For example:
- Who is going to run the collection reports, analyze them, and decide what materials stay and which get weeded?
- Who is going to pull the items from the shelf?
- Who is going to remove them from the collection?
- Who is going to prepare them for their final resting place (ie. book sale, recycling, or whatever)?
- Who has the final say and decision-making authority on all questions that may come up during the project?
- What collections are part of the project?
- What criteria will be considered for each collection being weeded?
- What will be done with the items that are weeded?
- When is the project starting?
- When is the project ending?
- When will each collection be looked at? Set the project to a timeline, such as “Youth picture books will be weeded in week one” and “Adult non-fiction law books will be weeded in weeks two through four.” Be realistic with this timeline. Depending on the size of your collection, some areas will take longer. Don’t rush it. Maybe adult non-fiction will take all year, in which case you should break it down by Dewey Decimal or LC categories. Medical books might take a few weeks or even months, whereas the art books may only take a few days.
- Where will items be stored between removal from the shelf and the book sale (or wherever you’ve determined they are going next)?
- Where will carts of pulled material be placed between the next steps in the process? Public areas? Staff areas?
- Why does the collection need to be weeded? Examine and update your collection management policy and determine how your collection helps your library meet its mission, and what existing materials are hindering that from happening.
- How will you determine what items will be replaced?
- How will you determine what items will be repaired?
- How will you ensure that good weeding decisions will be made? Is this a team effort? Will their decisions be subjective or objective?
These are definitely not all the questions you will want to answer, but those lists will hopefully help you to be as complete, transparent, honest, and professional as possible about a weeding project. Don’t just start pulling items off the shelf willy-nilly! Put some real thought and consideration into the whole process, and make sure all parties are on the same page.
After your big project is complete, you will also want to be sure that a plan is in place to keep up with collection management in the future. Being able to take your time when weeding, pulling a few items regularly, without the urgency of time, space, millage, administrators, and budget is a luxury that everyone can enjoy with a little planning.