Hoarding is not collection development
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Making a Collection Count

Why We Weed

About This Site

Librarians, bibliophiles, and lovers of nostalgia are all welcome here. Your librarians for this site are Mary Kelly and Holly Hibner. We are public librarians in Michigan. We have both been holding court at various reference desks for over ten years and love talking about library collections and library service. We also regularly present and consult on various library topics. (This blog was actually a result of one of those presentations. Read more about that on Will Weed For Food.)

This site is a collection of library holdings that we find amusing and/or questionable for libraries trying to maintain a current and relevant collection.  Contained in this site are actual library holdings.  No libraries are specifically mentioned to protect our submitters who might disagree with a particular collection policy.  (A good librarian would probably be able to track down the holding libraries without too much trouble anyway…) Our posts come from our travels, snooping in library catalogs, and from  library staff all over the world.  Please join in the fun and send us your finds.  Go to Submissions to find out more details.

Comments are welcome and moderated, but we do ask everyone to be nice and use your library voice. You are welcome to any of our images and text, but please link back to us or give us credit. Librarians love a good citation!


Why We Weed

Weeding is an essential component of library collection management.  Most libraries simply do not have unlimited space, and we must continually make room for new materials.  Weeding is necessary to remain relevant to our users and true to our missions.  Remember – unless your library exists to archive and preserve materials for the ages, we are not in the business of collecting physical things.  We collect information and provide access to information.  We love books as much as anyone else, and sometimes hard decisions have to be made. How many times have you said, “But I just bought that!” and then realized it was ten years ago?

Here are some links to professional literature on why we weed.  See? It’s not just us!

Weeding Library Collections: A Selected Annotated Bibliography for Library Collection Evaluation – from the American Library Association. Includes LOTS of great links.

The CREW Method: A Weeding Manual for Modern Libraries – by the Texas State Library and Archives Commission

Weeding Library Collections – from LibSuccess.org



100 Responses to Why We Weed

  • I am a librarian of a tiny school library. Every wall is covered with shelves or has computers against it. I even keep books on the windowsill. When books come in, I cross my fingers that they will be able to fit. Full shelves are very conducive to kids shoving books into them, wrinkling pages and damaging spines.
    It is a daily struggle to get my students to read. Most of my kids don’t care about basketball players from the 1970s, or black and white pictures of the galaxy. However much somebody cares about the cultural and historical significance of these things, those books are not what my community needs at this moment. I gather many of the weeders on this blog find themselves in similar situations.
    As a librarian I see some of my readers for less than 20 minutes every other week. How do I compete with TV, video games, the Internet, friends, sports, parents arguing, etc?

    Well, it’s not going to be be with a biography on the New Kids on The Block, that’s for sure.

  • I have a question, first off: has anyone had a successful “white elephant” sale of weeds? While I usually throw them in the recycling bin, it occurs to me that people might want to buy some of my more choice weeds for gag gifts. Of course, I’d make it clear that these are NOT up-to-date books and are being sold as oddities/humorous relics. Thoughts?

    And now, Why I Weed:

    For three years, I have been the librarian in a K-8 urban public school. My first year, I weeded close to 1,000 of around 12,000 books. There were many that were completely destroyed, but just as many that were horribly outdated or incorrect. I created a “Shelf of Shame” that includes titles such as “The Dictionary of Negro Biography” and “JC Penney: Man of Industry.”

    The “Shelf of Shame” was very important in my quest to get more funding for our library. Before I weeded, the shelves were bursting with books and administrators didn’t immediately see a need to increase the library budget. But circulation was abysmally low. A child looking for an up-to-date book on basketball had to comb through a dozen worn, ugly, and sexist titles to find one halfway decent book. This discouraged browsing and gave kids – and teachers – the feeling that the library just didn’t have anything they wanted. “Classroom library” budgets have increased as school library budgets fall, and gigantic-but-outdated school library collections don’t help the cause.

    I encourage librarians to start your own “Shelves of Shame” in an easy-to-access storage area, so you can quickly defend the need to weed and advocate for funding to update your collections.

    • Oh my god, that’s an AWESOME idea! I totally need to do that!!! (I have many things that would go on such a shelf.)

  • I’m a librarian in a tiny little library in Norway. We have around 2000 people living in the region (not all of which are borrowers). And when I started five years ago, the last pruning of the collection dated back, well…. I don’t think it ever happened.

    The library had some 16-20 000 titles, on something like 3000 sq feet. I’m not joking when I say the shelves had as many books as would fit in them, including books stacked on top of the shelved books.

    I found fiction dating back to the 1920’s (and I wouldn’t call them classics), books last checked out in 1950, medical books from the 80s and one of my favourites, “The laws of Norway” from 1971.

    As was mentioned from UK, we also have a national library that is supposed to hold a copy of all the books that come out. Which means I can use ILL for those elusive books that one person asks for every decade or so. Books that would take valuable shelf space from me, and literally drown more up to date titles.

    So, albeit being a book lover, I learned the hard laws of the libraries. We don’t have unlimited shelving (unless you happen to have a mountain to eat into for big halls to put more books in) and not all books will be current forever.

    I learned to prune (which I agree is a better word that weeding) or as we say “withdraw”. Funnily enough, the more I prune, the more “new” books I have apparently. Or in the words of my borrowers “So many new books you have, I finally find something interesting to read”.

    Thousands of books have been presented on sales, and then moved on in their lives. Some didn’t find a second home, and went to book heaven.

    Don’t be afraid to prune. The shelves need space to breathe, and every library out there should not hold on to all the titles in the world, the system should.

  • I work at a community college library that has very limited space. I weed (or prune if you prefer), to create space for new items, to increase circulation, to find holes in the collection, to preserve the collection from the spread of mold (because sometimes water damaged books make it back on the shelves), and to make sure our collection not only supports the needs of the students, but also to meet accreditation board standards. No program is failing their accreditation because of the library’s role thank you very much.

    It is my opinion that having something outdated on a topic is the same as not having anything. Actually, sometimes it is worse than not having something.

  • While on one level I can understand the logistical need for weeding, overall as a practice it seems to close to censorship for me to get behind it.

    I realize that libraries don’t have unlimited space, and that ILL can open up a source of books that have to be removed from specific collections, but what happens to the books that everyone weeds out? A book that is outdated, damaged, poorly written or even dangerous still has value and still holds information that should never be lost – even if only to warn us not to travel certain roads again.

    Perhaps my train of thought trends into the role of the librarian in general. Should the librarian be actively involved in tailoring the collection to the particular needs of his or her community, or should the librarian be a steward whose task it is to maintain as much information as possible for as long as possible inside the library? I would prefer the latter, but it seems the opinion of many of those who work in the field feel it should be the former.

    What really gets me about weeding though is how it doesn’t actually have to be neccessary. Increased funding for more storage space for books would help of course, but simply using the space available would help too. Instead of throwing away books, why not take items that have virtually no circulation history or are deemed otherwise unworthy of shelf space and pack them in indexed boxes in spare storage space, whether it be closets, basements, attics, or even off-site storage lockers? Even better, with how cheap hard drive space is these days, why not scan the books page by page and keep them accessible via a computer in the library (of course making it internet accessible would be even better, but with the ridiculous and draconian copyright law in this country that is just a pipe dream).

    In the end, yes, weeding is probably a necessary evil, but it isn’t one that we should accept so blithely. It certainly shouldn’t be something that any librarian does with joy, glee, or snark.

  • Nell writes: “Instead of throwing away books, why not take items that have virtually no circulation history or are deemed otherwise unworthy of shelf space and pack them in indexed boxes in spare storage space, whether it be closets, basements, attics, or even off-site storage lockers? Even better, with how cheap hard drive space is these days, why not scan the books page by page and keep them accessible via a computer in the library”

    Storing books in basements, attics, or non-climate-controlled storage lockers will lead to them deteriorating much more quickly than they would if properly stored; pulp paper that’s already started deteriorating won’t last long that way, and that kind of storage is also likely to put books in the way of water leaks. Getting books stored offsite or in boxes in out-of-the-way corners retrieved is unlikely to be much easier for patrons than getting them by ILL. And real out-of-the-way corners are in limited supply. If there isn’t enough open space in patron areas, patrons will find the library less appealing and come less; if there’s not enough open space in staff areas, it becomes harder to navigate and work.

    Hard drive space is cheap, yes; scanning books is expensive, especially doing it with enough quality control

    Major research libraries do a number of the things you suggest here. They store less-used materials either in on-site compact shelving or off-site repositories with climate control and retrieval procedures. They have scanning programs, often coordinated with other institutions to ensure minimal duplication of effort and maximal collection coverage.

    Preserving the entirety of the human published record is a noble goal, and it is one of the goals of the library community, but it is not the primary purpose of most libraries. Research institutions, like major university libraries, national libraries, and various sorts of specialty subject matter collections, have the sort of resources and mission to maintain their share of that sort of retrospective archive. A neighborhood public or school library that tried a no-weeding policy would wind up failing to fulfill their primary purpose of providing access to the materials of use and interest to their patrons, without actually contributing much to the preservation of the bulk of knowledge.

    Removing materials that are no longer of use and interest to your patron base is no more censorship than choosing not to acquire them in the first place. If you can decide your library doesn’t need to buy its own copy of “Path Integrals in Quantum Mechanics, Statistics, Polymer Physics, and Financial Markets” because very few of your patrons care about it or would even pick it up, why can’t you make a similar decision about discarding “96 hip new macrame owl designs”?

  • Hello all. I am a librarian-in-training (I think I want that on a t-shirt) and working on a final paper for my Collection Management class. I want to write about the flip side of weeding – not the psychological and fiscal obstacles, but the illicit thrill that some librarians get in discarding out of date materials.

    I am hoping that some of you will share with me what, if anything, you like about weeding. I would appreciate the comments of anyone who cares to share. Thank you in advance!

    • I take a vicious pleasure in yanking material off my shelves that would hurt or demean ‘my kids.’ My demographic is almost entirely Indian, or tribal employees, and I refuse to have racist material in my building. Things with historical value are sent to the research library, but they don’t stay HERE, where kids and casual readers could get them inadverdently. I sometimes want to go make a bonfire out of them and go toast marshmallows on it. Say whatever you like about ‘censorship,’ but I’m not going to let this stuff hurt MY kids.

  • What is weeding?

  • Anthony – weeding (PRUNING really is a better word) is the removal of old, outdated, or damaged material from a library collection, especially to make room for new materials. Absolutely vital to the life and usefulness of the library.

    Shaula – are you willing to accept anonymous contributions or guarantee anonymity? ; }

  • Andrew – yes and yes. I may not even quote any of the kind contributors; I just want to get a sense of librarians’ feelings on the subject. But regardless, anyone who wishes to remain anonymous will stay so.

  • Quite frankly, we weed because we’re forced to. I can never make myself get rid of anything, but then the system tells us we have to.
    Weeding out of date computer or math books is fine, but I hate hate hate having to weed children’s books because they’re all so cute. So, we put them on a display and tell people to take them out or we’ll have to get rid of them. Works every time!! We’ve saved more books that way

  • We want to have collections that are in good condition, diverse, balanced, that provide up-to-date information, that reflect the interests of our community. And limited space is a reality. If we have all 40 books in your favorite fantasy series, it means we don’t have space for 39 other authors.
    I feel disgust when people suggest that we save tattered, outdated books, or that we put the weeded books into storage, or onto a ‘last chance’ shelf. This is called hoarding. And it leads to extreme disfunction.
    I am very much in favor of putting the weeded books into a Friends of the Library booksale. It gives the community a chance to stock up, and it raises significant money for the library.

  • I understand the concept of weeding. However, as a library employee, I’ve seen recently purchased reference books — not novels, weeded out. Also, the staff is not allowed to have the books, they are donated outside the college. Most of the staff makes meager wages, why not let them take a book or two? These are not the librarians making the weeding decisions, these are the folk doing the grunt work of deleting them out of the catalog and boxing them up. It appears some of the librarians may be allowed to have a book of their choosing.

  • I weed to keep our library in touch with its mission: to provide popular, high-demand materials to residents of a diverse county. I love the selections (de-selections?) featured on this blog and have been known to order my own crispy, kitschy paperbacks via ILL. However, I also know that having these hilarious titles in our collection will not serve our customers’ needs for information, help our circulation, or increase our public support. Another library can keep the kitsch – that is not my library’s mission. My favorite weed (alas, no picture) was “Crafts for the disabled” by Elizabeth Gault (1979). Snarky fun? Yes. Helpful to our customers? Not at all.

  • I still see weeding as a form of censorship and a violation of free speech. How outdated a book is is very rarely relevant (test study books for example) but if someone was researching the history of a topic and wanted to see how the progression of knowledge of a subject has expanded and branched or how old beliefs are now superseded by newer more informed ones, weeding a book (effectively removing it and it’s information from public consumption) seems the wrong thing to do.

    Who decides what book should no longer be made available and by what set of criteria? Their own? State laws? Personal moral judgement? Who judges if a book is “inappropriate”? Isn’t that a personal decision effectively forced upon the public by not having that book (information) available? It seems to me (not knowing the details of the weeding process of if there is a standard by which books are culled) that it’s too much power in too few hands. Is there some committee who votes on whether a book (information) is relevant, safe, important, useful or interesting and whether it should be taken away from the public?

    How does one know if a book is helpful to a particular person? No one can know that for all people. It’s a judgement call and hence deciding for people, quietly, under their noses.

    I’d rather see the books on the shelves with stickers or labels informing the public that this book is outdated and may not contain the most recent information and/or incorrect information. Something like that rather than taking away from the pubic. Additional information is positive, limiting access to information is a negative.

  • It pains me greatly that our public library has discarded so many wonderful books now out of print – especially childrens books. And when I looked online to buy some of them the prices were stunning – many in the triple digits! Funny how those used, out of print treasures were almost all library discards.

  • It would be wonderful to keep more books, but libraries are not black holes. The shelves are only so big and expansions are expensive and rare. We, as librarians, can cater to the majority or to a few patrons, who may or may not exist, who are researching the history of a topic. We buy books on the history of all topics. I would rather have a new book on cancer treatments and a book on the history of cancer than keep all the old books on cancer treatment and give sick patrons and their families inaccurate information.
    Do I enjoy weeding? No, I do not, but it’s an important part of my job. Weeded collections circ much better and keep out patrons happy. It’s their tax money, after all.