Advice for Reluctant Weeders

adviceLet’s talk about how to get reluctant weeders more on board with the idea of weeding. Here are some things to consider:

Go by the numbers
Don’t start pulling materials all willy-nilly (even if it is painfully obvious to you what needs to be weeded). How much shelf space do you need? What percentage do you need to remove to create that space? Mary has a perfectly obnoxious formula for linear space  (email if you’re dying to see it!). Reluctant weeders may be more willing to trust data than philosophy.

Go easy, go slow
There’s no need to weed the entire collection in one week. Do a bit at a time so  no one has reason to question what’s happening. Ease into it; create a little space, then a little more, then a little more… This gives you time to make better choices, trickle the discarded items through the system, and time to actually get other work done too. Carve out ten minutes a day, an hour a week, or whatever is practical for your situation and deal with what you can in that little bit of time. The collection grew over a matter of decades. It doesn’t need to be dismantled over night. Doing something is better than doing nothing and you will see results. They just don’t have to be shocking results on day one! Reluctant weeders may see the library as a whole and be very overwhelmed. Break the collection into bite-sized pieces that anyone can wrap their head around more easily.

Make an effort to get things circulating first
Make a “last chance” display and see what happens. Put some two-sentence teasers on your library’s Facebook or Twitter page, enticing readers to try titles from the back catalog that have been lingering. This advice does not apply to all material (legal, medical, or otherwise “harmful” old information), but could get some old fiction or biographies moving. Even reluctant weeders will have to agree that you did all you could before moving those materials to the Great Book Sale in the Sky.

Go on a field trip and compare your library to others
Compare what their shelves look like to yours in terms of spacing, cleanliness, and general topic coverage. Find a subject you are personally interested in and see if their collection of those materials are what you would consider useful. What do you wish they had? What do you wish your library had? Be honest! Are you proud of your library after seeing what other libraries have on their shelves?

Your library cooperative or state library may also be able to provide some statistics to help you compare collection size and usage to your neighbors.

Tracking and training
What reference questions do you get regularly? How do you answer them? How else could you answer them? Track the questions you get and use them as real-life examples to do reference training. Don’t forget about databases, e-books, web sites, and inter-library loan options. Also, referral is a reasonable answer to a reference question sometimes. Is there a university or special library nearby that could help with questions you don’t have materials on-hand to answer? Those who say “we might need this some day!” may just need to see that it is possible to provide the same (or better) information in other formats.

Use different terms
I attended a great session at the ALA annual conference (“Whacking the Weeds in the Library: De-Accessioning Print and Digital Materials in the 21st Century and Beyond”) where one of the speakers used the terms “rightsizing” and “planned abandonment.” Those are more business-sounding terms that are more positive than “weeding.” Weeding implies removal of bad stuff just by its very definition – which is what we’re doing – but rightsizing means making appropriate or optimum in size and “planned abandonment” at least sounds like some long-term thinking went into it.  I’m not going to nit-pick wording, but reluctant weeders may like the more positive wording of “rightsizing” or the careful pre-planning of “planned abandonment.” Or, as a librarian friend of ours likes to say, “selecting for the book sale.”

Follow Through
After weeding, chart usage, take pictures, see the difference. Celebrate your success! Prove that the time and effort was worthwhile. Take notice of even small victories so that reluctant weeders will get some positive feedback. If you are able to have a used book sale of the weeded materials, be sure that those who did the work get some input on what the money is used for.

Anything to add? Fire away in the comments!


Image via creative commons:


  1. “Go slow” is the hard part of me.

    Of course as a clerk I can’t officially weed unless something is in super bad shape. Like going through the CDs I found several of them that were cracked all the way through and some in the jazz section (particularly anything by Billie Holiday) that honest to God looked like someone had taken steel wool to them. (It wouldn’t be the first time a patron purposely destroyed something they found offensive in some way.)

    But if given a section to pull and evaluate – check the number of circs, last time it did so, condition, then pass on possible weeds onto an actual librarian – I will do the entire second in a week, or if I’m there the whole day, I’ve been known to do the entire section in a day. Filling a couple of carts full of possible weeds.

    They don’t like that much. But mom drilled into me as a child that the sooner your work is done, the sooner you have time for fun. So I’ll stick with a task until it’s completely done.

  2. I like the points you make and (hope that I) think about these concepts when I weed- especially the slow approach. But I think that the term ‘weeding,’ although maligned by many library workers, is very apt. Keeping the gardening analogy in mind is very useful- you want to improve the health of the garden, not destroy it or simply pull every other plant out of the ground. Since ‘weed’ has become a four-letter-word, I think that reminding each other (and ourselves) of the reasons behind the term/analogy can inform and improve the weeding process. Personally, I dislike office-speak and business-speak and am more prone to cringe and be distrustful when I hear terms like ‘right-sizing’ and ‘planned abandonment.’ That said, following the advice to ‘go by the numbers’ and ‘track and train’ help to clarify and prevent/avoid problems folks might have with our choice of term.
    The only thing I’d add is that with follow-through it can be helpful to share your weeds with those affected- I’m a librarian at an academic library and send out notices to faculty when items are to be weeded, why we’re removing them and asking for their participation & feedback if there’s anything that they feel shouldn’t be withdrawn. I think this goes a long way to demonstrate to our patrons why we don’t keep everything we possibly can (and why that’s a bad idea for our library). Patrons like transparency and being included in the process. And though I never get responses from folks, I know they appreciate being included and kept in the loop. It also helps me to determine what to withdraw/save- if I can’t explain it to patrons, I’m not doing it right!

  3. So…we are weeding now. Some of the hundreds of books have languished on the shelf for 4 decades! I did you not!! I think the only reason the weeding is being done now is because she wants to add more study carrols…

Comments are closed.