Dealing With the Staff Hoarder

book stackHolly and I are fond of telling people in our presentations that every library has at least one hoarder on staff. The punchline is, if you say no, then it probably is you.  Without fail, at every presentation we have given, there is someone who wants to talk about a fellow staff member that is hell bent on saving everything for the coming library apocalypse or for that elusive patron that “might need it.”

I am using the term hoarder loosely.  I am talking about the office pack rat or collector. If you think your library has a problem that needs some clinical intervention, this would be a job for management and a qualified mental health professional. Obviously, this is a delicate and serious issue and it should be treated as such. For the rest of us, here are some strategies that you can try.

Develop some standards and general guidelines

I work in a small library, so weeding often becomes brutal. No space means difficult choices. Remember, you might not be the only decision maker, so make sure there are some agreed-upon general rules. How many circs per year is enough to warrant keeping a particular book? What books are worth replacing? Even before a single book is weeded, have a discussion and reiterate your policies and procedures. Keep those standards fresh in everyone’s mind.

Gather Data

I know this seems obvious, but I have been challenged more often than not by someone who is absolutely convinced that people like a particular book that I want to weed, and we need it. Yeah, it was popular 20 years ago, but not recently. I know as I age, time seems to be warped in my brain. I remember buying something that seems like it was new and fresh just yesterday, and then I look at the date. This has happened more and more as I do this job. Hard data can help you make an unemotional case.

Develop a Routine

Segment your collection responsibilities into small chunks so you can prevent overwhelming yourself and others. Establish a monitoring routine rather than a overt weeding project. I like to do this at least once a week. It doesn’t look unusual or raise anyone’s hackles if you are always looking at a cart of books.

Go Slow and Small

Weed slowly and immediately remove the weeded items from view. Pack it away in a box for the book sale or recycle as soon as possible. Out of sight is out of mind. (Caveat: If your library has a very specific discard policy, follow it to the letter and be ready if there is a challenge along the way.)

Be sensitive and kind to those staff members with emotional attachments to books. Weeding is difficult for many librarians, even when they know the realities of collection management. Just about any librarian with a soul will have a moment of angst and doubt depending on the items being considered.

Small scale, regular weeding is better than a large, overt weeding project. All you have to do is read any of the weeding crisis stories in libraries to know that big, disruptive projects can cause a nightmare of public relations and employee problems. Keeping weeding as an ongoing task minimizes the problems.

Bottom line: go slow, go small and be sensitive.



Originally posted at on July 28, 2014.


  1. Good thing I’m not a librarian, because that would totally be me. 🙂

    Are interlibrary loan systems (not sure what to call them) ever taken into account when weeding? That is, there are some books that don’t need to be in every collection, but it’d be nice for at least one copy to remain somewhere in the region so that any patron can access it. Are there times when you’ll hold onto a book because you’re the only library that still owns a copy? Or do ILL systems usually have certain “repository” libraries which have the space to hold onto books like that?

  2. Good question! It depends on the type of book and the overall community demand. Local libraries and school libraries can’t keep it all. I do cross-check the state catalog for state/local history, state authors, popular fiction titles, etc. That helps me decide if I can weed or reduce the number of copies. If I have something I think is “rare” as in, “valuable to researchers”–not “old”–and I don’t find it in the state collection, I would keep it or offer it to the state library.

    1. I second this! I check our consortium’s catalog before weeding a book if I think it might be the only copy. If it turns out we do have the only one, I’m substantially more likely to keep it. That said, it won’t be automatic. All the libraries in our consortium are basically popular materials libraries, so if it’s the sort of thing that would only be of interest to specialist researchers, I will weed it, even if I think it was a good purchase at the time it was acquired. For example, something like that ‘save money on fashion’ book that ALB recently posted would have been a great book for our collection when it was new, but now is only of interests to historians of fashion, consumer culture, or economics.

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