Discard Responsibly

We are asked all the time what to do with weeded materials. As we all know, throwing them in the dumpster has the potential to become a huge PR nightmare. Not to mention, it’s disrespectful. People paid for those books! People love(d) those books! Books are sacred!

Yes, I’m exaggerating to make a point. The fact is, Joe Citizen does not know – nor does he care – what the library’s policy on deselection is. He doesn’t care about your MLIS degree, and he doesn’t care about your lack of space. He does care about books. Sure, Joe Citizen hasn’t stepped foot in a library in decades, but he still believes in the system. He believes that books are forever, and the library equals books. If Joe Citizen finds piles of books in a dumpster,  he doesn’t care about their publication dates or their coffee-stained interiors. Joe Citizen is angry because the library is irresponsible. Joe Citizen calls the local media. Joe Citizen is now your worst nightmare.

He’s kind of right. The library is irresponsible if it is dumping a noticeable amount of books in a dumpster. A few moldy-oldies with undeniable and unfixable damage is ok (say, ten or fewer per week). Hundreds or even thousands at a time, though? No. Just…no.

If your library is doing a big weed, you need to plan ahead. Create a weeding plan. It uses your fancy collection management policy to set a timeline for responsible discarding of public assets. It includes things like:

  1. A review of your fancy collection management policy to make sure you really are keeping and removing the right stuff.
  2. Training materials for the staff, to make sure you’re all on the same page philosophically. How does the library’s collection help meet its mission?
  3. How much will be removed from the collection over what period of time?
  4. A detailed workflow of how the materials will get from the shelf where they currently reside to its final destination (suggestions below!). And I mean detailed. Who will handle the materials, how many times, where, etc.
  5. Press releases to let the public know that there will be a big used book sale, that the library is making space for interesting and important new materials, and that if they would like to be part of the process they are welcome to help.
  6. Training materials for the public who want to help. Choose their participation carefully, and make sure they understand the process, the philosophy, and the overall reason. Share the weeding plan with them. They can cart things up, move them from place to place, remove labels, cross out barcodes, deliver items to recycle centers, work the book sale…all genuinely helpful activities, but nothing that takes decision-making control away from highly trained staff.

BTW, this is complete overkill for ongoing, regular collection maintenance, which is where we hope you all are headed with your collections. This kind of plan is meant for Big Weeds for projects like re-configured spaces, new buildings, RFID-tagging, and the like. We hope you get your collections under control so that you can do regular, ongoing maintenance weeding that only involves a few books a week to stay on top of it. No one bats an eye at that level of activity (though they still needs to be disposed of responsibly!)

In addition to used book sales to put these public assets back  in the hands of the public, here are a few more options for responsible disposal.

  1. Better World Books – they sell your castoffs, you get a commission. Medium effort required to box up your stuff and set up the pick-up.
  2. Amazon.com – you sell your castoffs, you make money. High effort required to create the listings and keep track of them.
  3. Recycle – often paperbacks only. Low effort if you have recycling pick-up at your library. Medium effort if you have to box it up and take it to a recycle center.
  4. Pulp – Hardcover books can be pulped if that is a service offered in  your area. You may want to research the pollution factor of the pulping process before committing.
  5. Hold a crafts program – Pinterest, anyone?

A submitter sent the pictures below with this note:

These were discarded paperbacks I took out of the Friends of the Library book sale pile. We have a new sign in the work room that says “Before you place items here for the book sale, think ‘would I give this to a friend?'” So many had loose pages!

three paperbacks

rip out pages

roll pages into a wreath

Those are awesome! I love the submitter’s sign that reminds staff that there are better options for some weeded materials than the book sale. Loose pages are the perfect copies to use for craft projects!

So, go forth and do your Big Weed, but create a weeding plan first. Take it seriously and ask yourself how it looks to the public, who aren’t privy to the years and years of experience and education we have in library science.



  1. Libraries might also consider Thrift Books as another company that sells library discards and unwanted gifts. The commission structure varies from company to company. For the record, unwanted gifts sell for more as long as they are in reasonable condition and don’t have library markings.

Comments are closed.