Weeding: It Ain’t Easy

itainteasy2I love to weed. Love it. That’s no surprise to anyone. Here’s the thing, though: it’s not about the weeding itself. It’s about what you create when you weed. I really love a shiny, clean, up-to-date collection where you know that everything you pull off the shelf is relevant.

I also love the relationship you create with a collection when you weed it. Too psycho-babble-y? Ok, I’m not in there singing Kum ba yah and laying hands on the books. I just mean that when you separate the good from the bad, you become more aware of what you have.

I weeded the 500s yesterday. For those of you who don’t know, that is the Dewey section for science and math. I’d already gone over it once and pulled the most obvious shelf-sitters. I started with a report from the library catalog that listed every title in the 500s section that hadn’t been checked out in the last five years. There were a couple hundred. Yesterday was the second go-over of this collection. I really needed to make more space there, so I narrowed that list to titles that hadn’t been checked out in the last three years. There were another couple of hundred. I’ve pulled maybe fifty from that list so far.

I’m a firm believer that you can not rely on circulation statistics alone. My first pass was mainly to pull shelf-sitters, but this time I wanted to pay more attention to what was on the shelf while I was in there: what looked dirty, torn, yellowed, and stupid.

Yes, I said stupid. I found a book called “The Abacus: A Pocket Computer.”  Seriously. It had gone out in the last two years, so it wasn’t on the report. I can only imagine the person who checked it out, taking it home to show their friends, “Look what I found at the library! Har har har!” Oh, the shame. I’m sure that person didn’t mention all the current books that were sitting right next to the abacus book! I can’t fault any particular person for this oversight, though. Things get missed. It might have been checked out when this section was last weeded. Librarians-of-500s-past might have a different philosophy than I do about books of a historical nature. Lord knows this collection has changed hands a few times since 1968 when this book was published. However, whatever the reason it was still there in 2011, in my humble opinion, a book about how to use an abacus is…stupid. (Update:I changed my mind. Click this link to read my updated view)

I also found a lot of titles on the list that were really great books. I found The Geologic Story of Isle Royale National Park by Normal King Huber, c.1983. I found Northern Flights: Tracking the Birds and Birders of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula by Sheryl De Vore, c.1999. I found The World of the Penguin by Jonathan Chester, c.1996. I found Rare and Elusive Birds of North America by William Burt, c.2001. All great books; all with information duplicated in other books or databases; all with no circulations in the last three to five years.

In my first pass with the five-year list, there were some books that I just couldn’t part with. I had to wait and see what else was in the collection before I could commit to weeding them. Those titles, of course, showed up again on the three-year list. It was time to make some tough choices. I had to look for other places that might contain the same information. I had to see the bigger picture.

It was painful. I still have to go back and make up about four more shelves worth of space, too. The moral of the story is: as much as I love to weed, I also love books. I have as much trouble as everyone else letting go. There are some terrific books that will have to be passed to the Friends of the Library book sale because they just aren’t working in this community. I can look forward to all of the books I will continue to select for this collection that will hopefully do better, but their day will come to be weeded too. Quality collections are not static. They grow, they are used, they are popular…and then they stop. Weeding has to be done, and putting the focus back on the needs of the community and the mission of this library helps, but it ain’t always easy.


Originally published at http://hhibner.blogspot.com/2011/07/it-aint-easy.html on 7/28/2011

Image creative commons courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/johannabillingskog/4537536929


  1. Just an FYI. My teen daughter is fascinated with all things Asian and is currently using videos from Youtube to teach herself Japanese and the internet learning to write it. She actually requested an abacus this year for her birthday, which she received. She then spent a good amount of time researching, both online and in our library, how to use the abacus. She now delights in showing it off to friends, relatives and anyone who will sit still long enough. She actually spent time showing her younger cousins to use it as well and they all have fun using it together.

  2. Weeding is getting a little easier in my library because I have so many books that fall apart. They are read a lot, go out of fashion, sit for a while disintegrating, and then I don’t feel bad getting rid of them because they were money well spent. I do sort of miss finding things like a 1958 All About Radio and Television’ but with only 12,000 books in the collection, there are few surprises left!

  3. We’re doing some major weeding too but for different reasons. We are FINALLY getting new carpet and possibly even new bookshelves! (We’re WAY overdue. We have had the same bookshelves since we opened in 1965!) So in preparation we’ve got to weed and weed a lot.

    It’ll be so nice. We’re a small branch and some of our shelves are so full you could spend a half hour shifting and still not have room for more books. Especially since someone insists on keeping duplicates of many adult fiction books when we really only need one copy.

  4. Coming from an academic library and being the Queen of Weeding, I use one more criteria: I check WorldCat to see how many libraries own a copy of the book I am weeding. We discovered several titles that only 8 libraries in the US had a copy. Several years ago I weeded 50,000+ volumes in several months. Our library had never weeded. We are not a large academic library where we need to keep everything so weeding is good. One book I kept to show how STUPID not weeding is: Principal characteristics of sausages of the world listed by country of origin, published in 1983. At the time we did not have a nutrition or culinary program so not sure why it was kept. It was in reference but now in the stacks where it can be circulated!

    1. And does the sausage book circulate? I might not check it out, but I would probably pick it up and have a look. (Disclosure: I am planning to have sausages for supper!)

  5. Thank you so much for your excellent post. I am currently weeding a law library collection that has never been weeded. I’m not even using circ stats for this round; this time it’s all about the old, the ugly, the falling apart, the marked up, and the out of date. However, I feel about it the same way you do. It’s tough, but it’s worth it.

  6. We have so many books from the 1950s, 60s, 70s… in the science section that were either donated or part of the original collection that are wonderful items, but not actually useful.
    And harder than the withdrawing is finding good replacements!

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