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 twenty years and love talking about library collections and library service.

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 snooping in library catalogs and from submitters 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.

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 collect information and provide access to information, not just books as physical objects. 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


  1. I join the chorus of voices praising your blog. If I may, I wonder whether you might one day post a few comments on careless weeding. A regular library user, I’ve skirted this topic in my writing (both printed and electronic). Time and time again I’ve come across libraries that should have a particular volume, but don’t. Going by the history of each, I would lay a fair wager that these same libraries once carried the titles in question.

    If you can stand it, here are a couple of examples:



    Both concern books relevant to local history. I’ve always thought of weeding as something of an art, one involving a good deal of knowledge and, I dare say, awareness of the community.

    1. It’s possible the books weren’t weeded from the collection. They may have been checked out and never returned, or damaged beyond repair, or stolen.

      1. All possibilities, I suppose, though I would argue that, given their places in the histories of their respective communities, efforts should have been made to obtain replacement copies. An expensive proposition in MacRae’s case, but not so with Knowles. Good copies of the Reverend’s seven novels range between US$4 to US$25. I add – with a shudder – that ‘new’ copies can be bought from several P.O.D. mills.

  2. Actually, in the last week, I’m not seeing that you *do* weed. Almost any book, no matter how dated or how inappropriate, gets a thumbs-up to be moved to another section or another library. I’m just not seeing that it’s about collection management anymore, but simply a very-slightly-snarky blog about books most people would walk by.

  3. I am probably more inclined to pull anything that is even a bit dated since I want my public library collection to “look” current as well as be current. I think dated or ragged materials can drag down the whole library. I would weed everything on the blog to date without hesitation for my particular library. The mistake is thinking that a collection goal or standard for one library would be appropriate for all libraries.

  4. There hasn’t been a lot of talk either on the impact of circulation data on these decisions. Although it shouldn’t be the only criteria, it is an important one.

  5. Functioning in an elementary school library setting, I use circulation statistics as a starting point for weeding. I print out a report that lists the circulation statistics and go through the shelves to determine if the books that aren’t circulating might circulate if displayed, read or given some sort of promotion, such as a booktalk. If they are yellowed or look old, it is pretty much a given that they will not circulate, no matter how many awards they have won or their literary value. Duplicates are also removed, if the circulation numbers do not justify keeping multiple copies. I find if you have a rationale and methodology there is less resistance among staff to weeding.

  6. I love the idea of weeding those crappy old books from the library! I am in my 50’s so many of those books look familiar. Please, please tell me you don’t weed Nancy Drew from your library though! I grew up on those books and they started my love of reading. I live in Boulder, CO and a few years ago the head library Nazi for the City of Boulder decided she wanted to pull all the Nancy Drew books from the shelves as she no longer thought they were appropriate for teen girls. She gave in under extreme pressure from the City Council, but made me an enemy for life!

    1. I was at my local public library last week and noticed a Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys exhibit in the children’s section.

    2. Cheryl,
      I’m a middle school librarian from TN. I’ve got a group of six girls who have just discovered Nancy Drew. Right now, they’re taking turns reading the seven titles I have in the collection. They’ll only read the new paperback versions – not the older copies (I have two more of those) – but they seem to really get into them. Honestly, if we could make Nancy Drew a minority, a hundred girls would be bugging me for those books. Mystery has really caught on here as a popular genre, but, frankly, I’m worried about what’s going to happen when my paperbacks fall apart.

  7. As an academic librarian, I am most concerned with weeded out any and all outdated information. (Of course I make sure to order the new versions at the same time.) I am the de-factor weeder around here as one of my two bosses can never quite manage to get rid of anything. I have embraced my role. Although, I will admit to a bias in saving all the literature and young adult fiction that I possibly can!

  8. I have just finished weeding al the collections in my secondary school library.I have thoroughly enjoyed it – I like to think that I have gotten rid of all that out-dated or never used stock. I look at the due date slips as my main criterian, but also consider the age of the book. I take paper & pern around with me so that I can jot down the the subject area of any books that are being borrowed but are dated &/0r tattered so I know what to replace. I do have the odd situation where a member of staff asks me for a book which I thrown out which they have regularly used but not borrowed but I thinkits worththe risk to have a good clean up. We are very pushed for room on the shelves & how can I indulge in my other favourite activity – buying books – if there is no where to put them?

  9. Nah, we still have Nancy Drew where I work, albeit the new series that’s out now. I hope the library my card is from replaces some of the old ones they weeded, though my mom enjoyed my bringing them to her. And believe me, that library was in total need of some weeding, because some of their items hadn’t left the shelves in decades, and the nonfiction was dated. I should browse through what they just weeded and see if I can find any for this blog.

    Although I’m only a shelver, what amazes me is how quickly some books must be weeded because they’re badly damaged. I’ve sent books to my boss with the new sticker still on the spine because they were already having spine issues. Sheesh.

    1. Interesting comment that MM. I suspect they get so badly damaged so quickly though abuse. Certainly I was taught – at a very young age – that hard back books should not be opened any more than 180 degrees, ever, never read around food or liquids and hands should be clean. This was with ‘first’ books that tended to have linen spines!
      I suspect, were I a librarian, I would have to wear a black uniform with death’s head insignia to work.
      I blame the parents. And society.

      1. Some books are NOT well made….if they do not have a sewn binding they fall apart in a few uses. Library bindings hold up much better and Bound to Stay Bound while not teh most attractive can last forever!

  10. Nothing is worse than when a library system weeds part of a series. Yes books get tatty, but if they are still going out they should be retained or new copies bought.

    I’ve been in libraries where all the paperbacks look new. But, when i read their titles I knew why. They were unloved, badly written stories, so noone took them home.

    Please. Do not discard books only because they look tired.

  11. I’m weeding at the moment, though I’m not making the decisions, just doing the procedures. One good thing is that I can keep a few books that appeal to me.

  12. As a Public Reference Librarian I am only too aware of the pit falls of weeding. Of course we have a policy and we try to keep our book stock as up to date and relevant as possible but you can be assured that the minute I remove a title from stock a reader will pop up asking for it and even though I explain that it was covered in jam, only used once in the past 60 years and the information dangerously out of date they will still berate me.

  13. Everytime Holly and I get a bit of publicity there are comments related to weeding. So, I am going to reiterate my philosophy of weeding: a public library’s mission (at least the one I work at) is committed to providing patrons current information in variety of subject areas of interest to the community. Since each community is different, the collections will reflect that difference. In no way should my library be a standard for everyone else! Hopefully, these funny titles and dated materials will get everyone interested in setting collection quality standards.

    My particular gripe is with outdated materials especially in the area of medical, legal and financial information. Of course, most librarians would agree with that statement. Other materials need to be weeded to provide shelf space or maybe another book/item has superceded the information. Other materials, while they might be appropriate in content, are not serving the current need (teen and children’s materials are a particulare sore spot for me!).

    I didn’t sleep well last night and felt this rant coming on. Forgive me if I sound a bit terse! 🙂 I really am not this crabby in real life!


  14. I found this site through the Guardian article and must admit that I am mildly appalled by some of the comments here.

    First, there are the typos by people — Tessa, Sue, I’m looking your direction — who should really know better, especially if they’re involved in managing information (it’s “de facto” not “de factor” and “criterion” not “criterian”).

    Then there’s the scary number of people in the “Dreams that never come true” thread who don’t know who Jane Pauley is. She’s not some obscure academic; she’s a TV journalist, for crying out loud. And yes, I get the circular logic at work here: “If I, born in 1985, don’t know who Pauley is, then surely someone 10 years my junior will find her equally irrelevant.” But, at the risk of sounding crusty, should you really be in charge of deciding what information is outdated when your own levels of cultural literacy are so low?

    I also disagree with the “keep only the books that look fresh” argument. As someone commented here, don’t let tattiness be the determining factor. The odd coffee stain or puppy-eared page means another person has been there before you, sharing your curiosity. I may be a hopeless romantic, but I think that’s quite moving. If the spine is solid and it’s not covered in goo, let it be.

    I understand there are physical restrictions to collections; a library cannot expand forever so books need to be deleted from the holdings. But maybe some deserve a last hurrah before they get the boot, like a display dedicated just to out-of-date titles called “Can you believe they published this?” or “Last chance to read” or even “Don’t judge these books by their covers” for books that still have relevance, despite grimy covers or Jane Pauley introductions. If I saw that teen girl’s guide to career planning, I wouldn’t take it out, but I’d flip through it for a laugh and would probably end up having an “a-ha” moment about modern life. That’s the beauty of both low-brow and high-brow incunabula.

    1. Are we still harping on people for incorrect spelling on internet message boards? Yes, perhaps this *is* heralding the fall of Western Civilization as we know it (/sarcasm), but calling people out by name for this? It’s kind of rude.

      Re: The Jane Pauley-Gate that has erupted here, I think it is completely relevant that the twenty-something librarian doesn’t know who Pauley is applies that to a book that is intended for people perhaps 10 years or more younger. It’s a fairly big leap to assume that if someone doesn’t know who Jane Pauley is, then they lack the cultural relevancy to weed a collection. I would agree with the blog authors that keeping a book in *with* a Jane Pauley intro (in addition to how sexist and surely out of date the book is otherwise) in the collection is probably a bad idea. This is a book for teens – not for middle-aged librarians who want a chuckle at the ’80s.

      Finally, I don’t think anyone ever suggested that all books that look grubby have to go, period. Some books just look bad – my heavily used reference books that get replaced every year look disgusting after six months. But sometimes, yes, old, grungy, tattered covers aren’t appealing. We’re in the business, partly, of providing people with the resources they want to use. “Don’t judge a book by its cover” isn’t a saying because no one does it. If I have a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird that looks like it’s been through the war, and no one wants to read it, shouldn’t I consider something new that draws people in? Or a science book that’s grossly out of date in some respects – how about purchasing a new one, so the client leaves with something useful, instead of deciding “That crappy library doesn’t have anything new.”

      1. “Are we still harping on people for incorrect spelling on internet message boards? Yes, perhaps this *is* heralding the fall of Western Civilization as we know it (/sarcasm)”

        Actually, it’s .

        Running away hard …

    2. Benita – I commend you for calling people out on their misspellings, whether they are from failure to proofread or just from ignorance. Sloppy writing is never tasteful or appealing, no matter the day, age, or location, especially when the people involved in the practice are supposedly educated, literate, intellectual sorts. True, you are are all probably smart people regardless…. but poor spelling makes you look less so. It matters, no matter where you are.

    3. I agree with an awful lot of this.

      I found this site after following a link from a friend and I have to say it made me really sad. These books are the ones that I went to the library for – the 1940s book on deportment was a great success with my childhood friends in the 80s. Hallucinogenic Plants And Fungi was hugely popular with teenagers. I’ve signed out that very book on sexing poultry more than once – if you keep chickens it’s VERY useful.

      I know that some books have to leave the local library to make room for new ones. But this site is so JOYLESS – these books are all the ones that it’s interesting to keep. Discovering “forbidden knowledge” like that book about psychedelics, or laughing at how much our understanding of something has improved is what makes people interested in learning.

      These so-called Awful Library Books are the ones that make a library an inspiring and exciting place, rather than a poor cousin to Wikipedia.

    4. Benita, I’ve worked as a student journalist and I’ll echo what you’ve said about vocabulary, spelling and rigor in writing. It matters. As much of a pain in the caboose as it can be, the effort really does pay off in credibility and the power to maintain something other than a lowest common denominator standard.
      Language influences culture – is it any wonder that the power of the written word is being diluted in our culture, if even the Hypatias of our age see no value in holding the line?
      I’m not a librarian, but I think our librarian in the Catholic school I attended saved my life, by recognizing my hunger for words and stories and feeding it without judgment or parsimony. I applaud what you all do, and am deeply grateful to you for risking your sanity in the modern city and school library. You’re doing the work of God, folks. Thank you.

    5. Either your Jane Pauley is a lot older than the one I know, or you’re using “incunabula” to mean something other than its library definition.

  15. The problem with weeding the shelves is with the loss of historical context. Certainly all individual libraries do not need to be concerned with historical preservation but that function does need to be filled by the library system as a whole.

    The only practical archival method that can truly preserve the “old” books is that of Project Gutenberg. Preservation of page images only is not a good solution.

    Those who practice weeding should be encouraged to contact Project Gutenberg Distributed Processors, an online group, pgdp.net , who cooperate with PG in producing E-books for FREE distribution to the public.

    1. Historical preservation *is* fulfilled by the library system. It is fulfilled by archivists at archives; and also by conservationists. There are archives all over the world that are FREE to the public. Project Gutenberg is a great example of this, but if you look at special collection websites, you will find that libraries all over the world are collectively trying to digitally capture as much material as they can before it all crumbles- not just copyright free literature.

    2. I weed VEHEMENTLY. I weed THOROUGHLY. I weed With Extreme Prejudice.

      You see, I’m a tribal librarian in a very small library. I don’t think anyone’s gone through these books with a critical eye for years, and sometimes the prior librarians just bought any old thing that had the word “Indian” in it. I sometimes wish I could weed with a flamethrower, because I REFUSE to have any book on my shelves that would hurt or demean MY (library’s) KIDS. You’d be amazed at the horrible things I’ve found, and yes, some of them are in award-winning books. Hell, I weeded White Fang without remorse because of the depiction of the Inuit in there! Sure, there’s room for it in the world – but not in MY juvenile literature section.

  16. Ahhh, weeding…my favourite library activity! Now, where’s that flame-thrower I’ve been dreaming about?

  17. You guys rock so hard it’s not even funny.

    What I like best about this site is the utter human beauty of the books. They are like underused, elderly aunts and uncles whom we can’t help but to love. You’re immortalizing the books before discarding them, which is wonderful and necessary.

  18. In the mid 1990s I was the librarian at a Catholic grade school. The library, which had been there for decades, had never been weeded. The geography books were copyrighted 1948. I decided to weed the library. Since the steps going outside were very dangerous, I chose to throw the books out a window and then a helpful student would put them in the nearby dumpster. The books, stamped “withdrawn,” were then surreptitiously removed (stolen?) by a neighbor. The principal didn’t do anything about it, but I was miffed. Folks, one of the books intended for teenage girls instructed them to burn the hair off their arms.

    1. You are angry because someone saved books from burning, and you wanted to burn them because you disagreed with them. 🙁

      This is the single saddest thing I have read all week.

      1. Do you actually read these comments, or just jump on words like “burn” so you can find things to disagree with? Nowhere did Sandra say she was going to burn those books, and she also did not say she was getting rid of them because she disagreed with them. Weeding is not censorship. Not every book deserves a spot on the library shelf forever. Books that are old and outdated contain information that is inaccurate and sometimes even dangerous…such as suggesting that teenage girls should burn hair off of their arms. Removing books that recommend such a practice from a school library is not censorship; it is acting responsibly and being concerned with the safety of your students.

      2. This is an old post, but I couldn’t resist. First, nowhere in Sandra’s post did she say she was going to burn the books or that she was weeding books she disagreed with. You may want to brush up on your reading comprehension.

        Geography books from 1948 have no place in a grade school’s library! There are already too many people who still think Hawaii and/or Alaska aren’t states. That is what archives or special collections are for.

        Also, I would say the large majority of people would weed a book that advocated burning the hair off your ARM to a teenager!

  19. Ah weeding, the dangerous third rail of librarianship.

    Many people have notion of libraries that is equivalent to the magnificent warehouse in Indiana Jones, where everything goes in and nothing ever comes out. In fact, many people who work in libraries have that very notion too. Everything that comes in must be kept forever. Everything that is lost or worn out must be replaced immediately.

    But for some of us whose job it is to “manage” the collection, to buy all the hundreds of new titles that our patrons ask for every single day, we understand that a library cannot be ever expanding warehouses of everything ever written forever (unless you work for Library of Congress, in which case, more power to you!). Weeding is as necessary to a useful public collection as weeding is to a healthy garden. In a garden you do not come across a patch of thistle squeezing the life out of your tomatoes and say “Oh, but someone might, someday, maybe, possibly want these thistles, so I should let them kill my tomatoes.” No, you rip them out.

    Books are not permanent things. They are ephemeral. Even without weeding, they fall apart. They get lost or irreparably damaged. They go out of print and can’t be replaced. Especially paperback series!!!!!

    The content of books age. A book about programing computers from 1962 is of no use, at all, to the person standing at the reference desk trying to get a handle on the latest Windows operating system. As adorable and twee as that book might be, should it remain on the shelf and deny access to a new, accurate book? Countries rise and fall. Planets become de-planetized. Health information is constantly updated, and libraries are responsible for making sure the information they offer patrons is accurate. When I was young books told my Mom that putting honey on a pacifier was an awesome trick to get kids quiet. Now it is generally understood to be dangerous possibly deadly. It’s our job to make sure that “cute, old book” does not represent the most current information the Library has on the subject.

    Most libraries have finite shelf space (and if you are a library with infinite shelf space, let me know. I’d like to know how that’s done.) For many of us it is, literally, one book in, one book out. So I’m not kidding when I say that twee little computer book from 1962 is denying shelf space to something useful.

    Your library probably has access to inter-library loan. If you really, really, really need the first volume of that old series, or the twee old computer book, borrow it through ILL, which is a magical, awesome service.

    Weeding is often the hardest part of our jobs, but I believe it is also the most important. It is weeding that keeps our collections living, valuable things, and not choked, dying warehouses.

  20. Academic libraries have an additional reason for weeding, on top of those very valid reasons mentioned above for public libraries: the accrediting bodies that judge the quality of our academic programs consider the age and condition of our library materials in making that evaluation. The nursing program was almost penalized for having materials older than FIVE YEARS in the collection, until I explained how we decided to keep specific titles, which are marked with a label to identify them (they were materials recommended for retention by “Best Books for Academic Libraries” or by individual faculty members). Our paralegal program got a nasty comment on its evaluation because some titles (which were not that old) did not have various “Outdated” labels on them.

    You simply must weed in these and similar subject areas to survive accreditation scrutiny. We are not an archive, and we don’t attempt to be. We do give the public the opportunity to purchase (for 50 cents) books that are discarded, which gives them the joy of “rescuing” an old book, or better yet, shows them that yes, we SHOULD weed these items because they are no longer accurate; no longer appropriate to the curriculum; in terrible physical condition; have never circulated in 40 years, and never will; or are duplicate copies taking up precious shelf space in an area where newer materials are warranted.


  21. ZZZZZ: Yes, we use Better World Books, too, for when stuff doesn’t get sold in the book sale. I’m amazed that you got rid of three TONS of discards! For real??

    1. Yes for real. This is a largish academic library that hadn’t been weeded for at least a decade. We were quite literally out of shelf space.

  22. I just was introduced to your site and I love it. I was reading the “Why We Weed” section and came to the comment about not weeding Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. I need to comment. I would hope that the books we have in our collections are new and fresh looking ! These books are still in print (if “updated” from the originals) and still of interest to the children (not their parents or grandparents)- therefore they are kept in many public libraries. When they become works for the archive collection- then they can go (unless of course it fits the archive’s needs).

  23. Upon reading some of the comments here I am somewhat terrified that the world’s libraries are not run by book lovers but by obsessive-compulsive ‘space savers’

    Also in retort to the post in which it is suggested that ‘a book about programming a computer from 1962 should be weeded in favor of a book on using the latest Windows OS’ – if a person is headed to the public library for a book on how to use a computer operating system, they have clearly forgotten that most advanced technical advice is more easily found on the internet, most likely on Microsoft’s website, as is the case for most IT-based products.

    This also applies in most cases. If I am looking for information on anything academic on a day to day basis – I’m headed to the internet. Why? Because it is an open forum, it has representation for most theories on a subject, rather than leaving me at the mercy of the individual who orders the books. No, it might not provide me with a single concise answer, but it is fairly rare that any question ever has such a solution.

    What some posters of this section have failed to realize is that the place of the library in contemporary culture has changed. It is now with the advances in our ability to mutually share information that libraries; public, academic and archival should be seen as bastions of specialist knowledge, because it is when our libraries are attempting to compete with the internet, rather than plugging the gaps that it simply cannot fill, that they will have become obsolete.

    1. Alexander, technology does present some very special challenges to public libraries. The kind of material you are speaking of is probably more appropriate to an archive or university library where historical perspective is important. My average computer book consumer is usually a someone totally unfamiliar with the Internet on any level. In fact, some patrons will look at books even before approaching us so accessible information is very important. The limited space issue is a major concern especially for smaller libraries. It is such a concern in some areas that a book must be weeded in order to place a new one in the collection. Although this site is a light hearted attempt to showcase some really absurd titles or old materials, the ultimate mission of the library is the determining factor in selection as well as weeding. I would make vastly different decisions in a public library vs an academic library. All sorts of considerations must be made not the least of which is budget for maintenance, shelving, new purchases, etc.

  24. I heard about this site on a BBC4 radio program not long ago so have just had a quick scan and think it looks like good fun so well done Mary and Holly.
    To Benita I say please mind your manners as I am sure you could express yourself in a more pleasent way and still get you point across.
    I am going to ask my local (UK) library how they”weed” books and will let you know.

  25. As a public library branch manager, I weed the same way I write angry letters. First, I yank everything off the shelves that I impulsively feel has to GO. Then I go through the cart again and pull out what is merely my irrational bias. Then I check condition, circ stats, local and historic and cultural value. Well, wait, I check circ stats last. I’ll see if it is owned anywhere else locally. Then, at last, I weed. (In the angry letter version I revise revise revise until I sound like a rational adult). And by the way, I had no idea this topic could raise such dander. I am sneezin’ with it. (oops, gotta check for typos before I post)

  26. Sometimes items that libraries are accused of “weeding” have in fact been taken (sometimes checked out and sometimes not) by our customers. Also, sometimes, the condition of a book may sometimes warrant weeding and a replacement is not in print. While there may be some “careless” weeding – most library staff want to do the right thing and as long as the physical and use statistics warrant it, keep an item in the collections.

  27. has anyone ever heard of a library that doesn’t weed? i think i work there. i’ve been there a year and a half, its an academic library, and saying the word “weeding” is like saying something about “yo mama.” i’ve been trying to get some type of weeding project together for a year, alas, to no avail. maybe we will change the name from library to museum.

    1. Yes. As a matter of fact, I have. The British Library has had a legal obligation to retain every published work (any format published in Britain I should add) since 1911.
      I don’t know too much about the Library of Congress, but I do know they accept 10,000 mandatory book deposits a day out of 22,000 offered. So I suppose they weed fairly fiercely. Rejected items are used in trades with other libraries around the world, distributed to federal agencies, or donated to schools, communities, and other organizations within the United States. I wonder how many of the stunning works that appear here have come via there?

    2. The NYPL does not, actually, weed! They’re forbidden to. I for one would hate to be their collections management staff.

  28. I don’t know, maybe there should be a library specially for outdated books. I know that I’d get a kick out of finding one of these gems at my library (I’m a regular patron, not a librarian). I know that libraries should have up-to-date books, particularly in the science and technology sections, but some of these “awful library books” could be eye-opening for younger people, a glimpse of what life was like for Mom and Dad, or even Grandma & Grandpa.

  29. I have to admit that the very subject of weeding raises my blood pressure, but after looking over the site I’m relieved to see that most of the books you recommend weeding are non-fiction. That makes perfect sense to me – the real world changes and descriptions of it should change as well.

    I wonder what your criteria are for fiction? I would argue that there are some classics that should never go off the shelf, other than to be replaced with fresh versions. The problem is what qualifies as a “classic.” I’d argue that anything that is still being published has an audience, almost by definition. I’m not sure that I’d agree that worldview should be part of the criteria for weeding fiction. Should Mark Twain be weeded? Shakespeare? Dickens?

    On the other hand, there are a lot of copies of books on my library shelves that were popular summer reading 10 years ago and are still there taking up space. How many copies of “A is for Alibi” does any library need? It’s an on-going series, so I’d say 1.

    On the other hand, given a choice between Nancy Drew and Tamora Pierce I’d weed the Nancy Drew any day.

    1. Jeff, I think fiction is a whole other kind of problem. I try not to weed unless it is falling apart or damaged. Space considerations then I consider multiple copies. Classics are classic for a reason! They still circulate.

  30. Like everyone else, I have chuckled at some of the title on the website, having been alerted to its existence in the Guardian Weekly of Oct 2, 2009. However, as a cultural anthropologist who has been trying to hunt down some extremely arcane materials in recent months and years for my research, such as phone books for Tonga from the 1970s, I worry that it fact some of the materials might seem utterly trivial and weird to a general readership, but in fact have historical value. Of course they do not belong in public libraries, but they do have their place in archives. The question is, where? So let us not be so quick in dismissing (and laughing at) publications that are hopelessly out of date. They are potentially important documents of past ideologies and particular moments in history.

    Let us of course not lose our sense of humor, but let us put it in perspective.

  31. As a writer, I can honestly say that outdated non-fiction work, while having it’s place, should definitely be weeded if it’s in bad condition or doesn’t circulate. HOWEVER, there have been times that I’ve gone to a library hoping that somewhere, somehow, they might be able to dig up a copy of “Random Outdated Book X” for my own research purposes. Usually this is related to my own writing. Sometimes I get lucky, other times, no one can find anything and the total lack of information ends up being the dtermining factor in whether or not to scrap a story idea. I think the funniest one was “Oh, we were about to throw that out…do you whant to buy it for a nickel?” That particular branch of the library apprently didn’t do book sales…and there isn’t an accessible university or archival library to be found (Both local universities require you to be a student to even get into their libraries.)

    I do think that there should be a library in every system that has an “Outdated Information” section, simply because people do still use these books…not just writers, either, but children doing school projects on the 1950’s, academics, etc.

    But for most of the books on this site, I agree they should go straight into the “25 cents” box and sold at the next used book sale.

  32. Nancy Drew was dated when I read her adventures in the 60’s, but I gobbled them up anyway! Thanks to this series, I learned words like “titian-haired,” “frock”, and “nifty”. And recently, I reread a Henry Huggins book in which Henry paid 10 cents to take the bus to the YMCA for his swimming lesson! But guess what? It was still a really funny book!
    One thing I find interesting as I ponder my childhood reading habits–I used to pick the MOST beat-up books from the shelves to read. My reasoning was that those were the best books, which had been worn ragged by the hordes of other children who had checked them out. So maybe beauty of a book is in the eyes of the beholder!

    1. This discussion reminds me of a sin I committed many years ago, before IE, before Netscape, before Mosaic – before I had ever heard of the internet.

      I had seen a quote that struck home with me, and I wanted to find the source. I called my local public library, asked for the reference librarian, gave her the quote, and she found the source for me: The Scottish Himalayan Expedition, by William H. Murray (1951). It so happened that the library owned the book, which was long out of print, and I wanted it. When I took it to the checkout desk, I asked the librarian (or clerk, I don’t know which) what would happen if I “lost” the book. With a twinkle in his eye, he looked up the book’s circulation history and said, “Hmm. Only three people have checked it out in the last five years. If you lost it, you would have to pay for it, of course. That would be about $20.00.” I thanked him with a smile, took the book home, later reported it as lost, and paid the $20.00. After that, I wrote to the publisher, who forwarded my letter to the author, who wrote back to me and said that I was welcome to use the quote in a personal, non-commercial way. I treasure the book and the letter. The author is now dead.

      Tonight I googled the book and found that I can purchase a hardback copy online for $50-$100, which I can now afford to pay.

      Should I buy another copy and return the “lost” book to the library? Or would it have been weeded long ago?

      1. The book’s been weeded from the library’s collection. You got away with something, the librarian was complicit in your “crime”. If you feel guilty, give money to the library’s friends group so they can buy something current for the collection. They don’t want the book back. You’re lucky. The fees now are outrageous. It’s not just the replacement cost of the book, but the manpower time to order it, get it shelf ready, shelve it, etc. There are lots of fees attached to that. The librarian should’ve weeded it on the spot and let you take the damn thing. This sets a bad precedent. Often censorious parental types “vigilante weed” collections by this same type of behavior when there are books in libraries that they don’t like/don’t want their kids or your kids or anyone else’s kids to read.

        So there…I opened the censorship can. I’m going to put my rain coat on now and put up the umbrella.

  33. Oops! I meant to comment on the main discussion, not on Kim’s comments above. Is there a way to indicate that in the original comment?

  34. I’m finding this discussion fascinating. Yes books should be weeded. Many years ago I bought a book in a library book sale about the various uses of timber. It was, at best arcane knowledge written down by craftsmen who were the last of a long dead generation. It described the appropriate tools to use to work timber to facilitate the desired results, how to make the tools (!), what stage would should be harvested at and how long it should be seasoned – and so on. I found it one of the most gripping reads I have ever discovered even though I my work has nothing to do with the subject.
    So, by all means weed but don’t lose the fundementals of our forefather’s knowledge.

  35. Straight up I have to admit that I am the weeding queen. I personally don’t see why the library would keep an item that is not being used. If a book sits on the shelf for a year or two, why are we keeping it? No one is using it and I can certainly find something else that can be used.

    I also admit to being a classic novel reader and love many victorian authors, but the library I work in does not have patrons that share my love of these classics. Do I use up my extremely limited space by owning, purchasing, & keeping multiple copies of every Dickens novel that will just sit on the shelf or do I buy a best seller that will check out 20 times in 1 year. How can I justify to my taxpayers wasting their money on items that will not be used.

    Weeding is a necessary part of maintaining our collections. It is not evil or wrong.

  36. I challenge everyone who comments on this site and who is not a librarian or libary paraprofessional to VOLUNTEER at your public libary or start a FRIENDS of the library group. If you really want to help your local library be at its best, serve the community and see your tax dollars at work, contribute your time! We can always utilize enthusiastic volunteers to help with weeding projects, put together a book sale to raise funds for the branch or system.

    1. Steph,

      I’m not a librarian and I have a collection of short stories by “Henry Kuttner” on my shelf that is mostly a collection of loose pages inside a cover. I am not capable of throwing away a great book, no matter now few people check it out or how poor a condition it’s in. But you can follow the link to see what I can do.

  37. The fundamental problem I have isn’t with the process, but with the term. “Weeding” implies that what you are getting rid of has always been useless, invasive, ugly, and has choked out something beautiful. How about we call it “pruning”? That way we are cleaning up to make room for new growth.

    I’m off to prune my automotive technology collection.

    1. I don’t particularly care for the term “weeding”. I prefer to use the term “de-selection”. One criteria I use is, “Would I select this book today for our collection?” When the librarian uses his/her library’s selection and development criteria, then the choice is easier to make.

      Not all libraries are the same. Only a few libraries can be all things to all people. School libraries must never become a morgue for dead books. Keeping a school library collection vibrant and enticing while providing current, accurate information is a central mission to a library media specialist.

      Shelf space is also very limited. When you add, you invariably must subtract.

      Keep your attention focused on the mission of your library. Each one is different. But if you follow it, appropriate selection and deselection takes the anguish out of the equation.

  38. Ah, weeding. My school library is awful at this. I have had a look through some of the more obscure parts of the non fiction section and found some extremely bizarre titles, including half a dozen books on the USSR. I guess that’s what happens when at least 2 of your 4 History teachers are obsessed with sources, no matter how obsolete they may be.

    We also have a large collection of evidently incredibly small print run, badly written and hideously covered fiction books. That said, I don’t believe in throwing away books just because it looks tatty. I have bought most of a very long series of books for under 2 pounds from the withdrawn stock purely because the cover was getting dog-eared, not that I’m complaining or anything. I still manage to laugh my head off at some of the books on here (mostly due to my brother’s humourous observations), especially the book on Knitting With Dog Hair.

  39. Weeding is such a double edged sword. While I have accidentally removed books from the collection that patrons have requested later on, I find a good rule of thumb that if a book hasn’t circulated in five years, it’s probably not going to. Of course items on middle school and high school reading lists and former award winners are exempt from this list. Just remember, librarians do the best we can to keep good stuff on limited shelf space and the only way we do that is by taking out some of the older stuff to make way for the new. Kind of like cleaning out a closet from time to time.

  40. Wow… who would have thought that there would be so much dissent over weeding! I’m a library assistant at a public high school. When I arrived 6 years ago, the collection had not been weeded… ever… A majority of the books were from the original 1969 purchase when the school opened. I have since weeded approximately 4000 books from a relatively small collection (we now have ~6500 volumes.) I would rather have fewer books with current information then volumes on Negros and the USSR. Unfortunately, our budget to replace materials is VERY limited, but again, I’m an advocate of reliable, up-to-date non-fiction.

  41. Most of the books you want to weed are still useful for others. So, I think that if a library has enough space to keep these kinds of books in its collection, there will be no problem. It is up to the readers to select the books they want (old, outdated, revised, recent, etc .)

    1. When your shelves are so crowded that books can’t be put back, then readers can’t find them or read them. “When you weed, they read.”

      Interlibrary loan exists for just this purpose, and is also a good indication of both the ‘popularity’ and the usefulness of the title.

      1. We had to weed alot to automate the school libary about 17 years ago. There were books dating back to the 50s no longer read, no longer circulated. We found staff signatures from when they were children which delighted us. We found an original Little Black Sambo who was incidentally INDIAN not African. We weeded for days. When it was done the staff came in and were amazed at all the “new” books we had. Finally there was room to display them attractively. They flew out the door. As Andrew said “When you weed, they read.”

    2. I respectfully disagree AYB. People may find some of these books interesting, but it is in a library’s best interest to pull materials that are outdated and inaccurate. Its presence on the shelf carries the implication that the material is accurate and reliable. If a student uses an old geography book for a report and gets a bad grade, that is unfortunate. If a patron uses an outdated book on canning and winds up with botulism because they followed the directions in the book, that is terrible and a potential lawsuit.

  42. My masters is in library science. My thought was we naturally weed these books, and next year we will buy a new one telling us all about the history of a once hot topic. Yep, an enterprising author will simply rewrite one of these rejects and sell it to the rest of us as a fascinating window on our past.



  43. Thanks Mary & Holly for reminding me daily of a few reasons why I left the public library for special corporate librarianship.

    Most of the well meaning public would be offended if I walked in to their respective jobs and despite their educational background and professional experience began telling them how to do their work, what the mission of their organizations are and reminding them that I’m paying their salaries.

    Arm chair librarians are the flipside of those other well meaning folks who want to tell professional what to take OUT of libraries for the good of the community.

    Hm…how much time did we spend studying the nuances of Collection Development in American Library Association accredited master’s degree programs anyway? And don’t you present papers and lectures on this very topic at professional conferences?


  44. I love the suggestion above about calling it ‘pruning” instead, to encourage new growth. Our library is out of room and we must weed a title for every new one we purchase. It can be agonizing to weed the biography section. Getting rid of books there is like saying, ” This person, although once important or famous, isn’t anymore.” I struggle every year to make room for the new titles that patrons are demanding while trying to keep the collection sound. Weeding is worse than having teeth pulled. I have been here long enough now that I am weeding titles I purchased when I first arrived. I hate that because I really like all of them. I don’t know anyone who likes to weed, but it is a sorry fact of life in almost all libraries.

  45. I just discovered this blog. I’m an education faculty member at Hunter College in NYC and have volunteered to weed the children’s book collection in the library. I’m sure I’ll have items to post!

  46. 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.

  47. 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.

    1. 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.)

  48. 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.

  49. 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.

  50. 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.

  51. 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”?

  52. 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!

    1. 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.

  53. 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? ; }

  54. 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.

  55. 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

  56. 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.

  57. 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.

  58. 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.

  59. 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.

  60. 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.

  61. 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.

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