Volume 2 Number 4 | A Publication of the Robert Bowne Foundation

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What Is Weeding?

Why You Should Weed Your Collection

What to Weed

What Not to Weed

When to Weed

Planning for Growth, Part 1:
Weeding Your Collection

    by Pamela Little

This edition of Library Development 101 begins a series on Planning for Growth—what librarians call collection development. (See the Center for Childrenís Books collection development website for more information.)

What Is Weeding?

Weeding means removing materials from your library collection—not randomly, but based on a set of criteria. As quickly as information changes these days, itís important to keep your collection current and reliable. Systematically analyzing and weeding your collection keeps it responsive to patronsí needs. As individual items become worn or out-of-date, they are no longer appealing or relevant to children. Weeding requires knowledge both of the existing collection and of the programís goals.

Why You Should Weed Your Collection

Here are four good reasons to make weeding a regular part of library management.

  1. To make room for an appealing, up-to-date collection.
    You donít have an unlimited amount of space or shelving. Most library users want attractive, clean books in good condition. Clear out the old to make way for the new.
  2. To make the library easier for patrons to use.
    Overflowing shelves give an impression of chaos. Children and parents shouldnít have to comb through shelves of outdated, shabby books to find the up-to-date gem that meets their needs.
  3. To clearly see the strengths and weaknesses of the collection.
    A glance at the shelves shows that you have a large collection of, say, science books. But then you actually look at the titles and find you have several copies each of books that are 25 years old. You donít know how much you have thatís really useful in any given area until you get rid of old materials and duplicates.
  4. To get the most for your money!
    Weeding simply makes good economic sense. To get the most for your library development money, you must display and circulate only those items that the young people need and want. Having a lot of books that young people don't want isn't the answer to the demand for more books! Every item costs library space and staff time. Besides, itís difficult to make the case that you need more funding for library materials when a casual visitor can see that your library is full of books. That visitor canít tell that the shelves are full of multiple copies of materials that aren't circulating.

What to Weed

A lot of the weeding process is just common sense. Hereís what you should remove from your collection:

  • Worn or damaged materials
  • Duplicate copies of a title, unless duplicates are needed to meet circulation demand
  • Materials, particularly nonfiction books, with outdated or inaccurate content or interpretations
  • Materials that are not appropriate to the age or reading abilities of the children
  • Materials that contain stereotypes or bias
  • Nonfiction books whose information is not easily accessible because, for instance, they have no index or table of contents
  • Any materials that have not circulated in a year

What Not to Weed

Some kinds of materials are "keepers" even if theyíre somewhat dated:

  • Classics, such as those listed by the Horn Book or the Childrenís Literature Web Guide.
  • Award winners. For a list, consult the American Library Association Literary and Related Awards website.
  • Materials that are unique in content or format. For instance, Robert Sabudaís pop-up books are collectorsí items.
  • Book selection tools, such as Kaleidoscope and Adventuring with Books from the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) or Multicultural Literature for Children and Young Adults from the Cooperative Childrenís Book Center. These annotated bibliographies of some of the best childrenís literature of the 1990s are useful because many of the titles are still both outstanding and readily available.
  • Expensive items, such as encyclopedias or reference CD-ROMs

When an item meets criteria in both lists, you have to use your judgment. Some calls are easy: If you have duplicates of a classic that doesnít circulate often, keep the one thatís in the best shape. If your one copy of an award-winning book is falling apart, buy a new one!

A 20-year-old encyclopedia takes more thought. A lot of the information is still useful, right? And you donít have hundreds of dollars to spend on a new set. Ask yourself: How often do the children use this encyclopedia? Is someone available to help them sort through what has changed in 20 years? Can you get someone to donate a new encyclopedia?

When to Weed

You should weed once a year. If your library is large and you canít weed the whole library at once, focus on a portion of the collection each year, rotating through the entire collection in, say, three years.

Do an inventory the first time you weed. Look at and record each item. Youíll become familiar both with individual items and with the collection as a whole; this knowledge will help you identify which materials should be kept, discarded, or repaired.

No library is large enough to keep everything. Keep the best items, and let the rest go. Your library will be more useful and more appealing after a systematic weeding.


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