Thursday, April 15, 2010

Read 'Em Before We Weed 'Em

Ocassionally, weeding is one of my duties at the library, and it's a tough one for me.  I find it hard to select which books to get rid of, but at the moment our shelves are overflowing and new books keep arriving, so it's a necessary evil.  I am interested in hearing from other librarians, or those of you with large home libraries, about how you make these difficult cuts.  Below is an article I wrote for the local newspaper, asking for input from our patrons and now I'm asking for your recommendations as well.  What criteria do you use or would you like your library to use for doling out that precious shelf space?

Naturally, we here at the library love books….mysteries, westerns, romances, science fiction (ok, maybe not so much on the science fiction, but we’re trying), self-help, how-to, biographies, poetry , suspense... we love them all. We get excited about new releases from bestselling authors. We can’t wait to get the books you request. We inspect the bestseller lists in search of hot trends and interesting new authors. We wander the aisles of Barnes and Noble to make sure we haven’t missed anything, and we read as fast as we can so we can give you informed recommendations.

Unfortunately, though our love of books is limitless, our space is not. So on occasion it becomes necessary to part with some of our old friends to make a place for the new. Seems simple, right? Just pull off the books that are outdated, worn, stained, ripped or just plain bad – and at times it IS that simple. A book on computer programming from 1987 is an obvious candidate for weeding, but most choices are much more complicated.

Is that book worn and stained because it has been read frequently? Is it part of a series? Do we need all the early works of an author – before they became popular? Is the novel that hasn’t been checked out since 1974 trash or a hidden treasure? What about the classics? Does anyone read them anymore? Am I weeding this novel just because it’s not my personal cup of tea? (If so, the Science Fiction section truly is in danger of extinction.) How about non-fiction works which voice an opinion contrary to my personal beliefs? There are lots of tough calls in the weeding business.

Over the next few months, we will be weeding various sections of the library and we need your help. As they say on ESPN, “YOU make the call.” A cart of books destined for the book sale or the budget shop will be displayed near the front desk. We want you to look them over and tell us if you agree with our selections or if we’re overlooking a gem. These items were all purchased with your tax dollars, so your ideas matter. The books displayed will change approximately every other week, so keep watching to make sure we’re not weeding your favorites. This is your chance to “ read ‘em before we weed ‘em.”*

* - Not my original line, so feel free to use it in your own library if you choose.


  1. I love your blog's concept. I'm adding you to my blogroll.

  2. Bybee - Thanks for the encouraging words. We love to make new blog friends.

  3. I'm sorry to say I have nothing to contribute, idea wise, to your weeding project. It never occurred to me that the library had to get rid of books. I never really thought about it and now that I am, it seems sad. However, from a practical standpoint, I can see that it would be necessary. At least you are giving all the patrons a chance to get in on the decision.

  4. my county seat library has a special section of 'OF' for Old Fiction. I find such interesting things there! I know some of them haven't been borrowed in ages. thankfully, the county seat library won't do away with a book if it's the only copy in the county.

    I know it's tough to balance patron wants and long-term library goals. I cringed when I saw 8+ copies of a new Harry Potter book come in for my local library. I know the immediate demand was there for them, but what about long term? what other wonderful books did NOT get purchased to make way for all those copies?

  5. Great comments! And yes, Margot, weeding books is kind of sad. The first time I had to do it nearly killed me. But until the county coughs up more money for a larger building, we will continue to make the tough choices.

    Cindy, I love the idea of an Old Fiction collection! But, sadly, we don't have the space for that either. I agree with your thoughts on multiple books. We rarely buy more than one copy for just the reason you mentioned - what book would we miss by doing that?

  6. I'm like Margot - I never thought about libraries needing to weed out books. Although I suppose that's where a lot of the books for the library sale come from. Since we can borrow books from hundreds of libraries within the Minuteman Library system I guess I assumed that our library system just shipped overflow to another library to make room.

    Obviously anything that you have multiple copies of that hasn't been borrowed regularly would be easy to pull. And some day this obsession with vampires will die down (ha ha) so trends help dictate things. I like the concept of spotlighting things marked for weeding to guage if they are really not of interest/use to the public any longer or if, like the stuffed closet, they are a great gem you just never could find through all the excess.