Weeding Collections for the First Time

I’ve had a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” experience with weeding our collection over the past year. I have written before about the mammoth task of weeding our library’s collection, amounting to near 1200 books, mainly non-fiction. A list and criteria were provided to me through our district library services and all books over 10 years old and those that had not been circulated for over 3 were highlighted. There were an extraordinary number that fit that bill.

Library staff took the advice that was passed on by more experienced teacher-librarians and undertook the initial part of the process by immediately getting rid of any books that were in terrible condition or were incredibly out of date, before protests could be raised. Out of respect for our staff, I emailed and asked that staff members interested in the process and/or wishing to argue for keeping a selection of books or taking books for their classroom use. In her article, Eleonora Dubicki suggests involving others, namely faculty, in the process of weeding a collection. As I got others involved, there were a variety of reactions about the process, the most common being “why are you getting rid of all of the books?”, while the most frustrating was those staff members that had no response at all as there was clearly no engagement or interest in the way that the space was developing.

Photo by Janko Ferlic from Pexels.

What eventually worked was collecting a cartful of potential weeds (they totally were weeds) and moving it into the offices of the department in question, along with a note that stated I would be back to pick it up in a week and any books that were still on the cart were going to be gone. If there were books that the department wanted to keep, they kept it in their offices or presented me with an argument as to why it should remain on library shelves. This worked because individuals had to be motivated to do it. By the time I got to the 900s, the socials department came right into the library and weeded for me, I didn’t have to break out another cart. The only struggle after adopting this system was the art folks, as they argued for keeping an inordinate number of books, regardless of the condition, due to the colour plates found in our copies. After looking into prices to replace this type of book, I was easier to convince to keep more than I should have.

The weeded books were offered as freebies to students and staff (if appropriate in condition and subject material) or boxed to be picked up and shredded by our district contracted company. 36 boxes of books remain stowed to be picked up in this fashion.

I certainly didn’t feel like I qualified as the expert when it came to weeding material. In our district, we are fortunate to have a library services department with people who are willing to help with such endeavors. Multiple calls were made and the experts we always helpful. Teachers were also helpful, especially those who were interested in having a conversation about criteria of weeding. One of the best discussions came with a teacher who objected to a particular history book being yanked. When I explained that it had biases that reflected a long-past age, he saw it as useful to point out how views have changed and been challenged over the years. We came to an agreement that he would take it to his classroom, where students could discover these ideas with his guidance and not come across it in the library, where students may discover that material without guidance on how to interpret the history.

Now that we are at the stage of rebuilding, the comments that I have been receiving have been more reflective of a lamentation of the perceived disappearance of the collection. With so many books gone, our non-fiction collection does, indeed, look diminished. The frustration that I try and avoid is reacting to this with worry about how the collection got to this point, namely how it was underutilized by its patrons. I’m hoping that throughout this process, the inclusion of stakeholders in developing the collection with resources chosen with their input will help in encouraging the use of our library, but I’m sure that will be addressed further in a later discussion.

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