Weeding: A Solo School Librarian’s Perspective

For me, weeding is one of those chores a little like cleaning out the refrigerator. You know you need to do it and the results will be great (no more old smelly food/ books!), but it can be unpleasant and, even though I know how much it matters, can fall to the bottom of my to-do list.

Certainly, in library school I got some of the standard advice — set aside a regular time to weed each week, use the CREW weeding guide and MUSTIE guidelines to know which books to deselect, have a formal policy because weeding can be controversial. All great advice, but my day-to-day weeding experience is usually a little less formal.

My real-life weeding plan is loosely based on some of this advice, but with modifications that have really made it work better for me as a solo middle/ high school librarian with a flexible and highly variable day-to-day schedule. Other solo librarians, I hope, will benefit from hearing a little bit more about what weeding looks like in my library. My school is one of many, so your mileage may vary, but I hope at least one of the tips or strategies I use is helpful.

Set deselection criteria that works for your needs and budget

In my school, funding concerns drive some of my weeding. Since I can’t directly replace many books when I weed them, I need to have an alternate title on the shelf or know that the topic or text doesn’t meet our curricular or independent reading needs.

That said, I’ve set standards that work for my school and stick with them (Ex. Classics/ great books can be older copies if in good condition, but I definitely need the newest material in STEM to support the annual science fair.). I set up my collection spending to support these goals.

Pace yourself and seek out help

My schedule varies too much to say that I’d do a specific period or time of day to shelve. I like to weed while I shelve or tidy shelves after a particularly busy circulation visit.  Weeding while I’m taking care of other tasks is a way to maximize my time. When I know it’s time to intensively weed a section, I train more experienced volunteers or interns to pull books based on a list of simple criteria (pub date for the section, condition, and circulation counts). Then, they set them aside to for me to do a professional review.

Designate a weeding shelf

I pull books for weeding quickly while I’m doing other library tasks, so I don’t always want to more formally review and deselect them on the spot. I set up a shelf in my office for books that I pull for weeding, and then when the shelf is full, make an appointment to sit and do a final review and deselect in the catalog. For me, this is a little faster than weeding and deselecting at the same time since my processing area isn’t that close to the main stacks.

Handle weeding concerns through conversation and dialogue

When you weed, there may be concerns about what you are doing with all the books you are removing from the collection. The standard advice here is to have a policy that you can point to as guidance and backup. I have a policy, and I’ve found it personally helpful in sticking to my professional commitment to keep an up-to-date collection. But, to be honest, no one else in my school has read the policy (literally). I know my policy will be great backup when I need it (and has been for librarians I know), but I’ve find a few other strategies for getting weeding support more effective. 

I’ve been lucky to be able to explain honestly and professionally the difference between my professional collection standards for the library and standards faculty might have for their personal bookshelves. Still, I’ve had our maintenance team deliver books to (very confused) teachers after I’ve marked them for discarding. May I recommend my current strategy, one I think many have found helpful — take books out of school after hours and as near to trash pick up as possible if they are truly to be discarded. If there are books that can be used again in a classroom or be donated (ex. extra copies of books in good condition or books that are not suited for your population but could be used by adults or at another school), do make sure they get to where they need to go.

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