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Things I Never Learned In Library School: Weeping over Weeding

In the US, people are always using the term “Spring Cleaning.” We get it from being locked away for months at a time by the awful, nasty winter weather, and having needed to clean and dust when we could open the windows and let clean, fresh air in the house- usually around March.  (Obviously these people never lived in Texas, where there would be pollen everywhere.)  

In my library, I always equate spring cleaning with spring weeding; we’ve survived winter break, we have time before summer reading beings, and it’s the perfect time to take a look at the collection and see what’s circulating and what’s not.  I’ve had the classes at school and know that weeding a library collection is needed, just like weeding a garden: you have to take out those that aren’t doing well so that your collection can bloom and flourish.  If you’re at a loss for how to start weeding, the Texas State Library and Archives Commission has some awesome online materials that you can use.  However, what library school never taught me was that I need to educate three separate populations about WHY we need to weed: our patrons, our library friends/board, and our library staff.


My patrons LOVE our library, which is wonderful. They know that we love them back, and we want to have interesting and engaging things for them to browse and check out. We want them to have a say, and we have a running list of suggestions for things to purchase. We do our best with the materials budget that we have, and the amount of space that we have for materials is extremely limited.  

Even so, I have had an extremely hard time getting patrons to understand that weeding is GOOD for a library. They HATE to see books leave the library- as if I’m taking something away from them. I have the hardest time getting them to understand that weeding saves them time by not having to sort through overcrowded shelves, or not having to stand on their heads to look for things that are on those weird, useless bottom shelves. Or that the majority of our books are staying in the system, just that they’re being adding to the Main Library’s collection. Or that if they’re not added to the Main Library’s collection, and are eventually withdrawn entirely, they’re placed in the library’s booksale, and that money comes back to us in the form of funding for library programs like the summer reading program or family movie nights.

So, I weed in secret.  I’ll gather my lists, and weed in the hours I’m at work before the library is open to the public, or when no one is around to ask questions.  I feel like I’m sneaking around to do my job, and it’s a hassle to juggle things around in my schedule, but it’s better that than try to explain why we’re taking THIS book and THAT book off the shelf.


A second group that in previous instances that have been extremely hard to get on my side with regards to collection weeding are the library friends and the library board. I have been extremely lucky in that for the most part where I have worked, the Friends of the Library and/or the Library Boards have been extremely supportive of library initiatives and goals.  They have visited often, have stayed involved in what the library was doing, have assisted in community programming, and have supported new initiatives that we wanted to do.

We, as library specialists, see weeding as necessary to improve the appearance of the library and to maintain the order of the library.  They, however, sometimes perceive that money is wasted because materials are being taken out of the collection. Where we see changes in the population and demographics of the area, and therefore in the usage of the collection over time, the Friends and Board can see it as out-of-touch librarians who don’t know what to order and aren’t serving their communities. Add in that some Friends of the Library and Library Board members can have their favorite authors or areas in the library, whether they circulate or not, and you can have a political minefield on your hands when you try to weed.
So I keep them involved. I keep my weeding on a schedule, so they know when it’s coming every year. I know what sections are their “pets” and keep those sections as current as my budget allows, and let them know when they come for visits what new materials may spark their interests. When we have reports to Friends and the Board, we mention that we’re weeding, and what sections so that there are no surprises. My current Friends of the Library use our withdrawn selections in their booksales, and the money goes back into supporting the library.  It saves a lot of headaches, and keeps everyone informed and happy.


One of the hardest groups I’ve ever had to deal with in regards to weeding has been library staff, especially other librarians. Maybe I just have a special attitude or something, but I was always of the opinion that if it’s not circulating then it either needs a special book talk to get it going or it needs a new home. I have never taken weeding personally- some things just didn’t do well in the community, and you live and learn. However, I have learned over the course of my career that there are some that take weeding to heart, and for them, taking a book out of the collection they’ve created is throwing daggers into their professional career. It doesn’t make any sense to me, but that’s how they feel.

You know that saying, “Show me your friends, and I can tell you who you are?” Look at a library’s collection, and you can see their philosophy about a lot of things.  Weeding is not personal, and shouldn’t taken as such. It saves staff time by not having to search through stacks and piles of books, and you won’t have to shift and re-shift materials. You make your library more appealing, which means more use and more bodies, which means more stats, which always looks good to the higher-ups. You enhance your reputation because you become known for having “the good materials” and having “the new stuff.”  There are tons of reasons to weed, and not one good one not to.

Still have someone refusing to weed, or acting like you’re beating puppies?  You’re going to have to take a hard line, but stick to your guns. Weeding is necessary and anyone that’s in charge of a collection should be responsible for the weeding of said collection. If you are the manager and have someone that is refusing or reluctant to weed, you’re going to have to set guidelines for them to weed. Take a look at your collection stats for their section, and set reasonable milestones for them to accomplish. For example, if you want them to weed the picture books, give them a set deadline to accomplish it (say, 2-3 weeks depending on their schedule and other projects).  If, after that 2-3, they haven’t weeded enough, have them go back over it again, mentioning that there still is deadweight. Ask if they have questions- if they don’t understand how to weed, it’s one thing, but if they’re just being stubborn, it’s another.  Either way, by the time one section is complete, expectations should be set for the other areas they are responsible for.

Nobody wants to be weeping over weeding.

What issues have you run into with weeding at your library? Share in the comments!

Karen’s take:

If you can, don’t weed out in the open where the public can see. Like Christie said, it makes them seriously cranky.  If you must do large collection weeding out where the patrons can see, make sure all staff are trained on some basic talking points; it is helpful if staff know what to say and how to say it.  Also, use common sense when weeding: I worked at a library that was cutting staff and asking patrons to support their libraries by writing their legislators while we were doing a large scale weeding project.  It was absolutely the right thing to do for the collection, but it looked bad doing it where all the patrons could see and they definitely noticed.  We ended up setit up a computer to weed in a more private location so the patrons couldn’t see.

As Christie mentions, it is a great to have a weeding schedule.  I usually like December because it is traditionally the slowest time at my library, but spring makes sense too.

Make it your goal to keep all your library shelves no more than 3/4 length full so that you can use the ends of shelves to face out books.  This will increase circulation. And it makes everything look nice and merchandised.

Try the “last chance” cart.  Some titles may no be circulating, perhaps they are on the top or bottom shelves, and it may break your heart to discard them.  Put out a cart of “last chance” titles and see if they circulate.  You may be able to save a few.

The most difficult experience I ever had weeding was when I had to discard the entire Buffy the Vampire Slayer book collection.  We have over a shelf of them and they were all basically being held together by glue, sweat and rubber bands.  And yes, they were still circulating.  And yes, patrons asked about them.  But even they had to admit that the Buffy books were not long for this world, they were seriously falling apart.


  1. “If you're weeding that can I have it/buy it?” This is why I don't weed in front of patrons.

    Staff are another issue – my director looks at every item I weed and we often disagree on what should go. I feel if the collection is so tight you can't shelve and being crammed onto the lower shelves we could at least weed things that haven't circulated in at least 2 years, whether or not they are “classics” but…yeah, we disagree.

  2. I am a very lucky Teen Librarian. I weed (in public) at the end of Summer Reading with no backlash from patrons or staff.

    I started weeding after summer reading because my summer Teen Volunteers are in charge inventorying the teen collection. After we inventory, I weed. I figure if a book didn't check out over our crazy busy summer, it's not going to check out.

    The Powers that Be are content to let me be in charge of my collection (and I'm so thankful for that!), and staff and patrons alike understand that the Teen Department is so out of space that it is literally necessary for me to weed an old book for just about every new book I buy.

    I think the “not in public” rule applies to our adult collections though. I cannot imagine the waves of grumpiness that would flow from the stacks if anyone saw us weeding back there. Same with Large Print. Yikes!

  3. Anonymous says

    Oh, the Buffy books! I used to read them all the time during high school. I have to ask, did you replace them since they were still circulating?

  4. For school librarians, we often receive backlash from admin about “wasting” money, other teachers and sometimes parents. Usually the students are eager to get rid of out of date books.

  5. I have weeded a lot (close to 5000 titles since I took over the library two years ago) Most of the books were so antiquated that even on the FREE cart, no one took them. I have found that weeding can be fun, it has helped me see what I need to add and what I have too much of. I have never had issues from people (public, admin, etc) about what I am doing. They have all been supportive. Great article, by the way. 🙂
    Jen (School LMS)

  6. I made friends with the school's head custodian. I explained weeding to him, and he understood that (like his job) there are a lot of things that 'regular' people don't understand. He helps me get boxes of weeded items quietly out of the building. Such a blessing.

  7. That is horrible! You would think your director would understand! :/

  8. Absolutely. You're lucky that you have control over your collection- I've heard stories from others that aren't as lucky as we are.

    I definitely have to weed when we have no one around- otherwise it's “Why are you pulling that?” “Where is it going to go?” On the bright side, all of ours gets put to good use, but the articles in the bigger newspapers about how books were being thrown in dumpsters by libraries seems to have stuck in the public mind…. *sigh*

  9. Thanks! Weeding has another wonderful benefit in that I can tell what's being looked at but not checked out. There are some authors that I have (Alex Sanchez, David Levithan, Malinda Lo) that I cannot get anyone to actually check out their materials, but their books are always scattered around the library and are getting worn out. I *know* someone is reading them by the shape they're in, but if I'm just going by the statistics in our computer, they're considered space wasters….

  10. And not just out-of-date books but ones with weird covers. We had some that had the ugliest covers you've ever seen, but when I re-ordered them with new covers, they went out like crazy! My librarian thought I was nuts until I showed her the stats, then she slowly started replacing some of the ugly picture books….

    But you can't help when things are out of date. It's like the sports biographies or the popular biographies. What are you going to do with the Lance Armstrong bios now that they've taken away his titles, or the baseball star books now that they're known to be steroid users? And how can you keep a NKOTB book or NSYNC on the shelf when they want 1D?

  11. Definitely! Should bribe him with cookies!


  12. Apparently one of the previous directors would never get rid of anything EVER, so this is an improvement.

  13. I weed all the time, throughout the year. We are a supersmall library with a decent book budget, so if we don't weed, we can't fit things on the shelf! I weed before our twice-yearly booksale. This is also when lots of people donate stuff, and see us switch out their once-read copies for our many-times read copies.
    I used to know a librarian who said “Weed is a four-letter word.”
    Side note – I think your site is the bee's knees! Thanks for all the sharing!

  14. I took over as librarian in a high school library in Australia which I don't think had been weeded in 30 years. The refurbishment of the library in term 1 came as a golden weeding moment. I didn't have any complaints until we mentioned the skip but by that stage we had exhausted all other options. We had a multi stage book adoption system. First departments in the school, then a local charity, then individuals could take home what they wanted and lastly our art department grabbed all the hard backs for art projects. What was left was ancient and in poor condition so it went in the paper recycling bin. It is now over and when we reopen I can go back to my stealthy ways and weed 5 a week. Well that is the goal!

  15. We don't rip up the books in front of the borrowers (unless it's REALLY quiet) but I was putting the cancelled stamps on them once and someone was really horrified. I told her the book hadn't been borrowed for over five years and she just said “Oh…okay then.”

    Normally if we think it's of any value we donate it to special schools or to local churches etc which seems to appease people. But we've got a few hoarding staff members too, we just weed when they're not around 🙂

  16. Anonymous says

    Actually NKOTB is coming back….so a book from the early 90's would be an interesting window on what life was like back then. Isn't it interesting to see what people thought (and hence how they wrote) in times past?

  17. Anonymous says

    I'm a first year school librarian and am now dealing with the lack of regular weeding problem! The previous librarians had never weeded at all and I have had to weed almost 10,000 items (records, microfiche, books, cassette tapes, etc.) The average age of the collection was 1965 when I arrived in August. Thank goodness my administration is on board and most students “get it” now that they have seen what a modern library looks like!

  18. How wonderful that you have your community's support! A lot of libraries don't have that, and I think that may be why they can be reluctant to weed- the fear that if they do away with books, there won't be anything to replace it with….

    Thanks for the support!

  19. How wonderful that you have a system in place to take care of your weeds- it helps that it's there.

    And yea for us sneaky librarians!

  20. AH! 1965!?!?!?!?!?! I may faint.

    Good for you for taking charge and attacking it head on.

  21. Yes, but any good biography would have that material in it. Unless you put it in your office (or personal shelf) to use as a time capsule piece (which would be an awesome lesson), a person pulling *that* particular book is going to get just that picture, and not know that Donny Wahlburg made it as an actor and has been steadily acting and producing since 1996 (Boomtown, Saw series, Blue Bloods).

    🙂 christie

  22. I have always been kind of a packrat and find myself drawn towards to archivisty-save-everything!!! side of the LIS spectrum. While learning about weeding in my collection development class this past year (MLIS in progress), I found myself balking a bit at the idea of getting rid of books & other materials. However, now that I have been tasked with weeding the children's department in my first library job, I have a new respect for and perspective on the process. It is definitely something that becomes much clearer when you pull a book off a shelf that hasn't moved since 1988. (Yeah…It's been a while since the children's dept I work in was last weeded…)

  23. Anonymous says

    Preach it, sister!

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