Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

#BacklistYA – What are the books you just hate weeding?


Earlier this week I wrote a post specifically about NEWER YA titles that dealt with sexual violence and rape culture. If I was writing a comprehensive list, I would undoubtedly include the title Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. This got me thinking about those older backlist titles – classics if you will – that we cherish and hold dear. So I asked on Twitter: What #BacklistYA titles do you think a YA Librarian should never get rid of and why? Here’s some of the replies I got:

  1. Name a #backlistYA title that you think libraries SHOULD NEVER weed ever & tell us why #Teens #YALit #Libraries Please RT

  2. #backlistYA Keeping the Moon by Sarah Dessen. It's a wonderful book about a girl coming into her own.

  3. #backlistYA Sunrise Over Fallujah by WDM. Shows war isn't what it's cracked up to be.


Of course the truth is, if a book doesn’t circulate it doesn’t circulate. You have to earn shelf space. I myself recently lamented that my teens no longer seemed to be reading Judy Blume. I’m not yet ready to weed them, but we’ve all had to weed something we loved. What have you had to weed that just broke your heart? Tell us in the comments.

Weeding Blind

dragon reading a book

Bye bye, dinosaurs. photo courtesy: SDRandCo @ Morguefile

I love weeding. I love diving into stats sheets, pulling the cruddy books out of circulation, finding those battered favorites that need to be replaced, and winding up with beautifully shiny shelves with plenty of space for displays. But my method is all in disarray now!

I used to start by running a report on anything that hadn’t circulated in the past two years. Or one year, or three years, but two usually worked pretty well. I can’t do that now because our new ILS wiped out all last activity dates when the data migrated (we knew this would happen – it wasn’t a surprise). I’ve been lamenting this lack of information for a while now. How will I weed when the time comes? I love my spreadsheets! I miss them! I need them.

The other day while walking a teen back to the stacks, I realized that a few sections were just out of control – shelvers had lain books across the top of the shelves because there wasn’t room to shelve them correctly. I found an ancient, yellowing bound paperback copy of Little Women. A first printing of Laurie Halse Anderson’s Fever, 1793 from 2000 – yes, that’s 16 years ago now–and a paperback of the reading list favorite House on Mango Street with a book pocket and a typewriter-stamped accession date: 3/1996. Another book I pulled off the shelf and the cover was so sticky, it brought the adjacent book with it. Ugh! Gross! I clearly needed to weed, and without the tools I was accustomed to I had to approach the problem in a different way.

I took a step back and looked at the shelves the way the teens would. What looks a little too well loved? What looks dated? What looks brand new (but actually isn’t)? Which series are complete on the shelf (which means they’re not being read)? Which books have multiple copies but aren’t in high demand? I pulled book after book and quickly filled a whole cart. With my cart full of dusty, sad looking books I rolled back to the desk and started scanning them in to see if any had circulated since the new system was installed. A few, like Fever and Mango, had come back recently, and clearly needed to be replaced. But most of them hadn’t. The “be ruthless like teen readers are” method had worked and it had saved me time in running reports, time in sorting and organizing my spreadsheet, and time in searching only for the titles that were on the list.

It’s not a perfect method. This kind of weeding doesn’t achieve the other goal I have when I take my spreadsheets to the stacks, which is discovering what isn’t circulating because it is missing. It doesn’t find those books that still look good but aren’t getting checked out. It’s inevitably going to miss things that should be weeded. But it catches things that clearly haven’t been weeded in a while and ought to have been.

One method–even a good method–can’t be the only method we use to get our jobs done. Shaking up our methods is going to shake up our results. Now I’m trying to look with fresh eyes at other tasks that I’ve honed down to smoothly refined procedures over the years. I’m hopeful that I’ll find some new ways of doing things that will lead to improvements across the board. I’m also hopeful that the fresh life my shelves have been given will draw more teen readers in, and help them find some new favorites to sink into this winter.

January is a chance for fresh starts. What will you be trying to do in a new way in this new year?

Sunday Reflections: You can’t go home again?

When I began my freshman year of college in Mount Vernon, Ohio, I went to the student office and asked about job placement. I had to work while in college in order to maybe be able to afford college. They asked me what my major was – youth ministry – and they said the local public library had called asking about someone to work with teens in the libraries and I set out on an interview. My major, wanting to work with teens, made me a good candidate for the job. Except that they didn’t hire me, they hired someone else. Then 2 weeks later they called and said they really liked me and had decided to hire 2 people. The rest, as they say, is history.

I worked at the Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County in Ohio for 7 years. I got married to The Mr. while working there. I graduated from undergrad and began working on my MLS while working there. My mentor and now friend became a part of my life here. And I have remained in contact with many of the staff there for these past 15 years.

When I began at PLMVKC, they did not have any YA services. It was in the early 90s and libraries were just starting to really make an effort to serve this population group with intention. My co-worker and I created a YA collection, we put together a TAG, and we put together a variety of programs. We had no idea what we were doing, it was all trial and error, and learning from others. But in the end, we put together a pretty successful program and I cried when I left to take another job.

This is what the YA space looked like in the 1990s when I worked there . . .

During the month of January 2015  I am working to help re-organize and re-evaluate some of their YA services and I will be sharing some of what that looks like with you periodically here. Today we will start with the YA area. Around 5 years ago they moved their YA area. They went about creating a new YA space by tapping into their Teen Advisory Group. Four teens researched and made a presentation to the library’s board asking them for a specific space in the library.

The space that currently houses the teen space used to be the magazine reading room when I worked there.  If the library was a squared shaped donut, the new YA room would be the squared shaped donut hole in the middle of the library. It is an almost fully enclosed room with windows on three sides that is immediately across from the Circulation Desk. You go down a short ramp to get into the room, giving it the illusion of seclusion while being in direct site line of the staff. As far as the footprint of the library goes, this is actually a really great place for the teen area. It’s cool, it’s accessible, and it is inviting.

The view from the Circulation Desk . . .

Down the ramp, which is on the right side of the picture above . . .

Once in the room, there is an entire wall of teen fiction. As you can see, it was originally quite packed with zero room for growth. One of the first things I did was dramatically weed this collection. My goal was to create not only room for new titles but room for face out merchandising of titles.

Before weeding . . .

After weeding . . .

After weeding 700 titles from fiction and nonfiction collection, which we’ll talk about in a minute, a little bit more space was opened. I’m thinking I’m going to have to take another more brutal pass in order to create the space we need for growth. The #1 thing you can do to increase circulation besides ordering good titles is make sure your shelves are not to full and do face out displays.

I was glad to see that they already had a dedicated space for a most excellent graphic novel and manga collection.

On the outsides of the room there is counter seating for laptops and there are a few public access computers which are dedicated to teen use only.

And of course there is seating space . . .

On the outside of the room, on the outside wall of the ramp, there was a small YA audio book and YA nonfiction collection. Because this nonfiction collection was literally 7 steps away from the adult nonfiction collection, it made sense to eliminate the separate YA nonfiction collection and expand the YA audio collection which was kind of tight and had no room for display. The YA nonfiction titles were evaluated and were either weeded or added into the adult nonfiction collection.

I originally left The Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County in the year 2000, so it has been 15 years since I have worked there. Because of a variety of relationships I have visited on occasion when I still lived in Ohio. Many things about the library look the same as when I worked there, the most dramatic change has definitely been the new YA space. We had a good YA space when I worked there, but this is a great space. It is a space that shows thoughtfulness and intentionality. It is inviting. It communicates to the teens in the community that they are valued at The Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County.

To be completely honest, I cried so hard when I left PLMVKC. They made me the librarian I am today, and the people became like family to me. Working there this past week really was like going home. And I’m not going to lie, working with a new collection is a tremendous amount of fun.

Killing Your Darlings (A reflection on weeding)

Weeding. Sometimes, it seems such a violent act. Sometimes we have to kill our darlings. And for me, that time came in 2011. And it involved my beloved Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

You see, as a Buffy fan I had been on standing order for the book series since forever. But time marches on, shows get cancelled, and new fandoms emerge.

I had read every single one of the Buffy and Angel books on my teen shelves. And together, the series took over a shelf and a half of precious space.

The problem wasn’t even that the books weren’t being read. Angel really wasn’t, but the Buffy books still flew off the shelves. Well, flew off the shelves may be a bit of hyperbole, but they definitely earned their keep.

No, the problem was an entirely different problem that comes with age and use: they were – quite literally – beginning to fall apart. Sometimes it seemed as if when you took the book off the shelf it might just disintegrate into dust like you had staked a vampire right there in the teen area. All that would remain was a pile of dust that used to be the stories on the page.

So one final, fateful, mournful day, I did the unthinkable. I killed my darlings. I took every single last Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel book off of the shelves. I swiped them with the magic wand that would remove them from the collection. I crossed out their barcodes. I stamped them withdrawn. And I shoved them all in a box.

I think that box stayed under my desk for about a month. Maybe I would change my mind. Maybe a patron would ask for them. Maybe I would just take them home.

None of those things happened. They were in such bad shape that the Friends didn’t even want them in their annual book sale, so they were recycled. It seemed such an inglorious end to this thing that I loved so dearly.

By the time I had finally gotten up the courage to this evil seeming deed, the series has stopped publication for a few years. There were no new titles coming in. The show was off TV. This new crop of teens were asking for different vampire books and television series. But it hurt, this thing I had to do. It hurt more than any other weeding moment in my life.

The other day, we hired a new circulation clerk. She came up to me and whispered the name of a book that she thought we should never, ever, ever, weed from our library. “Be sure you check it out,” I told her. She was perplexed. “If you want a book to stay in the library and you are worried it won’t, check it out.” But the truth is, sometimes just circulating isn’t enough.

Sometimes books die horrible deaths. They fall apart. They reach a point where they can’t be glued, taped or mended any more. They go out of print and can’t be re-ordered. They simply die. Even well loved ones.

Even Buffy.

Friday Finds – June 21, 2013

This week at TLT:

We have a list of your favorite Dads in YA.

Robin talks about text complexity in the language arts classroom and the latest article from NPR.

Previously on TLT:

It the wake of the success of the Harry Potter franchise and the Hunger Games movie, an awful lot of YA books are being optioned for movies these days. Here’s a review for a novel that I think would make a can’t miss book-to-movie hit.
Around the web:

Something to think about: Better sex scenes in books will keep kids from learning about sex in porn.

From Lee and Low, some thoughts on the causes behind the lack of diversity in children’s and youth literature.

Printz Award Winner John Corey Whaley shares information about his second book, Noggin over at Entertainment Weekly Shelflife. Karen is completely fascinated by the concept of this book and can’t wait to read it.

Lauren Oliver’s upcoming novel, Panic, has already been snatched up by Universal.  Sadly, the Delirium TV show was not picked up by Fox.

Christie found this link of teens reacting to the Catching Fire trailer.  Christie especially loves the sweetheart at 1:02, the overly emotional blonde girl, and the guy in the red checked vest who stared slackjawed the whole time!

How does your garden grow?

I’ve been following the weeding debacle* at the Urbana [Illinois] Free Library and feel fairly invested for some reason.  I have loads of thoughts about all of this – about the management angle, the focus of the strategic plan, and the weeding itself.  I hope a lot of people in the library community are paying attention as it unfolds, because we can all learn a lot about a whole slew of topics from this incident and how it is being handled.  UFL may not be our library, but I’m seeing this push for rapid, dramatic change in lots of places, and we need to be aware that there are good and not so good ways to make changes in the Library for our communities.

I’ll begin by saying that this situation is still unfolding and that the media reports I’ve read include some inconsistencies.  I wasn’t there; I didn’t speak directly to anyone involved; I don’t know firsthand what happened.

I did my first hands-on librarian work at the UFL during a teen service practicum at the University of Illinois GSLIS program.  Coming from a community with a library that was first crammed into a too small space, and then moved to a giant – but empty – building, I was entranced by the UFL’s double bounty: a beautiful ample space and funds to fill it.  My reference instructor was the fabulous John Dunkelberger, a now retired reference librarian (who has been quoted here and there objecting to the handling of the weeding) from the UFL.  I’ll forever be grateful to him for reminding us that we’re not tied to the reference desk — we’re attached with a rubber band.  Your job is to go out to the patrons, then come back to the desk.  Go out into the stacks, then come back.  Connect the people with what they need.  Find the people, welcome them, help them.
But the weeding, as I understand it, was first and formost HUGELY disrespectful of both the people and the collection. There appear to be serious management issues and a problem of collegiality in the disrespect to the adult services head who was out of the country when this happened, to the reference development librarians who were reportedly given just 30 minutes to review the weeding reports and instructed not to examine the books or their circ numbers, and to the staff in general who was maligned in the media by Lissak for not asking enough questions and not doing what she had intended they do.  That is a topic for another day as the information is still being sorted out.

I’m going to address the stewardship issue, as in the disrespect this type of weeding shows the community in the display of apparent disregard for the collection.  If those items really did need to be withdrawn, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of them really did need to be withdrawn, it should’ve been happening continually.  It’s poor stewardship to keep books around that aren’t being used, that are outdated, and that are damaged.  It’s unnecessarily startling to patrons to see shelves suddenly emptied, even if they’re emptied of bad books.

It’s also poor stewardship to move so quickly with a weeding project that you’re unable to do a real assessment.  Is there a newer edition that should be added?  Is it still circulating and in need of replacement or repair?  Is the item still being used only because it’s the only book on the topic and we need to find something more current?  Is it not circulating because it’s a sequel to a book we don’t own?  Is it full of information that is duplicated in one of our databases?  Is it just a bad smelly book that really does need to get pitched?

When it comes right down to it, our collections are not “ours” but our communities’.   We owe it to our communities to maintain their collection, continually, so that it’s easy for the community to use it and find what is needed when it is needed.  Calling it weeding is very apt.  Just like a garden can’t thrive if it’s overgrown with weeds and plants that distract and pull nutrients from the veggies and flowers, nor can a library collection thrive when overrun with outdated, damaged, unused books.  Just like a garden, where a beautiful new ornamental in full bloom is going to look mighty lonesome without some stalwart favorites to balance the landscape, a library collection makes more sense when the new and properly maintained old are there to support one another.  I can think of a lot of nonfiction books that are older than 10 years that fit just fine in a collection like the one at Urbana Free.  It’s a deep collection.  The community is full of academics and folks who aren’t just interested in the newest popular material.  I can also think of a good number of nonfiction books that are just timeless, and though they need to be well maintained, should always be a part of a public library’s collection.  At the same time, there shouldn’t be old, outdated books in places like the computer or health sections, and if a book really is still popular after ten plus years, it may be time to replace it with a shiny new copy.

All this to say, I don’t fear weeding. I fear bad weeding, thoughtless weeding, wasteful weeding, and weeding that prioritizes novelty and fads over respect for our users and their financial and personal investments in the library.  It is not our collection.  It belongs to the community.  We have been given the opportunity and privilege of maintaining it for them.

This old thing?

I received the email above from a coworker just this week.  This book, Pearl S. Buck’s The Mother can be purchased used on Amazon for under $3.  I don’t doubt that the book is worth much more to this library patron, so why didn’t she just buy it years ago, instead of coming to check it out?  What is she, some kind of a cheapskate?  No.  She is someone who deeply values the service that the library provides.  Coming to the library, finding this beloved book on the shelf, and bringing it down to read again, she was reacquainted with an old friend.  But unlike she would with a book on a home bookshelf, she knew that while her friend was waiting for her, someone else had a chance to meet and enjoy this book.

There is value in this.  This builds community, albeit in a different way than large plush conversation furniture and coffee bars do.  There is value in that as well, but one thing that makes the library different is that while you’re away from it, a piece of you remains to be discovered by someone else.

We read to know we’re not alone. (C.S. Lewis)

I sincerely hope that the residents of Urbana get their library back.  Not just the books, but the whole community resource.  What is happening now is bad for everyone.  No one is happy, no one is going to “win” here.  I hope the meeting tonight is civil and productive.  I hope that all the folks who are so impassioned about the UFL this week can hold on to that passion and stay involved with the library, as regular users and supporters, as active Board members and guests, as Friends and frequent comment-card-filler-outers long after the chips have fallen, been swept up, and stacked back tidily.  I hope the Board, Director, and staff will be able to start to rebuild some camaraderie and trust, because their patrons will certainly know if they don’t.  I hope those of us paying attention will all take a step back and think about the ways we can apply the lessons learned in Urbana to our own communities, collections, and plans.  Karen likes to say that the library is the beating heart of the community, and I definitely felt that heart beat for the short time I lived in Champaign-Urbana.  

*If you’re new to the issue, start reading here, then here for more media outlet coverage links, and here.

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.