Plucking the Weeds: An Adventure in Weeding a School Library

As a librarian who came to a library that the previous librarian had lorded over for over 30 years prior to my arrival, I stepped into a library collection frozen in time.  When I started, the average copyright date for a book in my library was from the year 1967.  Events that happened in 1967: “Purple Haze” is recorded by Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Hoffa enters Lewisburg Federal Prison, and China announces explosion of its first hydrogen bomb.  I’m sure that if asked, none of my current students would have the first clue as to who or what these people or events even consisted.

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However, there was my fate:  A dusty, rarely-read time capsule of a room from a time in history that predated my birth by two decades.  I could tell that students did not use the library much at all.  Stories circulated that the prior librarian locked the door between classes to keep students out, as well as only allowing any adult faculty members to read the newspaper with her permission first.  I was going to have to set some changes in order to create a library that was faculty and student friendly, with up-to-date materials, all in a welcoming space.  But where to start with such a large task looming over my head?  I knew by just a glance.  I was going to have to weed the library like crazy.  Out with the “Someday We Will Go To Space,” and in with the latest YA novels and series.

First, I did a collection analysis.  Luckily, the previous library had catalogued all of the books well in the online circulation system, so I was able to do a collection analysis.  The analysis showed me where the weakest links in my collection were, as well as some areas that must have been more favored when my predecessor reigned over my library.  One thing was clear:  There was going to be a lot of free space on the shelves once I was done.  The library needed a skilled librarian to do heavy weeding.

As luck would have it, I am not sentimental when it comes to books.  I love the sight, smell, and feel of a good book in my hands as much as the next librarian, but seeing a stack of outdated, moldy volumes does not bring tears to my eyes.  Rather, I get the “urge to purge.”  Once I had my call numbers in hand, it was if I was a well-oiled machine; pulling and stacking, pulling and stacking.  Tables started to look like miniature mountains with old books piled high to the ceiling.  As I weeded, I would stop ever so often at a book’s title, that, literally, stopped me in my tracks.  I’m not going to repeat the titles here, but the world today looks very different than the world of the mid-1960s, especially in regards to race and gender stereotypes.  It is important that we weed our libraries regularly, in order to prevent out-of-date information to remain out of our libraries.  We are the center for information at our schools.  It is important that our libraries reflect that we are disseminating the most up-to-date information available at the time of inquiry.

The books were marked for discard and had all identifying markings removed, no longer linking them to our library center.  They were ready to end their life cycle as a library book, making way and shelf space for a newer, more up-to-date title to take their place.  As the carts of boxes were loaded, I breathed a sigh of relief, that I was now able to take the next steps in my long process of updating and improving my library space.  Rather than weeding being the end, it is only the beginning.

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Author: Megan Shulman

Megan is both the middle and high school librarian at Humboldt Junior Senior High School which serves grades 7-12. She has her Masters of Library and Information Science from the University of Pittsburgh. Mrs. Shulman has been both a classroom teacher and a school librarian. This upcoming school year, she will be entering her 8th year in public education serving Title 1 schools. Her areas of expertise are school library leadership, brain-based learning strategies, and creating maker-spaces in the current library atmosphere.



Categories: Blog Topics, Collection Development

5 replies

  1. A library is not a catalog of today’s ‘who’s who’ in literature and norms. It is meant to be a history of civilization of all the thoughts, ideas and writings of the times. Where were you schooled to believe you have the ‘right’ to censor the library? This is discouraging and a violation, in my opinion, of a person’s right to learn, without the impediment of your opinions.

  2. Ms. Girulat, there was no censorship that occurred during the weeding process. Items that contained out-of-date and incorrect information were disposed of properly. At no time were my opinions brought into the weeding process. The most up-to-date materials were added as an addition to the existing older materials. I was taught by the best in one of the best library information sciences programs in the country, where, I can assure you, censorship was not taught. My students’ right to learn is well protected and they are blessed with an amazing collection and professional librarian.

  3. Ms. Girulat, are you a school librarian? Weeding does NOT equate with censorship, and discarding outdated, inaccurate books has nothing to do with “opinion”. I can’t for the life of me figure out how you read that into this article. My elementary library is a 20 x 40 foot room, and while it would be lovely to be a repository of “all the thoughts, ideas and writings of the times”, I don’t have the shelf space, and i’m not aware of any school library that does. Besides, 5th graders would never go near the joint without at least one shelf of Diary of a Wimpy Kid. I inherited a library like Ms. Shulman’s, with titles dating back to the era of the local “training school,” the segregation-era black high school, which closed its doors in 1972. It’s all well and good to want to preserve civilization for future generations, and the LC does a great job. But that’s not my job.

  4. I am also involved in an enormous weeding project designed to be a first step in revitalizing a district’s library program. It is a careful process, even as I weed thousands of old and outdated books that no one has checked out in years. Here is the amazing part: the kids noticed right away and thought we’d gotten new books (not yet, it’s just that relevant titles are now easier to find!) and actually started to check books out of our non-fiction collection. Adults also noticed the improved appearance – and the empty shelves, and were able to recognize that the library needs support to revitalize the collection. They also appreciated the fact that we were maximizing the resources that we already had before looking for new resources. Our school libraries should be relevant collections that support the curriculum and current reading interests of our students, as well as including classic titles. Old and outdated books in bad condition and with inaccurate information need to give way to the vibrant collections our kids need and deserve. And far from being censorship, a strong school library collection should reflect many viewpoints, giving students windows to the world beyond their doorstep. Weeding is a necessary step in this process, and is also part of a continuous process of preserving the best and developing the rest. A strong collection development plan includes careful weeding. Weeding is not censorship, but a responsible approach to serving our schools and our students.

  5. Thank you. This was just what I needed to read before I weed. :-)

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