The Magic of Tidying Up Your Library

The Magic of Tidying Up Your Library | Just as our homes need decluttering to make them feel comfortable and welcoming, so do our libraries. Take some time to take a hard look at what you're keeping in your space and look for ways to do more with less.

Tidying Up Your Life

Last year, I read The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. I’ve read a lot of books on decluttering and organizing, but this was the first one that simultaneously resonated with me and annoyed the heck out of me. I don’t want to go too in depth into Kondo’s philosophy here. The basic idea is that you should only keep things in your home that spark joy in your heart. Everything else (and she really means everything) has to go. Once you’ve eliminated everything that doesn’t bring you joy, you focus on treating all of your possessions with love and storing and organizing them in a way that shows them respect.

While I didn’t agree with all of Kondo’s advice, as I began to follow it, I started to discover a sense of peace in my home that I hadn’t had in years. And naturally, I started wondering how I could apply this in my school library.

Tidying Up Your Library

Now, I don’t expect you to pull out every single item in your library, hold it close to your heart, and ask whether or not it sparks joy for you. But the fact is that school libraries tend to get cluttered quickly. Books don’t get weeded. Files never get thrown away (I just found a guide to laser disc players in my file cabinet the other day and an ad for diecuts from 1995). Broken furniture and technology accumulates. Maybe the librarian before you was a pack rat. Or maybe you can’t bear to part with the complete set of the Hardy Boys even though it hasn’t been checked out in decades. Here’s some suggestions for ways that you can tidy up your library and help to give your space and your students room to breathe

The Collection

Naturally, we start with weeding. We’re all familiar with best practices and procedures for weeding our collection. And yet, there’s still so many libraries stuffed with books that students aren’t reading. We need to take a hard look at our circulation stats. If a book hasn’t been checked out in ten years, it’s probably not going to. We shouldn’t hold onto books for “what ifs.” If the book is out of date, if the book isn’t being read by students, just weed it. Even if your budget is tight (or non-existent). It’s better to have a small collection of awesome books and resources that your students want than it is to have tightly packed shelves where no one can find anything. You might even be able to weed enough books to get rid of a shelving unit and create some more room to breathe.

The Files and Cabinets

As I’ve cleaned out files and cabinets, I’ve found all sorts of things. A soda that expired six years ago. An award certificate with 19_ as the date (in 2010). Old, dusty styrofoam bowls. Take some time to go through everything and gut it. Be ruthless. Have garbage bags on hand. Save only those things that you need to keep. You might find things you didn’t know you had. I found an awesome stash of paint brushes and old plastic spoons for my makerspace. Just make sure that you aren’t holding onto too many things “just in case.”

The Furniture and Technology

That overhead projector cart with the broken wheels. Toss it. That random teacher desk that’s sitting in the middle of your library. Offer it up to your teachers. That stack of transparency film in your cabinets. Toss it (or put it in your makerspace). The slide projector. Put it in a museum display case. It might sound harsh to get rid of so much stuff, but soon you’ll find you have space to think again.

Have you tidied up your library? What’s the strangest thing you’ve found?


Author: Diana Rendina

Diana Rendina, MLIS, is the media specialist at Tampa Preparatory, an independent 6-12 school. She was previously the media specialist at Stewart Middle Magnet School for seven years, where she founded their library makerspace. She is the creator of the blog & is also a monthly contributor to AASL Knowledge Quest. Diana is the winner of the 2016 ISTE Outstanding Young Educator Award, the 2015 ISTE Librarians Network Award, the 2015 AASL Frances Henne Award & the 2015 SLJ Build Something Bold Award. She is an international speaker on the Maker Movement and learning space design and has presented at conferences including AASL, FETC & ISTE. Diana co-authored Challenge-Based Learning in the School Library Makerspace and is the author of Reimagining Library Spaces: Transform Your Space on Any Budget.

Categories: Blog Topics, Collection Development, Professional Development

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7 replies

  1. I loved reading this blog because I have been the librarian pack rat as well as the librarian coming into a pack rat’s library. Having my library aide retire last month and training a new library aide has helped me see how much “stuff” we had accumulated in bot of my libraries.

    I don’t by nature like to get rid a perfectly good books, but like you said if you have books that students don’t check out and they haven’t circulated in the last 10 years you are hiding the real “jewels” of your collection. I worked on a massive weeding project this summer while getting a new circulation system. I weeded approximately 1,290 books from my EL/MS non-fiction section which is a lot since we are a small rural school. It is amazing how students have already noticed some of the cool “new” non-fiction books that I have even though some of the books we have had for a few years and they didn’t know they existed.

    I think the strangest items we have found so far would be petrified rubber bands, very old Tic-Tac candy (flavors that don’t exist any more), and even carbon paper/ditto paper. Obviously it was very easy to get rid of these items…;-)

    It is great that my new library assistant likes to organize and clean up. She has been finding many garage sale treasures that had “magically” appeared over the years in our library office. It is so great to finally see the carpet and not have to climb over piles of books and boxes.

  2. Diana, you’re absolutely right about weeding. I discarded enough picture books (passing them along to classrooms or recycling them) that I was able to move a shelving unit out of the middle of the room and repurpose it.

    And I saw books checked out that hadn’t been borrowed in quite some time. The students were able to see them, and the entire picture book collection is getting circulated!

    Librarians, remember – just because it’s ink on paper doesn’t make it useful to your collection or your students. Less is certainly more in this case.

  3. Great article…Loved the book, trying the concept at home, and think your bringing it to the library is fantastic. I inherited a lot of stuff when I started this job 27 years ago. Will be retiring in January and have taken a few minutes everyday to clean out. Thank you for the idea of the transparency film….going out on the creative table today ! Thank you – and have fun purging!

  4. I genrified my easy fiction collection this summer and easily got rid of over 2500 books that were just too old, never read, or in bad repair. I made a list of a few to replace, but there are way too many new books to take their places. This allowed me to take three sections of shelving away to make room for my makerspace (lego, golf tee/litebrite, magnetic poetry) wall. Then this weekend, I put out my new nonfiction books and had a go at the biography, 600, and 300 collections. I’m sure that’s close to another 1000 books. If only I could find the time to tackle the paperwork in the office!

  5. I’m currently organizing my library and believe it will be life-changing for the students! I have thrown away (recycled) hundreds of old, smelly books and out-of-date papers. For the books that are still good but dated or not useful for my patrons, I’m creating a “little free library” near the check-out desk. We have enough books to keep that stocked for years to come. It was hard to get rid of books but if a student comes in and sees old, dated books, they will assume we don’t have what they want and will leave without digging. I wholeheartedly agree that it is better to have a smaller collection of the very best books!

  6. Thank you for the article and all of the comments. Purging is hard for me but you have all convinced me that it is time to go thru and get rid of the books that are taking up space and preventing kids from seeing all of the treasures that are available. I can do this. My word for the the year is REDUCE.

  7. I’m still working on it. i found 6 bathroom scales, unopened and 2 boxes of plastic food barcoded for teachers to check out. it hasn’t been checked out since 2012.

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