To Weed or Not to Weed…

I am a lover and collector of books. I still have some treasured books from my childhood that I refuse to part with. When I was getting my Master’s in School Librarianship at Longwood University,  I shuddered when I discovered that I would have to actually throw books away. Weeding was an impossible task that went against every book-loving impulse I had. As a 6th-grade English teacher who had spent nine years painstakingly growing my classroom library with Scholastic bonus points, yard sale finds, and library discards, I could not imagine throwing books away.

Then I became an elementary librarian and saw firsthand the havoc that K-5 students could wreak on their library books. Students have returned torn, wet, moldy, and stained books. Those books were all easy to discard.

But what about the books that were in pretty good shape but hadn’t been checked out in years? No worries, I continued the tradition of the school librarian before me and let students and staff take my discards at the end of the year. The leftovers went to a parent who delivered them to a school in need during her mission trip.


Like insidious phantoms, these menacing books continued to haunt my library. Students and teachers returned them with their regular library books. One year, I found a whole box of discarded library books from a classroom library in the “yard sale pile” at our school. These books were to stay in the classroom. Where else have those books, with my library name still stamped on them, ended up?

Then there were the children from the mission trip who were so grateful for our ratty, outdated library books. I felt horrible. Didn’t those children deserve new books? Not to mention the obvious, but handing out discards does not follow my county discard policy.


After two years, I got over my weeding qualms. The next time the parent asked for my discards, I said, “The books are too damaged and old to give away, but I will hold a book drive for you during my two book fairs.” She was very pleased with her six boxes of NEW books.

When students ask me about getting discards at the end of the year, I explain that they are too nasty; however, our Little Free Library has been restocked with new books from our book fair.

When teachers or parents ask what I do with our discards, I reply, “Our county policy does not allow us to give out our discards. You wouldn’t want them anyway, they really are disgusting.”

What about old books in good condition?

I scan old books that are in fairly good condition to see when the book was last checked out. If it hasn’t been checked out in two or more years, I look up the last borrower. Sometimes the borrower is a teacher. If the teacher is no longer at our school, I discard the book.

For a teacher still at our school, I discard it and give it to that teacher. BUT, before I do, I remove the cover and wipe the book down. I write the teacher’s name in black sharpie on a mailing label and place the label where the bar code used to be so the book no longer looks like a library book.

I place any books that haven’t been checked out for a few years in a display and book-talk them. If they remain on the shelves after my book talk, then they get weeded the following year.


I find that after extensive weeding, I love how clean and neat my shelves are. It took me two years of working with my collection and my community to truly understand the benefits of weeding, but now it is one of my favorite end-of-year activities. If you would like more details about the benefits of weeding, The Weeding Handbook: A Shelf-by-Shelf Guide and CREW: A Weeding Manual for Modern Libraries are excellent resources.


Author: Colleen R. Lee

Colleen R. Lee is a former middle school English teacher and Elementary Teacher. She is currently the Elementary Librarian at Greenfield Elementary School in Chesterfield County, VA. Follow her on Twitter @MrsLeesLibrary.

Categories: Blog Topics, Collection Development

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1 reply

  1. Peg Bracken in her “I Hate to Cook Book” had a marvelous note to paste on the refrigerator:

    That goes for questionable books when they surface.

    With applause to someone who is willing to figure out how to help a request for outdated books by providing a real gift: something not doubtful.

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