Weeding without Controversy: Part One – Why Weed?

The Librarian Who Hates Books

weeding books

Internet Addiction in 1998

Earlier this year my daughter came home from school to tell me about a controversy at her school. The school librarians weeded the collection, and some students became so offended that they took to social media to protest the discarding of library books. There was even an unsubstantiated rumor that a student had been suspended for climbing into a dumpster. One of my daughter’s teachers also became upset about the removal of library books. To this, my daughter exclaimed, “Well my mom hates books!” The teacher then asked, “Oh, that is very sad, what does your mom do for a living?” Of course, my child then replied, “She’s a librarian.” No worries, she went on to explain to her teacher that I love to read, but I am allergic to dust and mold and prefer e-books.

Avoiding Controversy

How can we keep a fresh, clean, and up-to-date collection while keeping the controversy surrounding weeding to a minimum? I believe the key to preventing online protests and dumpster divers is transparency. I like to include my teachers in the weeding process. When I have a list of aging titles, I turn them on their sides and ask specific departments to look at the volumes, to see if we need to keep the books or replace them with a fresh copy. I also like to include students when possible, even if it is just helping to move books or making sure the discarded books are donated or recycled. Sometimes we will have a used book sale. Some patrons might want an old book on flags of the world even if some of the countries in the book no longer exist.

When we ultimately do discard books, I like to use positive verbiage. Talk about freshening or growing the collection. If getting rid of the books seems painful use Marie Kondo’s advice about thanking the books before letting them go. I often talk about books going to “book heaven.” I picked up this term from a college librarian when I shared a cab with her a few years ago at ALA Annual Conference. Most of all never think of weeding as a one-time activity. Keeping a fresh collection requires patience and is an ongoing practice.

Preserving Rare Books

Rare Books

Rare Books in our collection

In 1886 the Webb brothers moved the Webb School from Culleoka, Tennessee, to Bell Buckle, Tennessee. They came with $12,000 to invest in education. Of their original investment, $2,600 was spent on buildings and $8,000 was used to purchase books. The library was known throughout the south as having an incredible collection. More than 3,000 books from this original 1880s collection were still in circulation when I joined the school in 2007. My priority was to remove all the books that were more than one hundred years old from the circulating collection. These books were not discarded; instead, they are stored until we can assess their value. This collection move was not so controversial. However, after an analysis in 2008, the average age of our overall collection was still 1976.

Because I was still new to my position, I waited until around 2010 to truly begin to weed the collection. Though we had a full collection analysis, we started merely by weeding everything over fifty years old. With these books, we set aside first editions, possible rare books, and books about local history.

Here is a progression of the collection age at our school.

Year Avg. Age Books per student
2008 1976 80
2010 1979 72
2012 1989 59
2015 1991 62
2019 1992 63

Creating a Weeding Strategy

Now in 2019, it is time to create a serious weeding strategy. Weeding such an extensive collection is a huge task. However, our school’s 150th anniversary is in 2020, and we want the library to be the best it can be as we celebrate this significant event! My favorite collection analysis tool is Follett’s TitleWise. You do not have to use the Follett cataloging system to analyze your collection with this tool because the TitleWise Collection Analysis supports Follett Destiny and about seven other systems. With the TitleWise system, you can view the analysis of everything from Dewey classification to reading levels.

Our weeding plan this time is not only about the age and circulation statistics of the collection but also the aesthetics. There is the phenomenon known as the paradox of choice coined by psychologist Barry Schwartz where having too many choices can be overwhelming. Essentially the idea is that we are unable to see the forest for the trees or in our case the library for the books.

The process of rightsizing a historic library that is also a 21st-century middle and high school library will take seeking some industry advice.  The project will require a tremendous amount of work. Look for future posts about what we weeded and why. We will also add some before and after photos of the space.

Here are some additional weeding resources:

Collection Weeding as Dendrochronology: Rethinking Practices and Exposing a Library’s Sponsors of Literacy

The Art of Weeding | Collection Management

NYC School Librarian Guidebook: Weeding

Weeding without Worry:  Transparency and communication help ease weeding woes

Time to Weed




Author: Hannah Byrd Little

I’m a dedicated Library Director at The Webb School of Bell Buckle, leveraging my background in higher education libraries to guide students through the crucial transition from school to college and beyond.

I am honored to have served as the AASL Chair for the Independent School Section in 2023 and am excited to begin my upcoming role as Director-At-Large for the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) later this year, following my previous experience as a Member Guide in the AASL Emerging Leaders program. These appointments reflect my commitment to advancing library education and professional development on a national scale.

With experience in state-level leadership through the Tennessee Association of School Librarians (TASL), including serving as TASL President in 2012, I bring a wealth of knowledge to my role. My educational background includes certifications as a Library Information Specialist for PreK-12th grade, a Bachelor of Science in Communications (Advertising & Public Relations), a Bachelor of Science in Liberal Studies (Education & Information Systems), and a Master’s in Library and Information Science.

Categories: Blog Topics, Collection Development, Community/Teacher Collaboration, Uncategorized

Tags: , ,

1 reply

  1. Yes! Yes! Yes! Such an important feature of what we do. A well-weeded collection is a collection that circulates more, and you are so right that PR is our best friend in warding off unpleasant controversies in this way. Thank you for this!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.