Ongoing discussions (and some very funny pictures) in our Facebook group have made it clear that weeding is a critical library task. Believe it or not, if you leverage it, it is one more way you show you are a leader.  To do so, you need to be mindful of the process. The why, what, when, and how you weed each requires an awareness of what you are doing.

To begin with, keep weeding in line with the rest of your program, and connect it to your Mission Statement as well as to the National School Library Standards (NSLS). For example, if you have a statement that reads:

The mission of the School Library Media Program is to ensure that students and staff are effective users and producers of ideas and information, promote literacy, and develop students’ competencies to be ethical participants in a global society.

then weeding is important because the relevance of your collection is important to your ability to deliver your mission. To be a producer of information, students need current information.  The collection needs to rise to that challenge. Additionally, in NSLS, the Standard D. Grow and IV. Curate for School Library states:

The school library engages the learning community in exploring resources by:

  1. Describing, organizing, and promoting the collection for maximum and effective uses for multiple learning applications.
  2. Maintaining a collection of sufficient breadth and currency to be pertinent to the school’s program of studies. (p. 95)

Some of what you weed seems obvious.  Certain sections of nonfiction, such as technology and science which become dated quickly, are easy to make eliminations. But what about other parts of the collection?

History books may seem to be relevant even if they don’t have the latest material, but the older stuff is still correct—or is it?  Sometimes older books have a bias we no longer find acceptable.  I once found a book on the Conquistadores that discussed the “heathen Indians.”   Other areas also have these less obvious issues but still need to be discarded

Reference frequently leads to a challenge because a set of encyclopedias cost so much money, and now you are throwing them out.  But the truth is, even if there is some information there, the articles are not up-to-date, and there is misinformation.  It’s tough, but they must go.

Fiction is possibly the hardest to weed.  How can that be outdated?  The dust jackets are one indicator.  Among the howlers I have come across is a book I remembered reading myself (which shows how old it was) A Cap for Mary, copyright 1952. It’s been a long time since nurses were capped – before men came into the profession.

Then there are outdated DVDs – and any VCRs you have.  Old and no longer used technology and equipment need to be removed as well.

When you weed is usually a personal decision.  You can do a form of continuous weeding. As you shelve a book, you may see one nearby that should be discarded, or you can focus on one section at a time, covering the entire library over the course of a set period of time. The most common time for weeding is when you are doing inventory since your focus at that time is on the collection. And, you might plan on a few days after school closes to deal with the ones that require more thought.

And now for the “how” of weeding which is the part that makes you a leader.

Promote your weeding.  You might say, “The library is doing spring cleaning to keep resources current and fresh.  Come see our howlers.”  Make sure you have books and other items that explain the term howler (it’s not just a letter from your parents when you’re at Hogwarts) will show why you need to weed.

Post a copy of your Mission Statement where you have displayed these weeded items.  Highlight the keywords showing why this is a vital part of how the library serves the educational community. List the criteria for weeding. Invite the principal to see what you are doing.

You also need a plan for what you will do with the discarded material.  Check to see if the district has a procedure you need to follow.  It may only be for the technology, but it may include books as well. If you throw the books in the garbage, either tear off the covers or at least rip out any pages identifying the book as belonging to the library.  You don’t want a Board member finding the book for sale at a flea market.

Many librarians give the books away, but this isn’t always a good idea.  It seems such a shame to throw them out, but you had a reason for doing so.  Think twice before passing them on to others. Sending them to schools in need of books, usually in a poor country is a difficult choice for me.  I dislike the idea of sending outdated information to kids too poor to get current material. The truth is, these books likely aren’t a benefit for anyone.

Teachers might like fiction books they remember. You can certainly let them have those titles. Anything else they want should be for personal use only—not for classroom collections—or all you have done is move the books to a new location.

If you don’t have a collection development policy, use the summer to create one.  Include weeding and the criteria for doing so in it. Try have the Board approve it. It’s one more way you show you are a leader.

Weeding may not be a favorite part of our work and there are, of course, challenges involved but it is another great opportunity to take a task and use it as a way to shine and show up as a leader.

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