ON LIBRARIES: Weed to Lead

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  How can that be outdated?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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ON LIBRARIES – Weeding and Leading

weedingI recently realized these two topics are related when I discovered how many librarians are reluctant to weed, and the many issues that arise when they do. Perhaps you’ll feel better about the process when you realize weeding gives you several ways to promote your program. As you make your collection more relevant and less burdened by past choices, you show your program’s (and your) relevance.

The Issue of Weeding

I first encountered weeding back in the 1980s when I took over a high school library from a librarian who feared administrative reaction if she threw books out.  After all they were bought with hard-earned taxpayer money.  I had no such qualms.

Among the treasures I found on my shelves was a book called Percy Goes to Yale, the sue bartoncomplete Sue Barton series starting with Sue Barton Student Nurse which I had read twenty plus years before in high school.  Other treasures included a 300+ page book on homeroom guidance, a science book with a chapter on the Piltdown Man, first “discovered” in 1912 and proved a hoax in 1949, and a guide for young ladies called What’s Your PQ? about how girls should keep their intellect and skills hidden so as not to seem superior to their dates.

Weeding needs to be a continuous process to keep collections current. Having books on the shelf just for the sake of having them is a disservice to students. Worrying about keeping a certain number so you have 20 books per student or whatever formula you are following means nothing if the books aren’t helpful.

While librarians are still be eliminated, in other places the positions have been restored.  The newly hired librarians are faced with books that haven’t circulated in years and nothing current.  This is one place leadership shows up.  If you put books you have weeded onto a cart and either show the howlers to your principal or take a picture of them and share it, you will show how you mean to take charge of your library.  Tie it into your view of what a 21st century program should be and use it to show your leadership.

You can also use weeding as a means of building advocates for the library program by inviting volunteers to assist you.  If you don’t have library volunteers, with the principal’s approval, see if the PTA will work with you to sponsor a Weeding Saturday.  Have carts and criteria ready along with snacks and drinks.

Choosing What to Weed

mustieFor criteria, many librarians use the CREW and MUSTIE method created by Belinda Boon and presented in full in The CREW Method; Expanded Guidelines for Collection Evaluation and Weeding for Small and Medium-Sized Public Libraries (Austin, Texas: The Texas State Library, 1995). In it she explains the two acronyms. CREW stands for Continuous Review, Evaluation, and Weeding while MUSTIE helps you decide what to throw out:

  • M- Misleading—factually inaccurate
  • U- Ugly –worn beyond mending or rebinding
  • S- Superseded—by a new edition or a much better book on the subject
  • T- Trivial—of no discernible literary or scientific merit
  • I- Irrelevant to the needs and interests of the library’s community
  • E- Elsewhere—the material is easily available from another library.

My personal favorite resource on weeding is Less is More: A Practical Guide to Weeding School Library Collections by Donna J. Baumbach and Linda L. Miller (Chicago: ALA, 2006). While now 10 years old, it is still incredibly helpful.

library girl - weeding
The FRESH approach of Library Girl

Library Girl offers the acronym FRESH.  The image at the left explains her measures and if you click on image (or her name at the beginning of this sentence), you’ll read her article on the subject.

When your volunteers arrive, explain the criteria to them and let them begin.  Be sure they know you will review each item because once in a while, they pull a classic that really should be kept.  Keep track of the total number of books to discard and photograph everyone hard at work as well as the results of their labor – the piles of books and the uncluttered shelves.

Part two of the weeding process brings up what can be a thorny issue.  What do you do with the discards? Before you begin, find out what the district’s policy is.  Assuming you have the right to dispose of them as you wish, think twice before you send them to Africa, to a school lacking in books, or to classroom collections.  I know it’s hard for most of us to throw books out.  And tossing what were expensive reference sets seems wrong but why would you burden another collection with books that aren’t valuable.

Before you choose one of those options, I urge you to read an article by Gail Dickinson in the April/May 2005 issue of Library Media Connection. In addition to explaining the weeding process succinctly, going through all relevant steps –and discussing MUSTY (which I like even better than MUSTIE) she makes an analogy between milk in your refrigerator that is past the sale date and has curdled and books that are outdated and contain misinformation.

Weeding Shows Leadership

One more story from my past.  I was working with a group of volunteers on a community service project doing some cleanup in an inner city school.  One team worked on the playground, another in the cafeteria/ gym/auditorium, and I headed up those who wanted to clean up the library.

There hadn’t been a librarian in several years and the library had been rearranged to meet teacher needs, so there was no Dewey order and no card catalog. The shelves however were packed.  I gave my team guidelines and in a few hours we had an enormous pile of books to discard. One was about family life in the 1950s complete with a picture of the family watching a tiny black and white television.

weeding dutyThe volunteers were very pleased with how the library looked and so was the principal.  He was very impressed and told me if I had been his librarian, he would never have eliminated the position. He had no idea of who I was other than a librarian. He didn’t know about the books I had written or what I was doing in AASL.  He just saw results.  And that is why weeding is tied to leadership.

How often are you weeding?  Do you get help?  What “howlers” have you found?