Weeding: April Best Practice of the Month

Jeannie.Standal's picture

Ah, Spring! The sun is shining (sometimes), the wind is blowing (always), and bulbs are sending up early blooms that assure us that winter is almost over.  Gardeners are itching to get going. So, while pulling all those winter weeds out of the vegetable patch, it is a good time to consider weeding the library collection, too.

Weeding can be hard, emotionally draining, even.  But weeding a library collection is a lot like cleaning out a clothes closet. That disco dress that was so cool in 1978, but hasn't been worn in 30 years? Time to donate it and let it become someone's Halloween costum. That formerly beautiful sweater with a permenant coffee stain front and center? It won't be worn again - get rid of it! It is the same with the materials in the library. Eventually, it is time to say good-bye to even the most beloved items.

Why weed? Keeping and following a regular weeding plan keeps a collection healthy and relevant in a variety of ways:

  • Old non-fiction titles, especially those about fast-changing topics, can be out of date. There is a classic example of a book on the shelf about space that explains how someday a man will walk on the moon.  No one wants to be caught with that book, or others with information so old that it is incorrect, still in the collection.  This example also refutes the idea that an old book on the shelf is better than no book on the shelf.
  • Worn books are unappealing and are unlikely to be checked out. No one likes to read a book that is stained, stinky, or falling apart.
  • Old books and other materials that never leave the shelf can become damp, moldy, and attract bugs, all problems that can spread to the rest of the collection.
  • Keeping materials that don't circulate is akin to stocking items in a store that don't sell. They just take up valuable space that could be occuied by something patrons need.
  • If an collection is never weeded, the library will evntually run out of space, resulting in unattractive, crowded shelves that are difficult to search and negatively impact circulation.
  • Even in the digital arena, resources that are not used take up space and clutter the catalog, making searching more difficult.

There are helpful guidelines available that make getting started and getting finished easier. The CREW (Continuous Review, Evaluation, and Weeding) Method is very effective for school libraries, since they nearly always hold small- or medium-sized collections. CREW gives us six criteria to use to evaluate the usefulness of any item in a collection, made easy to remember with the acronym MUSTIE. It stands for:

M = Misleading - factually inaccurate. See aforementioned "man on the moon" example.

U = Ugly - worn beyond repair.  Tape and glue work only so many times.

S = Superceded - by a new edition, a better title on the subject or a more practical digital source.  Looking at you print encylopedias!

T = Trivial - of no descernible literary or scientific merit. These sometimes find their way into a collection through donated materials or by-gone fads. Remember Kagagoogoo? Exactly.

I = Irrelevant to the needs and interests of the library's community. A good example might be a fantastic calculus text book in an elementary library. Right book, wrong library.

E = Elsewhere - the material is easily obtainable from another library or through LiLI.org.   Students and teachers may be able to borrow rarely needed items from another library (like the public library) or find the same or better information in a database.

Different subjects have their own shelf lives.  For example, a volume of poetry will be accurate and relevant longer than a book on coding. CREW uses a formula to determine whether items on a particular subject should be reviewed for weeding. Remember, these are guidelines; the school librarian's professional judgement should be the final say in determining what is weeded and what is retained.

It isn't necessary, and really not advised, to weed the whole collection at once.  Create a weeding plan within the Collection Development Plan and follow it one section at a time. It might take a while to get through the whole collection, but everyone will be happy to get the never-used stuff out to make room for materials students and teachers want.

What about replacing those weeded items? When budgets are tight or nonexistant, it may seem like a good idea to hang on to those weed-worthy materials to have something on the shelf. Consider this: it is better to have a smaller collection of useful items than a larger collection of irrelevant ones. One more motivator for weeding: as those old books get weeded, watch the average age of your collection and the appearance of your shelves improve!

Review the complete CREW Manual here.