Over the years I’ve come to realize that there are two types of people in this world: keepers and weeders. Keepers tend to hang onto physical items even if they are currently serving no purpose. Weeders, on the other hand, get frustrated by clutter and have a much easier time letting go of the physical items they’ve accumulated over time. Historically, school librarians have been keepers. We collect, organize, and make materials available to our staff and students who may not otherwise have access to them. As keepers we are always on the lookout for materials to add to our collection. Donation? We’ll take it! Book sale? I’ll be there. For decades, school librarians have prided themselves on diverse and robust collections to meet the needs of their many patrons.
This year I took a job in a high school that was celebrating it’s 40th birthday. The library had a vast collection, some of which dated back to the opening of the school. While some maintenance weeding had happened throughout the years, the collection was very dated and in need of some serious attention. So after weeding close to 4,000 books from the collection in just over two months, I’d like to share with you some of the insights I have learned in hopes that you can embrace your inner weeder as well!
1. Weeding can help you get to know or get reacquainted with your collection.
Through my weeding process, I physically touched every single one of the non-fiction books in my library. Taking over a new space, it was important for me have this level of familiarity with the resources available to my students. Even if you have been in your library for some time, an organized weeding effort can remind you of your collection’s strengths and help you identify some of the weak spots as well.
2. Your collection statistics should mirror your circulation statistics.
80% of the checkouts in my library over the last three years have been fiction materials. However, my fiction section only made up about 15% of the total collection. Looking at data like this can be an important wake up call that may spur you toward action. Start by weeding down areas of your library that do not see as much circulation, and focus your purchasing efforts on the materials your students are asking for.
3. When you remove the junk, your treasures shine.
Two weeks ago, I had a student in the library inquiring about WWII memoirs. She had read “The Diary of Anne Frank” and “Night” and was looking for something similar. When we walked to the shelves, she took one look and asked if I maybe we had any WWII fiction instead. We found a few novels together, and the young lady left. When I went back to those nonfiction shelves and took a second look, it was easy to see why the student was so quickly turned off. The shelves were packed with dusty, yellowed, intimidatingly large books that in no way looked inviting. Luckily, I was able to give that section the TLC it needed before this young lady returned to my library two weeks later. When she did, I walked her over to the shelves to show her the work I had done. Imagine the smile on my face when she dropped her book bag, sat down on the floor and pulled book after book from the shelves. Those treasures had been on the shelf the first time we visited, but until the clutter was stripped away, my student did not feel invited into them.
Just a sampling of the 4,000 items weeded from by collection. Too many outdated, irrelevant books!
4. Getting rid of the old makes room for the new.
After watching students stoop down into low, cramped shelves to look for fictional novels while they ignored the tall shelves of non-fiction that were in “prime real-estate” areas of the library, I knew something had to change. Doing some weeding can allow you the flexibility to rethink the way you utilize your shelf space. I was able to condense the non-fiction onto fewer shelves giving me room for beautiful fiction displays that are at student’s eye level and are sure to be seen! Through the weeding process, I also managed to free up one entire shelf that could be taken out of the library, opening up room on the floor for more student seating.
Moving the non-fiction off of these highly visible shelves will allow me to spotlight the fiction our students love.
5. It is more important to have a relevant collection that it is to have a large one.
Guess what? Information is getting easier and easier to come by! Many of our students carry, via smartphone, a collection of knowledge much larger than any of our libraries can or ever will be able to offer. Just because you can say you have books on “hairstyles” does not mean that those texts are relevant to the needs or interests of your students (see below -LOL). If your patrons cannot see a relationship between their interests and the texts you offer, they are going to turn elsewhere for their information.
A big collection is not as important as a relevant one. Say good-bye to things that do not matter to your students!
So for all of you keepers out there, take a walk on the wild side! Embrace your inner weeder. Your kiddos will thank you for it.