Collection Development 101: Weeding (part 2 of series)

Last week I talked about how I add books to our collection. I'd like to thank the people who left comments because I really enjoyed the conversation that developed there. I'd also like to thank Elizabeth Bird for linking to that post on Fuse #8 and Melissa for pointing it out to me! And you should definitely read Erin's follow-up to my post, which is full of great details and absolutely no spreadsheets! :)

After all this, I hope I don't get a big bigger head! Although I discovered when shopping for a horseback riding helmet one summer before camp that I had what the sales clerk termed a "deceptively large head." Cue middle school self-esteem crisis!

Today I want to talk about what happens when a book has overstayed its welcome in your collection. Maybe it was once a great book, but has been ignored recently. Or the topic has changed so much that it is now out of date.  Another common scenario is that you once had to have 200 books on robins, because the elementary schools assigned a report on the state bird, but now the curriculum has changed and you need the space for books on the state turtle.

For some reason, weeding is discussed much more frequently than acquisitions on blogs and in professional development workshops, so I am not going to go into nearly as much detail as I did with my previous post. 

It is important to look carefully at your collection on a regular basis. I also ask staff members who are responsible for shelving to keep an eye out for items in poor condition. I walk through our stacks nearly every day and look for items that stick out as old or ugly and bring them to my desk for evaluation.

For the sake of space, I am mainly discussing books but please do not neglect your video, music, and audiobook collections either! A lot of the same ideas apply to non-print collections as well as print.

If weeding is not your strong suit, there are some great Internet resources for you to check out: 
-CREW Manual
-Arizona State Library's Collection Development Training

And for a lighthearted look at weeding, check out Awful Library Books, another Michigan library world blog!

My Weeding Process
When I notice that space is getting tight in a particular area, the first thing I do is create a list of books that haven't circulated in the past few years. At my library, we use 3-4 years. I would argue that for certain collections you could go with less, two that I might suggest if space is particularly lacking is young adult and picture books.

Here is a screenshot with the factors I typically use to have the computer create my list:
Options and appearance will vary by ILS, but basically this is a pretty good representation

After the list is created, it will look like this:

First page of weeding list
Then I will go pull the books on the list. Sometimes I delegate this if I am working on other projects or someone needs a project of their own. I usually only pull a few pages at a time, as there is limited space for books at my desk.If I were to tackle this entire list at one time, I would have to make decisions about 1,500 copies. While some require little thought, many will need detailed consideration. So to avoid overwhelming my brain and my space, I try to stick to about 50 or fewer a day.

Of the 1500 books, many books will go right back on the shelf. We tend to keep a lot of Michigan materials regardless of circulation as it is important in our collection development policy. Also likely to state are some of the Newbery and Caldecott winners scattered throughout the nonfiction. I am contemplating some cataloging changes to bring them all into one collection though.

After a few years of weeding, I have gotten our nonfiction collection in respectable shape. A good goal to aim for is to have the average age of your collection within 10 years of the current date. As you can see from our statistics below, we are very close. Certain areas of the collection (200s, 300s, 800s) are a few years older, but their broad topics (mostly folktales in the 300s, mostly poetry in the 800s) do not change as frequently as, for example, the 500s (math and science).

Nonfiction Collection Statistics (Call number ranges truncated) 
Specific factors I consider when weeding:
  • Age and condition of the material. I am huge on having an attractive and up to date collection. I am not pleased when I find picture books that have mold damage or damaged spines. When you have books in poor condition on your shelves, you are sending a message that you don't care about your collection. And that teaches patrons that it is OK not to take proper care of library materials. 
  • If I've ever heard of the person the book is about. If an adult librarian hasn't heard of the biography subject, probably the kids haven't either. And they won't exactly be clamoring to write their reports about him or her either. If you're not a sports fan, then there's that, but if the person isn't Michael Jordan/Babe Ruth famous and is retired from a sport and not from your immediate geographical area, well... do you need it? 
  • Speaking of your immediate geographical area, proximity is huge. If you have a famous writer from your town, you are probably going to hang onto his or her books whether they're still circulating constantly or not. This can be more than a little aggravating when you'd love new editions with lovely updated cover art but the books are long out of print. But I'm not bitter or anything. This is purely hypothetical, of course. :/
  • Any important awards the book has won. 
  • Whether a change in cataloging might help the book circulate. For example, I've had good luck moving some picture book fairy tales out of the 398s and into the picture books. I've mainly left collections and picture books too long for small children to sit through in the 398s, while the shorter ones have been circulating much better in the more highly trafficked picture book section. 
  • Whether a particular area would be a good candidate for a display based on the subject to see if that would help the titles get noticed. See my display posts for ideas and printable signs for displays. 
Advice for new librarians or librarians new to weeding
I strongly recommend that you start with certain areas and wait until you have a really firm background in children's literature to weed others. I'd suggest starting with computer science, health, and other topics that should be kept as current as possible (within 5-10 years, depending on the exact subject and detail). Other topics that can be evaluated quickly are careers, animal books, math and science. If you are looking for detailed guidance, a really excellent book that will work you through each Dewey classification is Less is More: A Practical Guide to Weeding School Library Collections by Donna Baumbach. Despite the name, the advice is highly relevant for public libraries as well.

I would avoid folk and fairy tales, poetry, and any other subjects that require a pretty detailed knowledge of the topic. These are also topics where older titles may still circulate well. Wait until you know your community and your collection well for these.

One of the greatest things about weeding is how quickly it makes a visible impact on the attractiveness of your collection. Having an ugly book on the shelf makes its neighbors look ugly! Remove an outdated book and the rest of the shelf can breathe again.

I've said everything I think I wanted to say. What say you, dear readers? Do you have a favorite source for weeding advice? Or a tidbit of your own? Please chime in with a comment (or two!)


  1. 5-10 years? Ha ha ha ha *wipes away tears* I just finished weeding a biography of Lindbergh that pre-dated the kidnapping, space books that postulated the possibility of man someday walking on the moon, and dinosaur books about the brontosaurus. I would be thrilled if I could get it down to within 20 years!


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