Head for the Edge, Library Media Connection, Sept/Oct 2003
I once took over a job from Evelyn who had been a school librarian for 20 years. During her tenure, she never threw anything away — literally. Most of the books were of an age that they could drink. Many could and should have retired. One book had not been checked out since two weeks prior to Pearl Harbor.
The reason I can state with confidence she threw nothing out is because the bottom left drawer of her desk contained nearly a dozen years of the Sports Illustrated swim suit editions in pristine condition. Happy, happy Doug!
I could just envision Evelyn’s dilemma. “I can’t put this out but I can’t throw it away. I can’t put this out but I can’t throw it away. I can’t put this out but I can’t throw it away.” It must have cost her sleepless nights.
I thought about Evelyn and weeding after reading Minnesota’s recently released state-wide study of its school library media programs <www.metronet.lib.mn.us/survey/index.cfm>. Modeled after the Colorado and other state studies, it contains lots of interesting data. But one part of the study just jumped right out at me. The average copyright date of a book sitting on the shelves on our state’s school libraries is 1985. Ouch.
The first article I ever wrote for professional publication appeared in School Library Journal way back in 1990 and was called “Weeding the Neglected Collection”. It told how and why I tossed about half of the books on Evelyn’s shelves. The recently released study is a clear indication that my advice to weed was ignored 13 years ago. So I will try again.
Poorly weeded collections are not the sign of poor budgets but of poor librarianship. Period. Only two things can happen if library material replacement budgets are inadequate. The collection ages if the librarian does not weed. The collection gets smaller if the librarian does weed. That’s it.
Small, but high quality collections are infinitely better. And this is why. Continuous, thoughtful weeding:
• Rids your collections of sexist, racist and just plain inaccurate materials. And you’ve been complaining about the Internet being a source of bad information! Any books about the 48 states? That predict that one day man will land on the moon? In which the Soviet Union is still a major political power? My favorite weeds were these:
• Boy Electrician
• Boy’s Book of Rifles
• Boy’s Book of Verse
• Boy’s Book of Great Detective Stories
• Boy’s Book of Tools
• Boy’s Book of Turtles and Lizards
• Boy’s Book of King Arthur
• Boy’s Book of Outboard Boating
• Boy’s Book of Sherlock Holmes
• Boy’s First Book of Radio and Television
There was no “Girl’s” book of anything, but if there had been, I’m sure it would have been of cooking, sewing, or dating.
• Makes the good stuff easier to find and more appealing. Kids (and more than a few adults) do judge books by their covers. Publishers design bright and attractive book jackets and paperback covers for a reason. One reason folks gave for not using a library is that the books are physically dirty. Few students are willing to plow through dozens of books with nasty old worn-covered books to get to a good one. (Now that I think of it, that’s a pretty good reason to clean the fridge now and again too.)
• Sends the message that the library may not be adequately funded. If you went into your neighbor’s pantry and saw the shelves filled with boxes of breakfast cereal, you’d conclude your neighbor had plenty to eat. But what if those boxes were empty? Shelves filled books of no value are the equivalent of pantries full of empty cereal boxes. Visitors don’t look very hard at book collections. They only see whether shelves are empty or full. Your budget is unlikely to increase if the perception is that you have a library full of materials already.
One very sweet library media specialist came up to me after I gave a talk on budgets in which I railed about weeding. “But, Doug,” she said, “if we weed, our collection will be too small for our school to meet our accreditation standards.” My tongue-in-check advice was to replace the books with those fake book jacket pieces one finds in furniture stores if the standards only required quantity not quality. Whether directly stated or not, I am quite sure her accreditation standards call for usable books, not just any books in the library
Download Betty Jo Buckingham and Barbara Safford’s Weeding the Library Media Collections. It’s an authoritative guide that will give you confidence.
Whether fortunate or unfortunate, many people regard books as sacred objects and have difficulty throwing them away. An industrial arts teacher at Evelyn’s school glares at me to this day, claiming he hurt his back climbing out of the dumpster into which I had thrown away some “perfectly good books.” What he did not understand and we need to remember is that it is not books that are sacred, but the thoughts, inspiration, and accurate information they contain.
Weed! I’m not telling you again.