Guest Blogger

A Passion for Weeding

While some of my colleagues enjoy it about as much as root canal, I love weeding. I’m in the stacks at least once a week looking for likely candidates.

Just as a garden needs to be cleared of the excess plant material and weeds choking out the blooms; so to a library needs to be cleared of old, worn, and disused materials.

Will Manley once said that “…weeding is the most undesirable job in the library.”

256px-stack_of_library_books_on_pianoSorry, Will, but I disagree.  I love the feeling I get when I see a stack of books ready to go to the discard shelf. They are usually worn out, torn up, and out of date.  The collection just looks better with their departure.

Weeding nonfiction is a snap.  It’s easier because the criteria are quantifiable. You can set parameters with nonfiction weeding. Is the data in the book current, factual? Are the photos/illustrations dated? Is more current information available? Has the book circulated?

Weeding fiction is a whole ‘nother can of worms. It’s subjective. It’s emotional. We form attachments to books that can’t be analyzed in reports.

Should a library keep classics and award winners and other “important” titles even if they don’t circulate? Is the book still in print? Should we keep all the books in a series if only certain titles go out?

moldy-bookOne of the biggest quagmires is nostalgia. We tend to hang on to books that we loved as children (or as adults) regardless of their currency, popularity, etc. today. But, as the authors of the website Awful Library Books say “Hoarding is not collection development”.

While working on this post, I came across a weeding guide written in 1984 by Betty Jo Buckingham and published by the State of Iowa Department of Public Instruction. The booklet offers ideas on how to “get rid of the bodies” i.e. the weeded materials. One of her recommendations was to tear or break them up and put them in a wastebasket. I suspect that one of my early supervisors was familiar with Buckingham’s methods, since she had me do this on my first ever weeding assignment.

date-baitThe University was completing a retrospective conversion of the Children’s Collection and my assignment was to weed out the outdated materials, since it was not a historical collection. I was a graduate assistant, and was terrified that the Library Police were going to come after me, even though I got rid of such gems as About Miss Sue the Nurse (1961),  and The Boys’ First Book of Radio and Electronics (1954), and last but not least Date Bait: The Younger Set’s Picture Cookbook (1952).

That experience was ultimately a positive one, since I have never achieved that initial level of anxiety in the 20+ years since.

If you’re interested in seeing examples of books selected for discard by librarians around the country, check out this website called Awful Library Books.

What’s the strangest, oldest, or ickiest book you’ve found in your weeding adventures?  Please, share your “treasures” with us in the comments section.


blue shirt
Photo courtesy of guest blogger

Today’s guest blogger is Alexa Newman. Alexa is a Youth Services Librarian at the Algonquin Area Public Library in Illinois, where she focuses on community programming.  Besides her regularly scheduled duties, Alexa created and runs the library’s annual drama camp, storytelling festival, and teaching garden.  In her spare time she loves to read, dabble in the arts, and putter in as many gardens as possible. Alexa is currently serving on the School-Age Programs and Service Committee and on the  AASL/ALSC/YALSA Joint Committee on School/Public Library Cooperation. She is a former Chair of the Quick Lists Consulting Committee.

Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.

If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at


  1. Melba Tomeo

    I love weeding also. I employed the persona strategy by inventing imaginary patrons, like Emily, a 19-year-old education major who did not want to check out anything old, smelly, or weird. It made those librarian moments, when you think, “someone might want this some day,” much easier to deal with. Would Emily check this out? No, she would not. Unfortunately, it also underscored my staff’s conviction that I was crazy. 🙂

    1. Alexa Newman

      I think that is a good strategy (and I’ve used it in the past, too!) I used to tell my young pages “If you wouldn’t want your baby sister/brother to touch that book then leave it for me to weed”. That made more concrete sense to them than anything else I had tried. So maybe I’m crazy, too?!

  2. Julie

    Best “gem” must be the children’s science book including several experiments using asbestos I discovered while weeding in the late 90s. It made me really glad that I had insisted that this branch collection be stored where I could get at it while we were under construction and give it a through weed. In another collection, this time in a Catholic High School in the mid 80s I tossed the companions to your “Date Bait” cook book, The Girl that you Marry and The Man that you Marry. Well actually I didn’t toss them I removed them from the collection and brought them home for the amusement of my friends and them got rid of them far from the old nun who would have put them back on the shelf.

    1. Alexa Newman

      Julie — I also have weeded a science experiment book with a list of materials to use that includes asbestos mats, razor blades, old light bulbs and more. I keep it at my desk when I need a laugh. I found it about 9 years ago, so 2007? I wonder if they are the same book?!

  3. Erin

    I love to weed! I only hope you kept that lovely “Date Bait” book. A treasure for sure!

    1. Alexa Newman

      Oh, if only I had, Erin! I didn’t have the foresight back then to realize how awesome it was.

  4. Chelsey

    A few months ago I weeded a children’s travel guide to LA that was published in 1989. It was pink and teal and included gems like recommending that visitors check out the innovative IMAX theater ($3 per ticket in 1989, apparently). Worse, we had several in this series, and WORSE, they were still circulating, because we didn’t have anything more relevant.

  5. Vicki Kouchnerkavich

    I also like to weed, but at our small rural public library we’ve gotten to the point of weeding to make space for new books added to our collection. That means for us, since there is no additional storage space, books that are not that old, but have not gone out also get weeded- sometimes 3 years new! 🙁

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