Weeding Library Collections: A Selected Annotated Bibliography for Library Collection Evaluation
ALA Library Fact Sheet 15
“Next to emptying the outdoor bookdrop on cold and snowy days, weeding is the most undesirable job in the library. It is also one of the most important. Collections that go unweeded tend to be cluttered, unattractive, and unreliable informational resources.”
– Will Manley, “The Manley Arts,” Booklist, March 1, 1996, p. 1108.
There are two aspects to weeding. The first is the writing of a collection development or selection policy that is appropriate for your community; this will serve as a guideline as you make decisions about your collection. The second is applying that policy as you make decisions about the materials in your collection. This fact sheet offers a selection of resources for collection development and evaluation, many applicable to all types of libraries and others for specific types of libraries.
When I was in high school back in the 1980s, our library had a book on space travel from the early 1960s. It proclaimed the optimistic hope that one day we would go to the Moon.
Nearly all libraries need to throw out books once in a while. Otherwise you’ll be stuck with a bunch of outdated and possibly harmful information in your non-fiction section and not much that people will want to read in the fiction section besides the classics. Removing books from a library’s collection is called weeding. It is very necessary.
Sadly, some libraries that carry out weeding, especially if it is the first time after a years’ long hiatus get reviled not only be segments of their user community, but by other librarians. I’ve seen fiery posts from librarians denouncing “books dumped into dumpsters.” They say this without knowing or seeming to care about policies and criteria the library may have used.
Yes, a few “weeding” efforts are probably wholesale book purges done without any meaningful criteria. But in most cases, books were removed from the shelves after being evaluated on the condition of the book, how up to date (if nonfiction), how many times it had actually been checked out, etc. Our first stance should be to trust the weeding library and hold our fire pending evidence of weeding malpractice. As professionals, we should trust what our colleagues are doing.