Responding to Push-Back (About Weeding & More)

**I just found this old post in my drafts…. apparently I never remembered to post it 2 years ago when I wrote it, so I’m posting it now!**


This month my school’s Newspaper Club published its February edition, featuring a story about the library. This is not unusual. I’ve been at my school for three years, and each year they have done at least one story on me or the library. Both of the stories from the previous two years were very complimentary towards me and towards the changes I’ve implemented in the library.

This year’s interview was a little more… complex.

You see, 2.5 years ago I started at my school, and I inherited a bit of an “old-school” or “traditional” quiet-type library. Since I started, I’ve made quite a lot of big changes, including:

  • I’ve undertaken a weeding project
  • Shifted all 21,000 books so we could remove five large book stacks. (2021 update, make that 13 large book stacks!)
  • Genre-fied the fiction section.
  • Added a graphic novel section (we had none before I started) & a Books in Spanish section
  • I frequently feature and advertise YA books (our school has had a tendency to focus on adult level reading, and to cater more to stronger readers and college prep than to emerging or hesitant readers)
  • Overhauled the rules of who can be in the library (anyone who is not supposed to be in a class) and when (anytime they are not supposed to be in a class).
  • I did away with the “quiet study only” requirement.
  • I don’t have a limit on how many books one can check out at a time.
  • I did away with fines.
  • I allow them to check-out books for the summer.
  • I added games, cards, puzzles, community coloring posters, stick-together mosaics, makerspace etc
  • I encourage socialization and collaboration.
Screen Shot 2019-02-19 at 5.10.19 PM.png

So, I’ve implemented a lot of changes. And feedback has been phenomenally positive. Students and teachers love how welcoming the library is now. How comfortable it is. How relevant. How relaxing. How future-ready. And our circulation stats are way up, as is the number of students who visit each day, and the # of teacher collaborations I’ve had. So I have no doubt that I’ve made the right decisions.

But.

BUT. But. But.

But, of course, there will always be some negative feedback, resistance to change, and even just misunderstandings and lack of information about why the changes occurred. Generally this negative feedback comes from two arenas. Sometimes it comes from a fear/dislike of change. And sometimes it comes simply from a lack of understanding/ignorance. When people feel like a change has occurred suddenly, and they don’t understand or know the reasoning behind the change, it can cause people to react more negatively than they otherwise might.

This is why transparency, advocacy, and outreach is SO CRITICAL. We, as school librarians, cannot expect our community to know what we know. They don’t have the education or training that we do, and therefore the only things they know about libraries come from their own personal experiences or the (often outdated) stereotypes that pop culture has reinforced for them. So we can’t blame our community for not understanding. We shouldn’t become defensive and scornful when they push-back or question our decisions. We should see it as, they are seeking information and understanding. Its an opportunity for us to educate and advocate for libraries and modern best practices. Its a chance for us to explain the whys and hows of what we do, why we do it the way we do, and most importantly its a chance for us to tell them what the intended benefit to the students is.

Because that’s what its all about…. the decisions we make should always be driven by whats best for our students. And so if someone is questioning your choices, policies, etc then that’s your chance to communicate to them the pedagogy, philosophy, and reasons for those choices or policies. In my experience, when someone who is pushing back or questioning a change is responded to with enthusiastic transparency, and a willing explanation, they are usually quick to get on board with the change…. or to at least stop questioning it. They may still not agree with the policy/change, but when they understand the REASON for it they typically drop their complaint.


I’m quite lucky to work with an administration and staff that is, in general, exceptionally forward-thinking, inclusive, and innovative, so any negative feedback I’ve received has been from the smallest minority. But I don’t want to pretend there haven’t been roadblocks, failures, or pushback. So I’m going to share with you the pushback I received via the newspaper club’s interview questions.

You can tell when you read the questions that there was some concern and question over some of the changes I’ve made to the library. You can also tell that there is some discomfort with the removal of books and the focus on age appropriate reading, in particular. Our school is quite high-achieving, and puts a huge stress on college-readiness and AP classes. We have an extremely high level of students with anxiety and depression, and who are under intense pressure to exceed academically.


Newspaper Club students had seen me working on significant weeding of the nonfiction section. They noticed entire stacks slowly disappearing from the library. This alarmed them and they decided to investigate and write about the situation in the newspaper. As soon as I saw their questions, I realized how in-depth and careful my responses would have to be. Because, as we learn in library school, the public truly, truly has no comprehension of the importance of weeding. They see books disappear and they fear censorship, or irresponsible stewardship, or a lack of respect for knowledge and tradition. I realized, from their questions, that there was an almost complete ignorance regarding any aspect of duties of the librarian, nor what it takes to maintain a healthy, relevant library collection.

I’m sharing the interview below so you can see how I handled answering some of these tough questions, and how I sometimes had to provide tough answers. The most shocking aspect of this interview was how many of the questions were based on assumptions that were not correct.


The interview (blue text is interviewer’s questions, black text is my response)

*note- when describing books given away it excludes out of date reference books, those we do not give away instead disposing of according to district policy* 

1.What determined whether or not fictional books remain on the shelf? A large number of books given away were popular books such as those by Stephen King, James Patterson, and more. 

  1. All determinations are made using the CREW method of collection development. All books are evaluated using the same criteria to ensure they are meeting the current needs of the school community. Various considerations, data, and research goes into evaluating when a book is retired from a library’s collection. If a book is being used or meets curricular needs, it is not retired from the collection. If a book sits for several years without being checked out and does not meet current curricular needs, then the book will be considered for possible retirement. Sometimes a book may instead be deemed appropriate for replacement or display instead of retirement. 
  2. The following are the general criteria under which fiction books are considered for possible retirement: 
    1. If a book was published before 2010 AND has not been used in the past 10 years, it can be considered for retirement or replacement  
      1. We grow up learning never to judge a book by its cover, but unfortunately that is exactly what most readers literally do! Many retired books get replaced with a newly published edition. Modern cover art and clean pages can do wonders for improving a classic book’s appeal to modern readers. This year we replaced more than 25 classics books with new editions! 
    2. If a book was published before 2013 AND has multiple copies AND has not been used more than 1 time in the last 5 years, some of the duplicates are considered for retirement. 
      1. Many of the books you perceived as “popular” fall into this category. For instance, we currently have more than 50 Stephen King novels. While only a handful of them have circulated within the last several years, we still opted to keep one copy of each and retired only some of the duplicates. 
    3. The CREW Method of collection development provides the following additional criteria for “weeding” and this is the criteria we look at after looking at a book’s usage statistics.
      1. Is the book: 
        1. M=  Misleading–factually inaccurate? 
        2. U=  Ugly–worn beyond mending or rebinding? 
        3. S=  Superseded–by a new edition of by a much better book on the subject? 
        4. T=  Trivial–of no discernible literary or scientific merit? 
        5. I=   Irrelevant to the needs and interests of the library’s community? 
        6. E=  Elsewhere–the material is easily obtainable from another library? 

2. How many books are currently within the library compared to the beginning of last year? 

  • Fiction was approximately 4400 last year and is about 3750 at this moment. We will continue to add new fiction purchases throughout the rest of this year, but we will not need to retire any more fiction books this year.

3. With the restyling of the library, books are now being displayed similarly to items in a store. Was this change an attempt to “sell” reading to the students? Has this change impacted the number of books checked out by students? (About how many books are checked out per week? How has this changed from last year?) 

  • Yes! Genre-fying is a move that many libraries have made over the last decade or so. Libraries that “genrefy” typically see an increase in circulation. The reasons for this are many, but essentially come down to it being easier for a reader to browse and find items of interest. Choosing to genre-fy was also partly to better serve the ELA curriculum in general, as Lit Circles/Book Club units have been increasingly frequent within the ELA curriculum. Our circulation has increased since we genre-fied. For example: Last year from Nov 1-Dec.14 we had 445 circulations. This year from Nov 1 – Dec. 14 we’ve had 984 circulations!  
  • Genrefying also helps the library better meet curricular needs. When an ELA unit is genre-specific, the genrefication makes it easier for students to find books to read that fit within that unit’s requirements.

4. A large portion of books that were given away could interest future students at GV. Are the books going to be replaced? Will students be able to find those books on the subjects that were explained in the books given away? Are those same subjects still covered? (Mass amounts of mythology, psychology theories, etc. given away) 

  • This is unlikely, as the CREW Method is designed to prevent books which are of interest or likely to be of interest from being retired. But it is also important to realize that just because a specific item is retired from the collection, does not mean the library no longer provides the same or equivalent information elsewhere. If the subjects fall within our current curriculum and student needs, the library aims to provide that information via other physical books, ebooks, online databases, or even websites. Our mission is always to provide the resources students need for academic, personal, and professional success, and we purchase hundreds of new physical & digital resources each year to meet the changing needs of the school community. For example, while we retired some mythology books that were published in the 1950s-1970s, we were then able to replace them with a collection of more recently published mythology series. 

5. About how many books can our library hold?  

  • Goodness, I have no idea! Libraries are usually measured in linear feet of shelf space rather than by # of books, because books are all different widths. I don’t know how many linear feet of shelf space we currently have at the Library. 

6. How many times does a book need to be checked out per year in order to be retained? 

  • Answered above in question #1 part “b.” 

7. I’d think our biggest collection is fantasy. Is this accurate? Or are they simply the most advertised? 

  • Neither of those statements are accurate.  
  • We have just about 500 fantasy books. Historical Fiction exceeds Fantasy at about 600 books. Our largest collection is actually Realistic Fiction (exceeds 1000 books), which is why we had to split that category up into three separate subcategories (adversity, relationships/identity, and action/adventure). 
  • While I always aim to advertise a variety of genres in the booktalks I give to classes and on the Instagram account, Realistic Fiction and Narrative Nonfiction (not Fantasy) are probably the most commonly advertised, as they tend to have the broadest appeal and curricular matchup. Fantasy is currently the most popular genre with students though, and we circulate more Fantasy books each week than any other genre, which may be why it seems as if the fantasy section is our biggest. While it is not our largest, it is our most popular section.

8. About how many books have you given to students?  

  • Goodness, again I can’t say as I know the actual number. I haven’t counted how many books students have taken from the “free book cart” over the last two years. 

9. Books on global culture, history, and classic author’s collections were weeded out. Are you replacing any cultural, historical, or classic books? Or are there duplicates still on the shelves? 

  • Yes, many were duplicates and many have also been replaced with new physical books, ebooks, and through the content in our online database subscriptions. We add hundreds of books to the collection each year, in addition to the hundreds of thousands of online resources we purchase. For example, this year we’ve added new mythology collections, new editions of classic literature titles (fresh versions of the musty & faling apart versions we retired), new physics resources, and several new online databases specializing in historical, cultural, and geographical resources.  

10. It seems that many of the books removed are (while out of date) at the high school reading level, while elementary or middle school level books like Divergent or the Harry Potter series are being advertised. Most students only reread them for nostalgia. I understand that students who don’t read are tempted by easy pleasure books, but they should be able to progress out of teen novels. Is the library going to receive recently written adult books to replace those that have been weeded out? 

  • Much of the information assumed in this question is inaccurate or biased. I’ll do my best to address each part of this question below but follow up with me if additional information or clarification is needed. 
    • Question claims: The library retires age appropriate reading while retaining children’s and age inappropriate books:  
      • This is not accurate. We own more adult books than any other age level. We actually do not own many elementary or even middle grade books. Those few children’s and middle grade books we do have are there to meet the needs of students who currently read on that level.   
      • Below you can see the approximate breakdown of our collection’s reading levels, showing that adult books are the majority. 
      • Screen Shot 2019-02-19 at 5.57.02 PM
    • Question claims: “Divergent and Harry Potter are advertised” (seemingly indicating these books are not appropriate for high school students.) 
      • This is not accurate as, to my knowledge, I have not included Divergent or Harry Potter books on any class book lists or class book talks or featured them on any displays. Both of these book series are actually quite old and while we have them they aren’t really spotlighted anymore.
    • Question claims: “most students only reread [books like divergent or harry potter] for nostalgia.”  
      • It would be impossible to guess why someone reads what they read or what value they find in the book, without considerable research. And in any case, I fully support every and any reason one has for reading, whether it is for nostalgia, learning, escape, challenge, etc. 
    • Question claims: “students who don’t read are tempted by easy pleasure books”  
      • I would not label a student as “someone who does not read.”  
      • “Easy” for who?  Who gets to decide that a book is too easy for another person? A book one person might consider an “easy pleasure book,” can be both challenging and rewarding for another reader. It is very important not to impose one’s own reading abilities, habits, or pleasures onto another person. Even if a book is easy for the reader, I wouldn’t consider that a bad thing. A book doesn’t have to be difficult for it to have value to a person. 
    • Question claims: students “should be able to progress out of teen books.”  
      • Since GVHS students are all teenagers, I do not agree that all students need to be reading adult level books for pleasure reading. It is natural, and indeed expected, for a high school library to provide books published for high school aged children. Many students want (and should be able) to read books that feature high school aged protagonists, and which deal with issues relatable and relevant to high school aged children. Many other students want (and should be able) to read a book labeled “adult.” The age level of a book doesn’t speak to the value a book has.  Whether the book is appropriate, challenging enough, or worthy of their time is a decision each reader, perhaps along with their guardian’s guidance, must make for themselves. We do, and surely always will, continue to provide books on a variety of reading levels. 
    • Final thoughts: 
      • Reading for pleasure is a good thing! Sometimes we read to learn. Other times to challenge ourselves. And other times we read for fun. For escape. For comfort. To ease loneliness. To lighten a dark time. To laugh. Even to cry. To explore. To feel. There are so many different reasons to read. I want our library to have books for all those reasons and a hundred more.  
      • There is no right or wrong reason to read. There is no right or wrong book to read. We absolutely want students to find books they consider pleasurable to read. We want students to also be able to challenge themselves! We provide a variety of books to attempt to meet both of those needs, regardless of a student’s reading abilities or preferences. Reading is something to be celebrated, enjoyed, and encouraged. 
      • As Neil Gaiman says: “Libraries are about freedom. Freedom to read, freedom of ideas, freedom of communication. They are about education, about entertainment, about making safe spaces and about access to information.”  

11. The Library has become a social and relaxing space and students who want to study in silence may go to the computer lab. Would you consider enforcing a volume limit within the library itself or setting up a study corner inside the library environment?   

  • We are blessed to have a very well used and busy library! This is the goal of a Future-Ready Library. We have some students that literally spend multiple periods each day in the library, which I think is completely awesome!  Current usage statistics, student feedback, and trends in Future Ready Libraries encourage libraries to continue to move away from strictly silent spaces towards dynamic and collaborative multi-use spaces. Fortunately, we can offer both, with the main library serving as a collaborative multi-use space, and the library lab serving as a quiet study option. 
  • Regarding your question about a volume limit: We certainly do expect students to be behaving, speaking, and working at a reasonable volume. 

12. How long until our collection is up to date and “healthy”? 

  •  The fiction collection is now stable. Going forward we will only need to retire about the same number of fiction books as we add each year. This is the mark of a healthy collection under CREW guidelines.  
  • We just began working on the nonfiction collection this year. It will likely take about two years for nonfiction to reach ideal CREW conditions. 
  • But keeping a collection updated is a continual process that never really ends. Collections are not meant to stagnate and should have a constant flow of books coming in and books going out. The curricular and personal reading needs of our students is always changing and so too must our collection be always evolving.

Finally, we’d like to thank you for all of your work for the students. After reading about CREW, we realize the amount of coordination and work this must require.  

You’re very welcome! 

You are most welcome to send me (or see me) for any clarification questions you may have. If any of my answers are unclear, just let me know. You kids are doing a wonderful job with the school newspaper, I always look forward to seeing your work in each new edition. 

Great job, 

Miss Bogan 

4 comments

  1. This is one of the best articles I’ve seen in a while in HS libraries. I love the methodical way you answered their questions with logic and positivity. Great job.

    Like

  2. I am a teacher currently enrolled in a Teacher Librarian post-graduate program. I found your post so informative! I loved the clear and concise way you explained how and why libraries need to weed their collection. A few years ago, one of my colleagues and myself weeded out our primary level home reading books – many of them were old and ragged. Children want to read new, interesting books that aren’t falling apart! Somehow, the PAC president came across the box of books we were planning on getting rid of and brought them back to us – “Look! I found some books to use as home readers!” I wish I had articulated our desire to get rid of these old readers as clearly as you did in your blog post!

    I would also like to thank you for introducing me to the terms “genre-fying” and “Future Ready”. This post has given me many things to think about!

    Like

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