Weeding: For Equity, Accessibility, & Relevancy Pt. 2 (Practical Tips)

For more information on weeding you can see my previous “Part #1” post and my very first weeding post: “Weeding My H.S. Library”(2019)

  1. Practical Tips & Tricks
    1. Preparing to Weed
    2. Practical Tips
    3. *Quick Tip Down Method (my secret weapon)
    4. Dealing With the Weeded Items
  2. Community Advocacy

Practical Tips & Tricks

Preparing to Weed

  • Learn District Policies
    • Every district or library typically has policies in place that govern how items must be handled when removed from a collection. These policies can vary pretty widely from place to place, so it is very important to ensure that you learn and follow your institution’s policies. Track down the policies before you get started on weeding. Because schools and libraries are publicly funded, this means there will tend to be rules as to how items purchased with public funds can be removed, disposed of, weeded, etc. Some policies will allow for you to sell items, other policies strictly prohibit the items from being sold. Some policies may allow you do to donate or dispose of items while other policies may require you to box everything up for perpetual storage at an offsite facility. Some policies will require you to “de-process” the items first, such as by removing all labels and identifying markers, others won’t require that. Be sure to follow the policy.
  • Prepare your community
    • Its very important to ensure you have support from your admin when embarking on a weeding project. Especially if it is going to be a considerably sized weeding project. Meet with admin to discuss your plan and to ensure they are going to support you in your efforts. If they balk, or are not supportive, invest in some advocacy efforts to help them get there. Weeding is a pretty library specific concept and people outside our profession don’t usually initially understand the need for it. Helping them to build that understanding and knowledge base is part of our job, its important advocacy that we may need to undertake before we can embark on the weeding. We’ll talk more about this in the final section of the blog when we discuss community advocacy.
  • Identify criteria
    • Once you know your policies and have admin/community support, its now time to identify your weeding criteria! How do you determine your weeding criteria? Well there is not a one size fits all approach to weeding, but there are great guides to help you get started. One of the more well established weeding manuals is “The CREW Method Manual.” This is a pretty comprehensive weeding guide and I do actually recommend reading the entire manual as it provides really great context and overview, as well as specific guidance, on the weeding process. This manual will help you determine different criteria to look at when weeding, and it helps demonstrate how different sub-collections (fiction, nonfiction, media, etc) will require different criteria. I don’t know how I would have ever even known how to start approaching the concept of weeding if it were not for the CREW Method Manual, its legitimately very helpful.
    • CREW stands for the “Continuous Review, Evaluation, & Weeding” and it is a process focused not just on sporadic occasional weeding but instead teaches us how to approach collection development/management from a systemic & continuous evaluation lens. CREW promotes a general 6-criteria weeding approach by teaching us how to look at multiple criteria simultaneously in order to determine whether an item should still remain in the collection, or if it should be weeded. This approach is called “MUSTIE” and it teaches us that items should be weeded if they are Misleading, Ugly (poor physical condition), Superseded (by newer editions or better books on similar topic), Trivial, Irrelevant to patron needs, or easily obtained Elsewhere (such as through interlibrary loan or open access).
  • Run Reports
    • Once you have a good handle on the weeding criteria, the next step is to run any reports you’ll need. The types of reports you run will vary depending on your particular approach, your criteria, and the OPAC system you use. We use Destiny, and I typically use a “shelf list” for my weeding, though with being generified via sublocation, I’ve now had to get a bit creative with making that list work for me in the fiction section. I wrote a blog post detailing the various types of Destiny reports that are available, and the ways I use them, so if you’d like more info on reports to help you decide which ones you’ll find most helpful, feel free to see if that blog post is helpful: Follett Reports I Use
  • Solicit Community Help
    • Weeding can be a lot of work, so it can be helpful to solicit community assistance. Student volunteers or community partnerships can be very helpful, especially if your policies requires you to inventory & box everything up, or if your policies require every item to be “de-processed.” It can be a great idea to reach out to student leadership groups, clubs, PTOs, and your Special Education teachers to seek assistance with these tasks. Collaborate with your maintenance department team as well, as they can be real life savers when it comes to knowing the disposal policies, helping to provide boxes/bins, helping to move or shift shelves or heavy items, etc.

Practical Tips

  • Wear dust mask
    • I learned this lesson the hard way so let me just say that if you are weeding an old collection it is a good idea to wear a dust mask. Our initial collection’s AVERAGE publication date was 1988. That means we had thousands of books published in the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, etc and most of them had not circulated or moved in literal decades. When I first started weeding the collection I actually got a very nasty chest infection from breathing in so much old dust & must that handling the books stirred up. It was scary and very painful, so I started wearing a dust mask and that really helped. If your collection is fairly new then it probably won’t be necessary but if its quite old then I’d definitely recommend a dust mask and maybe even gloves.
  • Schedule Regular Weeding Time
    • Another great weeding tip is to schedule regular time for weeding, just like you would any other critical task or duty. If regular weeding isn’t scheduled consistently throughout each year you’re likely to “never quite find enough time” for it, and that will result in collections that quickly become (or remain) outdated which just means there will become an overwhelming amount of weeding needed later. Its much better to get your weeding to the point of being merely ongoing maintenance, rather than a big headache-y looming task. If we book regular time for weeding, it helps keep us at the maintenance phase and is much more manageable than if we let it get out of hand.
    • Its also helpful to schedule regular time for weeding because it forces you to spend regular time amongst the collection, evaluating and familiarizing yourself continuously with what’s there. This is a great habit for collection development efforts, since being familiar and knowledgeable with what’s on our shelves helps us with readers advisory and also helps us regularly be looking for what’s missing from the shelves, and helps us see the gaps in the collection we need to target for further development. Whether you schedule time on a daily, weekly, monthly, or annual continuum doesn’t really matter, its just important to ensure that you do have it booked and scheduled as a definite part of every year. Some people like to have “Weeding Wednesdays” and will spend some time every Wednesday weeding.
  • Chunk Collection to Make Weeding Less Overwhelming
    • This tip goes a bit hand-in-hand with the above tip, chunking the collection helps make weeding goals feel more attainable and less overwhelming. I chunk mine up by sub-collection, just the same as I do for inventory, because this makes it feel less overwhelming to me. I usually set broad monthly weeding goals for sub-collections: so for instance I might set the goal of weeding Fiction over the course of Sept & October. Then within that I’ll chunk it further, assigning specific weeks to specific genres within fiction. So week 1 of September might be set for weeding the Fantasy section. Week 2 the sci-fi section, etc. These mini-goals and chunking help me not feel overwhelmed, because it doesn’t take much more than an hour or so for me to evaluate each genre, so this means my goal is only to hit about 1 hour of weeding work per week or so. Then I might set nonfiction for November-January, split up per week by nonfiction section. Spring tends to heat up in terms of research season so I have less time for weeding, so I save my smaller sections for spring, designating February for comics/graphics, March for memoirs, etc.
  • Start Where Most Comfy
    • I know a lot of people feel completely overwhelmed with the idea of weeding, and often struggle even to know where to start. I don’t think there is one right or wrong answer, I’d recommend that you start with the sub-collection that feels most comfortable to you. Choose the section that feels less intimidating to you, or for which you have the least amount of nostalgia, or the most comfort regarding content/topic needs. If you are a big graphic novel lover and struggle with the idea of getting rid of any graphic novels then it might make sense for you to start weeding in a different area of your library, one that you have less personal nostalgia for. Start in an area you have less emotional response to instead so you can build up confidence and ruthlessness before moving into the section you have more personal emotions over.
    • Other considerations may make sense too, for example I chose to start with our fiction section for a few reasons. Firstly because I wanted to get started on genrefication and I knew that weeding fiction first would help with that because I’d have fewer titles to genre-fy if it was weeded first. Additionally, I did not want to start with nonfiction in my first year because our nonfiction section was intimidatingly large and outdated, and I wanted to give myself some time to better understand our curricular needs before I dove into revamping the nonfiction section. For me, fiction was the best place to start, but that might differ for other people. Either way just start where you’re most comfortable.
  • Multiple Passes
    • I found that for weeding I need to do multiple passes through each sub-collection. I was not initially confident enough to be as ruthless as the collection needed me to, and that’s ok! Removing items can feel anathema and it can take a little practice and confidence building until it starts to feel “right” or comfortable. To help me build up to the level of ruthlessness I’m at now, I started with more timid or conservative criteria on my first pass through, and then increased criteria on each subsequent pass. This is why a big weeding project will take years and that’s completely ok. I set a 3-5 year goal for getting our collection’s average publication age up from 1988 to within our youngest student’s lifetime. And it took 5 years, because it required many weeding passes as well as collection development via new purchases.
    • Basically on the first pass through I just look for things like outrageously poor physical condition & not circulating for 20 or more years. Then on the second pass through I’d tighten it up and look for poor physical condition, not circulating for 10+ years. On third pass I’d tighten it up more and start looking at anything that has not circulated in past 7 years, plus condition, unneeded duplicates, topics no longer in our curriculum. On 4th pass I start looking at anything that has not circulated in 5 years, plus condition, duplicates, and content (this is the phase where I really started to use the full MUSTIE criteria from CREW Method.)

*Quick Tip Down Method (my secret weapon)

This #protip is my secret weapon when it comes to my weeding process. I had this lightbulb moment early in my weeding journey and it made a huge difference to the process for me, so I share it with you now! Most of the weeding I’ve seen modeled or demo’d is where the librarian pulls books that meet a minimum weeding criteria onto a cart and then evaluates the books more carefully from the cart to decide which should stay and which should go. I’m not a fan of this strategy because it means that the books that don’t end up getting weeded now need to be re-shelved. Seems like unnecessary extra work to me, and I’m a big fan of efficiency so this is a no-go for me. The other way I’ve seen it approached is the librarian goes to the stacks and evaluates each book to determine whether it stays or goes, pulling only the ones that need to go onto a cart for removal. This process works better for me but still not perfect because I like to do multiple passes & I get distracted and slowed down when the cart fills up. To find the happy compromise I needed for the weeding process, I came up with my little “quick tip down” method. Basically I do a quick pass through one bookcase, quickly “tipping down” each book that just from a visual glance seems like it might need evaluation for weeding. This is very quick and based entirely on what my eye can see about its physical condition and topic/content. You can see in the picture below what the bookcase looks like once I’ve gone through the initial “quick tip down” phase. The books whose pages, rather than their spine, are showing are the ones that were tipped down.

Once I get through the bookcase I then go through on a second pass, evaluating each “tipped down” book more carefully and thoroughly using MUSTIE and any other criteria, including referencing the reports to check date of pub and circ data. At this point I’m analyzing each tipped down book more thoroughly and thoughtfully. For the books that I tipped down but which, upon second glance, I determine need to stay, I just tip them back up into “spine out” position and keep moving through the rest. For the books which, upon second glance, I determine DO need to be weeded, I simply leave them “tipped down” and then I move onto the next bookcase and so on.

The reason I leave them tipped down instead of pulling them onto a cart at this point is to keep the efficiency going. I later can send student volunteers or the library assistant into the stacks to pull all the books that I left “tipped down” (or I do it at the end of the day when my brain is too burned out to do any tasks that require thinking or creativity lol). The volunteers (or me) then scan the books out of the system and de-process them as needed. I am able to spend more of my time focusing on the part of weeding that only I can do (the actual evaluation and decision making). Since I can tend to get easily distracted and off task, keeping my focus on the evaluation phase is really helpful for my personal weeding process. This strategy helps me be able to do 2 pass throughs quickly, prevents unnecessary extra shelving, and allows me to focus and stay on task a bit better.

  • Ask “Should this book stay” instead of “Should this book go”
    • I’ve found that approaching the weeding evaluation phase from a slightly different lens really helps me stay on track. Instead of evaluating things through the lens of “should this book be weeded” I like to evaluate the books through the lens of “should this book stay.” I don’t want to get stuck in a limited mindset where I find myself internally approaching from the belief that I need to have a hundred great reasons and rationale for removing a book. Instead I want to approach collection development from the mindset of thinking that every book should have a hundred good reasons for being on the shelf, for taking up valuable shelf space, for still being in the collection. If a book does not actively and clearly meet current and emerging needs or interests, if it does not support the current curricular needs or the current personal interests of today’s students, then it should be weeded. So I ask the books to tell me (metaphorically) why they deserve to stay, instead of why they deserve to go. I’ve found that approaching the process through the mindset and belief that no book is inherently a perpetual “must have” really helps me let go of the things that aren’t meeting current and emerging needs, and really makes weeding less complicated for me.

Dealing With the Weeded Items

  • Follow Your Policies
    • As always, and as mentioned previously, make sure you are following your institution’s policies regarding what and how and when items can be discarded/removed.
  • Get help
    • As mentioned above, it can be a great idea to partner with other members of the community to assist you with disposing or donating of the weeded items. For items that are safe and appropriate to donate you may like to partner with local book drives or student clubs to help find new homes for the items. For items that need to be boxed up or disposed of you may want to partner with your maintenance department to help you with that. For items that need to be de-processed you may like to connect with student groups, your special education department, or your PTO groups to find volunteers to help with that.
  • Don’t donate or re-home everything
    • As sad as this fact may be, as hard to accept as it may be, the fact is that not all weeded books are safe or appropriate to re-home. Some items do need to be disposed of/ permanently out of circulation. Some items are perfectly safe to re-home or donate, if you can find new homes for them (increasingly difficult as there are simply far more old books than there is a need or demand for them). Items that are fairly new, in good physical condition, or high interest, etc may still be appropriate to re-home and that’s perfectly fine. But some items are weeded and are not safe or appropriate to re-home or disperse throughout the community. Items that are in unhygienic physical condition must be disposed of. If they have water damage, stains, mold, must, etc they need to be disposed of, not reused or re-homed. Items that are weeded due to harmful rep, misinformation, disinformation, superseded medical/health information, etc should be disposed of, not re-homed.
    • We are tasked with being trustworthy stewards of information in our communities, keep this in mind when you ar deciding which weeded items to retire permanently and which are safe to live on and be dispersed by us into our, or other, communities. Its a big responsibility that we need to take seriously and its much more important than our personal nostalgia for books as “sacred objects.” Books are not inherently “sacred,” they are material products which have a lifespan and we need to be capable of deciding when a lifespan has been reached.
  • Keep a few examples/take pix of the memorable weeds
    • Trust me when I say that you will want to keep some memorable weeds and/or take pictures (and save them) of memorable weeds. One reason is that its simply hilarious, because you will find some true “gems” when weeding, and you’ll enjoy looking back at some of them in future. But more importantly these are helpful artifacts for advocacy efforts. These are helpful artifacts/examples to have on hand when you need to advocate and educate community members about the importance of weeding. Its a hard concept for most people to conceive of and to truly grasp the need for, but showing them examples really does help them conceptualize the purpose of weeding. I try to keep a mix of examples that show things like outdated cover art or phrases, inaccurate medical/health topics, misinformation, etc to help demonstrate the need for weeding.

Community Advocacy

Let’s chat about the importance of advocacy when it comes to, well, everything! But specifically when it comes to weeding. Most of our community will not be familiar with the concept of weeding, and can even react very negatively to the process when first introduced to it. This is a failure on our profession to have adequately educated and advocated to the general public about the importance of weeding. We see this every few months when a picture of a dumpster of books goes viral on social media because people who see it become outraged and shocked at the idea of books being disposed of. Its not the public’s fault that they react this way, its a gut reaction and its completely understandable that people without our training and understanding of how libraries function, as well as our limits and objectives, would react this way. Its up to us to educate our communities about how libraries function and about things like weeding.

When I was going through the coursework and being mentored I had a lot of librarians talk about how they do their weeding “under cover of night” and “on the down low” so as to avoid upsetting the community. Depending on your community and admin support I supposed that might be necessary but I’m not a proponent of that method. Instead I prefer to approach librarianship from a transparency lens instead. The library is not MINE, after all, it belongs to the community and I believe in full transparency. I believe that it is through relationship building and advocacy that we build successful library programs. I believe it is my job to help my community understand what the library is doing and why. When it comes to weeding, this is very important. For this reason, I opted not to follow the old school “weed in the dead of night when no one is watching” mentality and instead chose to do advocacy pushes to shed light on what weeding is, why we would be doing it, and what the targeted student outcomes would be. I’ve done advocacy through our newsletters, school newspaper, social media, and informal discussion at faculty meetings and such to bring awareness about this process. I don’t want my community to be alarmed or upset, so I hope that the transparent advocacy and educating about the weeding process helps to calm any fears or concerns.

Additionally I suggest having your “calm and direct elevator pitch” ready to go for the instances when you will be confronted by community members who see the weeding and are alarmed or upset by it. Practice how you’ll respond, and remember to reach with advocacy and empathy rather than defensiveness. It can ruffle our feathers a bit when we are challenged in our decisions, or when someone reacts in a way that makes us wonder if they don’t respect our expertise and professionalism. That’s a perfectly understandable human reaction but its important, I think, to strive to overcome that response and instead be open to the questions and push-back. Later on we can certainly go back to our trusted librarian PLN and vent about how it makes us feel when community members criticize or question our professional decisions, that’s certainly a normal human thing to do but its important that in the moment we don’t react defensively but instead take the opportunity to do some needed advocacy. Even when the questions or criticism is delivered in an aggressive or upsetting way/tone, I try to receive it as though it is a mere request for information. Because that’s usually what it is, really. When someone criticizes or pushes back on a decision we’ve made its usually just them showing that they don’t understand and are seeking information to help them understand.

At least, that’s how I choose to interpret it. 🙂 These push backs are an opportunity for us to calm their fears and address their concerns, to explain the pedagogy and philosophy behind what we are doing and to share the expected outcomes and student benefits. And, honestly, I find that once most people understand the reasoning behind our decisions and the expected benefits we’re working toward, it really does tend to calm their fears and concerns. Even if they don’t end up agreeing with our decision, it does really help if we can assist people in at least understanding them. Most people can get onboard with change if they understand the reasons for it. Its really important that we remember just how mysterious most of our job is to the general public, they really don’t know what we do or why we do a lot of it. Advocacy is so critical to helping us gain support. There can’t be true support without true understanding.

This is one example of one of my newsletters where I was addressing the weeding process

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