Let’s talk about one of a School Librarian’s 3 most dreaded tasks: weeding (the other 2 are inventory and overdue books, right?) Earlier I explained my 6-step process for weeding Dewey books, so now we tackle weeding Fiction books.
When I began as School Librarian at my middle school, it was only 2 years old. We still had 3 years of higher funding to build our collection, so my first 3 years I didn’t do any weeding of either Fiction or Dewey. Needless to say, by the 4th year, the Fiction section looked pretty good, but I wasn’t satisfied with some of the titles on the shelves.
If you didn’t know, new school libraries are often begun with a vendor package of book titles purportedly chosen for the grade levels of the school. I discovered that what they actually do is clear their warehouse of old books that have been sitting there awhile and throw in enough new titles so the average age of the collection isn’t some time in the Stone Age.
That first time weeding Fiction was, to say the least, a learning experience, and it helped me develop an easy system that served me for a decade.
WHEN TO WEED FICTION
The beauty of weeding Fiction is that we can do it any time. Think about it: any books that aren’t on the shelves—that is, checked out or on re-shelving carts—are actively used by someone so they don’t need to be weeded! That’s still a lot of books to consider, so I do mini-weeds.
What’s a mini-weed? It isn’t necessary to weed the entire Fiction collection every year. If we set up a schedule and consistently weed small sections each year, we’ll regularly rotate through the entire collection. I typically section books into those on one side of an aisle. As time presents itself during the school year, I do one section, then later another one, until I’ve completed those on the schedule.
WHAT TO WEED IN FICTION
First, we need to decide our purpose in weeding Fiction:
- We can weed for currency, that is, remove old publication date books to update the average age of the collection. (This is, BTW, my criterion for Dewey.)
- We can weed for relevancy, that is, remove books that haven’t circulated for awhile to increase the circulation numbers for the collection.
Except for my first weeding, I always weed Fiction for relevancy. If the purpose of our Fiction collection is to promote independent reading, then we want books on the shelves that are appealing to students. Relevancy means students are drawn to a book—for whatever reason—and will check it out. Relevancy allows older, popular “classics” to remain, but weeds out other old pub date books, accomplishing both purposes.
Second, we need to decide the cut-off date and circulation numbers to set up our report in the automation system. Many librarians weed Fiction books with under 10 checkouts in 5 years, and you may want to do that, too. For my report I choose to weed any Fiction book with 0-5 checkouts during the past 4 years. How do I justify these numbers?
In our middle school, we have every-other-week library visits with all ELA classes for book checkout and sustained silent reading (SSR) which we call DEAR time (Drop Everything And Read). I’m not good at probability, but here’s my reasoning:
- A student can check out 3 books at a time, so a book has 3 chances of being chosen by 1 student during a single library visit.
- ELA visits the library 15 times during the school year, so a book has 45 opportunities to be chosen by a student during a school year.
- We have roughly 650 students, so each book has 29,250 chances to be chosen within a school year.
- As a 6-8 middle school, each incoming group of students has 3 years of visits to choose Fiction books, so each book has 87,750 opportunities to be chosen during a 3-year period.
- I allow an extra year, just to be sure, which puts it over 100,000 chances for a book to be chosen. If, after that many opportunities it hasn’t been checked out, it’s cluttering the shelf and preventing other books from being noticed.
For my population & collection, I choose 0-5 checkouts because my minimum appeal number is 2 students/year. I figure, if a student likes a book, they’ll tell a friend about it. If that happens each year for 3 years, the book will be checked out 6 times and I’ll leave it on the shelf. Fewer than that isn’t worth the shelf space. Even if a book had high circulation after initial purchase, when it’s checked out fewer and fewer times within any 4-year period, then it’s lost its appeal and needs to go.
HOW TO WEED FICTION
When setting up the report, I identify a certain range of Fiction books. Before I reorganized Fiction into Subjects, I set the range for particular Call Numbers, like FIC AAA – FIC BRO. When I re-organized, I assigned the book’s Subject to the system’s Home Location field, so now I set the report for the specific Home Location of the Subject section I want to weed. In either case I set the report to sort by Call Number so it’s in alpha-author order, the same as the books on shelves.
The final step is to take a cart and a printout of the report to the location, and simply go down the aisle, pulling books to the cart. I don’t bother crossing off the list; I just indicate where I stop in case I get interrupted. Once I’ve gone through the entire report, I take the cart to the circulation desk and scan the book barcodes into DISCARD. Then I remove identifiers and pack the books in boxes, ready for pickup by the district warehouse, who does our book disposal for us.
The weed report goes into the trash, even if there are books on the list that didn’t get pulled: they’re either checked out or on the returned book re-shelving cart, so they’re being read and don’t need to be weeded. Even if a book is mis-shelved, some student put hands on it, so it’s still of interest. If not, it’ll get weeded next year!
What about lost or missing books? They’re extraneous to the weeding process; because they’re already off the shelves, they’re a matter for inventory, not weeding.
Many School Librarians share stories of horrified teachers and admin seeing them throw out weeded books. Here’s a possible explanation you might use to justify what you do.
Books are like great food, but instead of feeding the body, they nourish the mind. When we encounter food in our kitchen or—gasp!—at the grocery store that is past the expired date, we know that food is no longer healthful for us. The same is true of a book: when it’s past the time that it’s accurate or relevant, then it’s no longer nourishing, and in fact, can be damaging. That’s why we weed: to be sure our school library is providing wholesome and beneficial sustenance for the intellect and the soul.
If you’ve been holding back on weeding for whatever reason, I hope this article stimulates you to jump in. It’s actually quite a satisfying process, knowing you’ve cleared away the “weeds.” Students are better able to notice the remaining books on the cleared off shelves, so they read more and our circulation improves.