An Easy System To Help School Librarians Weed Fiction Books

An Easy System To Help School Librarians Weed Fiction Books - As School Librarians we want to provide students with a stimulating collection of Fiction stories. Though we dread the task, it's necessary to periodically get rid of titles that are no longer in line with our school population's interests. To help, here's my easy method for weeding Fiction books. #NoSweatLibraryIf a School Librarian had to list the 3 most dreaded tasks, weeding would be right up there with inventory and overdue books…right? I’ve written about my 6-step process for weeding Dewey books, so now it’s time to tackle weeding Fiction books.

When I began as School Librarian at my middle school, it was only 2 years old, and we still had 3 years of higher funding to build our collection, so my first 3 years I didn’t do any weeding at all. Needless to say, by the 4th year, the Fiction section looked pretty well stocked, but I wasn’t satisfied with some of the titles on the shelves.

Often new school libraries are stocked 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. No wonder kids couldn’t find anything interesting to read!

So, that first time I weeded Fiction was, to say the least, a learning experience, and it helped me develop an easy system for weeding Fiction books that has served me for a decade.


When weeding books from the school library collection, we first need to decide our purpose:

  • We can weed for currency, that is, remove old publication date books to update the average age of the collection.
  • We can weed for relevancy, that is, remove books that haven’t circulated for awhile to increase appeal of the collection…and boost circulation.

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 interesting 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 removes undesirable old publication date books, accomplishing both purposes.

Weeding for relevancy means deciding on the date range and circulation numbers of books we want to remove. Many librarians weed Fiction books with under 10 checkouts in 5 years, and you may want to do that, too. 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 ELA classes for book checkout and sustained silent reading (SSR) which we call DEAR time (Drop Everything And Read). I’m poor at probability, but here’s my reasoning:

When weeding Fiction, we need to decide the cut-off date and circulation numbers for our report. For my report I choose to weed any Fiction book with 0-5 checkouts during the past 4 years. Here's how I justify these numbers...

  • 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.

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.


The When & How for a School Librarian to Weed Fiction Books - The flexibility of weeding Fiction books is that we can do it at any time with "mini-weeds". Here's what that is and how this School Librarian does it. #NoSweatLibraryThe flexibility 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 being used by students so they don’t need to be weeded! And it isn’t necessary to weed the entire Fiction collection every year, so that’s why I do mini-weeds.

What’s a mini-weed? If we set up a schedule to consistently weed small sections each year, we’ll regularly rotate through the entire Fiction collection. We can start with the books on one side of an aisle. If time presents itself during the school year, we can do another side of an aisle. Eventually we’ll complete the schedule.


To set up my weeding report, I identify a certain range of Fiction books. Before I reorganized Fiction into Subjects, I set the range for the Call Numbers on one side of an aisle, like FIC AAA – FIC CRU. During Fiction reorganization, I assigned a book’s Subject to our system’s Home Location field, so now I set my report for the Home Location Subject I want to weed. In either case I have the report sort by Call Number so it’s in alpha-author order, the same as the books on shelves.

For the actual weeding, I take a bookcart and a printout of the report to the location, then simply go down the aisle, pulling books off the shelf 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. Last, I remove identifiers and pack the books in boxes, ready for pickup by the district warehouse, which 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 book re-shelving cart, so students are reading them and they don’t need to be weeded. Even if a book is mis-shelved, some student has 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 administrators 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 of our students.

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 “pulled the weeds.” Students are better able to notice the remaining books on the cleared off shelves, so they read more and our circulation improves. And isn’t that the whole point of a library?

line of books laying down - indicates end of blog article

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Weeding Dewey Books: a 6-Step Plan for School Librarians

Weeding Dewey Books: a 6-Step Plan for School Librarians - Are you intimidated by the thought of weeding your Dewey Decimal books? I discovered that a substantially decreased collection dramatically increases circulation of what's left. Here's a 6-step plan that will override your apprehension.There’s no one way to weed—much depends on your grade level and curriculum, your students, and which part of the collection is to be weeded. Weeding Dewey books generates the most questions on my listservs, so I’ll share my experience hoping that it makes your task easier and reassures you that what remains is useful and enjoyable for your students.

Your first inclination may be to run a report for never circulated books, but don’t. I did that my first time, but as I pulled books off the shelf, I realized they aren’t old, they’re invisible to students because they’re crammed in with truly old or unappealing books that circulated in the past, so they don’t appear on the report! After thinking about the problem, I came up with a new 6-Step Dewey Weeding Plan.


First remove everything with a publication date older than the past 4-6 years, except for sections which never get “old” like 200 religion, 398 folktales, 800s literature, and those always-popular topics. This alone can remove up to 30% of your Dewey books, with the biggest weeds coming from the 300s, 500s, 600s, and 900s which all get old pretty fast. It’s amazing how much better the shelves look and how much easier it is to spot “interesting” books after doing this initial weeding.

Example chart of CREW method of weeding Dewey by numbers.At left is a helpful list I found for weeding Dewey numbers, made into a chart that also has columns for when each Dewey Class is weeded, when to weed it next, and when it’s inventoried.

After initial weeding, it’s tempting to keep some “old” books, thinking kids might still use them, but check the circulation stats: if the book wasn’t checked out at least 10 times in the past couple years, it doesn’t interest students; if it was, it’s a popular topic and you need to purchase more current books.


Wondering how to determine popular topics? Circulation statistics can help, but it’s even better to use our own students! Invite a dozen or so kids from different grade levels, including some that aren’t usually library users, to a breakfast or lunch meeting. (If you’re new to the school, ask teachers to help choose students. It’s good PR to show that you invite input!)

Tell students you need their help to determine Dewey books they like to read and give them plenty of time to browse the now-thinned shelves to pick out a dozen books that interest them. By the end of the meeting you’ll end up with ~150 books on popular topics for incidental reading. These are the Dewey numbers you can weed less rigorously and you may even decide to put back a few of those older books you already weeded.


Get rid of books that do not match Subject Content Standards, especially for research projects. Even if you think they’re “great titles” they won’t be used if they don’t fit your school’s curriculum. Don’t hang on to books “we used to use for research.” Curriculum changes may bring the topic back, but probably not sooner than 5-7 years, and by that time those books will be outdated.

For example, I removed all books about U.S. States except our own because middle school only studies our own (if needed, more current information is available online). I did keep books about cultural/ethnic/racial groups, books about events in U.S. History, and books about national parks or wonders, but I redid their Dewey numbers and kids began to check them out:

  • Geography, Natural Wonders, and Landmarks books are 973.091, where .091 is from DDC Table 1 Geographic Treatment.
  • Events, like western settlement and 9/11, were put into the time period in which they happened, from 973.1 through 973.9.


We typically choose online databases for curriculum-related topics that need to be current. For those topics it’s better for students to use the online resources, so weed these books ruthlessly!

Take a good look at your 900s. Country books get old fast, so if you have database subscriptions of countries, you don’t need country data & stats books. Keep topical books, such as national parks and natural wonders, cultural titles that highlight particular cities or peoples, and significant national events, especially if these books have lots of colorful pictures. Get rid of everything else—pare it down to a single section for each continent with only 2-3 shelves each. I guarantee your students will check out these “interesting” books like crazy once the “clutter” is gone.

A kid-friendly suggestion: I moved 980-990 books over to shelves next to 971 Canada & 972 Middle America books so all non-U.S. countries are along a single aisle of shelves. The sign at the end of the aisle has “Countries of the World”—the sign for the other side is “U.S. History”—and a small sign on the 972 shelf states the 973s are in the next aisle. Frankly, most kids don’t even realize there’s a gap—they just love browsing all the “other country” books in a single area! (If you are not a U.S. school library, I suspect the section of your own country books is huge compared to other-country books and a similar strategy will work for your students, too.)


Finally, weed unpopular and non-curricular titles that were never checked out, knowing no one will miss these books. If in doubt, my criteria for deciding was, if I wouldn’t read it, neither will a kid! The exception is books that students may enjoy if they’re shelved in another location with topically-related books.


As I was weeding ‘never circulated’ items I came across many books that would be more noticed at a different location, so I changed the Dewey Call Numbers. I don’t see this as a problem, but rather as a solution. The whole purpose of DDC is “works that are used together to be found together” and our library ‘users’ are quite different from LOC or public library users. Here are examples of the larger changes I made so students could find books more easily.

    • Pirate and shipwreck books are popular with middle school boys, so I pulled all the pirate books from other areas and added them to 910.4. I also added books on explorers and exploration & discovery to 910.9, so the “Adventure” shelf became very popular—I got several comments about all the “new” pirate books!
      Shelf label for 910 Adventures!
    • Military books in 355-359 are boy favorites, but books on military vehicles were invisible among car books in the 620s. I changed their Dewey numbers to 355.8 and they were quickly checked out.
    • Books on various types of buildings are in 300s, 600s, 700s (architecture), and even 900s (pyramids). I brought them all together into 690 Buildings—the last shelf of the 600s. Mine was at the end of an aisle, and that shelf became perpetually empty because books that had never before circulated were constantly being noticed and checked out…so I purchased lots of new ones!
  • COMPUTER books are scattered from 003 through the 700s, making it nearly impossible to “browse” the topic. I pulled everything together to 621.38 and 621.39 and immediately had increased checkouts.
    Shelf label for 621.3 Computers
  • In the 973 U.S. HISTORY section I also changed books about the 13 original colonies to 973.2 with their 2-letter postal code instead of author letters. You can read more about this in my post How to Support Content Reading in Social Studies.


School Librarians Can Easily Weed Dewey Books By Following These 6 Steps - This procedure helps School Librarians run more precise reports to weed books from the Dewey area in their school libraries ... especially if you just do a small section at a time. #NoSweatLibraryMy library director always said, “It’s better to have a small collection of books that are read, than a huge collection of those that aren’t.” My first intensive weeding confirmed that: getting rid of uninteresting books helps kids find really interesting ones they want to read; getting multiple copies of popular topics means more students read more books; and having a substantially decreased collection actually increases circulation!

Now I rarely do a whole-collection inventory; each year I weed certain Dewey Classes, so I complete enough to do the entire collection within 5 years. I simply weed as I shelve books. Using my weeding chart and a diagram of my bookshelves, I print the scheduled shelves and tape the diagram to a bookcart. As I put books on a scheduled shelf, I take a few extra minutes to weed the shelf, then cross it off the diagram. When all shelves on the diagram are done, I record it in my digital documents, then print the next scheduled section.

line of books laying down


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