Weeding: Is the book a friend, acquaintance or stranger?

22 Sep

When organizing shows first came out on TLC and W Network, I remember watching an organizer on an episode that helped a woman clean her closet by having her sort into piles. Most of the shows create piles labelled “keep,” “give away” and “trash,” but this one called the piles “friend”, “acquaintance” or “stranger.” Those were the words that I had been waiting for! I could finally tackle my belongings. These new pile titles no longer put a value on the item itself but on my relationship with the item. Now when I clean my closet those are the piles that I sort into.

In the library I have a hard time thinking of the resources as “trash.” I know I am not the only one. The discussion board for the library course has had some heated debate about this subject. The text book that we use has stated that weeded resources need to be marched directly to the dumpster and thrown in. Now, of course we live in a city that loves to recycle, so I’m sure Reidling (author of Reference Skills for the School Library Media Specialist: 2nd Edition, 2005) would want to change that to “remove the spines and non-paper based material and then march it straight to the recycling depot”, but the intent is the same. Yet I will admit, I just can’t do it.

Weed ‘Em and Reap: The Art of Weeding to Avoid Criticism by Melissa Allen helped to put this into perspective for me (Library Media Connection, May/June 2010). She suggests that, when weeding, the first step is to refer to the district policy on resource selection and deselection. We also have to acknowledge that because of the internet and the availability of current knowledge, we are in “an atmosphere of unrelenting change” and resources do not stay current forever (Allen, 2010).

Allen has forced me to acknowledge that I must weed, no matter how hard it may be. She states many convincing arguments: space restraints (my library is not very large, it’s true), the need to declutter a space, materials that are not up to date actually weaken a collection, and old, tattered books make the library unappealing. I don’t want a stuffed, cluttered, out of date, unappealing or weak collection in my library!

Allen uses the acronym MUSTY as a general criteria for weeding. 

M – Misleading or factually inaccurate

U – Ugly and worn

S – Superseded by a newer edition or by a much better book

T – Trivial with no discernible value

Y – Your collection has no use for this material. Irrelevant.

MUSTY reminds me of the sorting categories of “friend”, “acquaintance” or “stranger”; it doesn’t put a value on the items but on the relationships they have with the library patrons. This acronym makes it easier for me to see what I can justify removing from the collection and gives me reasons to remove it.

Allen also outlines some best before dates for reference materials: technology material should be replaced every 3 years, career materials and encyclopedias should be updated every 5 years, a title that suggests that a source is current should be replaced every 7 years and most Social Studies, Science, Technology, Health and other general reference books should be replaced before they are 10 years old.

Even after all of this, I will admit that I have a hard time throwing things away. I blame my father for this. He used to rummage through the things that I would throw away and pull out items that he felt could still be used (half-used candles, an incomplete deck of cards, one lone sock, etc). The fact that Allen presents an alternative to Reidling’s no-nonsense throw-it-all-away policy is a stress reliever for me. Allen suggests that you can often find another use for a book…

A book’s second life may be in a shelter, prison, hospital or thrift store. Or it may be part of an art project such as a memory book or an altered book (I have had my class create these for three years now with old textbooks and reference books and they are always a huge hit). Allen suggests that they could be cut up for art projects or – my personal favourite – to create furniture for the library. (Here I must make a quick aside and admit that ever since I have been cruising around on library blogs and websites and I came across this circulation desk made out of books that survived a fire, I have been secretly trying to figure out a way to incorporate a library art piece made completely out of weeded books. It will happen!)

In the end Allen reminds the teacher librarian that there is much that is positive about weeding. It is not something to be embarrassed of or secretive about. When you clean out your wardrobe you usually are proud and excited about the lack of clutter, the clothes that you found that you forgot were even there and the new space that you have for a few more wonderful pieces. It is the same with weeding in the library.

Allen also reminds us that, especially if this is a hard process, it is a good idea to do a little bit at a time. Right now I have 4 trolleys of materials that I have weeded and, while I was nervous about the volume that I would be taking out of the library, many of the books have not been checked out since 2000! That is much too long for the book to be taking up precious shelf space. If I kept all the clothes that I hadn’t worn in 10 years, my closet would be packed.

While this initial weeding was a big undertaking and long overdue, I think I will try to take out at least one resource a week from now on. Allen has encouraged me to weed and provided me with alternatives. The books I have weeded I have offered to teachers for their classroom projects. If they are not gone by Monday I will donate them to a Salvation Army shelter. I love having alternatives to throwing resources away. In the end, I can’t let my fear of discarding a resource justify leaving something that is unused on the shelf. Those resources that just sit there are pretty stale and I can’t help but think that they are getting pretty MUSTY.

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