Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Keeping Your Library Collection Smelling F.R.E.S.H!

Yesterday I had the opportunity to work with a fun group of librarians in the northern part of my state who had some questions about weeding.  Specifically, they were concerned about getting rid of old materials when their collections are already small and there's no money to replace the discards with shiny new replacements.

I understand this concern, but when it comes to weeding, I err on the side of less being more.   To me, these are the major problems with holding onto old, out of date, musty materials:

  • Out of date materials can be dangerous. When I eliminated my reference section (which might have been my first year as a school librarian), I found a book that said, "scientists do not believe HIV is transmitted through sexual content."  No joke.  Now... I ended up giving that  book to a science teacher who wanted to use it as a teaching tool when discussing the learning curve associated with contagious diseases.  In that situation, that book was an awesome resource.  But on a library shelf, it's like a loaded gun.  That kind of misinformation can do serious harm. There's no place for out of date materials on our shelves.
  • Out of date materials are often text feature poor.  Today's high quality, non-fiction texts are rich with features that not only help kids understand the content, but that also help them understand how language and design can be used to increase understanding.  Older texts simply weren't written that way and often no longer serve the needs of today's learners. 
  • Readers DO judge a book by its cover.  An important part of our job is to connect readers with materials that make them want to read MORE!  Books that are in disrepair or that look like something your grandma would consider an antique, aren't motivating anyone - but especially not to today's young readers. 
  • Books reflect the times in which they were written.   Some older texts may contain language or plot lines rooted in stereotypes or prejudices that might have been perfectly acceptable at the time they were written, but that are now recognized as offensive.  Not only do we have to make sure that our non-fiction texts reflect equitable and up to date view points, we need to make sure that our fiction collections afford every child in the school the opportunity to see themselves depicted in fair and accurate ways.
  • An old, irrelevant and out of date collection sends the message that we're all of those things too.  Our collections are a reflection of what we value and are about.  I'd rather have just a few shelves made of awesome than thousands of titles that send the message that my library is still in the dark ages.  Holding onto dinosaurs will only make some folks think you're one too.

I know what you're thinking.

"But Jennifer... if I discard all of my old books, there won't be anything left!?!"  Well... I'm pretty sure that's not 100% accurate.  But even if it is, here's my answer:

So what?

We are not archivists.  We are educators.  We are not curators of book museums.  We are conduits of information.  Our job is to connect our patrons (be they students or teachers or other members of our school community) with the BEST resources available.  And, let's face it, we live in a time when there are lots and lots of alternatives to old and outdated.  Look, I'm not advocating that we toss out all of our print resources for digital ones, but I am saying that it's time we start thinking of our collections as blended spaces - made up of print, digital, physical and human resources.  If we do that, making the choice between a good resource and a bad one becomes a little bit easier.

Anyway, as a part of this work, I stumbled upon this gem of a video in which the CSLA Book Cart Drill Team (a couple of asides: a) why have I never heard of a "book cart drill team" and b) how can I join one?) speaks some truth about weeding in song/dance number set to Michael Jackson's "Beat It."  It's brilliant.  And the lyrics (which can be found just below the video) are priceless.  Which, in turn, inspired me to make this flyer to help those who are struggling with whether or not it's time to get rid of a particular book.


As always, you can find a hi-res version of this flyer here.   Once again, I used the app Art Studio for iPad to draw the avatar, but relied on Comic Life to create the flyer itself. And since it (like everything I post here) is licensed as Creative Commons, you should feel free to use and share it as you see fit. 

14 comments:

  1. What a great way to encourage weeding! We all know the argument about having the shelves look too bare, but a well-weeded library is a great visual for administrators to decide if they are going to fill your shelves, or pay for online encyclopedias, databases or other digital resources.

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  2. This year, I am doing a comprehensive review of our books and our apps. I tossed ALL the VHS tapes last year, much to the consternation of the staff. When I got new shelves last year I took a good look at the age of our nonfiction collection. I had everything published before 1990 tossed. About 3 thousand books. Everything about computer technology that was published before 2000 tossed. My rule to thumb is that all science/technology needs to be no older than 5 years old. Countries that no longer exist don't get shelf space.
    I've encountered to big problems in weeding. One is the staff, many who don't see the need for new books: "Dinosaurs just don't change" Well.... our understanding of them do. Current thought is that ALL the dinos DIDN'T go extinct. One branch is still alive: Birds! The texts written in the 1980's don't reflect our current understanding of things that happened in the past.

    The other is the non fiction books available for purchase. Lots of the nonfiction books may be recently published, but were written more then 15 years ago. New pictures and a new format don't hide dated information.

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  3. This is a great article and a fantastic flyer. I'd also argue that older, musty materials are not only hazardous to our intellectual health but even sometimes hazardous to our physical health! How many of us have had a sneezing fit after rummaging through a shelf that hasn't been handled in ages. I'm in the middle of a weeding project now and can only do about one shelf a day without having terrible allergy problems.

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  4. I've weeded over 3,000 books and my principal wants me to give them to the students and teachers! They are moldy, dusty, and simply way out of date. So far I've managed to keep them in a closet, but I can't think of a way to sneak them out. The custodians would tattle on me and hauling out a bag a day just won't cut it.

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    1. I live in town so I just took about 10 books home everyday, challenged my teenager to rip them apart, and tossed them into my trashcan. We have to use special trashcans issued by the city that are picked up by an automated arm on the truck that goes directly to the dump. No human hands touch the books after I put them in the can. So who knows what the trash contains? I did reserve some of the "not so bad" books and them on the "free" shelf. And I didn't have to lie when my principal asked if I gave the books away; I just didn't say how many I gave away. =)

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  5. This is great! I am a big fan of weeding, but it definitely has to happen 'quietly' because it is so misunderstood. We can't get funded to get new materials when it looks like there are plenty on the shelves though. The first thing is condition - If I don't want to handle it, for sure the students don't! Then I think about if I can replace it, or at least recover it. If you feel really uncomfortable pulling a lot, pull them and put them somewhere. See if anyone notices......

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  6. What do you all do when you're weeding a section - such as books about Native American tribes - and there aren't any replacement books available? Is it better to have older books, or no books at all?

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    1. Exactly. We are weeding materials with subjects that are not being rewritten or republished. Or those fabulous lost arts and crafts that people ask about and we no longer have the books to explain.
      Some libraries can and should be archives of books. The craftmanship that went into those works is an art in itself. For shame.

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  7. Amen sister! I love the post and the poster. Thanks for helping me give a great response when asked why we are "throwing away his books"! Because I'm giving you the best (resources), baby!" I heart weeding!

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  8. Not only do I appreciate your candor and suggestions, but your generosity. Thank you for sharing how you created your flyer and for giving it a flexible Creative Commons license. You rock!

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  9. Thanks for your great 'Just Weed It' advice! I will be printing out a copy to put in my office, for inspiration with dealing with our aging collection.

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  10. Thanks for posting this. I am constantly using the argument that school libraries are not an archive. It's is lovely to hear someone else say it. The poster is great!

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  11. As the primary lyricist for "Weed It," I am tickled that you found it worthy to cite. Book cart drill teams used to be a thing at ALA, and several state associations hosted competitions. I think they have faded out of fashion, though our librarians still participate in local parades. So glad to see that our amusing side project lives on and continues to entertain people. Great post and great recommendations!

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  12. Thank you. I loved this and it gave me some great, fun support as we are currently weeding!

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