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 To me, these are the major problems with holding onto old, out of date, musty materials:
Out of date materials can be dangerous.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 There's no place for out of date materials on our shelves.
Out of date materials are often text feature poor.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An old, irrelevant and out of date collection sends the message that we're all of those things too.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:
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.