April 21, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

To Weed or Not to Weed? Criteria to ensure that your nonfiction collection remains up to date | Everyday Librarian

Ford-Deborah_180x180With a growing emphasis on nonfiction in the curriculum, it’s time to examine what’s sitting on school library shelves. Collection development is more than buying new books. Continuous pruning, updating, and evaluation is required if our libraries are to remain viable resources.

Discarding obsolete or damaged material—aka weeding—helps ensure that our collections remain appealing and current. The process also highlights areas where there is room for growth. An up-to-date collection, even if small, is better than one filled with outdated or worn material.

CREW Method

Devised by the Texas State Library and Archive Commission, the CREW (Continuous Review, Evaluation, & Weeding) Method* involves evaluating books by year of copyright, last use, and condition. All are factors that you should consider when weeding your collection.

M=misleading: factually inaccurate

U=ugly: beyond mending or rebinding

S=superseded by a new edition or a better book on the subject

T=trivial: of no discernible literary or scientific merit or entertainment value

I=irrelevant to the needs and interests of the library’s community

E=elsewhere: nonessential material easily obtainable from another resource

In addition, MUSTIE is a list of criteria that may help you determine whether a particular title should stay or go.

• Begin with collection analysis. Most circulation systems and many vendors offer an analysis component. Evaluate the results by identifying your collection’s weakest areas.

• Target key Dewey ranges. Areas such as technology, social problems, and the sciences (especially health and astronomy) become quickly outdated.

• Weed the worst. Start by discarding the oldest nonfiction material. Make room on your shelves by tossing books with outdated covers and yellow pages.

• Use your senses. Follow your nose. Books that smell musty or are moldy must be discarded to maintain the health of the entire collection. Look at a book’s condition. Are the pages falling out? Time to toss.

• Enlist your colleagues. Host a weeding party and assign partners to sections that need attention. Give them bottom-line criteria: “books more than 20 years old must go,” for example. Teams can discuss individual titles and put them aside for your final say.

• Fill the gaps. If you target key areas for weeding, be sure to create wish lists for those sections. Deleting a book about Pluto? Add a new one to your list.

• Ask the experts. National organizations—beyond the American Library Association—choose the best nonfiction titles in their subject areas. The National Council of Social Studies and the National Science Teachers Association, for example, both create annual Notable Trade Book lists for K–12. You might also ask your subject area specialists to help you weed and shop for replacement titles.

• Judge for yourself. The latest award-winning nonfiction titles incorporate many features that support the Common Core State Standards. Look for the same features in the books on your shelves. Is there a bibliography? A glossary? What are the writer’s qualifications? What websites support the text? Are the graphics appealing and informative?

The same criteria applies to gifts. Ask yourself: Is this material shelf worthy? If not, discard, recycle, or add it to your book sale box.

In short, no matter the size of your budget, it’s better to have no information than misinformation. Discard books that are no longer accurate. Delete worn materials. Free up space in your media collection for fresh, current resources. As the “guardian” of your library’s collection, it’s your responsibility to ensure that what you own is worth protecting.

*CREW: A Weeding Manual for Modern Libraries, copyright 2012 Texas State Library and Archives Commission, revised and updated by Jeanette Larson to include ebooks and other media, is licensed under Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1RV2Myz).

This article was published in School Library Journal's August 2015 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Deborah B. Ford About Deborah B. Ford

Deborah is the Director of Library Outreach for Junior Library Guild. She is an award-winning teacher librarian with almost 30 years of experience as a classroom teacher and librarian in K–12 schools.



  1. I think many librarians are hesitant to weed because they fear the reaction from the school community or they’ve had trouble with it in the past. Starting off by just weeding the worst of the worst in terms of physical condition can make a huge impact and help school community members see the importance of weeding. I recently weeded a high school’s fiction collection. Two students who had graduated the previous year returned for a visit and said, “Wow, you got so many new books!” I told them that I actually hadn’t purchased anything new. I just got rid of all the old, musty, falling-apart books and it made it easier to see the good stuff that remained.

    • Deborah Ford says:

      Lisa, you are absolutely right. I weeded a middle school library once and just did biography. The kids said the same thing. “Look at all these new books.” Thanks for sharing.

  2. First …I like this article really good reading and guidelines. As 2 the 20year old rule what about timeless classics. Help! some are even older but r in fairly good shape. (the books themselves not the stories per say)
    I like these suggestions but not sure about the 20 yr. one.

    • Deborah Ford says:

      The “20 year” is just a number. You can choose whatever bottom line works for you. Classics that don’t check out may need to be replaced with newer editions or they may just need marketing to get their circulation up.

  3. Sylvia Scott says:

    After reading this I want to weed my non-fiction collection! As Lisa says, the school community sometimes opposes the weeding process, and that makes it more difficult. It seems ludicrous to discard a book which is all shiny and new looking. But in reality, it’s been on the shelf for 20 years and has no relevance to curriculum and no appeal to students and was therefore not checked out much.
    This is especially difficult when weeding the fiction collection. I really would like to read an article about weeding picture books and other fiction.

    • Deborah Ford says:

      Good idea for a follow up article, Sylvia. Seems like I either wrote one or gave a talk about that. I’ll put that on my to do list. Maybe in a JLG Deb’s Musings…

  4. “Start by discarding the oldest nonfiction material.” …

    The removal of fiction is the removal of facts and processes. How can this be good for society? Shouldn’t we be discarding [pulp] fiction?