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

With a growing emphasis on nonfiction in the curriculum, it’s time to examine what’s sitting on school library shelves.

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 An up-to-date collection, even if small, is better than one filled with outdated or worn material.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S=superseded by a new edition or a better book on the subject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 Areas such as technology, social problems, and the sciences (especially health and astronomy) become quickly outdated.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 Make room on your shelves by tossing books with outdated covers and yellow pages.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 (

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.

Jana STeeves

Ha ha
Weeding from home with a 600 plus page shelf list and destiny. I just want to know how old is too old for a simple Career book on Human Services workers (are they even called that anymore) and this is the first hit! on (don't tell anybody) Google. So what do you think 10 years is too old, right?

Posted : Mar 23, 2020 06:31


"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?

Posted : May 27, 2016 02:34

Sylvia Scott

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.

Posted : Feb 19, 2016 11:21

Deborah Ford

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...

Posted : Feb 26, 2016 07:26

P Monte

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.

Posted : Sep 11, 2015 03:56

Deborah Ford

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.

Posted : Feb 26, 2016 07:24


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.

Posted : Sep 05, 2015 09:03

Deborah Ford

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.

Posted : Feb 26, 2016 07:22



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing