Winning at Weeding

Circulation numbers often jump after a weeding project—because students and teachers can more easily find the books that interest them.

Vanessa Calhoun’s students at the Carrington Middle School in Durham, NC, move books during a massive weeding and genrefying project.
Photo courtesy of Vanessa Calhoun


“If your shelves are full, kids aren’t reading,” says Vanessa Calhoun, media center specialist at Carrington Middle School in Durham, NC. “Libraries are not book museums.”

Calhoun performed a drastic weed on her fiction collection this year, removing 800 items, many of which had publication dates from the 1980s. “It was a lot of white girls with ponytails on the cover,” she says. The spine labels on her collection had recently changed design, so a visual sweep allowed her to remove the older books. After doing “due diligence” to check circulation numbers, she found that none of these titles had circulated more than 10 times. “These materials were not relevant to my students,” she says. “Now, diversity is the name of the game....My kids want to see themselves reflected in books.”

When circulation numbers go up after a weeding project, it’s because students and teachers can “actually see the books they are browsing for—they’re not all squished together,” says Christie Boen, district librarian and instructional technology coach at the Bend-LaPine School District in Bend, OR. Boen uses the CREW method developed by the Texas Library Association: continuous review, evaluate, weed. School media staff across the district are encouraged to weed on a weekly basis. Over the past several years, Boen worked with staff to bring the average publication year of school collections to at least 2004, a mighty undertaking.

Boen notes that large weeding projects can often arouse the suspicion of administrators and teachers; “some staff just don’t understand why some books are being removed.” Library media specialist Bethany Thompson took extensive measures to reassure staff that she had justification for weeding items at Booker T. Washington Elementary School in Champaign, IL. “I created a paper tag with a checklist of reasons a title might be weeded, a blank for the copyright date, and a blank for the date when the book was last checked out,” she says.

Volunteers helped Thompson create tags for each book. Then, “a few boxes at a time, I put the books in the teacher’s lounge with a note explaining why there were there, offering them ‘free to a good home.’ ” Few books were ever taken from the weeded piles. “Multiple staff members came to me to express their dismay that items had been in the library,” she says.

While the tag system took extra time, “it went a long way toward showing staff that I went about things in a thoughtful and methodical manner, and wasn’t just throwing books away.” Back in the library, “I had more than one child ask when we had gotten these ‘new’ books, which cemented my position on weeding being critical.” Calhoun’s strategy for teachers who may object to removing a “classic” title from the library. She tells them, “you can keep it in your room, then.”

Thompson has a new weeding challenge in her current post at the bilingual International Prep Academy in Champaign. “I have the interesting conundrum of trying to keep my collection balanced—the goal is a 50/50 split of Spanish/English. I’m still figuring out if/how that should affect my weeding policies.”

April Witteveen is a community librarian with the Deschutes Public Library system in central Oregon.

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