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To Weed or Not to Weed. That is a HUGE question!

Updated: Dec 21, 2019

Dear Dr. Laura

I know I learned about weeding the collection in library school. But, now that I’m actually here this seems like a huge undertaking. Do you have any tips for making this easier?


Scared to Weed Librarian

Hi, Scared to Weed Librarian

Welcome to your new job! I’d like to recommend a few things before you think about tackling weeding your whole library. Personally, I wouldn’t weed during the first half of the school year if I was just starting out as a new librarian. There are so many things you need to establish with your library routines and such.

So, what can you do? First get to know your audience and your collection. You’ll want to gather some information to discover the current state of things in your new library.

  • What is your district and campus’ mission statement and goals? What is your school community like? For example, are you a STEM focused school, which might indicate that your campus goals and library collection are focused on STEM? Or are you a fine arts academy? A health professions high school?

  • Do you have a collection development policy set by your district or a librarian before you? This is kind of the opposite of weeding. But, ideally it will let you know the process the librarian(s) before you used to build the collection.

  • Run some statistics from last year. What was usage like last year? Was the non-fiction more heavily checked out? Think back to knowing your campus goals above. For example, are you a health professions high school? Or was your campus trying to improve a certain area of their state assessment scores like science?

Now, when you finally feel a little more comfortable with the idea of collection maintenance, there are still some preliminary things to do. You need a good grasp of what your circulation system “thinks” you have. I say “thinks” because it possible collection maintenance has not been managed well. The librarians(s) or paraprofessional(s) before you may or may not have deleted books that were lost or damaged. So, your circulation system may still think you have books that have been gone for years.

Some people will suggest you go ahead and do a complete scanning inventory of your collection to actually know what you have on the shelves. If you have the time or the manpower to do that, go for it! Otherwise, let’s proceed without that as the starting point.

FIRST, look through your list of approved publishers for your district/campus. Reach out to your representative or get on their website and look for collection analysis services. They offer this service for free because, of course, they are hoping that you will use them when you begin buying resources to improve your collection. The analysis will show you where the weakest sections are in your collection. Remember though that is their opinion of your collection. You took some time to get to know your audience and school goals first. So, what might seem a little lopsided in most school libraries, may fit in perfectly for your school audience.

But, go ahead and run your collection analysis using a couple of your approved publishers so you can compare the results. Each will have its own unique suggestions. These collection analyses will also be useful to show collection improvement in your end of year report. Here are 4 popular providers of this service, in alphabetical order.

NEXT, once you have your collection analyzed you’re ready to move forward with some decision making. Where are you going to start? You DO NOT have to weed the entire collection in one sitting. I used to set up guidelines to weed a small section each month when I was a district library coordinator. But, since we’re just getting started, let’s go back to you knowing your campus community. Are you a health professions school? Maybe start in the Dewey 570s? Are you a K-2 school? Consider starting in your E or picture book section. Let’s use the 570s for our illustration below.

  • Print out a shelf list for the 570s from your circulation system and organize the books according to that shelf. If you do not find the book, mark it “missing” or “lost” in your circulation system. You may find it when you work in another section. So, don’t delete it entirely from the system yet.

  • Next, I recommend you use some kind of a guide like the CREW Manual developed by the Texas State Library and Archives Commission in 2008. It is a standard many states use. Here’s what it says for the 570s. Your state or district may have other guidelines to follow.


"570 (Life Sciences)


Retain indefinitely classics in the field (Darwin’s Origin of Species) replacing with updated editions as wear warrants.)

Use 5/2/MUSTIE for books on genetics, genetic engineering, human biology, and evolution due to rapid changes in scientific practices.

Weed titles on ecology that appear dated, even if the information is still accurate. Watch for books that are sensational in tone."

So, in our case, it mentions some classics you might want to hold on to. But, remember you are not an archival library or a public library. You are a school library. So, you need to develop a collection for your audience of students and teachers. 7/3/MUSTIE means, consider weeding books that are more than 7 years old and when its last circulation was 3 years ago. Also, consider the MUSTIE factors. MUSTIE is an acronym used to describe some of the negative factors that might make a book a candidate for weeding. You can read more about them on page 46 of the CREW manual.

You might discover that your whole 570s should be discarded according to that guideline. Are you going to do that! Probably not! You’ll have to put in a little more thought – especially as it relates to MUSTIE. You may not be ready to weed a whole section into the trashcan. If you are unsure about a specific title, you can check any of the collection analyses you have. A collection analysis will typically tell you books it recommends you get rid of. It will also tell you books it recommends to fill that section with newer titles. You could think of them as a wish list of sorts. You can also think of them as the basis or justification of what you might use to write a grant for in the future.

And that leads to another reason I mentioned running a collection analysis. In all of the 4 publishers’ collection analyses I listed above, you will find they offer something that will tell you if a book you add to their shopping cart already exists in your collection. It’s a “title match” of sorts so you don’t end up buying a book you already have on your shelves.

When you do have a pile of books you are ready to officially weed, follow the instructions in your circulation system to permanently delete them from your system. Now, what will you do with the physical books? Don’t throw them in the trash just yet! You will need to find out if there are any policies in your district for discarding physical assets.

If you have a central office library director, ask them for guidance. You should also talk to your principal about it. Some schools have a formal process where the librarian keeps a list of all discarded books and turns it in at the end of the year in a report to central office. Some people are allowed to pass the books on to students. But, be careful! Are you giving them old, moldy books that would not be good for them to handle? Are you giving them books that are so outdated there is actually “misinformation” in them?

Here’s a couple of hints. If you actually are going to throw some books in the trash, tear out the page that has your school information on it. Use a permanent marker to black out school information or barcodes you cannot remove. If you don’t do this, there is a very good chance that someone will think they are being helpful and bring these books right back to you and tell you they rescued these from the trash can!

You probably don’t need the reminder since you are asking for guidance on weeding. But here are some benefits of weeding:

  • Frees up shelf space for new books and materials!

  • Patrons, both students and educators, can find books more easily.

  • Circulation increases as patrons see newer and more relevant titles that are not outdated or in poor condition.

  • Your reputation will grow as someone who cares about the reliability and accuracy of information in your library.

So, Scared to Weed Librarian, be scared no more! Wait a couple of months to study your audience. Then take a little dive into one section that is important for your audience of students. Once you knock that out you can move on to another section next month. Take it a piece at a time. I remember one of my librarians would put up caution tape in an X shape to block off one shelf stack at a time. She would inventory that stack, weed, and clean up all the records for that stack. Then move on to another stack. This way she was able to make her way around the library throughout the year and never fully shut down the library. She shut down one stack at a time with the caution tape. Find a mentor who can join you in these first steps.

After you do all of that hard work consider something like “Adopt a Shelf” that I mentioned in another blog post.

I can’t wait for you to share some pictures of your first weeded books. You may discover you have an urge to purge once you see the positive effects it has on your circulation and the appearance of your library.

Take care!

Dr. Laura

The Librarian Influencer of the Week Renee Dyer

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