Secret library business – part 2

Part 1 of Secret library business featured a discussion on stocktaking and was published in Connections, Issue 62, Term 3 2007. In part 2, Renate Beilharz discusses the importance of weeding a school library collection.


Weeding is the deselection of resources; it is the process of consciously removing items from the library collection. Weeding is not to be confused with stock decrease through loss or theft, which the stocktaking process determines. Weeding a library collection is a difficult task for many library staff because it involves ‘deselecting’ items which were carefully selected in the first place, purchased with limited funds and lovingly end-processed.

Weeding objectives

The objective of weeding must be to support the school collection development policy: to develop a school library collection which is current, relevantand attractive.

Students deserve information that is current and up to date. A key purpose of weeding is to rid the collection of inaccurate, outdated and misleading resources. Students are encouraged to use and rely on information provided in the school resource centre. It is essential to provide information that is correct, non-racist or sexist, and that reflects modern knowledge and values.

A school library collection must be relevant to the community it is serving. It is not necessary to keep a collection ‘just in case’ a subject will reappear in the curriculum; current resources should be obtained if this should occur. School libraries are not ‘collecting libraries’; there is no need to keep classic novels and texts. When these are required, local libraries or State libraries can provide these resources (although many public libraries are very active in their weeding) or, if the demand is high enough, new and attractive editions can be purchased.

Students like to have access to attractively presented information sources, organised and arranged in a manner that makes good quality and suitable resources easy to find. Shelves with dusty, faded and old-fashioned books do not entice students to use the excellent resources that are also there. A secondary student once asked me why we don’t have any new books in the fiction collection, unlike the local library collection she preferred to use. This stunned me because we had been heavily purchasing in the area of adolescent fiction for some time. On closer questioning, we discovered that every title she had borrowed from the local library was available from the school library. The difference was that the school’s fiction collection was much bigger and all the new books were hidden among the older books; she could not find the new books and so she did not enjoy browsing our collection as much as the smaller, more appealing local library collection. This was the catalyst for another extensive fiction collection weed.

The way resources are housed and presented plays a big role in whether they are used effectively. A school library has limited space for housing resources; space needs to be made for new items. Packing shelves full, placing extra shelving on stands or removing display shelves to make room for new resources all decrease the accessibility and attractiveness of a collection.

By ruthlessly discarding old, unused, incorrect and unattractive resources, a library’s collection will decrease in size. This is not a bad thing. The school community, including the administration, will be given an accurate pictureof the size of the collection and quality of resource available to students. I was given the opportunity to set up the school library in a new school. The Principal proudly informed me that we would be provided with a large collection immediately, thousands of unwanted books from two amalgamating schools. I wish I had refused the collection at the time, as those 30-year-old books hung around for a long time. When a second campus opened, we resisted the urge to move many books from the original campus. Comments by parents on the small size of the collection at the second campus led to additional funding from the administration.

Another benefit of the deselection process is that library staff develop a really good feel for the collection, its strengths and its weaknesses, because weeding does involve a close, detailed look at the resources held by the library.

What should go?

Deciding what items should be discarded can be a difficult and controversial process. It is important before starting any deselection process to carefully consider and discuss the weeding criteria to be used with the stakeholders.

Commonly used qualitative weeding criteria have been expressed in the acronym ‘MUSTIE’. This is a useful guide to help develop weeding guidelines in any library. MUSTIE stands for:

  • Misleading – factually inaccurate
  • Ugly – worn beyond mending
  • Superseded – new edition or better information
  • Trivial – no literary or scientific merit
  • Irrelevant – to needs of school
  • Elsewhere – material easily borrowed or available from another source.

Some school librarians prefer to use quantitative criteria based on numerical or statistical measurement. It is objective and does not rely on subjective judgements of individuals. The usual quantitative criteria used are:

  • Date of publication
    • Published before a certain date
  • Borrowing statistics (note that statistics produced by a library management system often do not record usage of items within the library, in book boxes or through bulk loans)
    • Usage over a specified period of time
    • Last usage
  • A combination of these.

Most weeding criteria used by libraries involve a combination of qualitative and quantitative weeding criteria.

In the book Less is More: A practical guide to weeding school library collections (Baumbach and Miller 2006), the authors provide retention guidelines for each of the Dewey classes; that is, how long materials of that topic should be kept, based on how long information on that topic remains current. They also provided guidelines for fiction and reference collections. This is a useful resource for a school planning an extensive weed of their collection, despite its North American bias.

Excuses not to weed

For library staff who ‘love books’, who have lovingly chosen each individual item on the shelves and weighed up the cost of purchasing one item instead of another, finding excuses not to weed is far too easy.

  • A large collection looks good.
  • I hate throwing things away.
  • If I pulled everything off that should go, I wouldn’t have a collection left.
  • My principal/teachers won’t let me weed.
  • I haven’t the funds to replace discarded items.
  • I can’t discard the donated items, I may offend … (the donor).

Doug Johnson is a passionate writer, speaker and consultant on school technology and library issues in the US. He gives these excuses short shrift:

Poorly weeded collections are not the sign of poor budgets but of poor librarianship. Period. Only two things can happen if library material replacement budgets are inadequate. The collection ages if the librarian does not weed. The collection gets smaller if the librarian does weed. That’s it.

Whether fortunate or unfortunate, many people regard books as sacred objects and have difficulty throwing them away … we need to remember is that it is not books that are sacred, but rather the thoughts, inspiration and accurate information they contain.

For more information, visit

We’re weeding. Isn’t that great!

While sometimes it is politic, or easier, to undertake weeding in secret (under the cover of a dark moon, destroying all evidence as you go), it is much more effective to undertake actions that will help the school community understand the reasons for and the processes of weeding.

Use the school library’s policy documents to enshrine weeding as an essential part of the development of the collection. This formalises and validates the process of deselection. The guidelines in the procedures manual should include clear and justifiable weeding criteria and a schedule for weeding sections of the collection. This ensures that all weeding is completed methodically and logically. Written guidelines, especially policy documents that have been approved by the administration of the school, can provide back-up and support when dealing with arguments against weeding.

Nothing can beat involving the school community when it comes to weeding the school collection. This can be done on a large scale with general announcements, explanations and invitations for involvement. You can also involve staff in subtle, low-key ways.

  • Have some really good examples of weeded items put aside so, if the opportunity arises, they can be used to illustrate the need for weeding.
  • Talk to individual, approachable staff and get them on side. Ask them to be involved with weeding the area of their expertise.
  • Use the weeding exercise to identify underutilised current and accurate resources, and actively promote them to the school community.

Some other tips and helpful hints for hassle-free weeding:

  • Decide on clear, justifiable criteria before starting.
  • Don’t try to weed the whole collection at once – do a little at a time.
  • Get the support of at least one other staff member.
  • Discard old editions of texts immediately to save problems later.
  • If in doubt about a subject area, weed with a teacher who has the expertise and an understanding of the purpose of weeding.

Life after deselection

Ensure that the catalogue records are updated to avoid problems at stocktake time. Consider whether there are subject/topic areas that need to be replenished or replaced next time money is available for selection of new resources. Keep statistical records of the number of discards, useful when writing the annual report for the school council.

The next decision is what to do with the deselected items. The first step must be to clearly mark the item with a conspicuous stamp that identifies it as removed from the collection. Barcodes should be peeled off or crossed out with a thick black felt pen. The security strips or tags must be removed or detuned. If these steps are not undertaken, books will turn into boomerangs and find their way back into the hands of the librarian.

Getting rid of an item is not an easy task. It is one that exercises the minds of many library staff, as it comes up regularly on library discussion lists. There are at least six options, each with its benefits and drawbacks.

Donate it. It must be remembered that information that is out of date and unsuitable for Australian children is also out of date and unsuitable for children in Timor-Leste (East Timor) or Afghanistan. Careful consideration must be given to how donated items are to be used by the charity and whether the items themselves are suitable for the intended purpose.

Recycle it. By tearing off the plastic-coated covers, most books are suitable candidates for the paper recycling bin.

Discard/bin it. This is the simplest option, but do not risk the ire of the school cleaners by filling the dump bin with books so that there is no room for the other school rubbish.

Sell it. Have a second-hand book sale. For a small cost, someone can walk away with a tatty looking copy of a favourite book.

Give it away. Along the same line as a book sale, some libraries have trolleys or tables of books that are free. It is essential that the books are clearly identifiable as discards; otherwise some current books may be taken under a wrong assumption.

Hide it. If the coffee table book donated by the grade 6 class in 1975 is hidden from view, there’s a 99 per cent likelihood that no-one will ask for it or miss it. If it should be asked for, it can be produced without a fuss. The hidden book(s) can then be disposed of after a period of time has passed or will be disposed of by the new librarian who has no idea why they were hidden in that cupboard in the first place.

What about audiovisual, electronic and digital resources?

All resources in a school library’s collection – print, audio, visual, electronic or digital – must meet all the criteria of relevance, currency and attractiveness. Stocktaking and weeding non-book resources is not to be seen as an afterthought, but rather as an integral part of the processes discussed earlier. All the advice, recommendations and information in this article are just as relevant to a DVD or Internet site as to a book. Even so, there are a few other issues to consider as well.

The audiovisual collection contains many different types of resources – video cassettes, audio cassettes, 13 mm film, filmstrips, slides, DVDs, CDs or a combination of these in a kit format. It is important to ensure that the resources are accessible. This means not just that they have an appropriate catalogue record, but that the equipment required to view or access the information contained in the item is readable, audible or viewable. If there is no longer any way of playing the resources, throw them out.

Making links to useful Internet sites in a school library catalogue or on the school intranet is a service most schools now offer their school communities. This has been taking place in some schools since the mid-1990s, when Internet information became freely available to the wider community. But the Internet is not a static beast. URLs or web addresses change over time; a link that worked last month will not necessarily work next month, causing frustration for the users. Some library management systems have a link checker functionality; if not, then regular manual checking of links could be considered a nice Friday afternoon task, when energy and enthusiasm are at a low ebb and a routine task is just what’s needed.

A second, even more important reason to regularly access Internet sites is to ensure relevancy and currency. While the Internet is an ever-changing, flexible and immediate entity, there is no guarantee that the information contained in a website is continually updated to ensure information is current and relevant. Placing a link to this website on an Intranet or in the library catalogue is the same as placing a book on the shelves; users assume that the information provided is relevant, current and suitable to their needs. Weeding Internet links on the basis of currency is just as important as deselecting print or audiovisual resources.

Essential collection development

Weeding and stocktaking are essential collection development activities. It is vital that every library staff member who cares about the state of their collection understands the need for stocktaking and weeding, and does it professionally with clear criteria and objectives in mind.

Renate Beilharz
Renate is a teacher librarian of 20 years experience who is currently enjoying a portfolio of positions relating to librarianship in and outside the school environment.

This article is based on a presentation given at the SLAV conference Building on essentials! A full day conference for library technicians and library assistants held on 16 October 2006.

The article with bibliography appears in the online version of Connections 63 at


Baumbach, Donna J and Linda L Miller 2006, Less is More: A practical guide to weeding school library collections, American Library Association, Chicago.

Johnson, Doug 2003, Weed! [Accessed 15 August 2007]

Kennedy, John 2006, Collection Management: A concise introduction, Centre for Information Studies, Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga, NSW.

Lamb, Annette and Johnson, Larry 2005, Collection Maintenance and Weeding [Accessed 15 August 2007]

Punshon, Marianne (ed) 2006, Managing for Learning: Issues for primary school libraries, School Library Association of Victoria, Carlton, Victoria.