Throw it all out!

or, How to Plan, Implement, and Maintain
a Successful Weeding Project

Jenica P. Rogers-Urbanek
Collection Development Coordinator and Technical Services Librarian
College Libraries, SUNY Potsdam

June 14, 2007


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To Weed, v, from the OED online

A love-hate relationship

"Next to emptying the outdoor bookdrop on cold and snowy days, weeding is the most undesirable job in the library. It is also one of the most important. Collections that go unweeded tend to be cluttered, unattractive, and unreliable informational resources."

Will Manley, The Manley Arts, Booklist, March 1, 1996, p. 1108.

Why we should love it

"For the librarian, weeding has ... advantages. It finds the gaps in your collection so that you can make new purchases with confidence and creates space for those materials. Paradoxically, weeding is a good way to increase circulation by drawing attention to materials that had previously been overlooked."

From the Arizona State Library Collection Development Training website.

Why we hate it

Assembled by the Arizona State Library from the 1976 CREW manual, pp. 19-20; 1995 CREW manual, pp.53-55.

All of these statements can be refuted, and countered with the question "Can you afford not to weed?"

Possible reasons to weed

So you say you've never weeded

How to begin

1. Plan: Goals, stakeholders, criteria
2. Develop processes: who, what, how, when
3. Assess and modify: What worked? What's not working? What do we change?


Before you begin,


Consider who your stakeholders are, and consult as is appropriate for your library's environment


Why are you weeding?

Think about your collections policy.
Think about your philosophy of service.
Think about your local needs.
Think about your long-term goals.

Then weed.

Example criteria

At Potsdam, we have completed three small weeding projects and have two ongoing weeding assessments underway. All five had different criteria.

About goals and criteria

Be sure you have agreement about your goals

Be sure you have agreement about your criteria

Be prepared to be flexible on both

Lack of clarity on what you hope to accomplish with your project will lead the staff who are involved to act out of concert with each other. If you need to clear 100 shelves in your reference area to make room for a building project, make sure everyone understands that, and they will behave in certain ways. If you want to do an ongoing, continuous assessment of your reference collection, people will behave and react differently. Similarly, lack of agreement on your criteria for weeding will lead to inconsistent decisions on what to keep and what to discard -- be sure that "it's old" means the same thing to every participant in the project. That said, every individual will interpret the clearest criteria in different ways, so accept that the process will not and cannot be perfect. "Professional Judgement" is key, and must be acknowledged -- within reason!

The practical bits

Once you have goals, criteria, and stakeholder buy in, you have to figure out how to actually do it.

Consider WHO:

The practical bits, pt2

Consider HOW:

The practical bits, pt3

Consider WHEN and WHAT

Don't forget to assess

Always stop to look at your work, and consider what's working and not working.

So, I mentioned discarding...

Fact: Librarians hate throwing away books.

Fiction: Weeding means throwing away books.

You have options for discard


According to Joanne Fazioli, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Business Services, State University of New York,
"Chapter 122 of the Laws of 1992 (new subsection six of Section 178 of State Finance Law) allows campuses to dispose of library books or journals after the department head certifies they are no longer needed. While technically a record of each transfer or disposal, along with certification, is to be filed with OGS, I know of no campus filing with OGS nor do I think OGS is looking for such paperwork. My advice is that the campus maintain any disposal records for an audit trail -- that books/journals may be used as trade-in, donated to another entity (school district), dumped/recycled or sold for such nominal income as may be generated. The campus must collect sales tax and deposit revenue to appropriate account or transmit to General Fund based on source of funds of the original purchase (ie., State approp. - General Fund; IFR - IFR account)."
[Text of email dated November 5, 2003, forwarded to the SUNY Librarians Association email listserv on November 2, 2005 by Carey Hatch, Assistant Provost for Library and Information Services, State University of New York]


  • You may donate, sell, or recycle as you see fit
  • You must keep audit records
  • You must collect tax on sales
  • You must honor the source of original funding when depositing revenue
For the sake of clarity and peace of mind, you may wish to consult with your campus accounting office, or with your institution's legal counsel to confirm that this is the same interpretation of State Code that your institution is operating under. We chose to take Carey's word for it, and our accountant did, too. :)

Options for discarded materials

  • Traditional gift and exchange processes Gift and Exchange -- listing, corresponding, shipping, etc -- is time-consuming and labor-intensive, but ensure that the materials stay in a library.
  • Local used book stores Used book stores may be willing to draft a sales agreement that allows them to take stock from your discards while returning a portion of sales to your library.
  • Mass resellers like Better World Books Still labor-intensive, but less costly -- BWB pays shipping and provides boxes, and books are mainly resold, with some proceeds going to your library and literacy organizations.
  • Book sales Labor-intensive, and requires longer-term storage of discarded items -- but, again, finds good homes for books and gives money back to libraries.
  • Local libraries Do they have book sales? Do they have a need for the materials you're discarding?

    But don't forget: YOU THREW THEM OUT FOR A REASON.

    Don't saddle the undeserving with your trash, just because you can't bear to throw it out!

Final thoughts

Weeding can succeed at any institution.

It shouldn't be approached rashly our without forethought or coordination.

Weeding doesn't have to mean throwing away, but sometimes it should.

Your collection, and your users, will thank you in the end.


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