Yet ANOTHER Weeding Fiasco

For once I would like to read a POSITIVE article in the mainstream press about a library collection.  Weeding is not evil or anti-intellectual freedom.  When done correctly.

Recently an article has been circulating among the various library forums: Thousands of Books Removed from Racine [WI] Schools with accompanying photos of empty shelves and boxes of books stacked to the ceilings. The article includes demands from the Racine Educational Association, the local union and professional organization of “teachers, nurses, psychologists, social workers, and other faculty in the Racine Unified School District.”

The claim by the Racine Unified School District is that this is done every year in conjunction with the library personnel.  The REA claims that this year there are more books than usual being pulled.  Another ‘he said-she said’ situation around weeding.


We love our books.

I would be interested in the whole story.  We all know that weeding is one of the jobs libraries regularly neglect or do very badly.  Then when the job is done and done well the results are shocking.  After years of leaving older materials on the shelves, preventing the purchase of many new materials, we end up with bare shelves.  Ironic since that is what often prevents us from weeding in the first place!

Libraries are subject to pressured donations of ‘beloved books’ in binding kids will never look at.  Or keeping books in great shape just so there is something on the shelves.  Or worn out books because “it’s the only copy we have”. Or outdated materials because “we don’t have anything else on that subject”. NEWS FLASH: you still don’t have anything of value on that subject.

Racine Unified School District Library Shelves

Racine Unified School District Library Shelves

What concerns me is the suggestion that someone outside of the library is determining what books are to be removed: “At Mitchell Middle School the librarian helped weed out about 2,000 books, but then the librarian got a removal list of 8,000 more books to take off the shelves.”  An integral part of the process is handling the books and reviewing for condition, content, and necessity to the collection.  Granted, I have weeded school libraries and they have ended up looking like this, however that was because of many of the reasons listed above.  I would like to know if books were removed merely because they were published prior to a certain date regardless of their contribution to the collection.  That, in my opinion, is where mistakes are made.

I have a feeling that this is one of those situations where they reached a tipping point—years of small and inefficient weeding left them with collections that were in large part unusable either through inaccurate information or unnecessary information due to curriculum changes.  Out comes the wood chipper!  Rather than surgical strikes they just go whole hog and make up for lost time.  Then the pitchforks and cries of “protect the children’ come out.

The solution is to educate the public, the staff, the organizational staff, and anyone else on what is involved in collection management.  Not long drawn out complicated explanations but simple, “we have to get rid of something to add something,” “inaccurate information is worse than no information,”  “this information is provided electronically allowing access to more than one student at a time,”  and “accurate and UP TO DATE information is key” types of statements.  No one can argue with that.  Well, some will, but they will argue about anything.

The solution is simple: By treating the deselection of materials with the same care, thought, and TIME that you give to selection you won’t end up with empty shelves and angry people.  There will be equilibrium.