Weed your motherfucking collection

This post is aimed at school librarians. It is also a repost of one I did over a year ago at my blog, absobookinglutely, but I decided to make a dedicated sweary librarian blog.

It is also going to be a post full of swears.

School librarians: WEED YOUR MOTHERFUCKING COLLECTION. I started at a new school in January and I’ve spent the past 6 months weeding. Every single day, I get rid of more books.

This might seem counter-productive. “But it’s a library!” I hear you crying, “we need all the books we can get! Don’t you know we don’t have any money?!” I know what it’s like to run a school library with no money. At a previous school, I was offered a budget of £3,000 for 1350 students. I fought and fought and pissed off a lot of important people and managed to raise it to £14,500, but I was working with £3000 and a lot of old, shitty books for about 4 months.

The VERY FIRST THING I did in that school was got rid of about 80% of the books. You might think I’m exaggerating, but no. There were about 20,000 books on the catalogue and I reduced that down to 4,000. This is extreme – I’m not recommending you do this immediately in your school because weeding books is a skill you need to learn. You can’t just immediately do it to that level, you need to practice. Start small. Weed the careers section, or science, or geography. They’re easy.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Like I said, weeding is a skill. A vital skill that you need to spend time reading about, watching other people do it, practising it, fucking up, getting it right. I learned how to weed through a variety of methods, the most important was watching someone else do it. A very patient man came into my library and weeded my non-fiction for me, and I watched him do it and he explained exactly what he was doing. I went away and read about it, and then I practiced it myself. So, here is how you weed a library. Disclaimer: I’m not the expert, you don’t need to take my advice to the letter. Do what works for you.

My kit:

  • A book trolley
  • A notebook and working pen
  • A comfortable chair
  • A cushion for the ground if you’ve got creaky knees like me (fuck you, roller derby)
  • Access to hand-washing facilities (books are gross, I wash my hands between each bay)

My method for fiction:

  • HANDLE EVERY BOOK. I cannot emphasise this enough.
  • Go bay by bay. Set aside enough time to complete an entire bay of books.
  • Then, ask yourself the following questions as you pick up each book. If the answer to any of these is no, put it on the trolley.
    • Is it in a good condition?
    • Has it been taken out of the library in the past five years?
      • If no, is it part of a series?
    • Was it published in the last ten years?
      • If no, does it add value to the collection? By this, I mean reading value. It could be a classic text that needs to be kept, it could be a book that covers a rare subject area, it could capture a snapshot of history. Not rare books.

After I’ve asked myself these questions, I then have to make the real decision. Have I read it? Is it good? Which students would I recommend it to? Is it a good follow-on from younger fiction they might have read? Is it horrifically offensive in any way? Does it promote any religion or political view over another without providing a counterpoint? Does it need a warning sticker for potentially upsetting content?

If it’s a book you really want in your collection but it’s worn out, sun-bleached or has an unattractive spine or cover, make a note in your notebook under the heading ‘Books I want to replace should I come across the money to do so.’ I keep this list, wait until the end of my budget year comes up, then spend every last penny on replacing worn-out books with new copies.

My method for non-fiction:

  • HANDLE EVERY BOOK. I cannot emphasise this enough.
  • Go bay by bay. Set aside enough time to complete an entire bay of books.
  • Then, ask yourself the following questions as you pick up each book. If the answer to any of these is no, put it on the trolley.
  • Is it in a good condition?
  • Has it been taken out of the library in the past five years?
    • If no, do you want to actively promote it?
  • Was it published in the last ten years?
    • This is MORE IMPORTANT for the following subject areas: Science, Geography, Social Issues, Careers, Encyclopedias. I’ll go into those later.
  • Does the book cover significant recent advances in the area? E.g. does a book about tsunamis cover the 2004 tsunami in Thailand? Does a book about Mars cover the Mars Curiosity Rover?
  • Is the information accurate? This can be difficult if it’s not something you know much about, but take your best guess.
  • Is it suitable for the age range at my school?

Again, if you find a book that you want to keep, or you want to get the most recent version, make a note. Keep that note. Digitise that note. Use that note to inform your spending.

Non-fiction – how I weed each section in rough Dewey Decimal order

  • Computer Science
    • Discard anything that you have a newer version of.
    • Discard anything that mentions Carol Vorderman or AOL.
    • Discard anything with **psychedelic style**
  • Encyclopedias
    • Get rid of your old World Books. Trust me, they’re a pile of shit. Get an online subscription instead, and splash out on the newest general encyclopedia in ONE VOLUME. You don’t have the fucking shelf space for 10 books no-one is ever going to use.
    • Make sure it’s relevant and accurate. Make sure it’s easy to use.
  • Journalism/Publishing
    • If it doesn’t mention the internet, get rid of it.
  • Philosophy
    • Do you even have philosophy at your school?
    • If no, keep the books students might actually want to read for fun.
  • Occultism
    • Is it appropriative of other cultures? If it is, get rid of it. You don’t need that bullshit in your library.
  • Psychology
    • Again, do you even have psychology at your school?
    • Just make sure it’s not fucking offensive.
  • Ethics
    • This is SO SO SO IMPORTANT. No matter your beliefs, you cannot have a book that e.g. just says ‘abortion is wrong’. Counterpoints are not just nice, but necessary. Libraries are neutral ground, keep it that way. Don’t keep preachy books. Yes, even if you’re a religious school.
    • Again, get rid of the offensive shit.
  • Religion
    • Does it promote one religion over another? Is it offensive? Get rid of it.
    • Do you even have books about religions other than Christianity? If no, PRIORITISE YOUR BUDGET. REPRESENT THE WORLD WE LIVE IN.
  • Social sciences
    • Get rid of anything that doesn’t mention the internet as being a major social influence.
    • Make sure it’s up-to-date and relevant.
  • Politics
    • Again, no one view over another. WE ARE NEUTRAL. WE ARE SO NEUTRAL. We are the place students come to find answers, and we can’t tell them ‘right and wrong’, we have to tell them ‘here is the information, decide for yourself.’
    • Get rid of Nigel Farage’s autobiography. I can’t believe you bought that shit.
    • Keep it balanced. I don’t care if you’re a Tory (well, I care a bit), but make sure every political viewpoint is represented equally
  • Environmental economics
    • Are solar panels a thing? Does it talk about rainforests that don’t exist any more?
  • War
    • Just keep all your books on war. There is a Year 9 boy who will read them all.
  • Languages
    • Do you even teach that language in your school? If not, is it interesting? Will anyone ever read it?
  • General science
    • Get rid of anything authoritative not published in the last 5 years. Science is always changing, keep your book stock relevant.
    • Make sure it’s up-to-date and relevant. Am I repeating myself too much here?
  • Astronomy
    • Again, anything published more than 5 years ago can go straight away.
  • Plants
    • Does it look like something coated with dust on your grandma’s shelf? Get rid of it.
    • Will ANY student care about it? Do they give a fuck about the ins and outs of garden design? Clue: no.
  • Animals
    • Does it have cute baby animals on the front? KEEP THAT SHIT AND PROMOTE IT.
    • Does it have stories about sharks eating people? See above.
    • Basically, keep the cool shit and get rid of the boring stuff.
    • Make sure whatever you keep has pictures.
  • Technology
    • No internet? Get rid.
    • If it has a picture of a Gameboy on the front, chuck it.
    • Do the mobile phones have antennas? Just throw it out the window.
  • Medicine/Health
    • Make sure it approaches things with some motherfucking respect. Consult people. If it’s a book about Aspergers, send your friend with Aspergers the amazon link and get them to tell you if it’s offensive or even accurate. (I do this).
  • Puberty
    • I’m not even kidding, you should read every book in this section. Make sure it’s not body-shaming, homophobic, heternormative, cisnormative, or just plain gross. Make sure it doesn’t just describe sex as peen-in-vageen. Does it talk about consent? Does it say that being gay is a phase? Does it encourage young girls to shave off their body hair? Does it promote masturbation for boys but not girls? READ EVERY BOOK. Take the time. This shit can fuck kids up. A library is a place of answers, and if the answer to ‘I think I’m trans’ is ‘lol no it’s a phase, literally trans people don’t exist’, then think carefully about the effect your books are having on students.
    • Replace any gross books with Juno Dawson’s non-fiction. Trust me on this one.
  • Careers
    • Get rid of the careers 2004 guides, they don’t help anyone.
  • Vehicles
    • Like war, keep them all. A Year 9 boy will read everything here, I promise you.
  • Fine art and photography
    • These can get really mangled and grotty. Make sure you have at least one book from the bigwigs. You don’t need everything, you’ve got the internet.
  • Film
    • Has it got a picture of Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston on the front? Literally just shotput that directly into the bin.
  • Music
    • See above, replace names with Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake.
  • Sports
    • You don’t need those old annuals
  • Literature
    • You don’t need those old cloth-bound books. Seriously. Keep some for fun and display them, but don’t have them as part of your collection.
    • Look at the poetry carefully with a critical eye. Are your students actually going to read any of them? I fucking love poetry, but be realistic
  • Geography
    • Is it racist? Does it use slurs for Native Americans or Inuits? Does it talk about Christopher Columbus in a positive light? IN THE BIN.
  • History
    • DO YOU HAVE ANY BOOKS ABOUT PEOPLE WHO AREN’T WHITE? Prioritise that shit. Make space in your budget. You don’t need 10 copies of The Fault In Our Stars, you need some motherfucking history books about people of colour.
  • Biographies
    • Does anyone even care about them any more? Are they relevant? Get rid of that S Club Juniors biography. I love them, but it’s time.

If I haven’t mentioned a category, it’s because I don’t really have any specific method for that category other than the general one listed above.

General pro tips

  • Keep track of which series’ of non-fiction are good and which aren’t. If you are weeding in science and you find a series of books that were published in 1994, hold that spine up to the rest of the bay and take out anything else with that spine. Discard it straight away.
  • To the same token, keep track of which series’ are good. Repeat that name in your head as you go through. Refer back to the shelves above. Say to yourself “Was the Science Is Shit Hot series up to date? Did I keep it?”
  • Get rid of old revision guides. Trust me, GCSE guides published in 2007 are of zero use now. UNLESS they’ve got date stamps all the way up your arm (showing that staff are still recommending it in their classes), chuck it.
  • When I talk about throwing books out, I don’t literally mean in the bin. Go to places like Better World Books to discover alternatives.

You might be asking, but why do we even need to weed though? Surely every book has value?

Yes, every book has value, but they have to have value for your intended audience.

Once you’ve weeded your collection, it’s easier to find the useful things. You can more easily see the areas the classification is a bit patchy and needs some work, or the places you’re lacking vital information. Staff and students will come into your library and ask where all the new books came from, because they can actually see them for the first time. Displays are all well and good, but everyone needs to be able to see the books on the shelf, and immediately see that they are relevant to them.

You can add placegaps in places you got rid of every single book on the subject because they were all outdated, and direct students to online subscriptions. You can even print out some information and put it in a nice folder until you can afford a book to replace the ones you threw out.

Just weed your motherfucking collection. Trust me.

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