There comes a time when every librarian must face the inevitable. The physical collection is no longer viable and must be weeded. I’m not talking about pulling a few books here or there. I’m talking about a full-on dump truck load of discards. The realization is usually painful and may take days or weeks to prepare for. There are two ways to look at this. One is the pessimistic approach which laments the passing of a bygone era and the dumbing down of our intellect. The other is the optimistic approach which celebrates the load of money your school is going to save, which can be used for all those great programming ideas you have.
Let’s face it. Information books are expensive. Reference books are a downright financial liability. Don’t get me wrong. I love books. All books. My hand would be the first one raised if someone asked “Who wants technology to slow down?” I would also gladly be the guinea pig for a time machine experiment if it would take me back to the library of my youth. But here’s the reality. Pages turn yellow. Pictures get dated. Vocabulary changes. Fonts get bigger. Spines break. The internet takes over. Eventually, that $100 book must go.
It’s important to remember that old books ruin a collection. It’s better to have a small, high quality collection then a large, outdated collection. Old books act like weeds. They block the flowers until eventually everything looks like a weed. Failing to weed your collection results in reduced circulation, which leads to reduced funding, which leads to complete elimination of the library. The time is now. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the task, here are a few tips to get you going on.
- Don’t think you’re going to accomplish this in one year. You have a library to run. This requires a plan. Besides, if you cut your collection in half too quickly, you’re going to send your administrators and faculty into shock. Plan on it taking up to 5 years, depending on the size of your existing collection.
- Start with the Reference Section. No one uses reference books anymore. They are cumbersome, probably outdated, and extremely inconvenient. Go to any decent public library and you may not even find a reference section.
- Next tackle the Nonfiction Section. You can do this one of two ways. Start at the beginning, working your way numerically through the Dewey Decimal System. Or, begin with the sections that have the most outdated books, finishing up with the most popular sections. Either way, you need a plan. Decide how many years the project will take, and assign the sections to be culled each year.
- End with the Fiction Section. Discard any books with yellowed pages or tiny print. No matter how great the book is, a classic or favorite book from your childhood, no one from the current generation is going to check out that book. EVER.
- It’s a good idea to inform your administrators and faculty about what you are doing. The likelihood is that they will be grateful. If you need to justify your actions, run a circulation report of the books you are removing. You won’t likely get push back when you can prove a book has never been checked out.
- What to do with all those discarded books? First, you should offer them up to anyone in your school who might take them. Teachers. Students. Parents. You’d be surprised at how many people will gladly take a free book they would never dream of checking out. Next, toss the damaged or discolored books into the recycling bin or trash. You don’t need to feel like a criminal doing this. If no one on the planet wants the book, it’s trash. And believe me, there are books that no one wants. Donate any remaining books to the public library foundation, a used book seller, or nonprofit organization in your area. They may be able to sell them. But seriously, don’t pass on any books that you believe have no value. That just transfers the book discard burden to someone else.
That’s it. You can do this. Your students will love you for it.
Upcycling old books