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Find more Weeding Tips
Erin Downey Howerton is Children’s Manager at Wichita Public Library and a Booklist Advisory Board member. She’s also a champion weeder, so when she told me she was doing a program on weeding for a local library system, I jumped at the opportunity to have her as a guest columnist for “Weeding Tips.” Take it away, Erin!
Lots of popular weeding guides give detailed information about how to maintain a library collection. Although general advice is always useful applied to diverse collections, sometimes you need to think about collections for youth a different way. When my friends at the Northeast Kansas Library System told me that they were designing lunch-hour-sized webinars for their libraries to learn about different topics, I suggested the topic of “Weeding Youth Collections.” Here are some of the suggestions we shared during this continuing-education opportunity.
How to Start
We talked about how to use existing resources to develop a weeding plan, how to develop weeding criteria and purpose unique to youth collections (especially those in public libraries), how to draw up a calendar for a youth “weeding year,” and how to spot good replacements that speak to today’s youth and will entice young people to use the collection. (To clarify: we discussed both juvenile and teen collections in this webinar.)
First, we talked about what library policies and procedures they might already have in place to guide their weeding efforts. Do they particularly address youth concerns? Finding out is the first step in starting a weeding project. We also touched on collection scope—when you know the aims of a collection, you can work inside those constraints to weed with a purpose. For example, although there are some great weeding guides out there aimed at school libraries, the scope of a school library might be too restrictive for a public library. Their collections have a great emphasis on supporting the school’s chosen curriculum, where a public library youth collection’s scope might weigh more equally on supporting recreational, self-directed reading. You have to define the collection before you can say what belongs and what might be discarded.
We followed this with a discussion of how the MUSTIE standards of weeding must be understood in a context that allows for the uniqueness of youth. As a refresher, MUSTIE says that books must be discarded if they meet any or all of the following criteria:
M: Misleading, factually inaccurate
S: Superseded by new material/information
I: Irrelevant for local needs
E: Easily obtained elsewhere
“Trivial” and “Irrelevant” take on special meaning in the context of healthy youth development. Considering that many popular figures and celebrities mean so much to youth, trivial has to be redefined in a way that allows for the exploration of much of what we’d call “flash in the pan” biographies, video-game guides, trendy craft projects, and much more. These things are really important to young people, and in general, public library collections are an appropriate place foryoung readers to find more information about the things they’re passionate about—even if as adults we might roll our eyes.
Also, the concept of irrelevancy needs to be understood in a developmentally appropriate way. Although this is usually intended to help libraries in, say, the Everglades feel comfortable reducing the amount of their collection devoted to professional snowboarding, it is not an excuse to denude the collection of books that don’t directly reflect the look and feel of local kids. The concept of “mirror and window” books is just as important as it ever was—youth need to be exposed to books that both mirror their life experiences and books that give them a window into the life experiences of others. Consider the following depictions when deciding if a book’s topic is a mirror or a window for the youth who live in your area:
Young readers in the children’s and teen areas should be able to encounter both mirror and window books as part of their developmental growth. Don’t let your collection become a monolith—think about creating a mosaic instead.
Nonfiction is a particularly thorny subject for weeding, and youth collections are no exception. To help us picture what a nonfiction collection for youth should look like, we turned to the Beloit Mindset list. Beloit College, in Wisconsin, puts together a perspectives list every year to help faculty realize the cultural knowledge that the average college freshman has upon entering school. We discussed what a current 18-year-old’s perspective of the world is; then we talked a little about what the average 10-year-old knows. Twitter and iPhones have always existed in their lifetime. They don’t know a world where knowledge hasn’t been infinite and portable; they know a world where people can express themselves on a global level.
For those of us who have been out of school for a while, we also need to turn our attention to scientific discoveries and innovations that are regular, everyday life to today’s youth. It’s equally important to ensure your books on the solar system don’t include Pluto as a planet as it is to make sure your books on “my first dentist visit” have color pictures! Examine your nonfiction collections with the minds of young people—what is relevant in their world today?
Dig Into the Shelves
Inspect what’s on the shelf. Do many items appear untouched? Realize that young people might never actually check a book out on a topic that is sensitive in their home. Whether that’s human sexuality, eating disorders, religion, or any other topic, you must be aware that some of the books on your shelves may not have any circ stats in your ILS but may be heavily used in-house. Replace those books as needed.
What’s circulating so much it’s falling apart? Here, we’re talking about popular series fiction (hello, Wimpy Kid!) and topics of perennial interest to youth. The Titanic has become just as much an obsession for middle-grade readers as dinosaurs once were, for example, so ensure you replace these titles promptly.
Run a list in the ILS for items that haven’t circulated in the last three years. If a book hasn’t circulated in three years and shows no signs of wear, it’s not earning its place on the shelves of a youth collection. Running lists in your system is a good first step to see what may not be of interest to readers.
Run a list in the ILS for items older than a set pub date or were acquired before a set date. This is especially helpful for nonfiction topics. Make sure you’re putting the most current information possible in front of young people, because they’re the least likely to have the life experience and knowledge to look at a publication date and conclude that they are looking at outdated information!
Determine a set issue and sit in front of the stacks to see what seems unusable or unappealing. Several years ago at my library, we were disappointed in the nonfiction on computing. A book about computer crime talked extensively about modem speeds; pictures showed kids with mall bangs sitting in front of giant beige boxes; and books about coding extolled the virtues of Netscape Navigator (remember that browser?). So we sat down and started identifying books in this Dewey range that just had to go. And we requested replacements that reflected what kids of today understand as relevant technology— smartphones, Scratch programming, and Chrome browsers.
Awful Library Books
No session on weeding should be without a mention of this popular, regularly updated site. Awful Library Books will help you identify appalling books that are hideously outdated. Laughable? Perhaps, but they might sit on your shelves! This is a fun way to weed.
Just Let It Go
We also talked about collections that don’t fit the needs of today’s kids. Etiquette books that talk about how you should tip train porters a quarter for good service? Trash ’em. Historical kids’ books freely available on Google Books and through interlibrary loan for those kid-lit scholars in your community? Release them. Giant multivolume reference sets with information that’s outdated as soon as they’re printed? Point young people to reliable, updated databases instead. Take notice of what your community wants and needs—for example, I have personally noticed families reluctant to schedule hours of research in the library using reference materials. Young people want to take books with them and read on their schedule. Perhaps having a giant noncirculating reference collection isn’t meeting the needs of today’s youth and their busy calendars.
Plan It Out
Speaking of calendars, think like a kid again, and weed before you have a need. Plan your weeding and replacement schedule just ahead of demand so that your collection gets a healthy workout!
What happens in the lives of kids in your community?
April is very big as poetry month around here. There are also lots of students finishing projects for the year and thinking about sports teams and tryouts.
Free time in the summer is an opportunity to explore topics of personal interest. Families take vacations, young people look for projects to fill their time, and summer-reading programs mean lots of recreational reading.
The seasons passing are very important to young children learning about their world. Fall is a dramatic seasonal change; October and November mean shivery stories told around campfires; and, of course, for some, it’s back-to-school time.
Many holidays are celebrated in the winter months, and along with those, gifts are exchanged! Young people often receive new technology at this time, and you might as well be ready for the next big thing.
Develop a Core Reading Schedule
Knowing what is important and when it happens, here are some of my suggestions for developing a core weeding schedule in your youth collection:
January/February: poetry, seasonal books for preschoolers, replacements for returned winter-holiday books
March/April: popular fiction part 1, hobbies and games, sports, high-interest pop-culture biographies
May/June: back-to-school books, frequently assigned topics in nonfiction
July/August: horror/scary stories, 000 unexplained, harvest holidays
September/October: popular fiction part 2, technology and maker books
November/December: board books, spring holidays
These are only a few suggestions to help you get started. There are a lot of emotions bound up in youth collections—that favorite book that meant so much to you as a kid might be showing its age, or it might not be of interest to kids now. Gently remind yourself that a collection is for use and that having a vibrant and relevant youth collection for the kids and teens of your community is vital to their well-being and development. Unless you are a scholarly archive, keeping miles of out-of-date books is probably not supporting the scope of your library’s collection. Fewer books on the shelves encourage circulation—it gives you opportunities to merchandise with attractive displays and get books face-out so young people can more easily choose a good read. Weed it so they will read it!
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