Confessions of a Lapsed Weeder

Although I live in Central Illinois, it was not until I read this Teen Librarian’s Toolbox blog post that I knew about the weeding travesty perpetrated by Deb Lissak, the director of the Urbana Free Library. You can read the post and accompanying links to get up to speed, but to sum things up: Lissak used publication date as the single criterion for removing thousands upon thousands of books from the library’s nonfiction collection. While I read, I heard the silent screams of countless library professionals across the nation.

As a school librarian with the smallest space of all four middle schools in my district, I appreciate the benefits of a well-weeded library. I use a variety of tools and reports during my regularly scheduled weeding as well as my familiarity with the collection I have built over the past 17 years and the knowledge of the needs of my school’s staff and students, curriculum, etc. In addition, I weed on-the-fly if I notice I no longer need four copies of Cabin Fever now that The Third Wheel is Jeff Kinney’s latest or while I am shifting the collection. Above all, I would say I am above average weeder.

Someone please tell me, then, why I cannot apply these same principles to my home library!

My gardening bookshelf

For example, I have 30 or so gardening books. I have some perennials in a bed in the front of my house, but I have not had a proper vegetable garden since we lived in our first house 12 years ago. For Mother’s Day, my husband and children have pledged to make me a vegetable garden in the backyard. This summer they will create raised beds, amend soil, etc. so it will be ready for planting next spring.  “Aha!” you might say, “So it’s a good thing you kept all those books you didn’t need for 12 years.” However, what you don’t know is that about half of them probably have the same basic information, they take up a whole shelf in our family room, and the other day when I was looking for things to sell at an upcoming garage sale, I chose ONE to get rid of. As a library professional I know that if I had weeded most of them 12 years ago I would still probably have enough gardening books for my needs. If not, upon receiving my Mother’s Day gift I could have purchased others at my favorite local used book store, Babbitt’s Books, or found some on paperback swap or, oh, yeah, checked them out of the public library. As a book collector, I still have only one gardening book in my weeding pile.

And then there are my children’s books—not just books written for children—books belonging to my two children. Each of them has multiple bedroom bookshelves and each of them has extra boxes and piles of books as well. Recently I told my 10-year-old son, “Time to clean your room. You have too many books. I know there are some you don’t read or want anymore, and we will go through them one shelf at a time and decide.” So we sat and looked and when he wanted to discard the two nursery rhyme anthologies by Rosemary Wells, I choked. While I did not make him keep them in his room, I put them in a special pile of “books mom wants to keep because we read them a lot when you were little.” I already have two shelves of these in the guest bedroom. As he chose more books, I said things like, “Dad might want to hang on to that series. Let’s put them over here and ask.” Of course, not all books caused me to pause, but quite a few did—more than I expected.

My iPad and OverDrive app like to check out lots of books about organizing and simplifying from my local public library’s e-book service. It’s true—while I have read a few of those types of books in print, I find them hard to resist in electronic format. It’s almost like they download themselves. From this reading was born the motivation to clear out some clutter during these summer months and have a garage sale to get something back in return (other than more organized, clear spaces). While I have had few problems purging rarely used kitchen gadgets, candle holders, baskets (oh-so-many baskets), and the like, books are a different story. They are just not that easy to give up—when I am “weeding” at home.

In addition to making a backyard garden and re-vamping the front porch this summer, we are also changing up our family room a bit. Planned first purchase? You guessed it: more bookshelves.


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