Search this site
Other stuff

All banner artwork by Brady Johnson, college student and (semi-) starving artist.

My latest books:


        Available now

       Available Now

Available now 

My book Machines are the easy part; people are the hard part is now available as a free download at Lulu.

 The Blue Skunk Page on Facebook


EdTech Update




« Fair Use Scenarios - Tunes and YouTube | Main | Cost of paper »

Minnesota's aging school library collections

Hard hitting investigative reporting:

Books on disco dancing from the 1970s. On computer graphics from the 1980s.
Where did we find them? Your local school library. How did these collections get so old?

From “KSTP/TV” at: <> (Go to URL for link to video of broadcast).

This five minute clip, an over generalization of the status of school library print collections, is probably pretty accurate. Our last school library survey (2004) indicated an average copyright date of 1985 for books in Minnesota school libraries. We are almost to the point that African schools will be sending their discarded materials to us.

The automatic assumption is that the reason for aged collections is a lack of funding. It's actually more complicated than that.

  • Every school school has the funds to maintain a first rate library collection. Now the school may not choose to expend its funds to do so, but it has the funds. Budget always reflect priorities. (Budgeting for Lean Mean Times) Poor budgets do not reflect a lack of money, but a lack of advocacy for the budget line item. Sorry, that's the way it is.
  • Old collections demonstrate a lack of professionalism as much as a lack of funding. It costs nothing except an hour or so a week to weed out old materials. Each week pick one section of bookcase and look at each book. If it is less than ten years old or has been checked out within the last three years, keep it. If not, toss it. Dump duplicate copies unless popular. Toss anything that is worn-out.
  • Yes, logic would have it that schools without professional school librarians are more likely to have dated collections. I wish I could make that statement with more confidence than I feel.
  • Full shelves of worthless books are much, much worse than half or three-quarter empty shelves. See Weed! and Weeding the Neglected Collection. I can state with confidence that your book budget will increase after a comprehensive collection weeding.
  • And put yourself in your students' position for a moment. Which would prefer using - a shiny new computer or an aged, nasty book?

As a profession, we librarians need to stop viewing the book as a holy object. Discarding Preparing for Jobs of the 80s is not the same as censorship. Like cornflakes, baby aspirin, and even the Kennedy political family, books have a shelf life that needs to be observed.

Start weeding today.

EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments (10)

Before the news piece aired, my home district, Stillwater, issued a press release saying that it was appropriate to keep the outdated books in the A-L because much of the information hadn't changed. Mike Dronen, District Tech Coordinator, was in a very edited clip stating that they'd probably find outdated materials on every shelf.
In my experience, money for books is only a small part of the problem. Schools need an experienced media person who is both willing to chuck outdated materials and has time to sort the collections. So many media people are overscheduled and pulled in every which direction to cover duties left open due to other personnel cuts. The junior high I was at in Stillwater serves over 1000 kids and only has a p/t shared media specialist and a p/t para who also does copying and other duties. Districts need to prioritize, and unfortunately too many don't place a priority on media/specialists when they see class sizes go up.

February 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTami Brass

One of my favorite all time quotes is from you: "Weed! I’m not telling you again."

Too bad you had to do it! I don't think anything makes us look as bad as NOT weeding!

February 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDonna Baumbach

While I am fortunate to be a full time media specialist in my k-5 school, I too have "other duties as assigned". The hours for my para have been reduced so she can work in the office. I've even been asked by an admin person why I needed to weed. Needless to say, I have some educating to do along with the weeding.

February 2, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterghostlibrarian

The huge benefit of weeding is that it allows students to find the NEW books that were previously hidden! I guarantee that after a thorough weeding you will have multiple students saying, "Hey, did we get new books?" If I'd known how it would liberate the new titles, I'd have done it YEARS ago!
Secondly, if your shelves look like they are jammed full of material, it's really hard to convince admin that you need more money. If however, there's a gaping hole on a shelf which reflects the inadequacy of your science section, they are much more likely to believe you when you say you need money.

February 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJanice Robertson

Yes, this was one of the first lessons I learned in my internship in a K-5 school. One of my projects was to help the media specialist weed the entire non-fiction collection. We got rid of a lot of books. While the shelves looked almost empty, there was one advantage, the kids could now find the books that they wanted without slogging through the books that were useless. Also, the media specialist had the full support of the administration at his school to run the library as he saw fit. Also, when you put your hands on every book in the library you learn a lot about your collection: what you have, what you don't have and what you need. When I started my first full-time librarian position this was the first item on my agenda and it really has helped me to know what is in my collection and what holes I need to fill.

February 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJudi Librarian

Hi Tami,

Thanks for your comment. I certainly agree that money is only a part of the issue!

All the best,


Hi Donna,

Good to hear from you!

Yes, it seems like I had to go back on my “I’m not telling you again” warning. Seems like it never worked when I was a parent either.

All the best,


Hi ghostlibrarian,

A good education of the staff about the importance of weeding is absolutely essential. I have found that when teachers help weed, they were even more draconian that I was!


Hi Janice,

This has been my experience as well. Thanks for the second!


Hi Judi,

Thanks for the comment. Good reminder about how weeding helps a new librarian learn the collection.

All the best,


February 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

The KSTP report addressed a major concern in our school districts. WHO is responsible for maintaining an up-to-date collection, both for research and leisure reading? If a school administrator is responsible for all learning in his/her school, then they MUST provide someone professionally trained to provide those resources for students and teachers. Too many administrators are leaving this responsibility to paras or ed. assistants who are not educated to select and weed collections ... OR teach research skills!!
We are looking at collections worth millions of dollars throughout a school district. As long as districts continue to cut professional Media positions, their collections will deterioate and students will resort to Wikipedia for their research.
Most parents are not aware of this evolving disaster in their child's education. Education historically swings on a pendulum ... and it will return to the needs of having professionally staffed Media Centers. As Joni Mitchell once sang, "Don't it always seem to go, you don't know what you've got til it's gone."

Hi Retired,

You make some great points. I thought the news story did a pretty good job of tying old collections to a lack of professional staffing.

Like to see this trend reverse itself. Soon.


February 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

I've worked at three media centers now and I make it my first priority to weed the collection. I know this part is frowned upon, but I make the weeded books available to teachers. Once they see what I'm getting rid of then I'm rarely questioned again why I am throwing away books. I also make sure I print out a report of the average age of each part of the collection and some of the more dubious titles found for future reference if I'm questioned.

February 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLibGds

HI LibGds (Library Goddess?),

I think it is important that weeders are open about what they are doing. I even used to keep a box full of the most egregiously old stuff to haul out when people questioned my efforts.

Thanks for the comment and all the best,


February 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>