My first professional publication was Weeding the Neglected Collection. It appeared in the November 1990 issue of School Library Journal. Probably well before some of you were born, let alone working in schools. The short article was about how I tossed 65% of an old HS library's print collection. It's actually pretty funny. And did I mention short? Anyway in it I concluded:
...the following good things were a result of the extensive weeding:
- The material which is left has some credibility. My students have a better chance of finding accurate information.
- I can see the areas we need to develop. There are almost no geography or science books left. As I work with teachers to develop resource-based units, I know in what areas to buy.
- The place looks better. The books which remain are generally more attractive. It’s easier to find (and reshelve) books.
- The shelves look bare. When a school board member or administrator visits, he/she will not automatically assume we are adequately funded.
- I saved $2600 in retrospective conversion costs.
- I have a base line figure on which to build my budget. (Here is where we are. Here is where we should be. Here is how long I want to take to get there. Here is how much money is required). I have a budget based on collection development and program need, not last year’s budget.
- The administration and faculty saw the action as constructive, purposeful, and carried out with professional confidence.
So, 26 years later, guess what issue I've been dealing with in my current school district?
This is the first year that the oversight and budgeting for the library program has been in the district's technology department. This is the first year that there has been a district-administered library materials budget. And this is the first year there is a glimmer of hope that all the kids in our district, regardless of building they attend, will have equitable access to the resources a library program provides.
A big push this year is cleaning up our collections. Our elementary schools have been primarily run by paraprofessionals, some who have been reluctant to toss old books (for all the same reasons that professionals are reluctant to toss old books). Thankfully, I have great elementary library supervisor who is helping give kids access to good materials by selecting new materials and develping guidelines for our paras in dumping the crap. Our drive for cultural proficiency in the district, removing materials that do not respect diversity and contain racial and ethnic stereotypes, is as or more important than removing materials that are factually dated.
Why, has weeding remained such a challenge for so many library workers? Am I simply tilting at windmills hoping our profession will understand the value of discarding? That offering out-dated informational resources is no more ethical that offering out-dated foods or medicines.
Maybe if I work at it for another 25 years. Hell, I could celebrate success on my 90th birthday.
Weed! Head for the Edge, Library Media Connection, Sept/Oct 2003
Budgeting for Mean, Lean Times MultiMedia Schools, Nov/Dec 1995