Backstage Library Works
Weeding Out Old Books

A Simple Guide to Weeding your Library

Weeding, or deaccessioning, is the process of permanently removing an item from a library’s collection. A careful weeding plan is an integral part of keeping our libraries trusted sources of current information and library professionals work hard to curate their collections. Weeding policies are frequently tailored to the separate needs of public, academic, and school libraries, but they tend to have the same themes in common, all aligned to one purpose: maintain the usefulness and health of information resources.

“Because in a library, just as in a garden, taking out unwanted items makes those left behind stand out.”
Ian Chant, “The Art of Weeding | Collection Management” from Library Journal

Why We Weed

Overcrowded shelves and worn-out material can make a library feel cluttered and can sometimes be damaging to materials. Have you ever walked into a floor-to-ceiling stacked bookshop? While exciting to see so many books in one place, you’ve noticed the distended, dirtied spines, and finding what you’re looking for is difficult, isn’t it? By providing patrons with clean spaces and books, they have a visual indicator that their library is up-to-date and inviting, and they will have a much easier time browsing shelves. When possible, most guides agree that shelves should be no more that 75% full with hard-to-reach areas like top and bottom shelves kept empty.

But more important than aesthetics is currency of information. Patrons rely on their libraries to give them relevant data in their nonfiction and reference sections especially. Outdated material in subjects such as medicine, law, and taxes may not only be useless, but dangerous. Removing books that are no longer helpful keeps a library’s reputability in good standing.

What to Weed

While it’s hard to part with a book, here are some things most librarians look out for when weeding their library.

  • Poor Condition
    Keep an eye out for torn out pages, busted covers, mold, and books that are beyond repair. Depending on demand, a library may decide to replace these worn books with fresh, attractive copies.
  • Usage Statistics
    Infrequent circulation can be a sign that a community is not interested in the book in question. So why let it take up space? Look into what’s not being used to clear the way for new books that patrons can’t wait to get their hands on. Remember to check your interlibrary loan program for titles that can borrowed elsewhere.
  • Out-of-Date Information
    This is a tricky one and depends largely on subject. The fields of health sciences and computer technology update at a rapid pace while books about art and religion have a much longer shelf-life. If a library has a new edition or better book on a subject, this can replace one that is no longer current.
  • Digital Access
    If a library is looking to free up shelf space, it wouldn’t hurt to investigate what might be available digitally. Some subscription databases already in use by the library may be able to take the place of bulky reference volumes.

What to do with Weeded Books

We know – people don’t always have the best reaction to a weeding project. A major problem folks have is that they think perfectly good books are going to end up in the dumpster. This does not have to be the case! Carefully consider each book to decide where it’s next phase of life will be. You may consider having a book sale to develop funds for new books or donating to a good cause. Some institutions repurpose their deaccessioned materials, and others even use them for DIY projects to give new life to a tired book. Only your most damaged books should be candidates for complete removal.

In an article from 2017, Paul Duckworth wrote:

Know your community and their needs. You are going to make mistakes—no one is perfect. Just remember that different feelings and perspectives exist among users and other staff. It’s important to listen, respect, and communicate. Consider sharing your intentions with patrons by posting signs that announce your weeding efforts and encourage input. “We’re making room for the new books that people want, Thanks for caring enough about the library to speak with me. Books are vital to our community. We focus on keeping them up-to-date, useful, and appealing. We sincerely welcome your suggestions for materials to add to our collection.”
Paul Duckworth, “Weeding” on his blog, Librarian to Librarian

How to Weed

Ideally, weeding should be an everyday part of running a library. Being done all at once not only puts strain on staff but troubles patrons to see large amounts of books being “thrown away.”

Consider training staff and volunteers to keep a constant eye out for damaged materials as well as running usage reports on a consistent basis to review what’s not being used. Setting a schedule throughout the year to hunker down and focus on certain sections also makes the process easier.

However, there are sometimes situations where a large weeding project is called for. Perhaps your library is reorganizing its layout or moving into a new space. Or maybe the shelves have simply grown too overcrowded and it’s time to make some room.

Whatever your plan is, make sure it is clearly communicated so everyone is on board and knows their role. Weeding does not end with a book being taken off the shelf. You will still need someone to remove it from your ILS, someone to order a replacement copy if necessary, and someone to take care of getting the weeded book to its new home.

The Backstage Solution

As mentioned, there can be times when a “deep weed” is needed. This can oftentimes feel like a daunting task, but Backstage Library Works can offer onsite solutions to make this a seamless process. With fully customizable workflows, we can help with all or just some of the steps according to your needs.

Notably, our service does not include telling you which books to pull. This is something to be carefully considered first by your librarians before Backstage can step in – you know your community best! Once parameters have been set, Backstage can follow those guidelines to get the project completed.

Step 1 – Pulling Books

This can be done one or both of two ways.

  1. We can work from a pre-determined list of items that you have marked for removal. Our technicians would simply work from the list and take each book off the shelves for you.
  2. We can work within parameters that you establish in advance. Perhaps you are looking to pull items with a certain amount of damage, or something more granular such as “all books in the T section with a copyright date of 1990 or earlier.” Our technicians would then be able to go through each book to remove the ones that fit the criteria.

Step 2 – Removing books from your database

This is an important step as you do not want to be displaying books in your catalog that are no longer there. When we pull books, our program will track each item that is pulled. We can then provide you this list so that you can update your ILS – or, our technicians can do this for you.

Step 3 – Disposing of Items

Once books are pulled, we won’t just leave them laying around on book carts for you to figure out what to do with them. Our team can arrange to give them over to your ‘Friends of the Library’ group for a book sale, or we can work with a third party to help you sell or donate them.

Step 4 – Rearranging your Library

Finally, a large weeding project may leave you with some gaps and half empty shelves. We can ensure that proper shifting happens and can reorganize your collection exactly how you want it.

Contact Us

To learn more about pricing and how Backstage can help you on your upcoming weeding project, you can call us at 1.800.288.1265, send us an email at, or fill out the form below.


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