Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Is a Library Like a Garden?

This blog entry could be entitled "Weeding," an activity in which most librarians must engage. A library can't keep acquiring new and timely books year after year without getting rid of some; our bookshelves simply won't hold them all! The sad truth is: some books must be taken out of a library -- books that are just plain worn out, books that don't have reasonably current information in them, books that no one has signed out of the library for a long time and are generally unappealing.

So on a regular basis I take a deep breath and head for the bookshelves with a goal in mind. Late this afternoon I moved through our science section looking at books that were technically, per the years of their publication, "out of date" or had not been signed out for a long while. I find this difficult because I meet some of my favorite authors and long-familiar books that need to be weeded and I don't like saying goodbye. To prepare, I generate reports from the computer catalog that help me focus on likely prospects for weeding. Then I move along the shelves looking closely at each of those books. Actually, I look over all the books briefly to identify well-worn and damaged items needing to be removed. After I have a stack of "weeds" I check the copy history of each book to see if it has been especially popular, and that helps me determine whether to replace the weeded book with a similar but up-to-date title. It becomes pretty easy to see what topics need to be added back into the library. An elementary school library will never be without dinosaur books or books on strange and wonderful animals. And of course, we need books on biomes and weather and outer space!

Most librarians learn about good new books to buy from reading reviews in professional journals such as Booklist, School Library Journal and The Horn Book Magazine. That's what I do. Plus I love to go to bookstores to browse and get ideas. Always, we take cues from the school curriculum and teacher and student interests. The goal is to have as fresh and relevant a library collection as possible -- one that meets the needs and interests of the community.

The responsibility for acquiring new books and for removing out-of-date materials is enormous. It takes hours of time, usually when the library is not open because it takes real concentration. It is also very satisfying because the result will always be a better library. Weeding helps our library flourish, just like a garden.