Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Milk Analogy

My new library collection is far smaller than my collection at HSC. I'm pretty happy about this, which seems odd, but it means I can pay more attention to it and really care for it. It's like a garden! You can't care for every plant on a giant farm, but you can care for every plant in a garden. That being said, oh boy, do I have some weeding to do.

See what I did there?

For those non-library folks, "weeding" is the terminology when librarians remove books from a collection. Weeding a library collection is very much like weeding a garden; just like you have to pull some weeds to let the plants grow, you have to get rid of old/damaged/out-of-date/unattractive books to let the collection grow. It sounds strange, but it is true. Teens especially see old, yellowed books and go "Blech, there is nothing here that I want to read!" when there could be a perfectly good and useful book sandwiched between two books from 1989.

Honestly, what high school student in 2015 wants to read The High-School Student's Guide to Study, Travel, & Adventure Abroad from 1995? Yes, it looks like a cool book. Yes, it would have been fun for me to read in 2000 when I was a senior in high school, but the book is older than all of my high school students! How valid is this information now?

There's a great analogy that compares weeding books to spoiled milk:
The Milk in the Refrigerator

The milk in the refrigerator is past the sell date, has an odor, and is curdled and lumpy. Would you?

  • Keep it, because you don’t know when you could get to the store to buy more?

    • Then why would you keep a book on the shelf with misinformation because you don’t know when you could replace it?

  • Keep it, because otherwise your refrigerator would look empty?

    • Then why would you keep outdated books on the shelf to preserve a false collection size?

  • Give it to a neighbor to keep in his or her refrigerator?

    • Then why would you send outdated encyclopedias or other materials to a teacher for classroom use?

  • Donate it to a food pantry for hungry children?

    • Then why would you send outdated resources to be used by children in this or other countries?

Dr. Gail Dickinson

I know not all of the texts I'm getting rid of are as bad as spoiled milk. Some are still interesting. I'm getting rid of two Joseph Campbell books, and I love his work, but it just isn't something that students research, want to read about, or can't find elsewhere. We are getting put on the Boston Public Library Inter-library loan delivery schedule, so students can even request books from BPL to be shipped here instead of picking them up at their local branch.

I have a goal; I want to make this library as new and as interesting as possible. It is going to take some time, but that's OK.



  1. This is something I've been meaning to do. We won't even talk about nonfiction at the moment. But just went through a row of shelves in fiction - some shelves are about to really open up. Several works that appear to be part of our opening collection (our campus just celebrated 50 years) and plenty more that predate me (not in terms of employment but of existence) Can be painful but necessary.

  2. Oh no! 50 year old books? How are they still there? Why did students keep returning them over the years? :-)
    In my former high school library, I found a fantastic copy of a Latin-English Lexicon... published in 1876! It was still in circulation! Ooof.
    I pointed out to one of my library team (she's a MLIS student) that the average age of our 700s is 1989. Turns out she was born in 1989!
    Good luck with your weeding!