Lean in a little closer to the screen because, if you don’t mind, I’m going to confess something to you. I’m telling you these things because I hope that you may also share my feelings here. And I’m talking about those small, satisfying tasks that we all pretend we don’t do or don’t confess to feeling joy about them. My top three:

  • Managing to pull off nail polish in one big piece that looks almost like I could put it back on my nail.
  • Letting my TV console get dusty enough that, when I do dust, it looks like a commercial with the clear line between clean and cat hair.
  • Weeding a James Patterson book for condition. 

The only thing I’ll say about the first one is there’s a reason you never see me with a manicure. For the second — I have three cats. And cat people, I know you feel me here. But the third, oh, the third. The satisfaction of pulling a James Patterson book off the shelf, opening it to find water damage, and putting in on my book cart runs deep and pure.

To be fair to James Patterson, this isn’t a reflection on him or his writing so much as that I worked in a regional library with a high circulation of materials and no extra space to add books. Like in your library, we weeded on three parameters: relevancy of the materials (especially important in nonfiction), most recent circulation, and condition. James Patterson is always relevant, and his books continuously circulate, so the only way to make room back there in the P’s was to be diligent about condition. Maybe it smells a little like cigarette smoke? Gone! Two water-stained pages? Gone! Someone wrote a note in pencil? Gone!

Gotta make room for the fifteen-twenty books he’s going to publish this year somehow. 

I loved weeding in all its forms. I would print out that non-circ list, head to my section, and it would just be me and the books (and whatever patron stopped to ask me questions). Weeding was a solitary time to put my hands on my collection, to better understand the gaps in what we offered, the surprising things that circulated, and the books that weren’t circing, but maybe needed to.

I wasn’t the world’s best weeder, I’m certain. To quote Ann Landers, “No person who can read is ever successful at cleaning out an attic.” Weeding is the same way. I kept way too many cookbooks that were past their usefulness because I had a favorite recipe or three in there. I was harsher on James Patterson’s condition than the condition of the North Carolina history books. I didn’t always catch when I weeded the last copy of a third book in a five-book series (apologies to Shelley, our fiction collection development librarian ).

But weeding gave me a chance to do more with the books we had. My library had an African authors book club, which means we had an extensive collection of books by African authors. Inevitably, one of those books would be on my zero-circ list, and I always took that as a reminder to set up a display promoting both the book club and the wonderful collection of materials we had. Coming across a funny cover or an interesting microhistory was another good reason for a display. Noticing that we only had one book on breast cancer on the shelf was a reason to dig into what was circulating to see if we needed to buy more (or maybe have a program?). And it was while weeding that I came up with my ideas for shelf-talkers that pointed people in landscaping (700s) to gardening (600s), people in 650.14 (resumes and cover letters) to LearningExpress, and a way to list all the books in order next to series like the Dresden files, where it’s not clear. 

My husband jokes that he never got rid of books until he married a librarian. I remind him that your book collection is like your garden and you should keep what is pretty, interesting, and useful. He (wisely) refrains from commenting on how lightly I weed my own cookbook collection. There’s always that one recipe with durian that I might still make. 

Looking for a resource to help you prioritize your collection budget? Learn more about Core Collections.   

Jennifer Lohmann is the Director of Sales and Marketing at NoveList. She is currently reading The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson.