Saturday, March 22, 2008

Weeding your garden.

Jody used a garden analogy earlier this week to wake your creativity. I'm going to use another analogy. Weed your garden. What do I mean? Get rid of the deadwood. Remove things from your life which are no longer servicing you.

In January, I bought a new house. In February, I moved. I will be spending the rest of the year "weeding." Why? Because I didn't get the chance to go through 40+ years of accumulated junk before the move, so I have to do it now. I can barely WALK THROUGH my basement. Most of what's down there is books. Boxes and boxes of books.

As a librarian I should know better. One of the first things taught to library school students is the importance of weeding a collection. This was hard for me. When my sister and I cleaned out my parents' house, we found college textbooks. Theirs. They went to college in the 1950s. The EARLY 1950s. Need I say more?
Now, after working in the library for a few years, I'm a convert. Weeding is vital to keep things useful and growing. Yes dear reader, a writer/librarian is telling you to get rid of books. Advisedly. If you love a book, pick it up often (for pleasure or research), then keep it. If you have books in boxes - boxes you haven't opened in years. Well, then it's time to weed.

Libraries have very specific criteria for weeding a collection. Most often, books are removed because of condition, lack of currency, or because they don't circulate. If a book is removed for condition, it looks ratty or spends more time in repair than it does in a reader's hands. Time to dump it. However, a book that's ratty is probably being checked out a lot so we replace it with the same or a newer version. Lack of currency is pretty self explanatory. Science books that are more than five years old are going to be gone from my reference collection. Science changes way too fast too keep a twenty year old book on the shelf. Medical books should be replaced often, also due to advances.

Now, a book may be removed because it doesn't circulate or rarely does. This means a book hasn't been checked out of the library in three to five years, or has only a handful of check outs. I'm going to let you in on a secret (and librarians will want to kill me). If your library has a favorite reference or non-fiction book that you want it to keep forever, check the darn thing out!!! At least once a year, but more if you really want it to stay. Tell your friends about it. Make the book popular. Otherwise, the book is outta there.

I would suggest you use these same standards when weeding your personal collection of books. Does it look awful? Is it falling apart? Have it rebound or get a new copy. Is the information out of date? Is it silly? Dump it. Replace it if you need it for research. Otherwise, downsize.

Finally, we get to circulation. How do you apply the concept of "circulation" to your personal collection? Start it in a box? Has it been in box for years? Obviously you don't miss it. Gone. If your precious book is not in a box, then ask yourself when was the last time you read/used it? Are you keeping it just because you think you'll need it. Then keep it for now, but reevaluate it later. Yearly, at the least!

Yes, you can apply this code to your books whether they are fiction or not. If it is a keeper book, by all means keep it. However, reread it every so often. Tastes change. What was once a keeper may no longer be one. Really. I've reread some of the books that I bought when in my twenties and thought they were the best things I'd ever read. The reread was...disappointing. I still have some of them, but I'm going to have to bite the bullet and get rid of them.

Should you just throw them away? If the problem is condition...YES! Your library doesn't want smelly, moldy books any more than YOU do. Neither does the GoodWill or Salvation Army. The library doesn't want a book which is falling apart. We get rid of books like that. You can put them out with the recycling, rather than add them to the landfill if you want to be more green. But take responsibility for your books, don't ask an organization to do it for you. Pretty please? With sugar on top?

If the book is no longer current but in good condition, you can give it to Goodwill or Salvation Army for them to sell. You could donate it to the Friends of the Library or PTA for their book sales. Your library won't want to add it to the shelves for obvious reasons.

If a book is in good condition but no longer useful to you, then by all means consider donating it to your library. However, don't expect to find it on the library shelves. They may add it, they may not. Why? Well, if it is older it may not circulate. We may already have a copy...or multiple copies on the shelves. If my library doesn't add a donated book to our shelves, we pass it on to the Friends. They have an ongoing book sale cart and do annual book sales. Otherwise, donate your book to the other organizations I mentioned.

If you want to put in the effort, there's always a garage sale. Heck, check out whether you can sell it for the big bucks on eBay. I think someone just sold a corn flake shaped like Illinois there for a whole LOT of money. Books ought to be worth more than a corn flake. But then, I would think that. I'm a writer and a librarian. :-)


  1. Excellent suggestions, Francesca! I have been culling my books in cycles. I just got rid of a whole bunch (including text books) last week, donating them to my kid's fencing garage sale.

    My problem is paper. I always have scenes and parts of MSs printed out and fear shredding them jsut IN CASE.

    How do you deal with that?



  2. I tend to weed out books from series. I had a really bad habit of buying and holding onto every single book in a series I liked. No matter how much I didn't like that particular book. Finally I am breaking myself of that habit!
    Great suggestions

  3. Oh yeah, Been there babe! Ever see a true hoarders house? I grew up with one. I now freak once a year, throw everything in a rummage pile and host a free rummage "sale" in the couryard. I adore seeing my bits and peices hamstered away by others! Let other people weigh themselves down with the burden of useless junk!

  4. I adore Sally Ann and Goodwill! Great advice, even when it hurts to cull...

    Jody W.