It seems that each year, while I wait for budget money to come in, I have a few weeks to spend roaming the stacks and searching for some outdated and irrelevant books to weed. I decided this semester as I did my annual purge that I would spend a lot of time training my library media class how to evaluate titles and help determine if they should be weeded or kept.
We spent a long time talking about weeding and why we do it. I get a lot of criticism from our teachers each time I weed because "There are so many good books here" or "How can you be in a library and want to get rid of books" The fact of the matter is, a library has to be weeded. If it isn't the reputation of the library decreases rapidly. When patrons, no matter what the age, come to a library with 500 books about the same topic, it makes it difficult to locate that one book that is needed. When there are 25 books on a topic and 20 of them are old, musty and unappealing, the patron will just walk on by and not check it out. The ultimate goal of a school library (and any library) is to appeal to the reader and offer materials in which the reader has interest, in which the reader finds value. Materials need to be current, appealing and foster a love of reading.
When this teacher left the profession, I decided to spend a lot of time evaluating the books he requested me to keep and determine how many really needed to stay. This is where the kids came in. I decided to do an epub with topics we have available to assist teachers and students with research papers. The kids were charged with sorting the books to the topics and generating lists which included title, author and copyright date. After they made these lists, I asked them to look at each book and decide if we had enough about the topic and if they were relevant for the current need. I also asked them to check online sources to see if there were items out there we could guide teachers and students to as well. I was so impressed by their involvement and the outcome.
I spoke to my students about several important aspects of a collection, I told them to ask questions about each book they handle. How is the appearance? How is the content? Is it used often/ has it circulated in awhile? Do we have more books that are newer about the same topic? Can you find the information in a database? For some things, I showed them how to check online for eBooks. We talked a great deal about public domain and The Gutenberg Project. We talked as well about age of the book and if the materials inside are still important today. It was one of the best discussions I have ever had in a class. The kids were engaged and excited. They were focused and had ownership in the library. I was very impressed by the thoughts they had about Health topics and Science topics. Before we even conversed about age, they were talking to me. "Mrs. Wells, this book is about history of diseases, so I think it is good because it is historical." "Mrs. Wells, this one is about AIDS but it was written about 10 years ago and I think the disease is different now." This was AMAZING! The kids were using some higher order thinking to come up with their conclusions. It was exciting.
One of my students is an avid nonfiction sports reader. He always hits the Biography section and chooses a book about someone famous who does sports. I knew, as soon as I saw him on my roster that he was the one to weed that section. And I was right! He and I met as he was weeding and he questioned a lot of things. He knows the clientele at our school. he knows what kids are interested in reading and he spent so much time thinking about the books. We ended up cleaning a lot of the books out because most of them were old, about topics that no one cared about anymore and many were too simple for them. (I work with grades 6-12 students and many of the books were 4-6 only.) This was a great lesson and the conversation between us was fantastic. We ended up weeding most of the books in the section, but, it let me know we needed to add more in that area about more current people. The student was then asked to generate a list of potential topics that kids would enjoy, since nonfiction sports is a hot commodity at the library.
*Please note, while I did have my students take part in the process, the ultimate decision was mine. I looked the books over, I checked them in the computer and evaluated them myself, but, I let them guide the process. I let them help with the process. I must admit, they were spot on with all of their decisions.