Weeding Gone Wrong or Leadership Gone Wrong ?

Mary Kelly —  July 10, 2013 — 3 Comments

medium_3365835339The WryLibrarian (aka Megan McGlynn) posted this story about the Urbana Free Library’s weeding problem.  As a weeding and collection quality fanatic, I have been so distressed to read about the problems in Urbana.  Over at Awful Library Books, Holly and I have been talking and watching this debacle unfold. I am not sure how this will finally end, but I know it will be discussed in library schools as an object lesson for a long time. Already many have started speculating on the problems of Urbana, and like Megan, I am of the mind that this is not a weeding problem.

Most libraries have a detailed policy and procedure when examining books for de-selection.In my experience, librarians are cautious about weeding, almost to a fault. Holly and I founded Awful Library Books to actually spur librarians toward more aggressive weeding.  We both love weeding as a great way to spruce up a collection so it is more responsive to public need. As much as we love to weed, it is never done without thought and context, and by examining many factors, including publication date.  In my opinion, if there were trained, degreed librarians at the library, there had to be a discussion of Urbana’s policy and good library practice. There is no way that trained professional librarians would go willingly along with such a ridiculous directive, unless it was implied that jobs were at stake.

A Director/manager needs to listen and trust staff. If you don’t, as a manager, you should be asking why.  This doesn’t mean you need total agreement on an issue. It does mean that as a manager you want to lead effectively and make good decisions based on relevant information. I remember a time when I was shifting and moving a collection and a Page mentioned something I hadn’t considered. She was the expert in shelving and saw a weakness in my plan before I did. Every staff member is an expert in their particular part of library land, and you would be wise to listen to their advice. A leader thinks about the overall goal and the big picture, assembles input from the experts, and makes the call.

The impact on the public should be considered in any change. No matter what kind of change, the public will notice and someone will have an issue. I have seen many a patron get absolutely upset and ready to charge into the Director’s office over things like moving a collection, using receipt printers rather than stamps, furniture, and a million other little details. Having an official response and training everyone to give that response is crucial. The larger the project, the more training is needed for dealing with public response.

When I was in library school, professors pointed to the San Francisco Public Library’s public relations disaster on weeding. I know San Francisco’s story probably scared a lot of directors/staff.  One of my first jobs in libraries had a director that was absolutely terrified of discarding anything after she had heard about San Francisco’s issue.  She was sure that even a moldy book in the dumpster would cause a public relations nightmare.

The Urbana Free Library situation smacks of leadership failure on so many fronts, least of all weeding. All of us in libraries would do well to watch Urbana’s handling of this situation and note what happens going forward.

More about Urbana Free Library’s Weeding Problem:

Bookgate: When Urbana Free Library Purged Thousands of Books

WILL Radio (Illinois Public Media)



News Gazette



Mary Kelly


Co-founder of awfullibrarybooks.net and library utility player. Lover of: library data, spreadsheets, collection quality, cats and cardigans. Follow me on twitter @librarymary40

3 responses to Weeding Gone Wrong or Leadership Gone Wrong ?


    Mary, I’m totally late to the party on replying to this, but I wanted to say great post. Libraries can be really cautious about weeding because of (real and perceived) community reaction to de-selection. Your blog is awesome and a vector for culture change! Awful Library Books is a great venue for highlighting the need to weed regularly.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

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