YA Strike Zone December 2015

The Weeding Wars: More Battles of YA Services under another Name

Anthony Bernier

“She made a second YA collection!”


Burgeoning “weeding wars” pit not only library user against the library but also staff against staff. It’s becoming the library world’s version of civil war.

What!?” was my incredulous response years ago when, early in the process of training new YA librarians, I offered to weed YA collections at branches without a YA specialist. The new staff and I would visit, examine, and discuss each title based on our previously-reviewed YA-specific criteria, and justify any recommendations for withdrawal on post-it notes. The branch manager subsequently decided to accept or reject our recommendations.

This procedure helped our new staff learn and apply basic YA-specific collection development principles. The branch got “free” specialist weeding support. The library system got a more focused collection and benefited from quality staff training.

That was how it was supposed to work. The fact of the matter is, however, it rarely did.

In the branch of this story, there reputedly wasn’t staff capacity to conduct even routine professional collection maintenance. There wasn’t a YA space. The branch’s YA collection development was forever ad hoc. The branch offered no YA programming and no teen advisory group or volunteer opportunities. And yet, somehow, there was space for a second YA collection in a small branch.

My reaction, “What?!” came after spending two entire days (that’s two full-time professionals for two entire days) providing disciplined, prioritized, and detailed expert evaluation of a collection that had not likely been examined in twenty years (no kidding). Still, the branch librarian decided to accept none of our weeding recommendations, not a single one. Instead, she found additional public shelves on which to keep every title we recommended for deaccession – essentially creating a second YA collection.

Today, against a gathering backdrop of vocal citizens angered about “perfectly good” library materials being discovered in trash bins, it’s time the profession faced this brewing and seemingly unacknowledged civil war over collections; at least the part within our own walls.

Not all of the save-the-books crusaders are fanatic religious zealots promoting censorship. In many instances they’re not the “wingnuts” that liberal intellectual freedom-fighting librarians love to patronize. Instead, an increasing number of recent cases illustrate how many library staff are under-prepared, lack skills, or fail to execute professional duties, or who have been victimized by poor management overlooking how important every inch of library space is to public service. Rather than deal with the implications of poor routine collection management, many managers simply ignore procedures like weeding.

Then, one day a real professional comes along to set the library on the right path, and civil war erupts.

Several recent examples from libraries out west reveal that our house is most definitely not in order. In these instances, current and retired staff (paraprofessional and professionals alike), outraged at the results of long-overdue weeding, complained to library boards and commissions, forced union conflicts and endless administrative meetings, and dragged libraries through months of bad press in protesting otherwise long-delayed basic collection management procedures.

In one instance, a library director became a fatality in a weeding war battle and resigned. In another, policy prevailed, but at a high cost in public esteem, expensive meetings, and delays in the resumption of fundamental collection management.

Moreover, recent research documented that new and renovated libraries devote only approximately 3 percent of their total square footage to YA services. Most assuredly, the space young adults receive is nearly always limited to shelf space. This makes weeding all the more critical for YA services–to insure that popular YA reading is featured, that dated or unpopular materials are weeded or shelved elsewhere, and that there is sufficient space on shelves to merchandize and attract new and reluctant readers.

As my story above illustrates, YA services suffer, disproportionately, from poorly weeded collections. If there is “no space” on library shelves, as is so often claimed, then how can the library possibly entertain creating space for a YA corner, for YA seating, for curating YA exhibits, or even for merchandizing existing collections in ways attractive to YA patrons?

In another recent weeding war skirmish, current and former library staff vehemently opposed a long-delayed weeding program. Coincidentally, that liberated space had been slated for a new YA department.

It’s also important to point out that none of these book-saver advocacy groups ever includes young people as members.

Let’s not delude ourselves about the nature of some of these anti-weeding civil war pitched battles. Weeding is political because space is political. The “saving” of collections can frequently mask more subtle anti-youth agendas. Consequently, YA professionals need to remain vigilant about the nature (stated or implicit) of what and who opposes conventional, routine, and regular collection maintenance.

Proper weeding can make space for new, different, or alternative uses that young adults need. Keeping ratty paperbacks or musty hardcovers is analogous to drinking lots of water to make one’s stomach feel full–it’s an unsatisfying feeling.

Further, when routine weeding is ignored, how can libraries expect to convince City Council members, Friends groups, foundations, principals, teachers, parents, and most especially, young people themselves that library visits offer value?

On the other hand, strategic weeding manifests a healthy respect for every inch of library space. Well-maintained collections increase the library’s opportunity to better entice and delight young people into reading.

Bernier headshot Anthony Bernier teaches at San Jose State’s School of Library and Information Science where he concentrates on research and teaching on the administration of equitable services with young people. A fourteen-year YA specialist librarian and administrator veteran and former chair of YALSA’s New Directions Task Force, he recently edited The Collected Wit and Wisdom of Dorothy M. Broderick, a Festschrift honoring Broderick, VOYA’s cofounder (VOYA Press, 2013). He lives in Oakland (CA) and rides a BMW R1100RT.



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