Benbrook Library / Musings

Hoarding vs. Weeding: The Eternal Struggle

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I’m something of a hoarder. I don’t have an acute case of the hoardsies like those extreme hoarders on that hoarding show (I think it’s called “People Who Can’t Throw Stuff Away”), but I’m willing to acknowledge that I have a slight problem. I don’t have rooms full of used styrofoam food containers or anything like that, but I do tend to hold on to things for far longer than their windows of usefulness and relevancy. It’s mostly paper stuff that I have kept around for very flimsy sentimental or “practical” reasons. Without my movie ticket stub from 1999, how am I supposed to properly reminisce about going to see “She’s All That” for the third time? Sure, an insurance card from 2006 has no value now, but who knows what the future will bring?

In library land, a reluctance to get rid of things can be a hindrance. Just as with my precious useless documents at home, it pains me to give library books the old heave-ho.  However, I must overcome this affliction in order to perform one of the less glamorous, yet still highly essential, responsibilities of my job: weeding. No, I don’t mean removing unsightly growths from an otherwise pristine landscape, but it is more or less metaphorically equivalent to that. When librarians weed, we remove items that are worn out, seldom used, comprised of dated information, or are otherwise irrelevant or unappealing in order to make room for items that are newer, more up-to-date, and/or in better physical condition. Unless they’re in truly abominable shape, the weeded items are given the opportunity to find new homes. In the case of my library, we place weeded materials on our Friends of the Library bookshelves and offer patrons the opportunity to purchase them for a small donation. It’s a practical system that is carried out for highly practical reasons, but the impractical hoarder in me can’t help but approach it with barely stifled cringing and grimacing. Yesterday, my colleague and I attended a webinar that extolled the virtues of weeding and offered tips on how to best handle the often painful process. It didn’t fully cure me, but it reinvigorated my will to continue fighting my affinity for old junk.

Coincidentally, yesterday evening, with weeding still on the brain, I was skimming my Facebook news feed when I came across a link to a site entitled “Awful Library Books.” As any library nerd worth his salt would be, I was highly intrigued and felt compelled to investigate. To my surprise and delight, I found that the site is about weeding, and I must say, it’s awfully awesome. It features images and descriptions of questionable (mostly for being severely dated, but sometimes for content) books found on public library shelves. In addition to being pure comedy gold, the books presented on the site serve as a reminder of the importance of weeding. If librarians neglect their shelf pruning duties, we run the embarrassing risk of allowing our patrons to take home books about the emerging technology known as LaserDisc that will soon revolutionize home movie watching , or biographies on the hottest musical act in the world, ‘N SYNC.

I plan to visit “Awful Library Books” regularly now, in service to both my funny bone and my sense of professional responsibility. While the books featured are great, I think my favorite part of the site is the tagline beneath the title, which reads: “Hoarding is not collection development.” I’m going to do my best to live by those words.  I’ve yet to find an inspirational mantra about the superfluity of ticket stubs, so those are likely gonna stick around.

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