My name is Laurie Schneider and I love books. I love reading books, sharing books, browsing books, talking about books, and, yes, buying books. Whether you call me a bibliophile—or a bookaholic—the fact is I have a problem: my appetite for the latest Lois Lowery, Jerry Spinelli, Gary Schmidt, and Jennifer Holm far exceeds my shelf space.
A bigger house is out of the question, and our family room is already wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling books. So what’s a booklover to do? Give up buying books cold turkey? Not a chance. I’m powerless in the face of a starred review.
The cold, hard, merciless truth—unless I want to turn up in a future episode of Hoarders—is that something has to go, and that something is books. If I want to add, I have to subtract. I have to weed.
It’s the same at the public library where I work. We’re blessed with a community of voracious readers and a healthy budget for new materials, but cursed with a small building on a small lot, with no room to expand. The librarians are under constant pressure to weed, to make space for all the new books, movies, music, and audiobooks the public expects.
I spoke recently about weeding with Cathy Ensley, our newly retired youth services librarian, and here’s what she had to say about the process:
“Library shelves are finite. When I was first weeding the collection eleven years ago, the district’s book budget was much smaller. The shelves were full of very old, weed-able books with negligible literary merit, which meant they also didn’t need to be replaced. Then, the book budget inflated, which was wonderful, but suddenly there wasn’t as much shelf space. So I weeded single books by forgotten authors that had not created an oeuvre. Then I started weeding by the total number of checkouts each year. Then I actually had to start cutting into an author’s body of work, pulling out the less popular books, which really pained me.
“It makes me sad to lose perfectly good books, sometimes wonderful books, because we need the shelf space for newer books that might very well not be as good, but are in demand because of their subject matter. Case in point: Not too long ago, I weeded about a dozen YA historical novels that dealt with slavery. Excellent books, but most of them hadn’t been checked out in years. They were discarded in order to make shelf space for books about vampires.”
Short of launching a capital campaign to build a bigger library, there really doesn’t seem to be another solution. Like me, the county can’t just go out and buy a bigger house, and we need to provide the books people want to read. It pains me, though, to see some of my favorite titles removed from the catalog and put out to pasture at the Friends of the Library book sale. On the other hand, some of those titles have found their way to my house where they are now cozying up to Lois Lowry and Jerry Spinelli, Gary Schmidt and Jennifer Holm.
If there’s been any benefit to weeding my personal collection it’s this: my collection may not have grown larger, but it has grown more interesting, more focused, more quirky, more “me” – a collection of desert-island books I won’t mind spending a lifetime with.
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Laurie Schneider can be found writing, reading, and weeding in Moscow, Idaho. She tweets her favorite reads at https://twitter.com/Idaho_Laurie.