The Reluctant Gardener

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

Laurie Beth Schneider
  1. Weeding is so hard, but so necessary! Luckily, I am able to weed mostly on the basis of condition. If a book is falling to pieces but no longer circulates, it’s easier to get rid of than something that looks brand new but has an inch of dust on it! I imagine that the vampire books will need to be weeded in ten years, but a lot of historical fiction will circulate steadily!

  2. Laurie, it’s too bad the library doesn’t have more room. We have little free libraries popping up all over Spokane. Maybe some of those would help. Not sure if this link to Rachel’s will show up.
    I, too, have over-loaded shelves, a second row hiding the row in back, horizontal on top of vertical, plus piles “to be read” on every end table. It’s a lovely mess! Usually I read one novel at a time, but currently I’m listening to one on audio, in the middle of three different writing books and at least two other non-fiction books.

    • Little Free Libraries — three glorious words. Also, I will try to look at my two-deep, two-layered bookshelves and think, “lovely mess.” 🙂

  3. Laurie, I so identify/sympathize with you. We share this quandry. Books that become friends, are the ones that make us think and feel constructively. The ones you’ve had since middle grade—doesn’t each one just take you back to the first time you discovered it, and how you felt then, just discovering your favorite subjects, and learning about life? (I don’t know whether you kept all your most favorite middle grade books, but in spite of many moves, mine still have a place in my favorite bookcase). There are other bookcases with equally loved (adult) books in other favorite genres. Laurie, thank you for this appealing post.

    • I wish I’d kept them, Pat. I do have some old picture books that were mine as a child, and I’m always on the lookout for old favorites at used bookstores.

  4. You make some good points, Kim. Reading should be a joy. If we want kids to read it’s important that they find the books they want to read in the library — not necessarily the ones we wish they’d read. Books are expensive and there are so many people who can’t afford to buy them. Most of the books I’ve been buying I actually read first at the library.

  5. I hate weeding books from my collection! It’s heart-breaking. I generally try to give the books I’ve weeded out to friends whom I know will enjoy reading them, and that makes it more bearable.

    Even though it’s sad that the public library that your children’s librarian friend mentioned had to weed out historical fiction in favor of vampire novels, I’m glad to hear that the library is catering to their readership. If they ignored what books were being checked out and kept their shelves full of books that were never read, library-goers would soon give up visiting the library. I have very fond memories of visiting my hometown public library to check out every volume of “The Baby-sitters Club” and “Sweet Valley Twins” series that I could get my hands on. My tastes have grown as I’ve gotten older, and now I love to read those historical novels that I ignored during my teenaged years. I will admit, however, that when I want to read a book but don’t want to buy it, I check it out from the library. So I’m one of those people who contributes to a popular novel’s check-out numbers! I’ll keep this in mind the next time I go to the library, and I’ll check out a Newbery or twelve. 🙂

  6. This is the eternal dilemma, isn’t it? I’m in need of a weeding because I’m now stacking books horizontally on top of the vertically shelved books. Messy, messy. But I agree that the weeding results in a more me-library.

  7. What’s a library to do? I know they’re adding more and more ebooks to their collection. Glad to hear you added a few weeded ones to your home bookcase.

    • I should have mentioned e-books, Linda. Our library does have a growing collection of both e-books and downloadable audiobooks. They’re beginning to catch on with users — new titles are in demand — but they still account for a very small percentage of our checkouts.