Library Weeding: What It Is and Why We Do It

March 25th, 2024

From time to time, you may see some of the library staff filling carts with what looks like an entire sections of the upper level stacks, leaving them empty for a while. Later, you may see only some of those books go back onto the shelves and wonder what’s going on, and what’s happening with the materials that are no longer there? 

To answer these questions, let’s talk about an important library process called weeding.

Weeding, also called deselection, is an important part of collection development and maintenance for libraries of all kinds. As the name implies, it’s a little like gardening. In order to maintain a healthy garden, you need to go in and cut back some plants, remove dead buds from others, and remove some altogether to give what’s still there some space while also making room for the new. All the same concepts apply to a library. Collections grow fast, but space does not, and sometimes you need to clear out the old to make way for the new.

It's a very carefully considered process, though, nothing as simple as just tossing the old to get rid of the new. After all, some of any library’s “older” materials remain the most useful and frequently referred-to items. There are any number of procedures out there that libraries follow to tackle weeding projects; some of them even have fun acronyms for their criteria, like MUSTIE (Misleading, Ugly, Superseded, Trivial, Irrelevant, Elsewhere).

Our current process is a little more complicated than that, though we are considering similar factors, including but not limited to: usage (check-outs and in-house), condition, relevance, uniqueness / rarity, and edition. We take things like having duplicate copies and the ease of availability from other, nearby institutions as well. Items selected for weeding are first considered by the library staff members tasked with pulling the books in the first place, then onto the Research & Instruction librarians who serve as the faculty liaisons on the appropriate topic. Faculty in those subject areas are then consulted for their opinions, and finally our library director can take a look. 

As for what happens to the books from there, items we decide to keep will be reshelved ASAP, and deselected items will hopefully be rehomed. We’ll offer things to other libraries or institutions that may have a use for them, others could be offered to charity, and others still will be put out on the free book cart you often see on the first floor. We hope to recycle or outright dispose of as little as possible… even a book on Windows 95 could be useful to someone!

Weeding is an involved, multi-stage review process, and too big to get into all the details here, but we’re happy to share our official weeding policy with anyone who would like to know more. Please feel free to reach out with any questions or concerns you may have. And if you’d like a more thorough overview of the hows and whys of all of this, see what the American Library Association has to say at

Recent Blog Posts

Ask a Librarian!