Books, Collection Development, Collection Revamp, School Libraries

Past their best by dates

As we’ve been doing a (I hope) final pass on the collection, we’re noticing a lot of books that are just past their “best by” dates and having to determine if they should stay on the shelf until something new comes along, keep them anyway, or remove them and try to replace.

This isn’t the first time. Back at Hackley School we had a lot of books published in the 1920s, which, at 80 years was in that weird time between “current and useful” and “old and valuable as a historical resource.” Why did we have them? They were all first-hand or contemporary accounts of the Treaty of Versailles negotiations, and our 11th grade history class (entitled 20th Century World) started with a huge reenactment of the Treaty. These were great primary sources for them as they researched the positions of the major countries and minor players (did you know Ho Chi Minh was there as a waiter? what influence might he have tried to exert on behalf of his country?). So obviously those books had gone through that awkward not-really-belonging-in-the-collection phase already, and no question we would keep them until the course changed projects (which happened two years later, thanks to the fire).

The books we’re seeing on the Milton shelves aren’t those books. These are books illuminating topics like impeachment or executive powers or immigration issues. They’re covering separatist movements, but not covering Scotland and Catalonia. They’re books on marriage equality that were written before the Obergefell decision. They’re books from 10+ years ago on the rise of the white supremacist movement. And they’re books from the 1990s that talk about learning differences and the autism spectrum, while we’ve changed how we talk about and try to help/heal/mitigate those who have those problems over the past 20+ years.

The question of whether they should stay until replacement or be pulled now really depends on the book (IMVHO): will it give old, incorrect information to the reader, or will it have incomplete information? If the answer is “old, incorrect” then we have to determine if that could be harmful. If yes, it’s an easy decision, right? Sometimes, though, it’s a little more complicated. It’s one of the many reasons I’m happy I’m not alone on this project, that I have other librarians on my staff to check my impulses with and either agree or push back. I worry about schools without the ability to either do this kind of weeding or without the budget to replace these old, incorrect, incomplete titles with those that are far more useful, informative and potentially do less harm.

2 thoughts on “Past their best by dates”

  1. “Will it give old, incorrect information or will it give incomplete information?” Thanks for coining an easy to remember phrase to use as I wade through my school library collection. I am wary to cull well-worn, loved books if I can’t immediately replace them, but weeding for accuracy in information is crucial. I once tried to cull a community library and decided to keep a book on space exploration dated 1953! I would like to revisit that book, to see if it gave incomplete information, or omitted crucial information. It may have a place- alongside new books that document the labour and intellect of women and minorities essential to early and current space exploration!

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