Please also see sections on: “Audiobooks”, “E-resources”, “Graphic Novels, Manga & Comics” and “Magazines & Newspapers

Research continues to identify good quality resources as one of the three critical factors that determine a school library’s success – the other two being the commitment and support of senior management and a skilled librarian. Numerous studies have also concluded that schools tend to perform better when their library is well stocked (see e.g. Lance, Rodney & Russell. Impact of School Libraries on Learning, published as far back as 2007). But so often the book stock we inherit is tatty, out-of date and totally uninspiring!  So how do you go about transforming your collection into one that will motivate and excite young readers and meet their educational needs?

The first step is to weed – this involves the planned removal and disposal of outdated, unused and unwanted materials with the aim to make your library stock more current, relevant and attractive.  Be completely ruthless! It will make room for new books which will ultimately make the collection more inviting to users and easier for students and teachers to find what they need. It will also help you become familiar with your collection’s strengths and gaps. Remember it’s not enough to weed every couple of years or only when space is getting tight. A vital, viable library collection is reviewed on an on-going basis. After all libraries exist to provide information and entertainment not to warehouse books! A general rule of thumb held by many library professionals is that about 5% – 10% of the collection should be weeded every year!

Obstacles to weeding

  • Negative reactions of users and management
  • “Sacred” quality of books
  • “Anything is better than nothing” attitude
  • Cost of replacements
  • Librarian’s own lack of knowledge

Suggested general weeding criteria

  • Poor content – apply the 10 year rule to non-fiction stock i.e. anything over ten years old should be immediately discarded as it will no longer contain accurate, up to date information. For material covering topics such as Science, Technology, and Geography this is more likely to be necessary after just five years.
  • Material that contains biased, racist, or sexist terminology or views
  • Items in poor physical condition
  • Not loaned for a few years
  • Multiple copies no longer required
  • A series missing too many titles to make replacing them an economical viable option
  • Non-fiction no longer relevant to the curriculum

If you are someone that likes a good acronym then how about MUSTIE? It stands for:
Misleading (and/or factually inaccurate)
Ugly (worn and beyond mending or rebinding)
Superseded (by a new edition / a much better book on the subject)
Trivial (of no discernible literary or scientific merit)
Irrelevant (to the needs and interests of your users)
May be obtained Elsewhere (e.g. online, from another library in your school or your local public library)

Ultimately weeding decisions are made by library staff in response to the specific needs of their library’s users

Having weeded you now need to restock.  Ideally the library should have additional funding allocated to cover this, but in reality this rarely happens. There are grants available from organisations such as the Siobhan Dowd Trust and the Foyle Foundation, but these are mainly aimed at disadvantaged state primaries, so an application from an independent school may well be ignored.  Book fairs are a really good way to obtain free books, particularly fiction, using commission from sales, whilst companies such as BookLife offer match funding (i.e. they match what you spend with them pound for pound – effectively doubling what you spend for free). Some schools invite their leavers to donate a new book to the library, but it is wise to draw up a wish list first for parents to select from. As a temporary measure, because it can take several years to restock a library, you can always subscribe to the services of your local Schools Library Service if you are lucky enough to have one. They can provide termly loan boxes of books on specific topics as required. The advantage being that you can access the most up-to-date fiction and non-fiction resources for a fraction of the cost of purchasing the books.

Remember less is best! It is better to have a small, relevant, attractive and current collection than a large, shabby and out dated one. Full shelves are difficult to browse making items hard to find and therefore not borrowed. Full shelves also prevent you from displaying items ‘face-out’.

What to buy?

A school librarian’s role is to create confident, enthusiastic readers and engage children in life-long learning. So, stock has to be appropriate in terms of the curriculum, interests and reading ages of the pupils. But a good school library should also promote equality, diversity and inclusion. Books and other library resources should reflect and celebrate the richness and diversity of our world and present a balanced, accurate and up-to-date global perspective.  And don’t forget to involve the children in your purchasing plans – after all they will be your main users, so have a suggestions box so they can recommend titles too.

Further Reading .

To weed or not to weed? – a great post from Barbara Band

Funding Sources for the School Library Resource Centre (SLA)

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