Thursday, October 23, 2014

Evolution in Weeding

“Next to emptying the outdoor bookdrop on cold and snowy days, weeding is the most undesirable job in the library. It is also one of the most important.”

Will Manley, “The Manley Arts,”
Booklist (March 1, 1996)

Carefully evaluate anything over five years old. Pay particular attention to the physics, environment, and astronomy sections. Keep basic works of significant historical or literary value, such as Charles Darwin's classic Origin of Species, or Michael Faraday's Chemical History of a Candle. Replace worn copies with new editions. Watch for multi-volume sets; if the titles are not indexed individually it may be necessary to weed the entire set, especially if the set is cataloged as a single entry.

(Crew: A Weeding Manual for Modern Libraries, 2012)

Weeding is one of the most misunderstood jobs that I do in the library. Usually, I get the following comments and questions from teachers and students:

How can you bear to get rid of books?

Why would you want to get rid of books?

This book looks perfectly good; why are you deleting it from the library?

I liken weeding to cleaning out my closet. There are clothes that no longer fit, are the wrong color, are worn out, or don't serve the purpose that I thought they would. If I keep everything, I won't have room for new clothes. Frankly, I don't want to wear what I wore in the 1970s.

People seem to understand that, but they don't understand why we do the same thing in the library.

When I came to Greenhill eight years ago, I was appalled at the library collection. It was really OLD. It was obvious that many books in the collection had been donated from people's home libraries. (When folks get rid of books, let's face it, they AREN'T getting rid of the stuff they like.) It was also obvious that the collection had not had a thorough weeding for a very long time, if ever. The library staff chuckled when we read from the ISAS 2004 Self-Study, "The Junior Fiction and Young Adult collections in the main library underwent a major weeding in 2003-2004." Really?

During the summer prior to my first year, I lightly weeded the Teen Fiction collection. There was a ton of stuff that was really dated. It became very evident to me that may books had been acquired in the 1980s because of the artwork on the book jackets. I pulled off a large cartload of books. The shelves had been stuffed and books piled on tops of the shelves. I shifted everything to make it more presentable and usable. My predecessor commented, "We bought new shelves to accommodate all of the books; what are we going to do with them now?" In other words, "we don't really weed here." So... when the new shelves arrived, I shifted again. While there was still a bunch of stuff that needed to go, at least the shelves were not crammed packed with books. There were still plenty of books left.

During that fall, I asked if I could weed the 500s. It is crucial that the science section be kept up-to date. I was informed that the section had been cleared of things that were "just wrong," such as Pluto being a planet, but the area had not been weeded. I was also admonished not to pull off books if there was not other books on the topic because we needed to have "something." I  pulled off a great many books, but there was still a great many that should have gone.

Four years ago, I decided that we needed to have a better plan than randomly weeding when we had time. I divided the main library into three sections in order that my two colleagues and I could more easily attack the problem. We referred to the circulation statistics of the books that we compiled from a report from our library management system. At that point, we got rid of books that were older than six years and had never circulated. In other words, unless it was of historic value, if the book had not circulated in the history of our library management system, it was withdrawn.

Needless to say, this was a painstaking process that took us a couple of years. We literally withdrew thousands of books. Some were simply ridiculous. I remember withdrawing a yellowed paperback textbook with notes written in pencil in the margins from the history section. Box after box after box went to the recycle bin. Our maintenance department didn't even want to talk to us anymore!

Our friends in the Lower School Library also weeded a mountain of books the last couple of years. While some had not been used in quite a while, many had just been "loved" to death and were very shabby. The library program was blessed with quite a few donations from Grandparents' and Special Friends' Day and the Lower School Library Staff replaced many series with fresh, new copies. One of the Lower School students asked if he could check out one of the copies. He didn't think he'd be allowed because the books looked so new, and he had been accustomed to such old books!

We still have a yearly weeding schedule. I no longer assign a month to a section, but each librarian has several sections that must be weeded prior to the end of the year.

The weeded books from the 500 section.
Yesterday was parent conference day, and I had no classes in the library. I decided to tackle weeding the 500 section of the main library. In the past, we had weeded books that had not circulated or really ratty looking books. This time, I decided to look at books by their copyright date. Anything older than 2004 was examined. As you can see, I pulled off almost an entire large cart of books. We had many books that were from the 80s or 90s. Some of these books had circulated many times which begged these questions:

1. Were the books so good that the students loved reading them?
2. Is there really nothing else in the collection that has the same appeal? In other words, is there nothing else to suffice?

For the most part, our science section is frequented by Middle School Science students who have a "Science Literacy" requirement. In the past, those books had to be at least eighty pages long. Because most of our kids don't read science books for pleasure, this hampered my collection development efforts. I could only purchase books that were eighty pages in length. Otherwise, the books languished on the shelves.

While the collection is in much better shape than it was four years ago, I still found some old chestnuts like the pictured title. I'm so glad it was up-to-date to 2010!
For Use Anywhere in North America Through 2010?

Even with my weeding efforts, however, the science section is out-of-date. Using the CREW method quoted above, anything over five years old needs to be evaluated carefully. We haven't yet "evolved" that far.

When a library's collection is not carefully tended, the "weeds" squelch out the beautiful volumes we do have. Because of years of neglect, we are still playing "catch up" even with all of our work. Hopefully, in the next year or two our science section will be where it needs to be.

Unfortunately, there are librarians that are more concerned with numbers of volumes than with quality. Or they are concerned that due to budgetary restrictions, weeded books cannot be replaced. I contend that quality far outweighs quantity.

Now I go back to the process of collection development to replace many of those old books with new, up-to-date information.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Edge of Eternity by Ken Follett

I seldom actually get to read what I wish. Most of the time I read books from recommended YA lists or from books that teachers and/or students recommend. A few times I'll read a book that I've purchased for the library that looks intriguing or if I've seen an author discuss their book. So... one of my secret pleasures is "reading" an adult book. I've been hooked on Ken Follett's book since I read Pillars of the Earth many years ago. Historical fiction is my thing, and I don't know almost anyone who does it better than Ken Follett.

I actually "read with my ears" Ken Follett's new book, Edge of Eternity. (Considering it runs almost 37 hours, it was a great investment of my time.) It's the third in the Century Trilogy. This covered the period from 1961 to the fall of the Iron Curtain.

Follett continues the saga with the next generation of the characters that he introduced in his first and second books. The cast of characters is so broad there's a web page dedicated to it. Because the plot is so complicated and covers so much history, I'm not going to bore anyone with it. Suffice it to say, he covers everything from the Civil Rights Movement to the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe. His characters are involved in every aspect of the period and rub elbows with all of the movers and shakers of the day. He also spent a lot of time discussing the music scene in the 1960s.

Several things I notice about all Follett's books that I've read:

1. He likes women and there's always strong female characters in his books. That said, those women always have a downfall usually involving a man that they eventually overcome. In Edge of Eternity, he's got several strong female characters. For example, Maria Summers is an African American woman with a law degree from the University of Chicago. In a later part of the book, a character comments that her accomplishments would have been outstanding for a white man, but were amazing for an African American woman. She works in the State Department, but early in her career had an affair with JFK that nearly destroyed her. Another character,  teacher Rebecca Hoffmann Held, unknowingly marries an East German Stasi agent. When she discovers what he really is, she embarrassingly kicks him out of her home which causes him to have a long-running vendetta against her family in East Berlin. She and her future husband, Bernd, escape across the Berlin wall. Although Bernd is handicapped in a fall, they have a happy marriage. Later she becomes a high-ranking politician in the West German government.

2. He's a liberal. It isn't hard to see that Follett likes JFK, RFK. and Martin Luther King, Jr. in this book even with their faults. Using Greg Peshkov to foreshadow events, he evidently despises Nixon, Reagan, and Bush Sr. showing that despite all of the United States' best efforts, Communism destroyed itself. One of his characters, Cameron Dewar, rises high in Republican administrations, but is not a likable character. Follett doesn't even let Cameron marry a sympathetic wife.

3.  He seems to hate the church. While the church really doesn't play a big role in this volume, other than Jacky Jakes attending services, none of this cast of characters has any religious affiliation. Caroline(?), Walli's young love interest and mother of his daughter, later marries a minister who proves to be gay.

4. There's always a lot of sex in his books. I sometimes wonder how his characters have the time to do all of the great things they do. I'll leave it at that.

No, this isn't for middle schoolers. I wouldn't even recommend it for most high school students. However, I always anxiously await another book from Ken Follett.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Poison by Bridget Zinn

Master Potioner, Kyra, has visions that her best friend, Princess Ariana, is out to destroy the Kingdom of Mohr. Using her skill, she shoots a poisoned dart at the Princess, but she misses. Now everyone in the Kingdom is out to find and kill her.

Asking help to locate the missing Ariana, Kyra receives a magic pig which will help her find the princess. Along with way, she meets a farmer, Fred, who she cannot stop thinking of especially after they share a kiss.

All is not as it seems, however, with Princess Ariana. And with Kyra, too. That's where the fun comes in...

Here's a YouTube Book Trailer:

I really liked Poison. While there was a certain "Disneyesque" quality about the book (it was published by Hyperion), there was also enough edge to make it interesting. Several threads were left hanging which could have pointed to a sequel, but unfortunately, Bridget Zinn died before the publication of the book.

More New Books!

Friday, October 17, 2014


 I am currently working on the Guided Inquiry Project for seventh grade that Paige Ashley, Peggy Turlington, and I created at the CISSL Institute at Rutgers University last summer. Here's one of the centers that we will use next month. I created the poster on Smore.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

I decided to read The Impossible Knife of Memory because I heard it described as a cross between The Fault in Our Stars and Eleanor and Park. What was not to like there?  And then it was written by Laurie Halse Anderson. Again, what was not to like there? Even though this really ISN'T a middle school novel, I decided to give it a go. What did I find? The portrayal of Hayley Kincain's protection of her father reminded me more of Cath's protection of her father in Fangirl. The witty repartee between Finn and Hayley was like Augustus and Hazel Grace, and the romance between Hayley and Finn was much like Eleanor and Park.  What's not to like?

When I was with Finn, the world spun properly on its axis, and gravity worked. At home, the planet tilted so far on its side it was hard to tell which way was up. Dad felt it, too. He shuffled like an old man, as if the carpet under his feet was really a slick sheet of black ice.

Hayley Kincain and her truck-driving father had been on the road for five years. Her dad, Andy, decided they needed to settle down in his hometown so that Hayley could attend school. Hayley, on the other hand, feels that school is a bore and readily refuses to do her work, attend class, or participate in groups. When asked to write for the school newspaper, she meets Finn, and her world literally changes for the better. Finn's family is also having a difficult time dealing with his sister's drug addiction and her sapping the family's savings and income.

At home, Andy suffers from PTSD after having served in the Iraq war. He drinks, gets high, cannot keep a job, and becomes abusive. Hayley attempts to keep things together and becomes her father's caregiver. Because of this, she refuses to accept reality and "covers" for her dad.

Even her friend, Gracie, deals with issues. Her parents are going through a very messy separation, and she and her boyfriend have difficulties getting along.

In a word, Hayley's life with the exception of Finn is a mess. How to deal with boring school, a dad out of control, and a lack of support system?

While the situations in the story are hard to deal with, I really liked The Impossible Knife of Memory. Finn is the kind of boyfriend most girls would like to have. He's loyal, funny, and adores Hayley. Hayley deals with her life's situations as best as a teenager can. She's tough but vulnerable. While she does some things that absolutely drive me crazy, she's still likable. Andy's pain is palpable. In his coherent moments, it's obvious that he cares for Hayley; he just can't care for himself.

I would definitely recommend this to kids who enjoyed TFIOS, Eleanor and Park, or Fangirl. I think there's something here for everyone.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

New Books!

Here's an Animoto I created for the new books that arrived in the library today: