Library Lifeline part 2: Successfully managing book stock in your library

15 Nov 2021
Libraries are champions of freedom

This month, we are excited to publish the second blog in a brand-new series, Library Lifeline, written in association with the School Library Association. This series is designed to support anyone working in a school library by answering their questions directly. If you have a question that you’d like to ask our ‘agony aunt’ – the SLA’s Member Development Librarian, Dawn Woods – then please email us at worldofstories@literacytrust.org.uk and your question may be the focus of a future blog!

This week’s question is one that every school librarian can relate to...

“My library has many outdated books, but I worry about throwing any out as I won’t have much left. What should I do?”

Don’t worry about clearing out sections of out-of-date stock. It is better to have nothing than books on the shelves which feed children the wrong information. Young people do not always have the skills to decide when a book is out of date and the information inside is not accurate. They are relying on you. Also, tatty books which are falling apart do not attract any reader and may put users off using the library at all. Shelves of out of date, unattractive books mask a problem and does not give a true reflection of the state of your book stock.

I have removed 75 - 80% of books from primary school libraries and then had room to display the remaining books which look attractive. Children have gone past and remarked on having new books. They hadn’t, but they could now see what they did have as visually it was far less busy and confusing for them. This is especially important for neurodiverse children who may be overwhelmed by crowded shelves.

It is not the job of library staff to simply acquire as many books as possible for their school community. Libraries are curated collections of books, brought together for the needs of that community at any one time. And times change. The curriculum changes. Trends come and go. If you invest heavily in the latest popular topic, these resources will be heavily used as long as that interest lasts. It may be short-lived, it may last longer. Then obviously younger students will grow into whatever topic or author that was popular with the year above them. Budget and space prevent you from purchasing and retaining everything. You need to know when to let go.

A school library should be an attractive, vital and useful whole school resource. The School Library Association (SLA), therefore, recommend you don’t have books over 10 years old on your shelves. However, this is a rough guide as art books and some history books may be an exception to this rule if they are in good condition and still relevant. Geography, science and technology books should be closely examined after five years and discarded if there have been major changes in geographical information or advances in science and technology.

How often should you weed?

If you have inherited a neglected library it is a good idea to do a thorough stock edit. It helps you become familiar with the stock and shows the school is now investing time into this valuable resource. You can see any gaps and purchase accordingly to provide that coverage of material to enable all children to see themselves in the stock.

In addition, you need to weed on a regular basis. If a book is returned in bad condition, discard it rather than re-shelving. Perhaps assess a different section of the collection termly so that any changes in the curriculum can be reflected in the stock.

Weeding guidelines

The SLA recommend that you have a policy for weeding and discarding stock which has been agreed by the whole school and reflects the priorities identified in the school development plan. Some staff may have been teaching from the same books for a number of years and find these useful to refer to. Check that there isn’t a newer edition, or perhaps even better titles have since been published. Agreeing to a comprehensive written policy that states the criteria for selection and deselection of library resources means everyone knows what is acceptable.

Help at hand

If you do find it very difficult to do a large stock edit, there are organisations to help. The SLA can help, at a standard consultancy rate. Most School Library Services (SLS) also include this as an advisory service – check your annual subscription to see what is covered. Or, you are able to find a list of independent library consultants on the SLS website.

Importantly, if these resources have been added to the library management system (LMS), they do need to be removed to keep the LMS current and correct.

So take a deep breath and start slowly.

Recommended sources

The SLA website offers:

Other sources we recommend:

Read Library Lifeline part 1

Don't forget to check out the first post in the Library Lifeline series. In this post, Dawn Woods offers tips and advice on making great book recommendations for your pupils.