Shelf-at-a-Time Weeding: Sports

At my library, there are nonfiction sections under my purview that are, to put it kindly, overly well-stocked. Unfortunately, many of the books in these sections are at least twenty years old and are not being checked out by patrons. I don't have any good "before" pictures, but will say that unfortunately the shelves were full to the point where bookends were rendered unnecessary. Way, way worse than the "before" pictures in my denewing post.

A little while ago, I got fed up with the condition of the martial arts books (wildly out of order as well as overflowing) and decided to take action. I knew that the books in the sections adjacent to martial arts in the 790s were full of weeding candidates, so rather than generate a list and pull specific titles, I just started pulling off a shelf of books at a time to analyze them, put them in the correct order, and weed weed WEED.

  • Being able to see a selection of the library's holdings for a particular a subject all at once.
  • Being able to handle each book and see its condition firsthand. Some book maladies are not apparent in a cursory shelf examination. 
  • Handling each book also means you can check it in and make sure it's shelved in the right place.
  • Giving yourself a manageable piece of the collection to deal with. If you've got one mostly uninterrupted hour, you can probably get through at least one shelf of books.
  • The circulating and missing/billed/in-transit/repair items are not represented. What if you have 100 karate books, and all but the most terrible of them are currently circulating? Don't assume what's in front of you is everything the library owns.
I recommend this method especially for the parts of your collection in serious need of weeding--this approach leans more toward the heavy hand than the light touch.

What to Look For

When was it published?

If it's a sports book that's more than five years old, there's a very good chance that it's out of date. I targeted travel-related books, especially, as well as general guides more than ten years old. Most sports have new innovations or, at the very least, new big names, and the old ones fall by the wayside.

When was the last time the item circulated?

Before you get started, you should have a general idea of what you think is acceptable for the collection that you are trying to shape going forward. Only items (with perhaps some exceptions, see below) that have circulated in the last six months? One year? Two years? Circulation is the easiest way to measure your patrons' interest in an item, but it shouldn't be the only factor you consider.

From which location did it circulate?

It's all well and good if older books owned by your library are circulating, but where are they actually being checked out? I deleted several items that had been checked out within the last few years, but not by any Springfield patrons. If they aren't relevant to my patrons' interests now (as opposed to when they were first purchased), they don't need to be in this library's collection anymore. This is something I can check with Evergreen that I couldn't necessarily do with Millennium, so your mileage may vary.

Condition questions--is the spine broken? Is there water damage or mold? Are there loose pages?

Some books are just gross and you should do everyone a favor and get them out of the library:

Published in 1991, believe it or not

What subjects seem popular among your patrons (lots of relatively recent circulations from your location)?

At my library, I learned through this process that this includes martial arts, professional wrestling, local hiking guides, and bicycling. My patrons also seem to have a great appetite for books about mountain climbing and climbing disasters.

What subjects are just not circulating at all?  

My patrons are apparently not big fans of NASCAR (despite there being quite a few books to choose from) or hiking books that aren't fairly local. I will use this information, and my updated knowledge about what patrons are interested in, to inform my future ordering practices.

Is the information in the book something that people just don't use books to find anymore? Or is it just crazily out of date?

This problem is particularly evident among sports books, where library shelves were once stocked with yearbooks and guides to individual players' statistics year-by-year, not to mention pricing guides for sports memorabilia. These things are outdated pretty much as soon as they are printed, and the information can now more easily be found online, by patrons on their own or with the assistance of a librarian. I also found several decent-looking general guides from the 90s that included a "helpful" and specific online resources section. I even found one that theorized about the future of internet use:

Oh you crystal-ball gazers
Other items that were out of date in this section? Books that tell you all about how wonderful Lance Armstrong is and how amazing his comeback(s) were. There were also several cases in which I came across both the first edition and an updated edition for the same title. That is not how it's supposed to work; most of the books in the library are not Classics for which we might feel obliged to keep a first edition.

Does the non-circulating, kind of old-looking book in your hand have any special historical or local significance?

Use the Public Library Catalog if you've got it. In the mountain climbing section, I kept books by Hillary on Everest and Herzog on Annapurna, despite the fact that they hadn't gone out recently. I would love to replace our old copies of Hiking the Pioneer Valley: 30 Circuit Hikes in the Connecticut River Valley Region of Western Massachusetts with an updated version, but it's been out of print since 2003, so our copies are staying on the shelf for now.


In a day and a half of work, I pulled and evaluated thirteen and a half shelves of books from the 796.5 (outdoors) through 796.8609 (fencing) Dewey nonfiction range. I returned 357 books to the shelf and discarded 207--more than a 35% weeding rate. In addition, I added about twenty replacement and supplementary items into a cart in Baker & Taylor. Ordering new materials as you weed adds an extra step, but it's much easier to do in the moment than it is to go back to it later and try to remember what you thought was necessary and why.
Look at that! Entirely empty shelves! Room at the end of occupied shelves!
Do I recommend this method for all weeding forays? No. It doesn't help you clean up items with problem statuses, for one thing, although I did locate several items that had been marked "missing," as well as a bunch that had been previously deleted but were inexplicably still on the shelves. However, it does come in handy when you have immediate needs and not much time. I'm sure this section could stand another deep weeding, but at least now there's room to shelve returned books and think about displaying some titles face out. I was able to get through a little more than 10% of the 790s (all of which are my responsibility), and I hope to do another chunk as soon as possible.

Questions? Advice? Leave us a comment.


Amy said…
I used a very similar method to tackle the animal section and American history section in our children's area. Books in these sections often hadn't had the Dewey number extended far enough (though our system only uses three numbers after the decimal) to group like topics together. Working with the books themselves instead of a list also helped me because I looked at all the books on hippos together, so I could easily identify the stuff that shouldn't be circulating, even if it was, and get replacements ordered.
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