Weeding the Book Garden
Updated: Apr 28
Decluttering may be good for your home and your state of mind, but for me the idea of purging some of my books leads to stress and fear. I love my books-- each and every one! They spark joy! How could I just get rid of them?! What if I gave one away and later regretted it?
You may have seen the social media posts which suggest that the problem is never that you have too many books, you just don't have enough shelves. I feel this sentiment intensely. However, even I can admit that no one can house an unlimited number of titles. So if your bookshelves are bulging or your TBR pile is one tip from disaster, take a page from librarians and start weeding.
For librarians, weeding doesn't happen out in a garden, but in the stacks. Weeding in this sense is a form of collection maintenance. Some books are pulled and removed from the shelves, but it's not as if librarians just wander through the rows of books and grab whatever they happen to pass by. Weeding is a methodical process in libraries. The American Library Association (ALA) says resources should be evaluated based on criteria such as currency, relevancy, physical condition, circulation, and number of copies held. You can read more about the ALA's description of weeding and collection maintenance here.
Different libraries may consider different criteria when evaluating books for weeding. A school library will make different choices than a public library or an academic library. Ultimately, libraries want collections which will further their institutional goals and mission while also serving their unique communities. Materials that don't meet the established criteria are removed from a library's collection.
You can apply that same kind of reasoning to your own book collection. A curated collection of titles will be more pleasing and will serve you better than a haphazard assortment of books you'll never really read (or read again). Shelves that are thoughtfully stocked and organized will look better and will be easier to browse than shelves crammed full with books wedged so tightly you can't add another. Empty shelf space isn't a waste; it allows for some books to be shelved face out, which can be very appealing (especially to children).
Before you start pulling books, however, take the time to develop your personal weeding criteria. Physical condition of the books is a good place to start. A worn paperback copy of a novel you didn't really like that much is a good candidate for weeding. Books you have more than one copy of also make good candidates for paring down. You may have to be honest with yourself about that book you've had for years, but have never once cracked the spine. Perhaps your interests have changed since then, and that's all right! The choices can be difficult, but just like in a real garden, weeding makes room for new growth and a healthier collection.
No one says you have to get rid of your most treasured titles or your childhood favorites. There are some books on my shelves that I would never remove because of the special meaning they hold for me. Weeding isn't about denying yourself the pleasures of a home library; it's about ensuring your home library meets your needs. Books that don't make the cut can be gifted, passed along to friends and family members, or donated. I firmly believe that good stories are meant to be enjoyed over and over again. You can share your love of reading by sharing the books which brought you all of that joy, adventure, and wisdom. Weeding your shelves and giving the books to others also gives you the chance to talk about the books and connect with others over them. Your book "weeds" may flower in someone else's life.
So if your book collection is looking a little more hazardous than happy, consider some careful, selective weeding. Think about the criteria you'll use before you start, then stick to your decisions. Find new homes for the books you're ready to purge, and make room for new additions of new editions!
We'll revisit this topic in a few weeks with a special focus on weeding children's books in your home and why you should get your kids involved in the process. Until then, best wishes for further reading!