Stuck in lockdown and thinking of clearing things out? Bookcases groaning under the weight of tomes both loved and…not? It may be time to look at weeding your books. Today’s post offers some top tips from the experts when it comes to moving on books.
What is book weeding?
Book weeding refers to the systematic removal of titles from a collection based on those titles meeting specific criteria. Getting rid of books. This is what we’ll be talking about today.
But why?! You cry. Weeding is a necessary and common practice in libraries across the world. Shelves only have so much space and there are many books in the world. Unfortunately, this means from time to time, a clear out is necessary.
Book Weeding was an unfamiliar concept to me until I listened to episode 354 of the 99 Percent Invisible podcast titled Weeding Is Fundamental. (If you haven’t listened to any of the 99PI podcast, I highly recommend you do).
I was intrigued by the whole idea, having struggled with parting with books in the past (though at times it is necessary) so I decided to look into the idea further. I wanted to see what different systems are around that may help us part with titles.
Why get rid of books?
This can be a touchy topic for many readers, and I am by no means suggesting you clear out all your books. BUT! There’s some good reasons for why you may need to clear out books…
- You’ve run out of room! – Libraries, including our own personal collection of books only have so much space. If we keep bringing in titles we may eventually have no where to store them well.
- You own more unread books than you can ever read. The book buying ban isn’t going so well and the pressure is causing you stress!
These are the two main reasons that most people find themselves needing to clear out some books. How do we do that? Let’s look at tips from the expert.
The Marie Kondo Method
How could I address this topic without raising the queen of tidying herself?
Marie Kondo has faced a lot of backlash from the reading community because of her stance that the maximum number of books a person should own is thirty.
Kondo suggests clearing out titles that you don’t like, won’t be rereading and don’t spark joy in you.
Whilst I appreciate the minimalistic approach that this method suggests, I can see why it simply won’t work well for many book lovers.
I’m unsure if this approach takes into consideration book series, some of which can be quite lengthy.
If you’re a fan of the fantasy genre you’re in trouble… Harry Potter and the Game of Thrones series alone will take out over half of your allocated amount.
This set of guidelines is used by libraries around the world to guide them in their book weeding. I think some of the principles can apply well to our own personal collection.
M – Misleading. Books, in particular non-fiction that are inaccurate in the information they are providing isn’t particularly useful.
U – Ugly. Books that are damaged or tatty beyond repair.
S – Superseded by a new edition or a better book. Libraries tend to give priority to titles that are the most up-to date…there’s a reason your library probably doesn’t have the 1995 Microsoft Windows manual on hand.
T – Trivial.
Y – Your-Collection-Has-No-Need-For-This-Book.
The difficulty of these considerations, is that they rely on the subjective opinion of the weeder. What one reader finds trivial another may find extremely valuable and entertaining.
Other helpful methods used by Librarians
I’m fortunate enough to have a few librarian friends, who I was able to chat about book weeding with. They gave a few extra considerations beyond M.U.S.T.Y for us to think about.
- When was the book last checked out? If it was more than two years ago, it suggests that perhaps the book no longer holds interest for readers and it’s time to retire it.
My librarian friends also gave examples of factors that may save a book, even if it meets one of the other criteria for getting rid of it.
- The book is rare or significant in heritage.
- The book tells an important story for a specific group of people (LGBTQI+, first Australians etc.)
- A replacement copy of the book cannot be easily sourced.
What happens to the books that get weeded?
Whilst some books are disposed of, many you’ll be pleased to hear go on to new homes.
Quite often libraries set books out on a table for visitors to take home, or purchase and add to their home collection.
My suggestions for weeding your personal collection
While some of the weeding principles libraries use are appropriate for clearing space on our own shelves, some are not.
You may have a worn and tattered book from childhood that has sentimental value to you. You don’t need to part with it if you don’t want to.
Therefore, here’s a few suggestions I have if you’ve decided it’s time to clear some space on your shelves.
- Did you enjoy the book when you read it? If not, and you’re like me you’re probably not likely to reread it. If you enjoyed the book, you may like to hang onto it in case of a reread in years to come.
- How long have you owned the book? This pairs with the suggestion above. If you read the book less than a year ago and didn’t like it, you might decide to hang on to it bit longer. Sometimes opinions on books can change in time. If you disliked the book so much that you haven’t touched it in the last three years…it’s time to say goodbye.
- Does the book have sentimental value? Some books were gifted to us by relatives, or have special inscriptions inside that make them dear to us. They belong on your shelf.
- Do you have multiple copies of the same book? While I know some book lovers enjoy collecting cover variations of their favourite books, this refers more to books that are identical. The exception to this may be if you have a favourite book where you’ve purchased another copy to be your ‘lendy’ to hand out to friends.
What should I do with the books I’m getting rid of?
Take a leaf out of your local library and see if any friends or family want them. My mother collects cook books and regularly clears them out to the benefit of those in her family.
Donate your books to a charity, or second hand book subscription service like Relove Print. (Unless your books are damaged to the point where charities will be unable to sell them).
Make a craft! Pinterest has some wonderful book upcycling projects. If you have an upcoming event you could use some of the pages of books to make buntings.
Books are special and wonderful things. Life is short, so try not to bind yourself up feeling guilty that you have too many books, or that you’re getting rid of books.
Practically, clearing out some books gives you literal room in your life for the new titles you’re going to discover. How exciting!
Special thanks for todays post goes to the wonderful people at 99PI podcast and to my librarian friends, Katie and Helen.
If you enjoyed this insight into library life, check out my post Interview With A Librarian.
Thank you for reading today’s post! Do you use any of these tips to clear out books? Let me know in the comments.
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Steph, as a book groupie I have lots of books (including too many favorites to count.) One challenge – the book acquisitions I intend to read “sometime” but never get around to it. These piles tend to lurk under beds and behind sofas… perhaps after five years they need to find another home? HaPpY Reading!
Hi Virginia, thanks for commenting! It’s really hard to part with books, especially those we hope to get to (at least I find it hard anyway 😂!). However parting with books can free us up to buy/borrow/collect and read books we’re excited by and not feel guilty. It’s a personal decision for each person around their book collecting and when they determine it might be time to part with some books.
Wishing you good luck if you decide to part with a few tomes! You never know, you might find a few new favourites in the sorting process. Happy reading to you too!
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