Marketing to Upper School Students AND Some Weeding Advice

Good morning everyone and happy last week of school before break!

I had intended for today’s post to be Part 2 of a marketing campaign, if you will, this time targeting the students. I will address that briefly, hoping to extend the conversation through the comments section but as my query to the listserv last week re: weeding garnered such a huge response (so huge in fact that my attempt to post the responses as a hit to the listserv exceeded listserv message length restrictions(!)), I thought perhaps better to share that valuable information sooner rather than later, to a greater audience than just upper school librarians. So, please forgive the long and perhaps crazy blog post, but it’s mid-December and well, that just sort of fits life right now, doesn’t it?

I. Marketing to older students

Having left a Middle + Upper School world, I always found marketing to middle schoolers fun and easy. They like to be silly, they like to have fun, and let’s be honest, they have more time than these upper school SAT-prepping, AP craving, over-scheduled creatures do. That doesn’t mean that upper school kids don’t respond to fun, they totally do, you just have to be more thoughtful about your timing; you emphasize other things, like creating the study spaces that they desire, you offer programs and lessons that will benefit their college preparation, that sort of thing. They are still interested in books into art craft workshops, pleasure reading,  and the like; they just don’t have as much free time for it.

At my last school, I was one of two librarians and thus had a lot of time for marketing.  I created an annual “Middle School Must Read Alley” book display complete with traffic signs to direct them from their hall to the display. We hosted shelf-decorating contests where students incorporated books into their holiday display. Faculty judged. Candy was given. Hunger games trivia contest with tickets to the midnight showing? Done. I turned a study room into a “Haunted Book Cave” where they sought out books among fake severed hands using a flashlight and were totally spooked out with a scary Halloween cd. We offered a doughnut party to the English class with the highest participation in writing book reviews for our blog. It gave us a huge pool to draw on throughout the year. This was all good for a school with kids having time to spare. I find that it’s more challenging to do now that I’m flying solo and serving upper school–no one has enough time! I imagine that there are others in the same boat. So, how to make the greatest impact using the least amount of time?

  • Meet them where they are–invite them to follow you on Twitter.
  • Create a student-only blog  [note, you must still email them to promote new blog posts because they can not seem to grasp the concept of following via Blog Readers quite yet].
  • Get in front of them at assemblies and promote books, highlight programs, etc.
  • Convince their teachers to bring you in, even require their students make appointments with you, so that they realize your value first-hand.
  • Count on news of your “life saving” spreading via word-of-mouth.
  • Create libguides that will make their lives easier…then, right, you got it, promote those libguides.
  • Make interesting book displays that get them talking. My John Green ‘DFTBA’ display was  popular and made me lots of new Nerdfighter friends.
  • Amp up your reading promotion (book talks, student book reviews, columns in your school publications) around school breaks.
  • This is a reach, I know, but it’s working here: If space allows and/or you are designing a new space, bring in other departments! Last year, Emma moved its English and History faculty into the library. The department heads got the two librarian offices (they were librarian-free for a year while the search committee did their thing) and the two wings that flank each side of the library that had previously held music and art books, became cubicle work spaces for the faculty, an English wing and a History wing. Those books went upstairs with all the other circulating collection (see weeding saga below..). While separate offices would be ideal (and, ahem, one for me as well), I can’t tell you how much foot traffic this has brought into the library. When girls come in for research help, their teacher can easily draw me in. Waiting for a meeting? Check out a book display or <gasp!> a magazine maybe? I attend their department meetings when I am needed, we collaborate regularly, it’s a good thing.

Here’s a really cool template that I found a few weeks ago from this awesome blog post, entitled “It’s about Students, Not Stuff!”.

So I ask you, how do YOU successfully market your library, your services, and your resources to your upper school community? Use the comments below to share your ideas, questions, or success stories!

II. Weeding

And now, for those of us in need of some weeding advice, I give you the overwhelming response that I received last week. There are some gems in here, read on!

  •  I started last year tasked to get the collection ready for renovation.  I really didn’t want to pack and store things that we would just weed later so we did very intensive weeding throughout the year.   I asked for help from department chairs but did end up doing a lot based simply on condition.  I suppose I did weed with abandon my first year!  I don’t highly recommend it unless its absolutely necessary.  But our collection was worse than yours (avg. 1965) and hadn’t been well cared for so the mold level/things falling apart level was very bad.  In some ways, that made it easier.  I made a blanket rule that no mold could come into the new library so that helped to weed out a large percentage of the books.  We are still really old (1987) in comparison to where we want to be but at least we had no mold. Usage reports didn’t work for me either because most things had never been checked out and those that may have been used were often just taken.


  • I like to consider myself a good “weeder.” I have a method–which makes everyone feel better–if you can give your faculty, students, and staff, etc. a description of your process, people will have confidence in you and let you do your job.


There are places that will analyze your collection, but I think the “cookie cutter” approach to weeding does not take into account your curriculum and your community.


I have been at my school for nine years, and I am still weeding. I have been going through the collection systematically. I have enlisted parent volunteers to check each book for the following points:

  • Does the book fit into the current curriculum? (you probably don’t want to keep literary criticism on Russian literature if your curriculum does not include Russian literature and more)
  • Do other schools of similar size, demographic, etc. also have the book in their holdings? (I have included other schools in our area who have Destiny in a “Power Search.”)
  • Is the book available elsewhere? If you don’t have the book, can students go to any public library and get the book? (we check WorldCat)
  • Is the book still in print? If so, how much would a replacement copy cost? (I think twice about discarding a decent book that will cost $50 to replace); are there new editions available with updated information?
  • Is the book totally yukky? (pages yellowed, brittle; binding weak, etc.)

When I started weeding, I went to the science section first (500s-600s); I then tackled the social science area (300s). I did philosophy and religion next (100s-200s). I did history (900s) after that. We finished literature (800s last year). I am getting ready to take on the arts (700s), but I am taking another pass through the 300s right now, as our shelves are crowded with newer books I’ve purchased for the collection since I started.


Oddly enough, circulation has become one of the least important factors I weigh when deciding to keep a book. A book that circulated a lot a few years ago may be “old news” now; some books are hardly ever checked out, but really are classic, foundation texts in a subject!


Here are the things I look at after the parents check the other points:

  • Is the book properly classified? I find a lot of books in the WRONG area! I reclassify these, and give them another chance.
  • Does the book have good access points? In the “olden days” adding contents, summary notes, etc. was more cumbersome. If a book contains a collection of essays or short stories, I make sure I add a contents note so these are searchable in the online catalog. Most of the time, I can grab these notes from a WorldCat record and pop them into my Destiny 505 or 520 field. I often find non-fiction books without subject headings! I will add these as well.

Lastly, don’t ever underestimate your own ability to “market” your collection. I have gotten to know the collection really well– and I can direct students to the sections where they will find good material. When students sign out a book, they often say, “Wow! I’m the first one to check out this book in 10 years.” That happens every week. Circulation in a school library is different than circulation in a public library.


Don’t think you have to (or should) take on the whole collection at once. As you can tell, I have been pretty methodical–but have weeded hundreds and hundreds of books over the last 9 years.


If you have faculty members who will help you with this process, great….but don’t rely upon them to make the decisions. Remember you are the professional!!

  • Many years ago we had a similar problem.  The librarian before never weeded and we were moving into a new space so we had the advantage of having to handle each individual book either when we packed it into a box or back onto the shelf.  We did run a titlewise report and used it to identify the sections which had the oldest books which we thought indicated no one was using them that much.  We also talked to the teachers and got a general list of subjects they were using for reports or their curriculums.  For fiction we checked the condition of the books, the number of copies, and our experience.  If a book was in poor condition we tried to determine if it was because it had ben read so many times or if it had never been read and was just too old.  As for non-fiction, we did talk to our science and history teachers for some insight on what they considered to be out of date and then worked from there.  It took us about 3 years to clean it up.  And then, of course, we try to keep on top of it now.
  • I’m in my second year with a similarly-sized collection, and I was set the task of updating an out-of-date and poorly circulating fiction collection (I am immensely lucky to have 2 additional librarians in my -Upper– division, so I’m not responsible for the entire collection by myself). I have 6 years’ circ-stats available, but no more, and am also trying to figure out what is truly no longer useful vs. what has simply been buried.

I’d check with some faculty, though my library director does not invite faculty to tell us what to keep. Instead, we check for projects and assignments that recur frequently, and give those areas special consideration while weeding. If a teacher has been giving the same assignment for years, I would invite them to let me know if any resources are particularly awesome (perhaps even look at some Works Cited pages from past assignments, a sneaky way to assess citation proficiency!).

I also started with a “that’s disgusting” condition-only round, and then checked which of those titles ought to be replaced. I had to replace a lot of classic literature! And my students still love to read print, so I do want paper copies of pleasure-reading titles, but they want to access homework-resources from home at night, so reference and project-support materials we’re more likely to replace with digital. I’m still surveying to get a broad sense of student preferences for format.

For nonfiction specifically, you might be able to eliminate in certain subject areas quickly just on outdatedness (technology titles, some health titles, social issues, legislation/political coverage, etc.)

I also think a lot of stellar materials simply weren’t seen b/c my students weren’t thinking of the library as a place for “current” or “fun” materials, so while starting to weed I also did a lot more buying than I probably will in a more standard collection year. I do tons of displays with the new material, and the old stuff gets a nice bump from the increased browsing.

I know my director was able to breeze through our biography section simply based on pop culture subjects now decades out of the spotlight.

We’ve also been keeping the resources we know and love best, because those are the ones I can really sell to my kids as perfect for such-and-such. Maybe they haven’t circulated in the past, but I want to try promoting things I’ve found valuable before weeding them. If it’s just me who likes them, that’ll show up in circ stats in the future, and I’ll weed them in the next round or two.

  • One way to approach weeding is to set a publication date as a benchmark. You could talk with your department chairs about that. Some will be happy to help you set guidelines, others may want you to keep everything, other will want to hold your hand while you do it. You can start with the ones who will help you set a guideline. Each part of the collection may have different dates, if appropriate.

I, like you, came into a very old collection when I took this job 19 years ago. It is still pretty old, despite weeding heavily for years. The first two history department chairs were of the mind to keep everything. Then we got a new chair who said for history books, consider for discard anything published before 1985. We have also used dates for weeding science. Anything 10 years old or older is suspect. There are always exceptions to any rule, so you have to use your judgement and knowledge of what types of assignments students have that might require the material. These days, though, with so much available online, it seems to me that newer material on the shelf is a better than ever idea.

I have also weeded old novels that are available on Project Gutenberg and put a catalog record in our catalog for the download from PG. We are currently weeding Twayne’s authors series because we have them online from Gale. We are only weeding those that have not circulated (sorry to hit on a point that does not apply for you) or for authors who are not covered in our English curriculum (which could apply to you).

Another easy start is pulling out duplicates, really old looking material, stuff that is in bad condition. In my collection the method of making the call numbers for the spine has changed several times over the years. It is an easy way for us to spot the oldest books – just by going down the aisles and spotting the labels from long ago. Sometimes I’ve heard suggestions from department chairs that I pull items off the shelf that I am considering for discard and let the department look at the material. I would definitely recommend against this approach. It is too burdensome to remove and then re-shelve material after the department has rejected the recommendation to weed an item. It also slows down the process — and the book truck of potential weeds can get stuck in the department for too long. If the department is unwilling to help you set guidelines and then trust your professional judgement, then you may want to put that part of the collection on hold while you tackle other sections. There could be a personnel change in the meantime.

I would highly recommend that you talk with your division head (Upper School, Middle School, Lower School) to be sanctioned to weed. It may have been neglect in the past that produced the library you are facing now, or it could be that there was great protest about weeding from the faculty. You would probably want to know that before you leap. If your division head gives you the okay, then you have that in your pocket, ready to trot out if needed. Even if we don’t all want to do exactly what Cushing Academy has done, they give us a great argument about the direction libraries are headed, even if not at the accelerated rate of Cushing.

  • Despite having been on the Library staff here for 30+ years, I still hyperventilate just thinking about weeding.  No matter how long one has been at a library and knows the community, it’s still a daunting task.

When I became director in 2008, I immediately weeded the reference section and the social sciences for out of date titles.  Usage stats don’t matter much in social sciences:  currency matters.  For example, we had five different editions of a book on animal research on the shelves, but the stats showed that the students chose to use the oldest version (from the 1980’s) more frequently than the newer versions (likely because the cover was more warm and fuzzy).

By the time I was able to embark on a serious weeding of the rest of the collection, we, like you, had switched from Dynix to Follett and no longer had the circulation data in hand (it wasn’t worth the $4K that I would have had to pay to include in the transfer).   So, I established some basic parameters and just got on with the task.  Here are some of the things I considered along with acknowledging that the collection is now more or less an archival collection of materials:

1.  Titles had to be either high-interest or support the *current* curriculum.  Current is important here as our curriculum has changed significantly in the past 10 years.  The Middle Ages was a huge part of the old curriculum, but it isn’t taught in any great detail now; the Age of Exploration and its effects on cultures around the world was a mere blip before, but now it’s a heavy hitter.  So, I culled 75% of the Middle Ages materials and have been building a strong AoE collection ever since.

2. Publication date, depending on the Dewey division, I tried to keep within the last 20 years.  Natural Sciences, of course, and certain parts Social Sciences needed a publication date in the past 10 years; Literature and History had more leeway given the nature of those materials.

3.  Dust on a book wasn’t necessarily a death sentence:  if the book supported the current curriculum and was of relative recent publication, I kept it, often times simply recataloging these materials into a section that would make it more visible.

4. Multiple copies of a title (with the exception of current “it” fiction) were eliminated.  If the title supports a major project, the extra copies were given to the classroom teacher.

5. Ugly books on a topic — especially in topic areas that are in high demand — were deleted and replaced with books that were more alluring.


  • Destiny will give you about four years of usage statistics. Isn’t that enough to at least start certain sections like science/technology and fiction? By the time you’ve finished those more date-sensitive areas, you’ll have a better sense of the collection and be ready to move on to other sections.

We have asked each department to hold one department meeting per year in the library, and we take about twenty minutes and ask them to go through the shelves of their subject area and use colored slips of paper (red for weed, yellow for replace/update, green for keep) to mark the books they have strong feelings about. It’s a fairly quick way to solicit their feedback about the section without completely freaking them out by presenting them with a cart of discarded books. We also usually have a big display of new books on their topic and copious amounts of food to keep everybody happy. So far the faculty have been cooperative with this procedure and it makes us more confident to continue weeding/replacing in their areas.

  • Go through and gather ALL the crummy books…..Put on re-order list if need to replace.

Science, technology sections should be current. (I believe last few years)

Keep classics, books teachers & students check out…..

Maybe go section by section and make shelves 3/4 full

More than one copy of something that never checks out.

Texas has a CREW formula

Hope this helps….Always go by what your curriculum goals are (supportive materials)….what is being checked out….OH, your Follett Rep might be able to give you suggestions. I know that they can take a “snapshot” of your collection.


  • I printed our various Follett reports about the circulation history of each section. Ours only go back to 2008 when tech did some sort of upgrade that lost our history). Our circ history is only somewhat helpful since it doesn’t go far back.

I kept near me the circ history printout for anything that had circulated once or fewer times. I was able to refer to this as I physically handled each book (Really! I got about 1/3 of the way through the collection.)

What speeded up the whole process? –the old books smelled so bad! Not exactly a moldy smell, but just dusty, musty, almost moldy—I know that no one should be taking out those books.

I was also able to target brittle paperbacks—amazing how many brown, brittle books we had. Long ago, I used to spend ages looking to see if I could replace many of those history books before tossing them.

Not this time. I figured, since we build mostly “just in time” rather than “just in case” collections, when the need arises I will fill in gaps that I might have created.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to get the History to really work with us. The assign projects with detailed breakdown of topics and then we hear about the assignments 3 or 4 days before 3 sections of a grade is due to hand in their bibliographies.

It’s all a moving target. It’s been one step forward and two steps back with anything resembling collaboration.

At any rate….I’d say just dig in and get yourself moving. I  finally had to just jump in wherever I felt I could make headway. I knew that History, Science, foreign languages were “easy” places for me to begin. The Social Sciences have proven harder and are way too stuffed. Anything to do with women’s history is important to us, but much of it is not getting used. I’m moving very slowly there.

This is a very time-consuming task and takes a lot of thought. I am especially motivated now that I know that we are likely to have far less shelf space in our “expanded” library space.

  •  I almost think you have to make it through at least one school year to see what assignments come through.  That might give you an idea of what materials are being used. Maybe you could invite faculty over for some coffee/bagels and have them browse (you could set up some subject area displays on tables or something)?
  •  I would just pull all the oldest items and let teachers look through them before discarding. Also, if something has not been checked out in the past three years and it is not a seminal work in the field and does not support your current curriculum and/or is in poor shape, I think you can feel fairly safe about discarding it (still let teachers have a look, though).

I dealt with a similar situation my first year.  I did have date due slips, which was helpful.  However, you might start with different criteria that would have more of an impact on the students.  For example, weed titles that are woefully outdated, especially in the 300s, 500s and 600s.  You might find things that are just plain wrong, racist, or irrelevant.  Chuck those first.  You can spend a couple of years observing circ stats before moving further.  I bought myself a copy of Less is More: A Practical Guide to Weeding School Library Collections, which is pretty helpful and confirmed some things I thought but wasn’t sure of.  The book even gives you examples of specific titles to weed if you find them in your collection.


  • Pull a report of all the 900s published before 1960. Eyeball it for ‘classics’ (of which there will be very few), and dump everything else.  Low-hanging fruit? Repeat across Dewey, leaving the 800s for last as those are trickier ‘publication-date-wise’.

One problem with this is the ‘decimated shelves’ look. Faculty looking at the library will think you have been nuking the library, as indeed you have, nuked the Bad Guys; it’s fine if all it does is give you more space on each shelf, but if it gets down below shelves half full, it’ll start looking sparse. Here’s a sneaky fix: move all the books up a shelf, leaving the bottom shelf empty and the rest of the shelves properly stocked.

Do you have a volunteer crew? Necessary, and (other than deciding which books stay or go) they can take care of most elements of this job.


  • I would do a collection analysis by copyright so I have the records. Then I would start in the areas where correct info matters the most – like science and technology. That should put a big dent in the problem right there.

THANK YOU ALL FOR YOUR THOUGHTFUL RESPONSES!!  I leave you with an image of my first weeding batch, falling apart, stinky, out of date technology and mental health books which became holiday decor for my library. Note, there is now over a foot of snow behind the tree. Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas (or Tennessee) anymore. I wish you all a marvelously relaxing break and happy holidays to you and your families!




3 thoughts on “Marketing to Upper School Students AND Some Weeding Advice

  1. Thanks for including all these different weeding vignettes. There are apparently many different approaches to the problem. We aggressively weeded before the collection was transferred to a new space. Luckily, I had 2 years notice and enough time to judiciously weed the nonfiction section. Many of the suggestions in your article will be useful for future weeding.


  2. Lots of great suggestions – thanks, Katie! I think getting started is often the most difficult part. I tend to start with the areas of the collection / curriculum I know well (this explains why my fine arts section is currently unloved and needs some TLC), and go from there…

  3. I love the motto “It’s about Students, not Stuff”. It’s an important mantra to repeat as needed. We 21st Century Librarians often get sidetracked into dark alleyways of Stuff so that we often forget the nugget at the center of it all, the Student. This one mantra is a keeper. Thanks, Katie!

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