One of my major goals at my library has been to bring the age of the collection into the 21st century. When I arrived at my library, the collection was very large, outdated, and irrelevant to the students’ current needs and interests. The previous librarian (who worked there 1.5 years) had weeded over 2,000 books, mostly from the fiction section, and my colleagues were surprised that the library needed more weeding. I have kept up his pace, weeding 1500-2500 books per year, focusing on nonfiction sections that see a lot of use. As I weed, I also acquire new materials, especially in highly weeded/high use sections. For our school, those are biology, Shakespeare criticism and literary non-fiction, drama, modern Middle East history, environmental policy, and social issues. (Why we weed.)
Although I’ve focused on weeding/replacing high use and age sensitive sections, I’ve also weeded extremely aged sections that don’t get a lot of use, which for our library are the Reference section (I, with the help of a dozen teenagers, reduced this part of the library by about 80%), Biographies (my student employee and I cut this by about 50% — it’s amazing what people used to be considered important), and Math (we have a lot of classic math books, many of which stayed and some of which were replaced with newer editions, but it was time to get rid of our multiple copies of The New Math). I have also weeded by searching for outdated terminology in the collection to weed socially insensitive materials from the 1950s-60s. The school I work for is very progressive, but there were some older books in there that don’t reflect our current values.
In the past 4 years, our library has become less of an “archive” and more of a useful collection for advanced high school students engaged in research. When my predecessor arrived, the average age of the collection was 1977, and it’s now 1989 — we’re at the end of the Cold War. Our collection of 20,000 volumes modernized by 12 years in 4 years.