Disposing of Weeded Materials: 

Public Relations Issues

One of the most difficult problems in weeding a collection is to actually dispose of the weeded materials.  When some well-meaning members of the public find out that the library is "throwing books away," it may create a public relations problem for the library.  

Some libraries have also found that it is actually very difficult to "throw books away."  They find that books that have been discarded keep returning to the library, even if they have been tossed into the local landfill.  Someone sees a box of discarded books, believes that they must have been stolen and thrown away by the thief and brings them back.  Or even if books have been sold in the library book sale, the buyers somehow feel that they should be returned to the library once they have been read.

There is probably no sure fire way of avoiding these situations, but there are a number of techniques to minimize the chances of these events occurring.  Here are some steps to take to avoid a public relations problems.

Make sure that weeding is fully explained in your policy.  A clear explanation of the necessity of weeding should be in your weeding policy, and this policy should be approved before you start any weeding program.  The policy shows that the staff and governing authority were fully aware of what they were doing and had good reasons for weeding the library.

Understand and follow any laws or local ordinances about the disposal of public property.  There may be state laws or local ordinances that give procedures for the disposal of public property.  Make sure that you follow these laws and procedures.  The failure to follow the legal procedures can make a situation that otherwise can be contained into a public relations nightmare.  State laws for both city and district libraries in Idaho give library boards the authority to dispose of property.  Both may want to include something in their weeding policies about the standard methods of disposing of weeded materials.  City libraries and school libraries may have other requirements that they must meet because of city ordinances or school policies regarding the selling of property.  If you are not sure whether such ordinances or policies exist, it would be a good idea to check with the city clerk or school principal or superintendent. 

Give the public a chance to acquire materials before discarding them.  Usually this is done through some form of book sale, which is stocked with weeded materials.

Work with the media.  If you believe that there is a high likelihood that someone may object to the disposal of materials, you may want to make a preemptive strike by explaining what you are doing to the local newspaper reporter or editor.  Before doing this, of course, judge whether the reporter or editor is likely to be friendly to your position.  You are not necessarily asking for a story at this point.  You are simply informing an important person in the community of the weeding process and why it is necessary.  Having a board member explain the policy and procedures may be especially effective.  Again this should only be done if you are expecting trouble over weeding.


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