If you’re a booklover, you will sooner or later end up at that point where you just can’t squeeze any more into your house. Shelves are overflowing, there are piles next to the bed, even the loo has a stack of books on the floor. (If you’ve got them on your stairs then you really do have a problem and should probably apply to go on one of those programmes like Britain’s Biggest Hoarders or The Hoarder Next Door!)
It seems wrong to heartlessly get rid of things which have contributed so much to your life – there’s that thriller that got you through the worst bout of flu, the travel book for the holiday you still intend to take but probably never will, that battered old favourite which you still dip into. The books you didn’t care about aren’t such a problem, it’s easy to recycle or pass them on to a charity shop. (Did you know, by the way, that Oxfam is now the UK’s biggest second-hand bookseller?)
Of course, that’s why libraries are brilliant – they are the original form of recycling, a book gets passed from one person to another and you don’t have to store it at all, you can extract the experience and give back the physical object. E-books on Kindles and iPads are also invisible in the space they take up – I wonder how this will change our feelings, I haven’t yet re-read an ebook on any device, have you?
Each of us makes our own personal decisions at home about which books to keep and which to get rid of. But who makes the decisions in your school library? Sometimes nobody wants to take on the responsibility – it can be a bit scary taking on the role of chucker-out. But just like with plants that get leggy or unbalanced, pruning is actually good for your collection and everything will look happier and healthier as a result. A library collection isn’t one of personal reminiscences, it’s a shared resource which needs to keep changing to reflect the needs of each generation of children using it.
Which books you keep will also be affected by what’s available online in your school. If you still have a full set of old encyclopaedias, this isn’t just irrelevant, it could be inaccurate. Teaching children to use online resources is much more relevant here. But books with brilliant illustrations or strong narratives will keep their place.
Weeding a school library collection is not just a matter of space, it’s also the impression an untended collection gives to your children. If your books look out-of-date and old-fashioned, many children will think there’s nothing exciting there to discover. They won’t be able to see the gems hidden among the boring rows. We’re sometimes tempted to keep a book beyond its useful life - we don’t yet have a replacement, it’s the last on that topic, for example, so we put up with the fact that it’s dated or damaged. I’m going to make a big plea not to do this. If in doubt, be ruthless. Get rid of the dead wood and the rest of the collection springs into relief, it will look so much better.