Weeding My Book Collection

Photo by Tim Wildsmith on Unsplash

One of my favorite library tasks is weeding, which means discarding books that are obsolete, worn, or aren’t being checked out. Weeding is just as necessary as adding books to a collection. When the clutter of non-circulating books is gone, the rest of the titles stand out even more. Weeding can breathe new life into a library’s collection and can increase circulation numbers.

I’m a pretty ruthless weeder at work, but I suddenly want to keep all the books when it comes to weeding my personal library. That paperback I got for a dollar at Goodwill seven years ago that I still haven’t read? I might want to start reading that tomorrow. That book I finished that I didn’t like very much? The cover is so pretty, so it should probably stay.

I buy books faster than I can read them, and since the space I have to keep these books is relatively small, I know it’s time to do some weeding. In an attempt to get me focused and motivated, today’s post will be about how I approach getting rid of my books: what stays, what goes, and where they go next. I hope these ideas will help you if you too are afraid that the tower of books in the corner of your home will fall on you and cause bodily harm. Let’s jump in!

What Can Go: Books That No Longer Interest Me

I’ve always liked collecting things, and books are no exception. When I become interested in a subject, I want to have books about it. Several books about it. Maybe even a lot of books about it. And sometimes I lose interest in that subject later on, but the books remain. It’s okay to get rid of books that don’t interest me anymore. 

What Can Go: Books I’ve Owned for Years and Haven’t Read

I’ve worked in libraries where books are discarded if they haven’t checked out in a year or sometimes even months. That’s not because the library didn’t value the books, but because there was no more room on the shelves. Books that weren’t being read had to go to make room for the books that were.

I have to let go of the books I’ve owned for years that I haven’t yet read. That’s a sign I’m not interested anymore, and if I become interested again someday, I can get the book again. In most cases, getting a book in my hands only takes a couple of clicks. I don’t need to keep that one title I bought in 2013 because someone told me I’d like it.

What Can Go: Books I’ve Read and Don’t Like

This one seems so obvious, but I struggle with it sometimes, usually out of obligation. If I didn’t like a book but think I should like it, I’ll probably keep it. If someone got the book for me as a gift, I’ll probably keep it. But having books on my shelf that I feel obligated to like or keep doesn’t serve me. These books could be read by people who will really appreciate them. 

What Can Stay: Books I Love

Just as important as deciding what books go is deciding what books stay. The books I love get to stay. It makes me happy to look at my bookshelves and see books that mean something to me. I like seeing my underlined copy of Gilead. It makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside to see Stoner or The Secret History, two of my most beloved booksSome books serve as souvenirs from vacations or college classes or an essential part of my growth. Those books have earned their spot on my shelf.

What Can Stay: Books That Are Part of a Special Collection

As I said, I like collecting things. Over several years, I collected all the books in the Penguin drop caps series. I also like collecting Penguin’s clothbound classics and new vitae series. I love presidential history, so the presidential biographies I own can stay put. As long as I’m still interested in my special collections, the books have earned their keep.

What Can Stay: Books I Really Do Want to Read

I know it bothers some readers to have too many unread books on their shelves, but I am not that reader. I like the idea of having a library full of books that I’m excited to pick up. It’s okay to keep unread books if I’m still looking forward to reading them.

Where the Books Go After I Weed Them

Even though I’m letting them go, I want my discarded books to have a second chance at being read. Sometimes I donate them to my school libraries if I think students or staff will be interested. Other times I donate to a local thrift store that helps unhoused people get back on their feet. I can also donate books to local library book sales, knowing that all the money earned will go directly back into the libraries that serve my community. I’ll ship and sell books to Powell’s now and then if I have newer titles I’d like to discard.


I hope these ideas were as helpful for you as writing them down was for me. What criteria do you use when deciding what to keep or weed?

Top Five Friday: Where I Buy Books

I have six bookcases, three of which are pretty big. All six are overflowing at the moment (a privilege for which I’m thankful). Despite my crammed and sagging bookshelves, I continue to buy books. Some books are just so pretty, and some books are super cheap, and other books call to me, and I must answer their call or the books will be sad forever. I trust you, dear reader, understand completely. Today I’m sharing my favorite places to buy books in case you too are a hopeless collector.

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BOOK OUTLET

I didn’t know about Book Outlet until about three years ago. When I found out about it, I felt as if I had just entered a new, higher plane of existence. THEY’RE SO CHEAP, YOU GUYS. I’ve found new releases in hardcover for under $5, a few special editions, and some popular paperbacks for less than $2. I appreciate Book Outlet because your money goes so far on their site, but do know they don’t have the selection you’ll find through an ordinary bookseller. Their inventory changes all the time, so this site is best for browsing instead of hunting for something specific.

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LIBRARY BOOK SALES

The greatest library book sale finds I’ve ever stumbled across has to be the Robert Caro LBJ biography set I discovered during a $3 a bag sale. Not only did I get the first three volumes of that set in pristine condition, but I also filled up the rest of my bag for $3 total. Three dollars! As in less than a latte for a bag full of books! Library book sales are your friends. They can be hit and miss, sure, but you can find some absolute gems if your timing is right. One time I cut off the circulation in my arm for a while because I was carrying so many heavy bags of books from the library to my car, but my temporary numbness was totally worth it.

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MY LOCAL INDIE

I love indie bookstores, and I’m lucky to live in a city with a great one. It’s big, has a wonderfully curated selection of new and used books, and is always full of so much beautiful light thanks to all its pretty windows. In addition to books, my indie has a good assortment of magazines, gift items, and beautiful stationery. The staff is friendly, and the displays are always impressive. I know I can find what I’m looking for and am happy to support a local business that brings so much literary goodness to the community.

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THRIFT STORES

When I enter a thrift store, I’m drawn to the book section first thing. I approach feeling like a hunter searching for its prey. There’s excitement in each step as I walk up to the first shelf. Sometimes I score a brand new hardcover for a dollar, and other times I wonder who donated the decade-old computer books and what employee thought someone would actually buy them. But the duds are worth looking through to find the gems. And if outdated technology books are your thing, a thrift store will be your bookish oasis.

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BARNES AND NOBLE

I feel like shopping at Barnes & Noble means that I prefer Fox Books to The Shop Around the Corner, but there’s room in my heart for both the big box store and the little indie. I like B&N because of the atmosphere. There’s a ton of seating, and it smells like a mixture of new books and coffee (a.k.a. the best smell ever). B&N also offers great deals to its members. My $25 annual membership pays for itself thanks to all the 20% off coupons I get throughout the year. A trip to this bookstore always relaxes me, whether I buy anything or not. (Let’s be honest here: I usually buy something.)


As a bonus item, check out Bookfinder when you’re shopping for books online. It’s not a site where I buy books, but a place that tells me where to buy them. When I want a used copy of an older title, I always use Bookfinder because it does all the searching for me by telling me what sites have the title I want and who’s offering the best price.

What are your favorite places to pick up books?

Building a Personal Library

I’ve been a library patron for as long as I can remember.  Though I was a frequent library user, I’ve also been privileged enough to always own books. My collection evolved from things like The Baby-Sitters Club series to John Grisham paperbacks to whatever was $1.99 at Value Village. As I entered adulthood, I decided I wanted a large, well-curated library of my very own.

When I embarked on this dream I sort of ignored the “well-curated” part. I bought anything I thought looked interesting thanks to thrift stores and used book sales. I just wanted to have a lot of books, and I wanted them immediately. But over the years, as my reading tastes have changed and what I want to spend money on has shifted, I’ve finally become choosier about the books I purchase. Here’s what’s important to me now when I add books to my library.

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IT’S A BOOK I KNOW I’LL WANT TO WRITE IN.

If I want to read a book to learn something specific, chances are I’m going to buy it. I don’t tend to write in fiction books very often, but my nonfiction shelves are full of books with my underlining and marginalia. (I love that word so much.) I don’t tend to write terribly detailed notes, but I do like being able to flip through a book to see what ideas I thought were important. Books that fit into this category are usually theology or writing guides. I mark up my poetry books quite a bit, as well.

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IT’S A SPECIFIC EDITION.

Do I need three different editions of Moby-Dick? No. Do I own them anyway because they’re pretty? Yes.

As a kid, I was always collecting something. I loved building mini-collections of everything from snow globes to rocks (a.k.a. gravel from my driveway). There are a few different editions of books I collect, and I’m always eager to add to them. One is the Penguin hardcover collection designed by Coralie Bickford Smith. I think these books are beautiful. I love the feel of them and how they look on my shelf. I also collect the Drop Caps series designed by Jessica Hische. While the hardcover books are elegant and classic, the drop caps are bright and fun. I love their boldness and the colorful edges that match the cover.

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IT’S BY AN AUTHOR I LOVE.

There are certain authors whose books are immediately on my to-buy list. They could write books about how to use a hammer or what crafts to make with dryer lint, and I’d probably still buy them. These authors include Donna Tartt, Celeste Ng, David Sedaris, Roxane Gay, Marisha Pessl, and Liane Moriarty. I know I love the work these writers put out so I wouldn’t hesitate to purchase their latest. (I even bought Pessl’s recent release, Neverworld Wake, even though it’s far outside my wheelhouse. Andrea + Marisha = Love)

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I READ A LIBRARY COPY AND NOW I NEED MY OWN.

The most recent book this happened with was The Nix by Nathan Hill. I listened to this book (the audio narration is excellent, by the way) and I absolutely loved it. I wanted to give it a hug, but you can’t hug audio files from OverDrive. I had to get the book. If you’ve read this far, I trust you understand.


Do you like buying and collecting books? If so, what guides your choices?