11.04.2018

Don't Be Fooled By the Weed-After-5-Years Myth



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In my consulting work with youth staffers at all sizes of libraries, I regularly run into  the belief that information books should be weeded after five years. While this may be true in adult information book collections (I doubt it, though), it is a slippery slope in youth information book collections.

Some areas of information books beg to be updated. Books about states or countries - although for my money database subscriptions and no print in this area make far more financial sense; books on technology; gaming; internet, coding and etc; some applied science and general science; updated information on social issues, cultures and history reflective not of a white majority viewpoint but of  people representative of the culture or marginalized group are just a few examples of areas that need frequent updating due to fast-changing information.

Other information books have content that is fairly timeless. The phases of the moon; the water cycle; mythology; biography; animals; pets; maker-crafts are examples.

So weeding calls for far more nuance than an every-five-years-toss.

I wonder whether a reliance on series non-fiction, many of which are "revised" frequently, fuels the 5-year-weed rule in youth books. While publishers of series nonfiction tout their oft-revised editions, careful examination of the revision often reveals that only 2-4 pages have been changed - one is inevitably the copyright page and the matching page in the signature which may feature a new photograph or box of information. The revision is slight but the spending of precious budget money to purchase the "revised" edition is huge. The old copy is weeded and the new one acquired.

While this may work for series nonfiction, it is a killer for quality information books.

Overall, the number of high quality information books published outside of series NF quality is fairly small. Information books that excite and inform with clear text, high quality writing;  illustration/photography that matches and enhances the text and a true respect for children's and teen's understanding are wonderful and rare. When I served on the Siebert Committee, each quality book, even if it wasn't honored by the award, was a cause for celebration (a book on coyotes! a book on Congo Square! a book on the White Rose movement! a book on Basquiat!).

When a quality information book is published, the care taken by the author, editor and publisher most often produces a timeless book whose purpose is to create a work of lasting information value for youth. They can be benchmark books that can used in collections for decades.

A biography like Barton's The Day Glo brothers: the true story of Bob and Joe Switzer's bright ideas and brand-new colors (2009); Gibbons' Cars and how they go (1983); D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths (1962); Branley's The Moon Seems to Change (1987) are just a few examples of information books whose information and presentation for kids have stood the test of time. There are lots more we can think of.

Authors/illustrators produce information books on subjects that might be addressed once every two or three decades - or even longer. Book creators like Russell Freedman, Jason Chin, Jean Fritz, April Sayre, Sy Montgomery, Kadir Nelson, Larry Dane Brimmer, Candace Fleming, Barbara Kerley, Jim Murphy, Carol Boston Weatherford, Steve Sheinkin, Phillip Hoose, Jan Greenburg, Nic Bishop, Ann Bausam, Susan Campbell Bartoletti and a host of others often write books that can be part of collections for generations.

By using a rigid five year weeding rule, we run the very real danger of eliminating books of great worth in our information book collections.

So before just looking at copyright date on information books, we need to look at the subject, how it is treated, whether there are other books of quality that address the subject and consider keeping a high quality nonfiction book with information that is still relevant and illustrative material that still works.

Our collections are deeper and better when we think beyond five year weeds to the true nature of quality information books for kids.

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