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Nonfiction Monday Photo Diary: Weeding Biographies

What do Michael Jordan, Houdini, and John F. Kennedy all have in common? They all were recently weeded from the 5th and 6th grade school where I work.

Now, don’t send angry electronic letters – none of these famous figures have been completely removed (although I can’t say the same for Chris Mullin). No, they fall into one of two categories:

A: We already have a sufficient amount of more useful biographical material on this subject, rendering some items unnecessary.

B: We don’t have anything else on this subject, but what we have ain’t cutting it. A replacement will be selected and added to the collection.

When I go about my collection-updating ways, I like to use the classic MUSTY acronym guidelines (via SUNLINK). Weed anything that is:

M = Misleading and/or factually inaccurate

U = Ugly (beyond mending or repairing)

S = Superseded (by a new edition, or better item)

T = Trivial (or of no discernible literary or scientific merit)

Y = Your collection has no use for this item

ALA also has some great resources on the subject. Wait, this is starting to feel a bit like library school, let’s just take a look at the weeded masses.

Click here (or on the image below) to view the photo gallery.

Be sure to visit the Nonfiction Monday roundup at Practically Paradise.

About Travis Jonker

Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at scopenotes@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.


  1. Oh man, I totally loved that Willie Mays bio! If I have my series straight, there were others in that series… Ernie Banks, Roberto Clemente, Hank Aaron, Duke Snider, Mickey Mantle. Of course, this was 25 years ago that I was reading these, and one could make a case that even at that point they were overdue to be weeded!

    • You are correct, and our library had a few of them.
      Athlete biographies are an interesting thing – you want to have the greats (your Ruths, your Gretzkys, your Jordans), but with most others, once the athlete has retired, there is almost no interest. With budget constraints what they are, it can be tough to stay current in this area.

  2. When she was in second grade (not so very long ago), my daughter brought a book home from her school library. The final line was “and some day, men will go to the moon.” If it’s not correct, toss it out! (sorry, Pluto, that goes for you too!)

    • That’s not a good sign. Last year I weeded an MLK bio written when the civil rights movement was still in full swing, outdated terminology and all. While it can be hard to part with certain books, I need to remind myself that, in many cases, it is sorely needed.

    • I just found that book a couple months ago in the library where I work! It’s about explorers, right? I assumed the only reason no one had weeded it before was that they saw the title and just ASSUMED, well, info on explorers hasn’t changed in centuries, right?

  3. No more Gengis Khan? Oh, how could we possibly offer a modern-day example of a leader who led invasions to consolidate other countries into his own empire with such ruthlessness?

  4. Great weeding! I love how you included the pictures. At a new job 25 years ago, my co-workers were totally paralyzed and nervous about my weeding. So I left the book cart of weeded books for them to keep anything they wanted in collection and they realized, “Whoa, those REALLY were dogs!” Sometimes, when people really look, they get it.

    • I’m with you Marge. Usually you can quiet any fuss about weeded books by just having the protester take a look at them.

      • …and putting all the “icky” books on one cart, side by side, creates a very strong visual as to why they should be weeded. I also think taking a before and after picture of the shelf or range being weeded provides a great visual. Our libraries look (and smell!) better with musty, inaccurate, out of date books off the shelves!

  5. I JUST weeded the biographies at my tiny public library. I am a new librarian here and no one who worked here could remember when they were last weeded (yikes!) I weeded some of the very same books: the JFK, the Dorothy Hamill, and a whole slew of American history figures. Too many of the old biographies have ridiculous hero worship!

  6. Jennifer says:

    I know it had to be weeded, but I love the look of that Amy Carter bio. Wish I could have read it before it “went away.” Sigh.