Related product Collections Management

Weeding Ebooks - Recommendations

Collection Management Committee - Updated June 2022


Why weed ebooks? On first thought, it seems unnecessary: ebooks never get worn, damaged, or lost, and they don’t take up expensive physical space. Weeding ebooks may not be on the mental to-do lists of many librarians. Most ebooks are recent publications that have not had the time to become outdated; and ebooks often evade our attention as they sit in a virtual space, only coming forward when we search in our discovery tools or go looking for them.

But all library sources, regardless of format, may eventually become outdated or superseded.  As electronic forms of library sources become prevalent in our collections, they must receive the same attention that is given to physical collections. Providing our users with outdated information simply because of inattention is a lost opportunity for learning, not to mention a violation of Ranganathan’s Fourth Law "Save the time of the reader."

Several standard resources and guides for weeding and management of library collections are freely available: MUSTIE (Misleading/Ugly/Superseded/Trivial/Irrelevant/easily found Elsewhere) is from the CREW Weeding Manual. The CRAAP test (Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, Purpose), even though it is usually discussed in the context of information literacy programs, can serve equally well as a guide to weeding.

The actual procedures for identifying and withdrawing ebooks present some challenges that are not found when weeding physical book collections. Like other electronic collections, usage data is collected directly from vendors, and these data may or may not be compliant with standard data gathering schemes, for example, COUNTER. Due to the varying, or even capricious, licensing agreements that govern access to our ebooks, it may not be possible to delete all traces of withdrawn ebooks. Instead, they may live on in our systems and catalogs, still there but suppressed from public view. If ebook titles are purchased in packages and not individually cataloged but accessed via the turning on of catalog record collections in knowledge bases, then we may have very little control over whether an individual title can even be withdrawn or suppressed.  

The greater ease of access with ebooks versus paper books can result in unintended consequences. One member of the CARLI Collection Management Committee did a study of NetLibrary titles in her library’s collection; she found that her library had bought updated editions of some titles in paper format but the outdated ebooks were being used more than the updated paper books because of the greater ease of access with the ebook. This issue arises primarily with publications that are frequently updated, such as style manuals, handbooks, guides, and textbooks.  This suggests that certain types of publications require extra attention if they are acquired in ebook format.

This document is not a procedural manual. It is not a step-by-step guide on how to undertake a review of materials or remove the electronic footprint from your library management systems. Rather, this document provides the elements that should be considered when reviewing ebook collections. Much of the information provided is from a review of recent literature on the topic, supplemented by experiences of the members of the CARLI Collection Management Committee.


The CARLI Collection Management Committee prepared this document with the intended audience to be librarians and staff at member institutions.


CREW Manual (2012 version) is a useful work. Although it is written primarily with small- to medium-sized public libraries in mind, all types of libraries can benefit from a study of this publication. CREW (Continuous Review, Evaluation and Weeding) places deselection within the broader context of library practice, and it always keeps in mind the needs of an individual library’s community of users. The CREW model integrates deselection into the entire acquisitions-cataloging-circulation/reference cycle, and makes weeding/deselection the last step in the cycle. It introduces the acronym MUSTIE (Misleading/Ugly/Superseded/Trivial/Irrelevant/easily found Elsewhere), which is helpful to remember the factors to consider when reviewing a title for retention. Since "Ugly" is not a factor in ebooks, the acronym MiSTIE would perhaps be more accurate.

Crosetto (2012) and Cully (2015) are recommended as good overviews of the issues relating to weeding ebooks. For both authors, currency of information is the primary factor to consider when deciding to retain an e-publication or not.

Waugh et al. (2015) present an intriguing case study in deselecting ebook collections. They describe a project to evaluate a collection of NetLibrary titles from the early 2000s; in the process, they outline the problems of early ebook publications: outdated medical titles, the hazards of "link rot" in many aging titles, and trying to deselect some titles but not all of them in a collection. This publication will be of interest to those CARLI libraries that purchased similar titles from NetLibrary and may want to begin the process of weeding them.


The reasons to weed ebooks are really no different than for weeding paper books.  We need to delete titles with irrelevant content or subject matter, with low use, with outdated content or superseded editions, with duplicate content, and those titles that simply add clutter to your collection without adding value.

  • Content no longer relevant to your users
    • “Criteria for weeding ebooks should be similar to those that should already be in place for print resources. While the physical condition is not an issue, the content is still applicable. Libraries should evaluate if patron needs have changed, and if some subject area use has decreased.” (p. 4) - Culley
    • "Ebooks should be treated in the same way as physical collections, with guidelines for retention based on use, accuracy of information, and relevance to the patron” (p. 26) - Moroni
  • Low usage
    • “Physical items that have low use or do not circulate occupy space. Although an unused ebook is not taking up valuable real estate space on the shelves, it does occupy space in the online catalog.” (p. 86) Crosetto
    • “Circulation counts are viable, as are annualized turnover statistics, particularly if you already use those measures for your physical collections.” (p. 26-7) - Moroni
  • Content outdated
    • “The more important of the traditional reasons for weeding is currency of content. Outdated resources occupy valuable space on the shelf and in the catalog.“ (p. 86) - Crosetto
    • “ is inadvisable to keep large amounts of outdated and inaccurate materials that could be damaging to the integrity of researchers’ work.” (p. 4) - Culley
  • Content superseded by a new edition
    • Reference titles are a priority for weeding, whether in print or electronic form. “This is most evident with reference titles. Resources traditionally identified as reference items typically have higher costs, may contain multiple volumes, and are regularly updated, often annually. Some reference titles remained on shelves indefinitely, while others—once superseded by newer editions—were typically regulated to circulating collections, remote storage, or discarded. The same criteria used for weeding physical reference titles should be applied to reference ebooks.” (p. 86) - Crosetto
  • Duplicate content
    • “...removing ebooks from the DDA program that are duplicated in any subscriptions would save libraries from unnecessary purchases.” (p. 4) Culley
    • “Including all formats in the consideration of the collection, rather than separately, can present a better picture of the completeness of the collection. You do not need to retain all titles on a topic or by an author in all formats, but should consider maintaining a complete backlist or subject coverage combined across formats” (p. 26) - Moroni
  • Clutters catalog
    • “Physical items that have low use or do not circulate occupy space. Although an unused ebook is not taking up valuable real estate space on the shelves, it does occupy space in the online catalog.” (p. 86) - Crosetto
    • “The more important of the traditional reasons for weeding is currency of content. Outdated resources occupy valuable space on the shelf and in the catalog.“ (p. 86) - Crosetto

    Who should be involved/consulted in the weeding process?

    • Who should be involved or consulted in the weeding process of ebooks is potentially more complex than with paper books. Ebook packages may require more consultation with other librarians and with teaching faculty at your institution, to make sure all parties’ interests are protected.  Publishers and access providers will be involved in providing proper usage statistics. 
      • “...the most important way for librarians to build and strengthen the lines of collaboration is to involve all interested individuals in the evaluation process and potential withdrawing of titles. K–12 teachers, academic instructors, and researchers, who are asked to submit requests for purchasing titles, should also be included in the removal of titles.” (p. 87) - Crosetto


    • Ebooks that were purchased as part of a package probably will require extra handling.  Check to ensure that individual titles that you wish to withdraw can be suppressed in your discovery system. This may require negotiations with the vendors who are supplying access to the ebooks.
      • “However, due to the access configuration of shared titles in EBSCO’s ebook platform, participants cannot suppress, remove, or “turn off” ebooks they share with others, even via their own vendor portals. With the CCLC [California’s Community College Library Consortium] shared collection, it’s an all or nothing situation, where title removals affect all license holders. One option for libraries no longer wishing to provide access to specific titles is to remove catalog records from their ILS, reducing the chance that a given title would be found. Still, the title remains “discoverable” by patrons in other ways, including through EBSCO eBook Collection portals.” (Weintraub)
      • Remember that even when a title is removed, it may still be licensed under your contractual agreement with the vendor/publisher. (p. 27) - Moroni
      • “When the first shared collection was offered, the long-term consequences of this configuration, as well as ebook search and retrieval behaviors of patrons, were not fully understood by participating libraries. (Weintraub)”
      • “...equally important element of the weeding process of ebooks: the purchasing model. The librarians need to know where the ebook resides, which then regulates how the ebook is weeded.” (p. 87) - Crosetto
    • Gathering usage statistics will require extra effort. The ILS may provide some useful statistics, but generally you will need to retrieve whatever usage statistics you can from the vendor. The statistics they provide may require interpretation to be useful.  If they are not compliant with standards, you may need to survey library or faculty colleagues to get an informal sense of use patterns for an individual title or group of titles.
      • Relying solely on the ILS to evaluate collection contents and usage statistics will result in incomplete information, especially if you use external/non-integrated ebook platforms. (p. 27) - Moroni
    • Since some ebooks may persist in your system even after being suppressed or deactivated, it may be advantageous to develop a way to record your retention decisions. There are many options that could work, such as available note fields within your LMS or other E-resource management tool.  Even something as simple as a spreadsheet would be more helpful than relying on memories of staff.


    • Crosetto, Alice. (2012) Weeding E-books. In S. Polanka (Ed.). No Shelf Required 2: Use and Management of Electronic Books, (pp. 93-102). American Library Association.
    • Culley, Jennifer. (2015) I Feel the Need, the Need to Weed!: Maintaining an E-book Collection. Southeastern Librarian, 63(1), 2-5. Online:
    • Larson, Jeanette. (2012) CREW: A Weeding Manual for Modern Libraries. Texas State Library and Archives Commission. Online:
    • Moroni, Alene. (2012) Weeding in a Digital Age. Library Journal, 137(15), 26-28.  
    • Weintraub, T., Greene, B., & Sipman, G. (2018). Weeding a shared e-book collection: Collaboration across a consortium. College & Research Libraries News, 79(9), 506. doi: