3 Reasons to Rethink Your Reference Section

My media center's reference section after our first big weed.  It was twice as large before.
My media center’s reference section after our first big weed. It was twice as large before.

Like many school libraries, my district has been gradually shifting from print reference to digital reference.  Yet when I first arrived at my library four years ago, we still had several hundred reference books, filling up three large floor shelving units.  The majority of these books were out of date. Over the past four years, I weeded it extensively.  Yet even after weeding it, changing the location, and trying to promote it with students, no one was using it.  Finally, I decided to really look hard at this part of the collection.  Some of the resources were related to our theme and still current – these I moved into the circulating non-fiction section.  Since then, several of these books have been checked out.   We kept the dictionaries too.  Anything that wasn’t related to our theme or current, I brutally weeded.

Here’s why I did it:

Physical space

My library is small.  Floor space is at a premium.  As is wall shelving.  By removing all of the reference section, I was able to get rid of two floor shelving unita, and free up another one to store Makerspace supplies.  Now this area is actually being used regularly.  It’s actually become the social hub of the media center.  Having that added floor space also means that students are able to comfortably spread out when they work on projects.


Book budgets have been tight for awhile now.  When I have money to spend on books, I prioritize it to things that the students will actually want to check out and read.  And the reference section isn’t high on that list.  With reference books costing twice (and sometimes more) as much as regular books, there’s never enough money to really keep it current.  I could write grants for it, but I’d rather write those grants for high-interest books that will get my students reading.

Online resources

My school district has an amazing catalog of online resources.  Between Encyclopedia Britannica, Gale Virtual Library, Country Reports and other databases, we have more than enough resources available for students.  These resources are constantly updated, and they don’t cost my school anything extra.  My students are already so used to going to the Internet for all their research that it’s very easy to get them to shift to a specific database.  Getting them to go and look at an encyclopedia that’s five years old, not so much.
The same area today
The same area today

Do you still have a reference section in your library?  Do you think that there’s a place for them in schools anymore?

(If you’re not quite ready to take the plunge, but you want to get started with rethinking parts of your collection, check out Buffy Hamilton’s recent post on weeding.  She offers some great advice on what questions to ask as you look through the books in your collection)

1 thought on “3 Reasons to Rethink Your Reference Section”

  1. I totally agree! I dismantled my elementary library’s reference several years ago. Most got weeded, but the useful materials are now in nonfiction and quite popular. I don’t really see the point of a non-circulating collection in this day and age. If students can’t use it, it shouldn’t be taking up shelf space.

Comments are closed.