Spring Cleaning at Your Academic Library: Why You Should Do It, and How to Make It Work

By Cori Wilhelm

Numerous studies have been done about the benefits of a tidy workplace.  Staff are more productive, efficient, and motivated in a clutter-free and organized environment.  A recent study by OfficeMax indicated that 90% of Americans feel clutter has a negative impact on their life and work.  Looking for a quick solution to increase productivity and morale at your academic library?  Try Spring Cleaning.

Please note: this is not library weeding, and should be considered an entirely separate exercise from the weeding of library materials.  Nor is it the job of your building’s custodians and cleaners, who are responsible for maintaining a clean environment.  As my mother would call it, this is “mucking out” – clearing out clutter, outdated materials, unnecessary paperwork and files, and properly organizing everything else.

Most library staff do not have the time to dedicate an entire day to cleaning during the academic year, when the needs of students and faculty are frequently at the forefront of our work.  Piles form, and stacks are placed on shelves and book carts with the best of intentions, but often go forgotten and neglected.  After graduation, and before your librarians take on a whole new set of summer tasks, schedule an annual Library Spring Cleaning with your staff.  Here at SUNY Canton’s Southworth Library Learning Commons, we plan our Spring Cleaning for a workday directly following graduation.  This is late enough for our whole staff to take part, but early enough to set us up for a successful summer of productive work.

On Spring Cleaning Day, designate spaces to each person or group, and have them sort through and cull those items that are no longer needed.  This could range from posters for events long past, to outdated equipment such as cassette players, to unclaimed items in the Lost and Found.  Our basement storage space tends to be a catch-all throughout the year, and needs decluttering and organizing by summer.  Other places that often need attention include supply cabinets, common workstations such as the Circulation Desk, and file folders and drawers left by previous employees.  It helps to have a representative from Archives available to consider any materials that may have institutional significance.

Spring Cleaning can also be an opportunity to discover long lost materials and supplies.  Often office supplies or equipment gets organized and stored so well that we forget it’s even there.  Remember when you ordered all those binder dividers and put them in the back of the supply cabinet?  Well, chances are they’re still there.

Each person should be responsible for cleaning out their individual workspace – drawers, shelves, desks, and other personal spaces.  A recent article in Harvard Business Review by Grace Chae and Juliet Zhu cited their study of workplace cleanliness and its impact on workers’ emotions and persistency, stating, “We’ve found that people sitting at messy desks are less efficient, less persistent, and more frustrated and weary than those at neat desks”.  Spring Cleaning affords everyone an opportunity to organize their own space, and set themselves up to become better, more productive workers.

A last place to look for clutter is on our electronic devices and computers.  Digital clutter makes it difficult to find relevant files and makes for less efficient computer work.  Dedicate time for each staff member to clean through their computers, deleting old emails and outdated documents, and of course, organizing what is kept.  This is also an opportunity to back up important files to cloud or other long-term storage.  Don’t forget public devices in your cleaning. In our Library Learning Commons, we have a popular iPad circulation program, and often need to clear out the photos and other artifacts left behind by our students.

To make your Spring Cleaning Day as successful as possible, consider these tips:

  • Put it on the schedule: Find a date that works best for your staff, and let everyone know well ahead of time by sending out an email and putting it on the staff calendar.  Everyone on staff should plan to participate.
  • Notify those that need to know: Let the custodial staff know there may be extra garbage and recycling, and plan to have a few extra boxes and recycling bins available.  Find coverage for phones and frontline operations for the day.
  • Make it relaxed and fun: Encourage the staff to wear jeans and sneakers, and play music if possible.  Like Mary Poppins says, “In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun, and – SNAP – the job’s a game!”  Try to find the fun in Spring Cleaning.
  • Take a break: Schedule a lunch break for everyone, and if possible, order in your lunch.  Take the lunch time to relax and reflect on what has been accomplished.

What can initially seem like introducing household chores to the workplace can in fact help motivate library staff and can even serve as a team-building exercise.  Although the impact of Spring Cleaning on worker productivity may not be immediately noticed, the lack of both physical and digital clutter will be, and the effects will be long-lasting.



  1. Jenna Goudreau. “Is Office Clutter Costing You A Promotion?.” Forbes.Com, (2011).


  1. Grace Chae and Juliet Zhu. “Why a Messy Workplace Undermines Your Persistence.” Harvard Business Review, (2015).


  1. Mary Poppins, directed by Robert Stevenson (1964; Burbank, CA: Walt Disney, 1998), DVD



Chae, Grace and Zhu, Juliet. “Why a Messy Workplace Undermines Your Persistence.” Harvard Business Review, (2015). Accessed April 20, 2015. https://hbr.org/2015/01/why-a-messy-workspace-undermines-your-persistence.

Goudreau, Jenna. “Is Office Clutter Costing You A Promotion?.” Forbes.Com, (2011).  Accessed April 20, 2015 http://www.forbes.com/sites/jennagoudreau/2011/01/31/is-office-clutter-costing-you-a-promotion-organize-hoard-enough-already-peter-walsh-own/.

Mary Poppins. Directed by Robert Stevenson.  1964. Burbank, CA: Walt Disney, 1998. DVD.
Cori Wilhelm serves as Access Services Librarian and Assistant Director of Library Services at SUNY Canton’s Southworth Library Learning Commons.