5 Collection Development

In today’s world, a library’s collection not only includes what is physically owned, but what the library can provide access to. Different collections can include:

  • Hard copy (Physical)
    • Books
    • Journals/Magazines
    • Newspapers
    • Videos/DVDs
    • CDs/CD-ROMs
    • Pamphlets/Maps/Images
  • Electronic (Digital) (free and subscription-based)
    • Ebooks
    • Journals/Magazines/Newspapers
    • Audiobooks
    • Streaming video
    • Databases
    • Images

Collections, or the groups of books, audiovisual materials, artwork, and all other items kept in the library, are developed by a detailed and closely-followed Collection Development Policy. These policies ensure that resources of all types are being spent in a way that conforms with the library’s preestablished priorities, goals, and purposes. The collection development policy outlines the criteria for selecting resources, assessing collections, weeding, preserving, and deciding appropriate formats. Common collection development policy criteria include:

  • Topic
  • Reading Level
  • Currency
  • Demand
  • Cost
  • Author’s credentials
  • Publisher or Producer’s Reputation
  • Features
  • Resource Sharing
  • Format

For more information on creating an effective collection development policy, look at the Guidelines created by the International Federation of LIbrary Associations and Institutions. This was created twenty-two years ago, but its basic principles are still recommended today. For good examples, check out the search results from Google for the phrase “collection development policy.” As they should be, many libraries of all different types are transparent about their policies and the way they created them. This is a good practice for all of the library services discussed in this book. Google the phrases you think are important, and add the word “library” if the results are too generic. Policies should proliferate in the results page. Feel free to message me your favorite policies and I will add them to this book.

In order to make selection and purchasing decisions, librarians depend on industry tools, input directly from their users, and their own personal knowledge. Evaluative reviews aid librarians in determining the relevance and quality of resources prior to acquisition.  Tools to use during item review include:

  • Reviewing media, including:
  • Core collection lists or bibliographies, including:
    • Best Books for Children: Preschool Through Grade 6 edited by John T. Gillespie. Published by R. R. Bowker.
    • Best Books for Young Teen Readers: Grades 7-10 edited by John T. Gillespie. Published by R. R. Bowker.
    • Best Books for Young Adult Readers by Stephen J. Calvert. Published by R. R. Bowker.
    • Choice’s Outstanding Academic Books, 2017. Published by the American Library Association.
    • Guide to Reference Materials for School Library Media Centers by Barbara Ripp Safford. Published by Teacher Ideas Press.
    • Magazines for Libraries by Bill Katz and Linda Sternberg Katz. Published by R.R. Bowker.
    • Recommended Reference Books for Small and Medium-Sized Libraries and Media Centers edited by Bohdan Wynar. Published by Libraries Unlimited.
  • Library listservs (electronic discussion groups), forums, and social media groups such as Library Think Tank.

The Collections Development Policy of a library should be in keeping with its mission statement. Library mission statements vary depending on the size and type of library. You can learn about writing a mission statement at this page in WebJunction by OCLC.

Just as adding books to a library’s collection is a central aspect of collection development, so is removing books that are no longer needed or useful in the library. This is one of the reasons why the term is collections development rather than collections building. The term for removing books from a library’s collections is “deacquisitioning.” However, no one likes that word because it is too unwieldy. Therefore, we use the term Weeding to describe this process. Weeding is performed by analyzing the circulation data of an item as well as conducting a re-appraisal of the item through the lens of the collections development policy. The collections development policy, mission statement, edition information, and circulation data are all considered during the weeding process.

Digital Aspects of the Library

Since the last half of the twentieth century, electronic resources have been an increasing aspect of library collections, programs, and services. The first electronic items offered included audio recordings and audiobooks. Now these offerings have expanded as audiobooks can be hosted on the Internet without the need for cassettes or CDs. Additionally, films and other audiovisual resources have been increasingly offered at the library. First, these resources were only available physically. However, libraries have also adapted to digital forms of audiovisual resources. As a result, electronic resources decreasingly refer to physical electronic items and increasingly refer to online resources. Thus, the terms for these resources have become interchangeable. Digital Holdings/Electronic Resources are items that use technology to convey information. They are often considered to be under the umbrella of Digital Initiatives. This term means different things to different libraries. Some consider digital initiatives to only refer to digital exhibits, collections, and digitization of analog materials. Others include ebooks and online-hosted library holdings under that umbrella. Those who do not include electronic holdings of libraries usually reserve them for reference librarians. If this is the case, a digital initiatives librarian will have to make themselves useful and productive. The key term in Digital Initiatives is “initiative.” Take advantage of preexisting resources and procedures. Also, create new ones. This could be as simple as creating digital outreach services or programs.

A Case Study: Baltimore County Public Library

Collection development in libraries is a crucial aspect of providing patrons with access to the information and resources they need. However, this process is not always straightforward and can sometimes lead to controversy. One such example is the Baltimore County Public Library’s (BCPL) collection development decisions as detailed in Nora Rawlinson’s article, “Give ‘Em What They Want!” in Library Journal (November 15, 1981).

In her article, Rawlinson highlights the BCPL’s decision to prioritize popular materials over more literary or scholarly works. This decision was based on the idea that providing patrons with what they want would increase circulation and overall usage of the library. However, this decision was met with criticism from some members of the community, who argued that the library had a responsibility to provide patrons with access to a wide range of materials, including literary and scholarly works.

One of the main criticisms of the BCPL’s collection development decisions was that it resulted in the library’s collection being heavily skewed towards popular materials. This led to a lack of representation of certain groups and perspectives, particularly those of marginalized communities. Additionally, some patrons argued that the library’s focus on popular materials resulted in a lack of access to more challenging or thought-provoking works.

To address these criticisms, the BCPL implemented a number of changes to its collection development policies. For example, they increased their budget for the acquisition of literary and scholarly materials and also began to actively seek out and acquire materials that represented the diverse perspectives and experiences of the community. Additionally, the library began to work with community groups and organizations to ensure that the collection reflected the needs and interests of all patrons.

Despite these changes, the controversy surrounding the BCPL’s collection development decisions highlights the ongoing challenges that libraries face in balancing the needs and wants of patrons with their responsibility to provide access to a wide range of materials and perspectives. The case of Baltimore County Public Library shows that it is important for libraries to listen to their patrons and take into account their feedback and concerns when making collection development decisions. Furthermore, it is important to prioritize the representation of marginalized communities and perspectives and to work with community groups and organizations to ensure that the collection is inclusive and responsive to the needs of all patrons.



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Introduction to Library and Information Science Copyright © 2023 by College of Southern Idaho is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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