Librarian Basics: Collection Development

Aug 07 2010 Published by under Basics, librarians

Both Dorothea and I had some basics posts going at one point and I also had a series going on finding information. I hope to resurrect these as I get the chance. Dorothea has resurrected her Jargon category and is re-naming it Librariansplaining (doesn't sound attractive to me, but whatever).

In her most recent post on Controlled Vocabulary she has a comment on collection development. Dorothea's taught a course on the matter, but I've got my own opinions so I thought I might share some of them here. FWIW, my library school doesn't believe in special collection development courses. Instead, we get bits and pieces of it in lots of "information access in x" courses where for me x \( in \)  { science, business, government documents}  but others include social sciences, the law, and humanities. I also had Planning and Evaluating Library Services and Collections (or something like that).

According to the Online Dictionary of Library and Information Science, Collection Development is:

The process of planning and building a useful and balanced collection of library materials over a period of years, based on an ongoing assessment of the information needs of the library's clientele, analysis of usage statistics, and demographic projections, normally constrained by budgetary limitations. Collection development includes the formulation of selection criteria, planning for resource sharing, and replacement of lost and damaged items, as well as routine selection and deselection decisions

So there are strategic and tactical bits here in addition to more philosophical bits. Our values are embedded in this definition. First that the users or the library's clientele are central and second that this is an ongoing process.

Strategic parts of collection development might be more like identifying your mission for your library and identifying your user groups. It also includes coming up with broad policies that layout how you plan to make decisions on allocating funds, the types of things you'll collect, and how you will decide what not to keep. Part of this is making broad statements that you won't buy any print materials if you can help it and you'll move everything you can to electronic format only. It might also mean deciding if you want to set money aside for open access memberships.

Tactical parts are the everyday selections and deselections. Let me talk briefly about deselections first.  I have a post from 2007 on weeding - or removing things from the collection. There have been a few changes since then. Groups of academic libraries have gotten together and decided to keep only one print copy of a journal run amongst them. Also, nearly all academic libraries have really big space shortages so they also now have to make decisions on what to send to off site storage and what to keep in their limited space. You might think that this is no biggie - these materials are still available within 24 hours (on weekdays). The opportunity cost is huge and you lose the ability to browse, the serendipity.

In any case de-selecting or weeding is an important part of collection development. The other half is selecting items to license or purchase or accept for free for the collection. How do we find out about stuff? We get catalogs from vendors, we get alerts or even books on approval from distributors, we see ads in magazines, we get recommendations from the users... Oh, so libraries typically have big book distributors we buy from. There are specialty ones that do, say, Japanese books, and then ones that do mainstream public library books or academic library books.  Libraries get a discount, but the amount varies.

How do we really know what's needed? We talk to users, we see what's assigned in classes, we read reviews, we look at the usage of current items, and we look at what items are requested via interlibrary loan.  If we're really good, we look at who's being hired and their specialties and larger trends in the field to try to collect in advance (by the time it's needed it's way to late to start finding titles). Stuff like that. Ideally, in the public library they'll have a good relationship with the local schools and will know in advance what assignments are coming up - this doesn't happen as often as one would like.

So who does this? In public libraries you might have committees of selectors who are reference librarians or you might have people who only select books (who are then not talking to the people every day but it's got advantages, too). In academic libraries you typically have bibliographers or liaison librarians who have collection development duties for a group of related subject areas.  There's probably some head of these or head of collection management or at least a committee for the more strategic decisions.

So that's what I think you ought to know about that for now, but I'm always willing to add or correct as necessary.

5 responses so far

  • Dorothea Salo says:

    It's not SUPPOSED to sound attractive. *g* 'Splaining is a bad habit in practically everybody.

    Dirty little (academic) library secret: There's pretty decent evidence that lots of the books we buy go wholly unused.

    • Ian says:

      80% of use comes from 20% of the collection in most areas. Though shoddy cataloguing practice from years past bears some of the blame in our collection anyway.

    • Christina Pikas says:

      I wouldn't say it's a dirty little secret the 80-20 rule is very well known and established. In fact, it's often used as an example in statistics textbooks (like the one I had in sociology).

      Our collection, before we we required to get rid of it only had 25% of the items not checked out over the previous 10 years - that tells me that the collection was pretty tight. But, alas, if we were a bookstore --- this requires a whole blog post!

  • There is also a growing movement in libraries to move the selection responsibilities from the librarians to the users themselves. Disciplinary faculty do most of our selecting, and all users (including students) now have the ability to say "purchase this item" when submitting an ILL request. It's a bit controversial, but we've had good luck so far.

    As the subject specialist for the sciences, I only step in when funds are running short to say "do you really want to spend your money on that book we can get really quickly from our ILL consortium" or to clarify a particularly weird request.

    • Christina Pikas says:

      That's an interesting movement, and I've been reading discussions of it with interest. Dennis Dillon of UT describes their experiment here (read to the first e-mail quoted there). He calls traditional collection development "speculative". I worry about being caught flat-footed, but I guess if you have ebook vendors that supply immediately... The other concern is blowing the budget immediately.