Competency F – Collection Development

Competency F – Collection Development

F – use the basic concepts and principles related to the selection, evaluation, organization, and preservation of physical and digital information items.

Meaning and Importance

All libraries, whether public or academic, need to have processes in place for the organization and preservation of physical and digital information items. Furthermore, library staff need to be able to select and evaluate which items need to be added, maintained, and removed from the collection. What may have been perfect for the library’s community in 1980 may not necessarily have the same importance in 2010, for instance. On the other hand, that same item may have some historical value, and so much be preserved. All of these needs must be considered against the very real problems of budget, storage, and usability.

Because most libraries do not have the budget or the storage to simply add every published book or media item indiscriminately, librarians must make a conscious selection of materials. Some things to take into consideration are the library’s users (who will use the items) and their needs, what is already in the collection (and what is not), and what needs to be taken out of the collection.
For the first consideration, it’s important to remember that the library’s users are NOT just the patrons who actually check out items. The library’s community extends beyond the library card—people who come into the library to read books but can’t check them out for whatever reason—and for this reason a thorough analysis of who is using the library and what they need is necessary for any cohesive collection development. A good way to get started on that would be to conduct a regular environmental scan, and keep track of the ever-changing patron community.

Doing regular inventory and/or weeding can be very helpful for the selection process. Doing inventory allows librarians to see what they already have in the collection, and what topics they might need more of. If there’s a large, but outdated, computer reference section, for instance, regular inventory should bring that issue to light. Weeding, then, would clear the way for new materials to be added. Materials that are outdated, damaged, or hideously unpopular (depending on the type of library and its users) should be considered for removal.

Evaluation can be of the entire collection as well as the individual items in it, and often goes hand-in-hand with selection. Weeding, for instance, is evaluating the usefulness of a particular item in relation to its supposed user, balanced against the library’s available storage and budget.
Librarians also evaluate books they are thinking of selecting for the collection by using resources such as review media (websites, trade publications), review copies from publishers, and requests from the public to help narrow down their choices.

Organization of a collection can be very different depending on the library and its patrons’ needs. Academic libraries, for instance, organize their collection very differently from public libraries. However, usually libraries tend to use either the DDC or LCC conventions for the non-fiction items, while fiction is sorted very broadly by the author’s last name. Public libraries may also organize their collection by target audience (children, teens, adults), genre (scifi/fantasy, romance, mystery), format (DVD, paperback, hardcover) and popularity (new books).

Preservation can again vary depending on the library and its users’ needs. An academic library may need to keep something in its collection for much longer than a public library, and so it needs specific preservation strategies. However, almost all libraries use some form of preservation, such as keeping their collection in a controlled climate, mending damaged items, and digitizing out of print/rare/historically significant items.


Analysis of Collection Development Policy – Click here to view the document.

I am very interested in collection development, and so I ended up taking several courses which relate to that topic. However, one class in particular allowed me to engage with all four of the concepts mentioned above. In INFO 284 SEMINAR IN ARCHIVES AND RECORDS MANAGEMENT (Special Collections), I analysed Cornell University Library’s Division of Rare & Manuscript Collections’ collection development policy.

This process first involved tracking down the policy on the Cornell University’s website, which luckily was fairly straightforward and easy to find. Cornell also has a well-developed and comprehensive collection development policy, which covered all the major concerns and allowed me to really think about and consider what sort of details are needed in any working collection development policy.

Because the Rare Manuscript Collection collects a wide variety of items, this means their collection policy is somewhat vague on the specifics of what they actually collect. This allows them greater freedom in adding or removing items from their collection, as the only restriction really is that the item has enduring historical and cultural value, and serves a use for their patrons (faculty, students, members of the public). The fact that they place emphasis on the usefulness of their collection for their patrons falls in line with the expectations of any library– the community’s interests and needs should always be taken into consideration above (almost) everything else.

As a special library, the RMC doesn’t have to worry about necessarily having a balanced collection, as they’re focused on collecting historical works and are not worried about presenting current information. So, they don’t have to worry about keeping their computer section up-to-date, as their patrons don’t need those resources from them. Instead, the RMC’s selection process involves seeking out “rare” books with historical value. The policy doesn’t go into detail on how they do that, exactly, but it’s no doubt a combination of donations and deliberate purchases from reliable sources, much like any other library.

The RMC’s evaluation procedure was not very detailed, but it did mention who assesses new acquisitions for inclusion into the collection. Rare books are often damaged, worn, or otherwise needing extra consideration of handling due to condition; the RMC’s technical staff handles this aspect of evaluation as well as any preservation needs (mending). Going further into preservation, the RMC has a temperature and humidity-controlled environment to house their collection in, as well as automatic systems in case of fire or floods. Their policy didn’t mention anything about digital preservation or physical preservation of individual items, however.

And finally, the RMC policy details what happens to materials that are deaccessed (weeded). Duplicate materials, or items not within the scope of the RMC collecting areas, are transferred to other libraries (within and without Cornell University).

After going through the policy itself, I then wrote an analysis of how effective I thought it was, what could be improved, and what I would like to see in any updated editions of the collection. This assignment involved thinking deeply about the creation of a collection development policy, as well as the act of maintaining and preserving a collection. Having completed the assignment, I now know more about the concepts and principles of collection development.

Future Application

In the future, I will use the knowledge I learned at SJSU to advocate for a thorough collection development policy, as well as making sure to balance adding any new items with weeding of outdated items. I will also be open to suggestions from the library’s patrons, since sometimes they can see where there are gaps in the collection before staff can conduct a thorough inventory.

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