Overview of Collection Development

Defining Collection Development  |  Basic Functions  |  Official Written Documentation  |  Further Information  |  Self-Assessment #2

Defining Collection Development

Collection development (also known as collection management, materials management, or information resources management) involves the identification, selection, acquisition, and evaluation of library resources (e.g., print materials, audiovisual materials, and electronic resources) for a community of users. While it is the goal of collection development to meet the information needs of everyone in a user community, this is not ever entirely realized due to financial constraints, the diversity of user information needs, and the vast amount of available information. Nonetheless, public libraries strive to provide the greatest number of library resources to meet the information and recreational needs of the majority of their user community, within the confines of fiscal realities.

Collection development is at the heart of what libraries do. It is in being able to meet the needs of individuals with the "right stuff" that we fulfill our missions. For some the "right stuff" will be the technology we make available while for others it will be just the right book, the right fact, the great article, the best movie, or the audio book to entertain the whole family on a long drive. For others it might be our recognition that just having a welcoming, quiet safe place to hang out is the “right stuff” and for still others the programming we provide is part of the "right stuff" for our information and cultural resources. We provide the link between the various definitions of the "right stuff" and the individuals in our community. In order to do this well, we have to have some understanding of both the potential world of the "right stuff" and our unique community of potential library users. This site is about helping you develop the skills that enable you to make that successful connection between a single person and the "right stuff" over and over again.

Collection development can be divided into two parts, both of which are addressed in this training site:

  1. Basic functions or work processes that virtually every public library performs during the collection development process (i.e., selection and acquisition of purchased information resources and materials, the selection of materials and resources that arrive as donations or gifts, the de-selection or weeding of materials that are deemed no longer appropriate for a particular library, the defense of the basic tenants of Intellectual Freedom in a democratic society, and activities and processes to best preserve or maintain these resources for their useful life), and
  2. Official written documentation that provides the rationale to inform the collection development functions and processes for the benefit of library staff members, library governing boards, and the user community. These documents explain the principles guiding collection development activities for a specific library. To prepare the necessary documentation, a library will periodically engage in a planning process (see Nelson, 2001) involving the community in helping to determine the ways in which the library can best meet the current needs of its potential user community, and the library will map or assess its information resources to understand the nature and characteristics of the existing collections in order to set goals and make plans to meet those goals. They will then write and adopt an official collection development policy statement that will contain or link to a summary of the community profile information used in the planning process and reference the information resources assessment and the collection development activities and/or projects that will move the existing resource picture to alignment with the service responses selected for emphasis in the planning process. Public libraries of all sizes need to be guided by these data-rich documents that outline the principles and unique environment for a particular library and its collection development activities.

This section provides a brief introduction to the primary components of the collection development process. You can use this section to get a quick idea of which aspect of collection development is of interest to you. While we have divided up the collection development process into discrete sections, collection development is not a linear process; each component of the process overlaps with one or more of the other components at various times and to various degrees.

Basic Functions

Most people think about the following operations as part of collection development: selection of library materials, acquisitions, gifts, weeding, preservation, and protecting intellectual freedom. These are the types of collection development functions that are performed by almost every public library.

  • Selection of Library Materials
    Selection is at the heart of the collection development process. This core function builds the library’s collection for a particular user community. Skill, knowledge, and the right tools are required to select appropriate library materials and sources that meet the needs of the community. To aid you in the challenging task of building an appropriately balanced collection that meets the needs of your user community, this training site provides suggested evaluation criteria, a sampling of selection tools, and a discussion of other selection considerations.
    • Books (Print & Electronic)
      Books are still the main staple of a public library collection and are likely to remain so, at least for recreational reading, for the foreseeable future. This section gives pointers on how to evaluate books and identifies several selection tools that may help you make selection decisions. It also discusses the role of E-books in today’s library environment.
    • Audiovisual Materials
      Given the need to sometimes view or listen to audiovisual materials, the process involved in the selection of audiovisual materials can be a bit more involved than that for books but most of the principles remain the same. Selection tips, criteria and special issues for sound recordings (CDs, M3P and other digitized files) as well as motion pictures (DVDs and digitized files for downloading) are provided. Mention is also made of the issues associated with maps, globes, games, and kits.
    • Periodicals & Newspapers
      Periodicals (including magazines, journals, and newspapers) present unique collection challenges. In some ways those challenges have been somewhat mitigated by the use of periodical databases. Because periodicals are published on a continuing basis, they require ongoing commitments that are different from monographic items. This section identifies selection considerations for periodicals, as well as selection criteria and resources that should aid in the selection process.
    • Electronic & Internet Resources
      Increasingly, information is being stored digitally and disseminated electronically. Indexes, dictionaries, encyclopedias, games, and all types of materials are available for purchase or for free access on the Web. This section addresses content, access, technical support, cost, and legal considerations related to the selection of electronic resources the library might license for access as well as addressing the issues related to the glut of potential information on the Web. The issues of quality, reliability, authority, and usability are key considerations for these. Incorporating Internet websites as resources for the library must be based upon criteria that are congruent with the library’s collection development philosophy and policies. This section serves as an introduction to the concepts and vocabulary that will enable you to build a collection of Internet resources appropriate for your community. Specifically, this section supplies some information on locating good, reliable, and interesting sites, and suggests some evaluation criteria for Web pages.
    • Government Documents
      While smaller public libraries seldom collect extensive materials produced by the state or federal depository programs, the roll of documents in public libraries is important, especially those documents produced by local governmental agencies. This section serves to explain the role of depository libraries and to discuss the role of even the smallest library with regards to documents of local interest.
  • Special Collections
    Libraries seem to be particularly fond of creating so-called “special collections.” The discussion of the pros and cons of creating, isolating, and maintaining such collections will be explored so as to help you be discerning regarding special collections, to understand their purpose, and to write meaningful policy statements to guide the rational development of such collections. Too many special collections are not special at all! In Arizona libraries there are many examples of Arizona or Southwest collections that are often not all that special but are rather what might be called “areas for emphasis” in the collections.
  • Acquisitions
    After you have selected the library materials you would like to add to your collection, you must acquire them. The acquisitions process involves confirming the details of price and publication, locating the item, ordering it, and processing the item and the paperwork once they arrive. This section considers possible acquisition strategies, defines commonly used terms, and suggests ways to simplify the process using automation and the Web. Acquisition procedures are discussed for books, periodicals, audiovisual materials, electronic resources, government documents, local history, Arizona and Southwest materials, or other state and regional items for libraries located elsewhere in the country.
  • Gifts
    Many public libraries receive donations of books and other materials from members of the community. While donations are generally welcomed by libraries, accepting donations can be a tricky business, depending on who is making the gift, the needs of the library, and the donor’s wishes for the gift. This section discusses some of the issues surrounding donations, suggests efficient ways to handle gifts, and presents other ways to involve the community in collection development.
  • Weeding
    Weeding (also known as deselection) is a periodic or continual evaluation of resources intended to remove items that are no longer useful from the collection. Weeding is one of the most controversial aspects of collection development. A carefully prepared and fully documented policy on weeding (as part of your overall collection development policy) can lessen or alleviate some misunderstandings. This section discusses the rationale for weeding, presents the benefits of weeding as well as some reasons it is difficult to accomplish, provides practical information for use in planning and conducting weeding, and options for the materials you remove.
  • Preservation
    All libraries must decide what to do with items in disrepair. At what point is an item beyond repair? Should it be replaced? Preservation and conservation refer to the processes of monitoring the physical condition of the library’s materials and taking action to prevent further deterioration. This section discusses some of the most common preservation and conservation problems faced in a small library (such as climate control, infestations of insects, mold or mildew, and brittle paper) and common techniques used to handle these problems including preventative measures.
  • Intellectual Freedom
    Every type of library experiences challenges to materials and information sources provided by the library. Public and school libraries are particularly likely to be challenged regarding access to materials as the different values and belief systems held by some community members come into conflict with those of others. This section discusses where censorship comes from, some of the main intellectual freedom issues to consider during the selection process (e.g., balance, questionable truth, obscenity), and procedures to follow if you are faced with a challenge to an item in your collection. Given the concerns about how the Internet is used, especially among school-aged children, this section also provides links to sample Internet Use Policies.

Official Written Documentation

While most librarians have a fairly good sense of the character of their library’s collections, what their users want from their library, and how their collections are used, periodically one must step back and reevaluate collection priorities and preconceived notions of the community’s needs and expectations. The following three types of official written documentation are important elements for successful collection development in libraries of all sizes: (1) a strategic plan for the library that delineates the specific service responses the library will use to meet the needs of the community; (2) an official collection development policy statement; and, (3) a collection assessment or collection map that identifies both the strengths and weaknesses of the collection and any needed changes as a result of the strategic plan. Two of these, a strategic plan and a collection development policy, are official library documents that are approved by the board. The third, collection assessment documentation, is likely to be a working set of statistics, notes, and correlations that provide insight and understanding about the existing information resources relative to the community of users, the library’s service responses, and needed future collection activities. These documents are the result of three separate library projects but they are closely related to one another and must be in agreement about the directions for information resource management and the implications for library operations of all types. The planning process and the resulting written plan must be completed before a revision of the collection development policy or even a collection assessment will be possible and useful. Together these three projects and their documentation provide valuable information for the management of all library resources. It is essential for libraries of all sizes to adapt the general procedures and activities of the planning process to their local situation so that they can engage in planning every four to six years. While assessing the existing resources and doing strategic planning require an investment of staff time and resources, they are the only means of designing a meaningful roadmap to take the library to its next destination along the road to further excellence. In our quickly changing world, planning is essential for all sizes and types of libraries to take seriously with appropriate adaptations based upon staffing and other resources./p>

  • Strategic Plan Resulting From Planning Process & Service Responses
    The planning process involves collecting data on the community and the library and engaging key individuals in a dialogue about the best possible future for the service area and the resulting needs of the community to be met by the library. In order to do this, one needs to collect data that accurately describes and characterizes the community. The planning process and the resulting plan itself, provide the library with much valuable information. The plan outlines the goals and objectives that will guide the library over the next several years. This section will only briefly discuss the planning process and will primarily refer users to the book by Sandra Nelson, The New Planning for Results: A Streamlined Approach and its companion publications regarding policies, staffing, and other resource issues as well as the eighteen 2007 service responses endorsed by the American Library Association and prepared by June Garcia and Sandra Nelson. We will also explain more about what you can expect to gain by engaging in a formal planning process and how the resulting goals and objectives will address all of the library’s resources necessary to specific service responses.
  • Collection Development Policy Statement
    A collection development policy is a written statement of your library’s intentions for building its collection. It describes the collection’s strengths and weaknesses and provides guidelines for the staff. This section discusses the importance of collection development policies, outlines the basic elements of these policies, and identifies the steps involved in writing a policy for a library. An excellent site for finding examples of library policies of all types is the Sample Public Library Policies & Development Tips maintained by the Mid-Hudson Library System. You will find useful links to policies of all types as well as links to other sites with library information. You may wish to revisit this site many times during the course of working through the entire collection development unit.
  • Collection Mapping or Assessment
    Collection assessment or collection mapping is “an organized process for systematically analyzing and describing a library’s collection” and representing the results in statistical and narrative formats. Assessments are conducted to provide several kinds of important information to libraries. They help clarify the existing information resources context, supply data useful in setting funding priorities, and build a base of information from which to adjust collection development to more closely fit the goals and objectives set forth in the strategic plan. This section discusses several methods and techniques for assessment. While assessment is somewhat easier when the library is already automated and able to generate various types of statistics about its collection as well as about the use of that collection, assessment can be done without such computer-generated reports and still be useful. One of the key benefits of collection assessment is what the library staff members learn about the characteristics and hidden “holes” and “treasures” of the collections.

For Further Information

Evans, G. E., & Saponaro, M. Z. (2005). Developing library and information center collections (5th ed.). Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited. [This detailed textbook is the standard used in college courses especially for public & school library courses.]

Johnson, P. (2004). Fundamentals of collection development & management. Chicago: American Library Association. [Also available as an electronic book through NetLibrary.]

Lukenbill, W. B. (2002). Collection development for a new century in the school library media center. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. [General principles discussed here apply to public libraries as well.]

Nelson, S. (2001). The new planning for results: A streamlined approach. Chicago: American Library Association.

Products & Publications. American Library Association. 2006. [Source for identifying appropriate titles on collection development currently published by the American Library Association.]


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