To collect or not to collect, that is the question: part i

Backstory

First, I must reveal a secret to you: I have had no formal training or have taken classes in collection development.  So my methods of selection and purchasing may be a bit more erratic than others in my position.

Now the next thing I’m going to tell you is that I worked at a book store for five years and one of my primary responsibilities was ordering in new titles, weeding out unpurchased titles, and general section maintenance.  I was in charge of one of the largest sections in the store which comprised of fiction, poetry, SF/F, romance, mythology, manga, graphic novels, and gaming books. This is my education.

The blasphemy: To me, collection development in a library and maintaining a section in a bookstore are strikingly close to being the same process.

Some librarians, when I’ve postulated this hypothesis, have argued with me that there was NOTHING remotely similar between the two functions. I disagree. Are we both collecting for the community? Yes. Are we being mindful of what we’re collecting? Yes. Are we promoting our collections via various means? Yes. Are we purchasing titles on recommendations? Yes. Do we accept donations? Bookstore: To an extent, if they have used book section. Libraries: Typically, yes.

How are these not similar?

When my friend Carolyn started her new gig as an academic librarian recently, she approached myself and a few other  mutual academic librarian friends for advice on collection development in an academic environment.

As I had been thinking about this very topic for some time given my own unorthodox background, I thought this was a perfect time to write something up.

Collection Policy

GRCC Library‘s multipage collection policy can be best summed up as thus:

The library collects to support the curriculum in any capacity. We also collect titles by authors that are connected to the city or state in some fashion. In addition, we will collect for professional development if the titles are applicable across a fairly broad spectrum.

I should mention what we purchase, we are mindful we’re purchasing for an area that is incredibly narrow: community college. Not quite high school, not quite four year universities so purchasing items can be a bit tricky.  While we have a fiction collection, we’re less likely to purchase fiction titles since we’re a block from GRPL. The exceptions to this is if the title is by a Michigan author or an instructor is teaching a class with a specific title, in which we’ll then have copies available. We also collect to support events on or connected to campus if the person has a book, journal, or other out in publication.

I sometimes stretch the boundaries a bit and will purchase items that are not only not in our collection but are also not easily available to obtain from the state consortium.  An example of this is Henry Rollins, writer, poet, spoken word and general renaissance man, who tours a lot to support his work. He’s been attached to various larger universities in the state for his performances and yet, the availability of most of his work is incredibly limited to get  from our state consortium.  I took this opportunity to change that by buying all of his available print work for our collection.  In so far as I know, we’re the only library in the state with a large catalog of his available print works.

The library is structured as follows: there are five full time librarians and two adjunct librarians who share liaison duties. Each librarian is a liaison to numerous departments and as liaisons, one of our jobs is to buy materials to support that departments curriculum needs.  My departments are:

Now items that cross departments (a title that could be in either one or the other OR something we’ve seen and think the college should own) or reference based, are purchased via mutual agreement between the fulltime librarians. We have a set budget that is divided across the departments and how much each department gets fluctuates every year. For example, I have one department I cannot spend all their allocated sources no matter how much I try, so this year I’ll put the surplus back in the pool to reallocate to another department for next year.

Our collection development budget is for print, ebooks, video, periodicals. Databases are reoccurring costs are not included in this line item .

We have to spend the cash within our fiscal year (July 1 to June 30).

This is all pretty straight forward and easy to follow.  I have the policy in hand, a list of my departments, and a budget to spend.  So now what?

Part ii: The Slings and Arrows