Friday, August 23, 2013

Comp F: Collection development

Use the basic concepts and principles related to the selection, evaluation, organization, and preservation of physical and digital items and collections.


It is the job of librarians and other LIS professionals to develop and manage the collections they oversee to meet the needs of the clientele or patrons. There are several aspects to developing a good collection – it is not merely picking out the latest best-selling books. Every library has a unique user base, and the selection of materials must reflect the needs and wants of those users. As the user population or technology changes, the collection must be continuously updated and evaluated for effectiveness. The collection must be organized in a way that is suitable and beneficial for the clientele. Preservation of the materials must also be taken into consideration by the library staff.

  • Selection

A collection should be built and maintained to fit the scope of the library’s services. According to Evans (2008), “A thoughtfully developed collection can, and more often than not does, assist in generating very satisfied users” (as cited in Haycock and Sheldon, 2008, p. 88). A considered collection development policy can help outline the scope of a library’s collections, defining what is included and what is not included. It will assist the librarian in balancing short-term and long term interests, as well as addressing diversity issues in acquiring materials. No information service can answer every need for every person. It would require an unlimited amount of time, money, labor, and space to collect every piece of information available on every subject.

In order to select what is right for the library, the collections developer will rely on several methods for choosing materials. First, the librarian may look at normative needs, which are expert opinions on what materials to collect. These expert opinions may come from reviews, such as those in the School Library Journal or the New York Times Book Review, or from guides published by professional groups like the American Library Association. A collection development librarian may also rely on felt needs, which are the opinions of the community about what should be included in a collection. This method should not be totally relied upon, because certain vocal members of the community may overpower others. A balance should be struck between normative and felt needs. Expressed needs should also be taken into account; patrons may say they want only classic novels, but borrower statistics might show that genre fiction is much more popular. One way librarians may build a collection is by benchmarking, or looking at the collections of libraries that have a similar purpose, size, and user population. Other factors also need to be taken into consideration when making the selections for a collection, such as the allotted budget, changes in clientele, and format of the items.

  • Evaluation

A good collection requires continuous evaluation. As a collection of print materials grows, so does the space and time required to maintain it. Sometimes additional storage can be obtained, but usually this is not economically feasible. For digital materials, lack of space isn’t always such a problem, but there are costs to consider (such as subscription costs). Therefore, collections are often weeded or assessed for usage. A librarian can also take into account the number of times an item has been checked out or accessed. If no one uses the item, it may not be worth the space it is taking up. Patrons can be given surveys to find out which items they are using, and whether or not they found everything they were looking for. The collection can be measured against standards to make sure it measures up. And with print materials, periodic weeding is necessary. This is the process of pulling worn out or outdated items from the collection.

  • Organization

There are many ways to organize materials in a collection. The most common for physical materials in libraries are the Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) system and the Library of Congress Classification (LCC) system; others – used in other countries or special collections – include Universal Decimal Classification, Colon Classification, and Iconclass. The DDC and LCC systems are hierarchical classification schemes, meaning the topics are in a tree-like structure. Each broad subject is divided into ever more specific subclasses. The DDC is in use by a large majority of public and school libraries, while academic and special libraries tend to use LCC.

To organize items digitally, most libraries use the MARC (Machine-Readable Cataloging) scheme. At its most basic level, it is a set of standards to create a record about an item and then share that record. Software tools can extract the information about an item to classify and organize it in various ways. For example, an item given a MARC record can be found by a user searching through topics in the local library’s OPAC (Online Public Access Catalog). Dublin Core, which is based on MARC, is a simple metadata element set. Digital items need their own organizational standards, and the Dublin Core Metadata Initiative endeavored to do just that. According to M. K. Bolin, “[Dublin Core] is an attempt to do for digital objects, image collections, and so on, what MARC did for cataloging and catalogs” (class notes, September 4, 2012). Many libraries, archives, and other information services use Dublin Core to organize their digital materials.

Items in a collection must be organized in a consistent and understandable way in order for patrons to be able to find what they are looking for. For many years, libraries and other information services used a set of rules called the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules, 2nd Edition (AACR2), to properly write out descriptions of all items for easier organization. This rule book governed the order, punctuation, and vocabulary of each item so it would be consistent across the collection. RDA, or Resource Description and Access, is the new standard that has just replaced AACR2. It is similar in format, but allows for more flexibility and is easier for any patron or library user to read and understand.

  • Preservation

Whether print or digital, library materials must be carefully preserved. Every library should have an emergency plan in place. This plan would outline policies and priorities for print materials in any kind of emergency, from a plumbing leak to an earthquake. The staff should know what materials have priority and be trained in how to handle wet documents. Historical and one-of-a-kind items should be prioritized in event of a disaster.

But physical materials aren’t at risk only during emergencies. They are also subject to deterioration and degradation constantly from outside sources such as light, moisture, dust, and heat. A library must have temperature and humidity controls, and collection materials must be kept out of direct sunlight as much as possible. The type of paper, binding, and ink used in the item can also affect how quickly it will deteriorate. Staff should keep the collection clean through regular dusting, vacuuming, and other housekeeping. Materials should be stored on proper shelving and handled carefully; books should not hang over the edge of shelves or lean to one side. The library collection developer must make sure that staff and volunteers are trained in properly handling the materials.

With digital items, preservation often becomes a problem as technology changes. As Rothenberg (1999) said, “Old bit streams never die – they just become unreadable” (p. 2). He cites the case of the U.S. Census information from 1960. Much of the data was saved on digital tapes, which became obsolete very quickly. Most was copied onto newer media, but some of the data was irretrievably lost. This is a much larger issue than one collection librarian can overcome, but it is something to consider. At the very least, digital assets should be backed up frequently and stored offsite, in case of disaster.


Evidence 1 is a discussion forum post from LIBR 285, called Discussion Main Street Collections. I did not take any classes in collection development, so I gleaned my information in bits and pieces from other classes. Surprisingly, much of what I learned about collection selection, acquisition, and evaluation came from my research methods class. Because it focused on history, we read four detailed library histories in the book Main Street Public Library: Community Places and Reading Spaces in the Rural Heartland, 1876-1956 by Wayne A. Wiegand. The book included information on specific books in each of the collections, and sometimes described why the librarians chose the materials they did.  It was an excellent lesson in changes in collection development in public libraries over 80 years. The post I am including sparked a long discussion with my classmates about the changes in community mores and the influence small-town librarians wielded in their communities by their collection choices. In the post, I praise the librarians for selecting items they knew would be immensely popular with their patrons – in this case, series fiction – rather than blindly following the strictures of the various library associations. But I mention that in some cases, the librarians do follow the ALA guides and acquire controversial but important works that were not in great demand by the community. This shows that I understand selection and evaluation of materials is a balancing act, requiring much thought, research, and community input to build a successful collection.

Evidence 2 is another discussion post from LIBR 204 (Discussion Emergency Plan). We were to find a good library emergency plan and describe what was included in the plan, based on the criteria from Evans and Ward (2007). I first tried the library where I volunteer, but the emergency plan there was lacking in many critical items. It was one page, and included only a phone tree and evacuation procedures; it listed no priorities or procedures in case of a disaster. I realized immediately that this was not a good plan to use as an example for class discussion. To contrast, I discovered an excellent emergency plan online from a community college library. This plan describes the procedures for preserving print materials in the event of an emergency. It may never be used, but a good plan will pay off in dividends if it becomes necessary. By describing the difference in the two plans, I prove that I understand the importance of a comprehensive preservation plan for all libraries.

Evidence 3 is not a physical document, but rather practical work I have done as a volunteer at my local public library, the Rohnert Park-Cotati Public Library. Over the two years I have been there, I have assisted the children’s librarians in several projects, mainly in the preservation and evaluation areas. I have gone through stacks of books that were possibilities for weeding, looking for tears and worn parts. Subject matter was also considered, since some of the books were biographies of former professional athletes or celebrities who are no longer popular among the children. The librarians have also had me help them with the preservation and organization of the picture books: cleaning, re-covering if needed, and stickering items. I have helped with the preservation of items in the library’s media collection, cleaning DVDs and CDs, and replacing cases and covers when necessary. This evidence proves that I understand the detailed work that goes into the preservation and evaluation of physical materials in a public library.

Evidence 4 is from my LIBR 281 seminar, which focused on metadata. The evidence is called Dublin Core Exercise, in which we had to generate plain-text records and enter them into the Dublin Core scheme. Since I have not taken a cataloging or collection class specifically, this assignment really helped me earn practical experience in organizing collection materials digitally. This evidence proves I understand the principles of digital organization using the common metadata scheme of Dublin Core.    


For a collection to be useful to patrons, it must contain suitable materials, organized in such a way that they are easy to find, and properly maintained and preserved. Evans (2008) says it best: “Having the right items, at the right time, in the right format is the essence of a valued collection” (In Haycock, 2008, p. 95). These principles can be of use in any context of a collection in the LIS field. Even if I do not end up working in a traditional library setting, this can be applied to collections of digital items as well.


Evans, G. E. (2008). Reflections on creating information service collections. In K. Haycock & B. E. Sheldon (Eds.), The portable MLIS: Insights from the experts (p. 87-97). Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

Evans, G. E. & Ward, P. L. (2007). Management basics for information professionals (2nd ed.). New York City, NY: Neal-Schuman Publishers.

Rothenberg, J. (1999). Ensuring the longevity of digital information. (White paper). Rand Corporation, Santa Monica, CA. Retrieved from

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