Collection Development: art form, or form of science?

14 Nov

Depending on who you talk to (and right now it’s me), collection development can be one of the most important aspects of library’s work, one of the most overlooked, or one that gets way too much money from other avenues.  I, being involved in a love affair with collection dev and management, as well as all things paperwork, happen to think it’s highly important.  Think about it: without collection development, there is no assessment of what your users need/want to use, and users go away.  At its heart, collection development makes the library.

It’s not just about books, either.  It’s about websites, subscription services, A/V materials, and the occasional self-generated material.  Make no mistake, if you’re doing collection development, you need to like lists, and you need to  like catalogs.  Not OPACs, but reading through catalogs and reviews.

I think collection development includes making your collection more accessible for your users, so you need to be up-to-date on technologies that make it possible.  For instance, I use Blekko as a search engine for our school because it’s easy to point to and tell the students that within the sites, they will find 100% vetted, reliable information that they can be sure will be acceptable in a paper.  And it lets me shift some onus onto the program directors, getting them to share resources they’ve found with me.

Collection development takes a lot of patience, a lot of research, and a lot of evaluation of user needs in order to build a relevant collection, making it a lot of science-type work.  I argue that it also takes a certain intuition, thinking outside the norm for your patrons to stretch the reaches of what they like/need without alienating them with the too-different.  In that way, it’s an art form, requiring a delicate touch.

It also requires the ability to step back from what you like, and pick what others like (and you might hate).  It’s a selfless act, choosing materials without bias and representing viewpoints you don’t agree with.  I feel that if there aren’t at least a few materials in each order/batch of materials you accumulate that you don’t want to ever read or engage with, then you haven’t done your job.

If you want to do collection development, you should be detail-oriented, love trolling trade catalogs and Amazon and Barnes and Noble (their recommendations provide some unique suggestions), and be prepared to spend money on things you don’t like.  It’s rewarding, but time-consuming, at times fun and at time smash-your-face-into-your-desk frustrating.  So consider what you’ll be putting into it before you sign up.

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