As part of a larger departmental reorganization that also involves posting a vacancy, recently I have been transitioning to a new professional role that emphasizes collection development. I’ve been trying to approach my new responsibilities methodically and have been pursuing what seems obvious and logical: I attended ALA this summer, I joined a few listservs, I’ve been following up on recommended readings and I even took an online class on the basics of collection development. But all these are only helpful up to a certain point. Here are a few of the issues I’m currently grappling with — is anyone else in the same boat?
To start, our particular collection seems to need as much energy invested in de-selection as selection. The college needs space for new ventures, and the print periodical indexes we’ve kept for all these years aren’t getting any less out of date. This type of work is neither glamorous nor inspirational, and I’m keenly aware that to some patrons deaccessioning can seem like a violation of trust. On the other hand, a message I’ve heard repeatedly around libraryland (here and here for examples) is that libraries should be de-emphasizing collections. If I understand correctly, librarians instead should be focused on new service models, creating an information literate population and fostering the production of content, rather than acting as a book museum. Speaking as a patron, I have little idea what all that means. As a new Collection Development librarian, it indicates that maybe I should not be spending a lot of time reading reviews — once a pretty standard task for a collections librarian. I do understand that there may no longer be a pressing need for libraries to act as warehouses, but theory aside there is less negative feedback from patrons when a library keeps something than when it discards it. In practice, this means that the best weeding is invisible. And on the bright side, deciding what we don’t need is easier than isolating precisely what we do and figuring out truly sensible ways to modify the collection as we move forward.
Because maybe to some people a preference for electronic materials whenever possible is a no-brainer, but in our case this would not suit many of our users. And when we do decide to purchase something electronically, should we be comfortable with a lease model, instead of straightforward ownership? (Committing to access instead of ownership implies that we could lose an entire collection overnight depending on finances that are often out of our control.) In an ideal leased collection, a library could change promptly and efficiently in response to the needs of the college. When libraries were dealing with cumbersome physical materials, this was a distant possibility except for at the best-funded, best-staffed libraries. Now that we’re in a world of patron-driven acquisitions and ubiquitous e-book collections, the possibility doesn’t seem so far off. But would the benefits outweigh the risk of losing everything by leasing such a collection? To a cynical information professional, electronic content can sometimes look like just another competitor in the format wars.
Of course, all of this thinking needs to be translated into a coherent collections policy, which is a third important challenge to address. In case it’s not obvious, I’m looking forward to the opportunity to work on these things! If anyone has suggestions for recommended resources, please do include them in the comments.