Collection Development's Influence | Technical Services & Collection Development | Circulation & Collection Development | Customers & Collection Development | Internet Use & Other Access Issues | Programming As Part of Information Resources | Further Information | Self-Assessment #21
Collection Development's Influence
In every library organization, the decisions, values, policies, and procedures that concern what the library will provide as information resources in terms of both physical items and electronic files influences every other aspect of library operations. It is the recognition of this fact that has led many larger library organizations to include the person responsible for over-all collection development coordination as a member of the management team with the authority and responsibility to work with all aspects of the organization with regards to the cause and effect relationship between the other units and collection development. For example, if collection development has as a goal an increase in the number of audio books to be made available to the users, the systems staff may need to be involved in the plans and negotiation of a contract to provide downloadable audio books rather than physical audio CDs. If in addition, the collection development goal includes increasing the number of physical audio books on CD, the questions about where they will be stored and displayed, the circulation period for them, and the processing of them may be issues that need to be negotiated with other personnel in the library.
Recognizing the implications of collection development for other library operations is an important aspect of being able to actually “do” collection development well in your library. The sections below briefly raise some of the related issues for various areas of the library. In a small library, one person may be responsible for all of these aspects; it is still worthwhile to understand how the need for the goals of one operation to agree with the goals of the other operations can make a difference. Libraries too often say one thing in their mission but then establish procedures that are in direct conflict with the mission, values and goals that the library espouses. This lack of logical progression from mission to procedures and operations is often easily identified in the realm of collection development.
Garcia and Nelson in identifying and delineating the latest version of the service responses for public libraries, (see Community Needs Assessment) provide excellent examples of how particular service responses will likely influence policies in circulation, collection development, programming, facility use, personnel and other areas of library operations. In addition, they outline some of the typical resource issues that will be affected by the selection of each service response. Ideally, a library engaging in the preparation of a collection development policy will also have completed a planning process and identified priority service responses, but if a collection development policy is to be prepared prior to a planning process or if you are new to collection development concepts, the section below is intended to help you ask the types of questions and to recognize the issues that can sometimes put collection development goals and other library operations at odds.
Technical Services & Collection Development
Most of what we think of as collection development obviously has much to do with technical services operations. This comes as no surprise. Perhaps what we fail to realize is how important the goals of collection development rather than either “how we have always done it” or “easiest for staff” should be the determining factors for how work is organized and completed in technical services. Below is a list of possible areas to consider when examining the ways in which the procedures can influence the ultimate results no matter how good the collection development itself is done.
- Who decides where and how each item will be purchased?
- Purchasing / acquisitions clerk or librarian?
- Selector who knows why it is being purchased (request, review, grant, replacement, suggestion, best selling author’s next book, support for a library program, etc.)
- Does the selector or public service staff have any say in this?
- What factors are used to determine where to buy those things selected for purchase? (vendor, local bookstore, Internet source, new or used?) How do these decisions affect the ability of the library to meet patron needs?
- Most reliable?
- Other considerations?
- In what order are things processed once they arrive and why? In other words, is the ease of staff or the meeting of patron needs the key factor here?
- First in, first out?
- Last in, first out?
- Easiest first, problems later? (adult fiction & nonfiction first & media later!)
- Ranking used by selector at time of order? (high priority or rush, ordinary or no indicator, low priority or whenever or some such coding system?)
- A standard set of priorities such as any items with holds, then adult fiction & nonfiction best sellers, then other adult materials, then children’s, then media? Why? Does this make sense? How much work does it take to identify and sort the material in this manner?
- Where do “projects” fit into the workflow? (changing what is already in the collection and cataloging or withdrawing items weeded, etc.)
- Where do mending and repairs fit into the workflow and how do they influence the total processing work?
- Who decides how much perfection is needed for catalog and item records and why?
- The person doing the cataloging?
- The whole library organization by considering the cost-benefit issues?
- Under what circumstances does the library “correct” or change bibliographic records when and if downloaded from elsewhere?
- Does the library strictly follow AACR2 rules or does the library as a whole consider these as guidelines with reasonable access by users as the primary purpose?
- For original cataloging, what degree of completeness is the goal: Level 1 (minimal but correct), Level 2 (enhanced & used by most libraries), or Level 3 (complete & research appropriate)?
- Has this even been addressed? Who has been involved in the discussion?
- Is there clarity about the purpose of descriptive cataloging and classification?
- What are the guidelines and cost-benefit issues for the various types of physical processing for all types of items? Who decides how it will be done?
- Has the library regularly considered the cost-benefit of using reinforcing materials and covers for paperback books? Is the expected life of all paperback books worth reinforcing everyone or is selectivity an option?
- Who decides what goes on the spine label and where the label goes? What are the reasons for the current choices? Are they still good reasons?
- Is patron access and ease of use or staff preferences the deciding factor?
- Are decisions made with the idea of “protecting” things rather than “using them up”? What makes sense in today’s highly changeable world?
- Who decides the best “collection” in which to place an item? (circulating, reference, special collection, easies, Juv nonfiction, young adult fiction or adult fiction or Juv fiction, etc.)
- The selector?
- The cataloger?
- A set of guidelines that make the decision easy?
- How much trouble is it to change an item from one “collection” to another and who can do it?
- And increasingly important, who decides what things to borrow through interlibrary loan and what things to just buy for the patron who made a request?
- Does a request on an interlibrary loan form (paper or electronic) automatically result in an ILL request? What is the hidden cost of that transaction? Can the library afford it? Can the library community as a whole afford it?
- Does a librarian look at each request and determine the best way to “get” the item for a patron? What does best mean? Fastest? Cheapest? Most useful? When does buying a new or used copy (all items borrowed from the library in general are, after all, used anyway!) make more sense in terms of service and economics than borrowing it?
- How much labor goes into an interlibrary loan at both ends of the transaction? What do you have to show for it after it is done?
- How much labor and other costs go into buying it instead and having something in the collection that will be used by others?
- What is the cost-benefit consideration either way?
- What role might collection development play in reviewing patron requests as simply patron requests that can be filled in a number of possible ways? How can collection development policies and selection criteria be used to determine what to borrow and what to buy?
From all of these questions and issues it should be clear to you that how collection development plays out in the library and for the patron is greatly influenced by what does or does not happen in the technical services operation of the library. Even when the same people do the public and the technical operations we sometimes fail to ask the questions that will make a difference. Question everything!
Circulation & Collection Development
The relationship between collection development and circulation policies is probably fairly obvious to most of us but seldom does a library consciously examine its policies and procedures related to cards, access, overdue items, fines, fees and circulation periods in light of collection development. The values inherited from Nineteenth Century librarianship continue to hold sway at many circulation desks where protecting the books and punishing the malefactors seems to be the primary order of the day despite an emphasis in theory on customer service. While every community of users has its individuals and families who are less than responsible about returning library materials, the majority of these individuals and families are also less than fully responsible in other areas of their lives. They do not pay the utility bills on time, are running from the credit card companies, and in other ways do not have a culture of responsible citizenship. Our efforts at changing them and/or punishing them with fines seldom results in funding that covers the costs of the fine tracking, the notices, the letters, and the materials themselves which is what we really want. In many communities, the fines go right back to the city or county to be used for expenses other than the library or the collection. It actually costs more to track the malefactors and their deeds than it does to put our efforts only into retrieving non-returned items. We want more people to use the library for more things. We want to be user-friendly community centers yet punishment, in the form of fines, continues to be part of our culture. As a result, those working in circulation often perceive their jobs as tracking the deadbeats, collecting fines, and having negative rather than positive interactions with customers. In addition, if libraries only pursued those who do not return materials (say, within one month of the date due) then libraries might be taken more seriously since then library mail would likely be a bill not just a fine notice. Further, the concept we would be dealing with would clearly be “stealing” public property rather than merely having “over due” materials. Some libraries have had great success with dropping fines but having a donation container handy so that individuals can make a donation (guilt money sometimes!) which the library or the library’s foundation can then use for library purposes. Many library users will actually give you more than what the fine would have been. Also library visitors who came in just to use the Internet will be happy to drop in a donation for the privilege of being allowed to use your public library’s Internet connection or WiFi zone.
A library’s policies regarding something as simple as circulation periods for various formats and collections can be quite daunting to the user and these policies sometimes discourage use rather than encouraging it. Some questions to ask about such policies might be:
- When was the last time we seriously considered our circulation policies and the lifestyle of our library community? How long has the library been using the current schedule and what was the original rationale for it?
- What would be the advantages and/or disadvantages of making any changes?
- Would more consistency encourage more use?
- Would media shelves be empty if the period for circulation was the same as that for books? What would be the result of empty shelves for high demand items?
- Do materials need to be returned to the library building? Are there other options? What are the costs and the benefits?
- Drop-off sites elsewhere in town?
- Mail pouches for those far from town? (with high gas prices, would customers rather pay the postage than drive to town to return the materials?)
- At what age may a person get a library card and under what conditions?
- How well does this current system work?
- Is there something that might work better for the customers?
- As Garcia and Nelson point out in the 2007 Public Library Service Responses, if a library is making Create Young Readers: Early Literacy an emphasized service response, then the whole issue of who can have a library card, at what age and under what circumstances has to support this initiative. If young parents and children from birth to five years of age are the target audience, what might need to change in your library regarding library cards? Could it change regardless of your service response selection? Why or why not? If I have to be able to write my name before I can get a library card, what does this do to those we might most need our services?
- What implications for collection development are there if we are emphasizing service to children five and younger? What will we stop buying in order to buy more than the handful of board books we now have?
Again, while these are only a few of the circulation issues related to collection development and the use of resources, it is easy to see that we do not question enough things that are done in the library. The relationship of one set of procedures and policies to other procedures and policies in the library should be considered on a regular basis. More importantly, the relationship of policies and procedures to the goals of the library as articulated in the library’s strategic plan needs to be constantly monitored.
Customers & Collection Development
Libraries have always welcomed suggestions by patrons regarding possible resources for the library. Many libraries respond quickly to such suggestions and even respond to the patron with the decision of the library regarding a suggested title, subject or even format. It still seems, however, that most libraries have not done nearly enough to make the concept of patron input in the form of suggestions both a very visible option and a very positive experience.
Some questions and ideas:
- Is the “suggestion box” available from the library’s homepage or do I have to be a walk-in user to make a suggestion (about the collection or anything else)?
- Does every reasonable suggestion receive a prompt response if contact information is provided?
- Does the library ever conduct mini-surveys for regular library users about the “collection” they use most and what they would like to see added (in terms of authors, types of material, formats, etc.)? Do we tend to assume that since lots of mystery books go out, it must be a good collection? Who better to tell us how to improve it than those most interested in that part of the library? Could we have roaming staff give out very short suggestion surveys to users in the appropriate stack areas now and then? Could we have roaming staff simply talk to people in the stacks about a particular collection to solicit feedback and suggestions?
- Using statistics regarding use and circulation has been helpful for collection development but what other ways might there be to reasonably involve our users in collection development?
Internet Use & Other Access Issues
Libraries are encouraging all segments of the public to use the library for Internet access. Through the planning process we are identifying roles that will be emphasized in our local library and yet we sometimes fail to see what mixed messages we are sending. If we are going to emphasize using the Internet to Connect to the Online World as a service response, then what might be the implications for the policies about who can use the computers, for how long, to do what, etc.? Some library policies seem to be at odds with the very concept of encouraging Internet use. Sometimes those who most need to use the Internet are those least able to provide the documentation required to get a library card that will enable them to use a computer at certain public libraries.
Another example in this realm is the availability of a wireless network in the library. What has the library done to encourage or discourage the use of the wireless network? Are electrical outlets easily found? Is there furniture that is comfortable for using a laptop computer and comfortable for people of many different sizes? Looking at the total resource implications across all spheres of library operations makes it far more likely that we can succeed in fulfilling our goals.
Programming As Part of Information Resources
It is perhaps surprising to realize that not all libraries realize the relationship between information resources in all forms and the topics of public programming in the library. Those planning programs and those developing and managing collections should talk to each other about the plans well in advance of any program. A program offers a wonderful opportunity to promote the other resources the library has available. Those staff members responsible for summer reading programs and children’s story hours almost always do great jobs of connecting the topics of the program with the books, media, and electronic resources available in the library. Those organizing other programs do not always think of the collection development aspects soon enough to have an impact. To acquire new books or new recordings or to do the research to find good websites takes time. Deciding to do a display or a bibliography (although we might call it something more user-friendly like “a list” . . .) the day of the program can be very discouraging if what we discover is that all the things on this topic are out, are in shabby condition, are old, or we have almost nothing at all. Programming is an information resource offered by the library and it should be coordinated with collection development in a timely manner.
Collection development permeates the entire library operation and goals and initiatives that affect collection development policies and procedures are likely to occur in all areas of the library. Recognizing how the entire organization can contribute to or derail collection development work makes it possible to better assure success in collection development work.
For Further Information
There are four excellent sources of very current information regarding the ways in which collection development impacts other library operations. In addition, this is an area where creative thinking and open-minded problem solving are essential. Remember that there are always solutions. Sometimes the solutions are only “good enough for now” and sometimes the solutions are perfect. In any case, settling for the status quo rather than finding a better answer should not be the only acceptable answer.
Baker, S. L. & Wallace, K. L. (2002). The responsive public library collection: How to develop and market it (2nd. ed.). Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited, Inc.
Garcia, J. & Nelson, S. (2007). 2007 Public library service responses. Chicago: American Library Association. [electronic file available for purchase]
Nelson, S. (2001). The new planning for results: A streamlined approach. Chicago: American Library Association.
Nelson, S. & Garcia, J. (2003). Creating policies for results: From chaos to clarity. Chicago: American Library Association.