Defining Collection Development Policies | Importance of Collection Development Policies | Five Major Types of Elements in a Collection Development Policy | Preparing a Collection Development Policy | Further Information | Self-Assessment #17
Defining Collection Development Policies
Now that you worked your way through the previous topics regarding the actual processes and operations that constitute collection development and you understand the need for both strategic planning and collection assessment, you are ready to look at the preparation of a collection development policy. This first section on the policy will provide the framework and rationale for having a policy statement as well as give some advice about how to actually get a policy written. Further details about the contents of the policy will be provided in subsequent sections.
A collection development policy is a written statement of your library’s intentions for building its collection. It describes the collection’s strengths and weaknesses and provides guidelines for your staff. Producing one is a commitment; it takes time and careful consideration to develop a useful and relevant document. Once you have completed the document and your Library Board has approved it, it is a good idea to put your collection development policy on the World Wide Web as a resource for your own patrons and as an example for other librarians beyond your local community.
A collection development policy should be a living document, adaptable to change and growth. It provides guidelines that can be modified as your library’s collection needs change. This section discusses the importance of collection development policies, outlines the basic elements of these policies, and identifies the steps involved in writing a policy for your library. It should be noted, that as libraries put important policy and other documents on their websites, it is possible to link from one document to another without the need to duplicate information that once had to be included in more than one document. Use your common sense to determine when a section of the collection development policy might be excluded by linking to the same information in another official document also on the Web.
Importance of Collection Development Policies
Every library, no matter how small, should have a collection development policy. Such a policy is really an expanded version of the mission or purpose of the library. The policy can be useful in several ways. First, a policy provides a point of reference for staff to consult when deciding on whether to acquire, discard, or reject an item. By following the guidelines established in your policy, you can make more consistent and informed decisions about the collection and provide continuity during times of staff turnover or funding changes. In addition, your policy serves as a source of reinforcement when an item is challenged by a patron.
Five Major Types of Elements in a Collection Development Policy
A collection development policy is comprised of several elements, although the specific arrangement of these elements may vary somewhat from library to library. This section discusses the basic policy components and provides excerpts from actual collection development policies of public libraries to demonstrate how each section might be worded. We have quoted some policies when appropriate but have not included many links to the Web versions of public library collection development policies because libraries revise, reorganize and rewrite both their websites and their policies often enough that the links are unstable for any appreciable length of time. With a few exceptions we have left it to your judgment and initiative to find policies of interest to you.
With the ability of libraries to post important policies and other documents on their websites, it is now possible to streamline a collection development policy if a library has already engaged in strategic planning and creating a vision for the library for approximately the next five years. Such planning documents will have lengthy pieces that address many of the issues formerly reported only within a collection policy. By merely cross referencing the documents one can eliminate the need to put such elements as a description of the community and its information needs as well as a description of the library, its services, facilities, and other resources.
The five main components of a collection development or information resources policy are:
I. Introduction: Description of the Community and the Library
II. Practical Elements of Collection Development
III. Description of Format and Special Collections
IV. Description and Goals for Nonfiction Classified Collections
V. Official Adoption and Revision Information
The details for the contents of components I and II will be included in the next training section with the remaining components addressed in the final policy training section.
Preparing a Collection Development Policy
Preparing a collection development policy is a major project. As such, one needs to recognize that it will be time-consuming and require a lot of consultation and referrals with Board members, staff and perhaps other librarians and citizens. There are many resources that you can draw upon to assist you with the process. These include librarians and staff members in other libraries—both those libraries that are similar and those very much unlike your library—policy examples posted on the Web by other libraries, and a wealth of professional writing and materials on the Web and in traditional print. Here are some guidelines you might find useful to help you get started writing a policy for your library if your library does not already have one or to revise a policy that has become outdated or inadequate.
- Establish the procedure
Before you begin to revise or initially prepare a policy, your governing board or other entity should be informed. A discussion with them should help determine what the process will be, who will be involved initially, what is to be included, and what the timeline for the project is to be. Collection development policies may be written by a committee that includes perhaps the library director, an informed staff member, and a Board member, or by an individual. In most instances, the task of actually putting the pieces together, editing the final version, informing the Library Board about the implications of various policy options, and even educating them about collection development policies will fall to the library director. No matter how the pieces of the policy are written or who drafts them, the Library Board and the staff will need to review and provide input on each segment. A library policy of any type by definition is an official document and as such must be officially adopted by the Board at a regularly scheduled public meeting. At this point it is useful for you to provide your board and/or committee with an outline of the policy elements.
- Gather data
Pull together all of the pieces of the puzzle you will need before you begin. Create a file folder or box to contain all of the following types of information:
- Basic data about your community (population, size, age distribution, educational levels, and other library and educational opportunities available to the citizens) are likely already in place if you have recently engaged in developing a strategic plan. If a planning process is not likely soon but you need a collection development policy now, then you will need to gather this information (see the Role of Strategic Planning). In particular you want to recognize and focus upon changes or issues that are now or might soon affect the informational and recreational needs of particular community segments.
- The library’s current long-range or strategic plan provides large segments of what is initially needed for the policy.
- Data gleamed from doing a collection assessment as well as data about how much the collection is used, and what its strengths and weaknesses appear to be.
- Existing policy statements. Sometimes you will find these buried away in files and not being used at all to make daily decisions.
- Written procedures about the work within the library, especially those related to gifts, acquisitions, processing, and circulation. All of these might impact what the policy will ultimately reflect and you are likely to want to refer to these as the details of the policy are sorted out.
- Write the policy
The discussion about the collection development policy elements includes advice about which pieces of the policy might be drafted first by an individual such as the librarian and those pieces that will need prior discussion by the Board before any general decisions are formalized into a draft statement. Sometimes it is helpful to draft a few of the easy components first and bring these pieces to the Board for discussion and general approval as a starting point for the policy process. This gets the project off to a good start and helps to energize everyone. The policy outline you have already shared with them provides an easy way to check off topics as they are finished. Then you can move on to another piece to resolve. Like list-making, this gives individuals a sense of making progress on a big task.
After identifying pieces such as a summary description of the community served by the library and any other sections that might already exist in another official document to which you could create a link from the CD policy, proceed to the preparation of some of the generally easy sections to draft and discuss such as the purpose of the policy itself and the policy on gifts.. In order for the Board to understand the issues it is essential that they be given a sense of the range of options that might be selected. In the case of gifts, there are many options. The policy can range from accepting everything (no longer a good option in even the smallest community) to accepting only unencumbered money. One might bring a worksheet to the staff and later to the Board with a number of options identified. Then discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each option. Let the Board determine what the policy is ultimately to be and then you or whoever is writing the policy statements can incorporate the decision in a draft gift statement to come before the Board for general approval at their next meeting. One might wish to take some of the “touchy” issues to the Board for discussion prior to even drafting any of the words or options.
In the course of writing the policy one must think carefully about the statements presented in the policy and how your library constituents will perceive them. The collection development policy can be a public relations tool for your library, as well as your protection against questions about library’s collection practices and a guide for staff members involved in making collection decisions.
- Get the policy approved
Once you have general approval of all of the components of the policy and it has been thoroughly revised and edited (get someone other than the main writer to do the editing), it is time to get it officially adopted as the policy of the library. This should be done at a Board meeting or other meeting of the officials responsible for setting policy. Ideally you would like the entire policy to be adopted through a single vote at this point. The official copy of the policy should be signed and dated by the appropriate person (usually a library board chair), its adoption and the record of the vote should appear in the recorded minutes of the meeting. This final and formal approval as well as your work with the board during the process of writing the policy helps to ensure that they understand the importance of the policy and that you can be more certain of their backing in times of controversy.
- Use your policy
The purpose of the policy is to use it. Therefore, be certain that it is posted on the library’s website, that every staff member is given a copy, and that a nice copy (perhaps in a folder) is always available at the circulation desk for an interested citizen to read and for staff to consult if need be. In order to be prepared to revise the policy when the time comes, it is a good idea to keep a copy of the policy easily available at all times (in a handy file folder perhaps) and to use it to make notes. The notes might reflect situations that arise for which there appears to be little guidance or for instances when lack of clarity becomes apparent in deciding about the inclusion or exclusion, the specific location, or the level of access for a particular title, type of material, or format. If you find the policy does not help you make consistent decisions then you might wish to make a note in the margins regarding the type of revision or the question that needs to be addressed next time the policy is revised.
- Revise your policy
It is critical to review your policy according to the schedule you will have included in the final section of the policy. This should be at least every three years. The good news is that revising a policy, if done in a timely fashion, requires only minor changes.
Once you have worked through the details regarding the components of the complete policy that you will find in the next sections of this site, you will want to return to this information to review the advice about actually putting the policy together.
For Further Information
Rather than linking to collection development policy statements on the Web, it seems prudent to suggest you search for current examples when you are ready. The collection development policies come and go rather quickly on the Web as libraries change their hosting sites, change their policies by revising them, or remove them while they are determining just what changes to make. Rather than frustrating you with broken links, we suggest you browse the Web and find examples that appeal to you as models once you have completed all of the units in this training and are ready to work on a policy.
Anderson, J. S. (ed.). (1996). Guide for written collection policy statements (2nd ed.), Chicago: American Library Association.
Bushing, M., Davis, B., & Powell, N. (1997). “Collection management policy,” in Using the conspectus method: A collection assessment handbook. Lacey, WA: WLN/OCLC, pp. 7-15.
Chavez, L. (1990). “Collection development for the Spanish-speaking,” in Salvador Guereza (ed.) Latino librarianship: A handbook for professionals, Jefferson, NC: McFarlane and Company, pp. 68-77.
Gorman, G.E., & Miller, Ruth H. (Eds.). (1997). Collection management for the 21st Century: A handbook for librarians, Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
Montana State Library. “Collection Development Policy,” in An introduction to collection development.