III. Description of Format & Special Collections | IV. Description & Goals for General Collections | Options for Presenting the Material in III & IV | V. Policy Review & Record of Adoption | Further Information | Self-Assessment #20
III. Description of Format & Special Collections
This section of the policy is generally fairly short and it is here that we “put a fence around” particular format collections and any special collections we might have. This means that we describe the characteristics of such collections to enable day-to-day decisions about them to be made easily. For many of these collections the descriptions can be a sentence or two. For example, we might describe the character and intent of our newspaper collection in the following manner:
Newspaper subscriptions are limited to The Chicago Tribune and those newspapers published within Davis County. The papers are retained for one month only and are replaced with digitized or micro format copies as these are available. Additional newspapers may be accessed on the Internet as needed.
For motion pictures we might wish to say something similar to what the King County Library System has written in their policy or what the Weyauwega Public Library says in theirs. However, because VHS format is no longer the preferred format, it is reasonable to also state that
The library prefers to provide motion pictures in DVD format but continues to loan VHS tapes while they last and are useful. No new VHS tapes will be added to the collection. The library will evaluate new formats for motion pictures as they become available and will then determine the policy for such formats.
A reminder about copyright issues is also appropriate in the policy for audiovisual formats.
When we speak of a “special collection” we are usually referring to a collection that is stored in a separate area, room, or set of shelves and is defined in terms of subject content. Such collections sometimes have special policies for use. Many do not circulate and may only be used in the library or special area. There are a number of unique issues that need to be addressed with these “special collections.” In general, these collections are usually too broad in nature, limit access to popular items, and are in no way comprehensive. Every time a library separates a subject collection from the usual arrangement of materials, it creates a barrier for the library user. If a public library wishes to have a meaningful special collection, then one that brings together local history and culture should be the obvious choice. A local history collection might contain published materials about the immediate environment, documents produced by local government, high school yearbooks, statistical and census information, telephone books and city directories, and even the works of local writers. However, the boundaries of the collection should be very clearly defined so that the collection can be focused and have some depth. The entire rest of the world relies on the local library to gather and maintain its unique local history. When we fail to do that well, we are failing to have the one special collection that makes sense for us! For most public libraries a local history collection is appropriate but special collections that purport to cover large geographical areas usually become catch-alls without meaningful focus. When in doubt, limit a special collection to a very narrowly defined subject and region.
When earmarked funding for a special collection is made available through a trust, endowment, or other donation, if possible resist the impulse to isolate the collection unless it is substantial and is to contain rare and/or highly valuable materials. If truly rare materials or very old historical materials are part of a special collection, than appropriate measures, including designated insurance, environmental and climate controls, security, and restricted handling and photocopying need to be in place. If the library does find that it has rare and valuable materials and is unable to care for them properly, than the responsible and professional route is to speak with the state historical society, the state library, or an archivist at a state university about appropriate options. Often donating such materials to enhance a true research collection located at a larger library that is able to care for the items appropriately is the best option. The only copy of an important book is of little value to the scholar if it is not located within a research collection and cared for in an environment that can prolong its useful life.
An excellent example of a local history policy statement along with a list of the most often consulted types of materials is provided by the Tewksbury Public Library in Massachusetts. The Dayton and Montgomery County Library also clearly describes an appropriate local history special collection within their policy statement.
Format or special use collections which should be briefly described in this section of the policy may include, but are not limited to the following:
Microfilm or Microfiche
Audiovisual formats – handled together or each format separately
Large Print books
Pamphlet or “Vertical” files
IV. Description & Goals for General Collections
It is in this section of the policy where a library can report information about its assessment of the collections and its goals for the subject segments and/or genre collections in fiction. Some libraries choose to make general statements about the nature of their collections but might include more detailed information in an appendix to the policy or a single notebook used by the librarian to set collection goals, make work plans for weeding or targeted purchases to improve the coverage on a particular subject. Your library’s collection evaluation and assessment techniques should be addressed briefly indicating the formulas or other methods used. Your collection’s strengths and weaknesses should be highlighted here. The Washoe County Library addresses collection evaluation issues; we have included an excerpt from that policy:
The collection needs continuous evaluation in order to be sure that the Library is fulfilling its mission to provide materials in a timely manner to meet patrons’ interests and needs. Statistical tools such as circulation reports, collection turnover rates, fill rates, reference fill rates, shelf allotments, and volume counts are studied to determine how the collection is being used and how it should change to answer patron usage.... Patron input and community surveys are also used in evaluating the collection....
Options for Presenting the Material in III & IV
The Washoe County Library quoted above has established a set of criteria that are contained in a separate working document entitled The Collection Development Plan. This working document helps guide the assessment of materials and the decisions about managing the collection segments. There is a growing trend to include the elements that were once included in Sections III and IV in a separate notebook or working document to be used by staff within the library but not to be shared with the public. This approach makes good sense in light of the need to share policies on the web. Thus you will find that the newest policies on the web for many public libraries address the elements in sections I, II and 5 of this policy outline but keep the components of sections III and IV for working documents rather than policies. A good example of such a policy is that of the Waukesha Public Library and other smaller public libraries in Wisconsin. Thus it is acceptable to keep the assessment and goal information about your collection, as well as your descriptive statements of format and special collections in a working document to be used by library staff but not shared with the public. This is becoming a popular way of handling the information that used to always be included in one comprehensive document.
For more information about collection assessment and techniques, see the section of this tutorial entitled Collection Assessment and Mapping.
V. Policy Review & Record of Adoption
The final section of your policy is very short. First it should contain a statement about how often it is to be reviewed for revisions and who is responsible for doing the review. Never use the word “periodically” or even “as needed” but use something like “every two years beginning in 2008” or “every three years beginning in 2009” or something similar. The policy does not have to be reviewed and adjusted every year but it should be done at least every three or four years. Additionally, this statement should indicate the persons responsible for doing the review and bringing revisions to the Board for discussion and approval. Some libraries give this responsibility to the director or the collection development staff (if the library is large enough) and the library board. Realistically, it is the staff that will do the review, identify where changes are needed and perhaps even draft the proposed changes before the Board sees the revised sections.
Lastly, the policy will need to provide evidence that it has been reviewed and approved by your local officials, a library board or a school district board. Their action at a regularly scheduled board meeting makes it policy and gives you the right to maintain the standards as set out in your document. Should situations arise that cause discontent, the library should find support from the Board and those local government officials beyond that level assuming the procedures in the policy have been followed. There should be a place for the signature of the Board President or Chair and the Board Secretary along with the date of the regular meeting at which the policy is adopted. Further the approval of the policy should be reflected in the official minutes of the meeting so that the approval can be verified in what are considered official documents. The date and an appropriate signature should be added at the time of each revision. If the policy is substantially revised, one can retire the former document and enact an entirely new policy statement.
The initial section on collection development policies provides resources to help with policy preparation and content. In addition, below are links to public library collection development policies. Some are for large libraries, but they may give you some ideas about the content and format you would like for your policy statement.
Dayton and Montgomery Public Library, Ohio.
Memorial Hall Library, Andover, Massachusetts
Minneapolis Public Library, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Spokane County Public Library, Spokane County, Washington
In addition to these specific library policies, see the Sample Public Library Policies & Development Tips maintained by the Mid Hudson Library System.