Wither Collection Development?

Perhaps the whole argument against centralized ordering is like beating a dead horse.  But I’m new and naive, so here goes.

Do any branch-level librarians in large systems still do collection development? I mean, you know, the kind of stuff we learned about, practiced, and wrote lengthy papers about in library school?

Sure, I weed. I revise. I get a monthly list from which I make selections. When I have the time, I read SLJ and Horn Book- but mostly for the articles. I read children’s literature blogs like Fuse to keep abreast of good, new stuff coming out. I listen to my community and try to keep my finger on the pulse of what’s needed, what’s hot, and what’s just about to break out as the “next big thing.” But where does all this knowledge go? Not far. I can email by superiors and request specific titles. But, depending on demand, funding, time of the year, etc., these titles may or may not show up on the next book order.

When the 57th child comes in and asks for the latest Warriors or the sequel to Diary of a Wimpy Kid, I can no longer order a few extra copies on the spot.

Recently two local moms asked why my branch didn’t have more French-language picture books (French-speaking children being a significant percentage of the school kids in my area.) Try explaining to a patron the concept of centralized ordering and why I couldn’t simply say, “Sure, I’ll order a few copies.” The best I can offer is that I’ll send an email to the appropriate selectors or see what I can get on circuit.

While taking a course in children’s literature during library school, I asked my professor if working in a large urban library system in which books are ordered centrally would limit my skill set. I wondered if by working in a smaller system I would actually be getting more experience. The professor explained that working for a large system is a double-edged sword. We big city public librarians have access to many more resources, more funding, more collaboration. But I can’t say that I’m as yet convinced that it’s an even trade-off- at least in terms of collection development experience.

I realize that my responsibilities being what they are at the moment, I would not have the time to do proper collection development. Between the hours on the reference desk, my program schedule, fitting in outreach and class visits when possible, and maintaining an attractive and accessible collection, there isn’t much time left over to scour professional journals and select the best materials. For this, I am grateful for people who do that for me.

I like the idea of specialization. I like the idea that someone has a high level of expertise in a particular field or practice. Thus, the concept of a highly experienced reviewer and selector being responsible for the collection development of a particular user group is not a bad idea. I just wish that the specialists at the branch level could be a bit more responsive to the public needs. With even a meager paperback budget, branch specialists could have the ability to make a few necessary purchases per year. This would require both faith and responsibility. Faith- on the part of the administration to trust its professional staff to make decisions and utilize this budget for the good of the public. Responsibility- on the part of the professional staff to actually use the funds given and prove that such a responsibility is a necessary and vital part of good customer service.

Centralized ordering is the way of the future, I’m told.  It’s more efficient and much cheaper.  I tend to think the best solutions are ones that find a happy medium between two opposing viewpoints.  I just wish there was a way to have centralized ordering while retaining the ability to make branch level purchases on-the-fly.


6 thoughts on “Wither Collection Development?

  1. When I worked for a big city library, it drove me nuts that I was limited as to what I ordered. I was given a monthly list of titles and could order from that. Then, it would take months for books to arrive, if they ever did. At my current library, I am now responsible for ordering all print materials for birth through high school. I love it. I hope to never go back to a centralized ordering system.

  2. Interesting look into the way centralized ordering works – my library is still a mystery to me. I tried to donate some books and they were like “yeah….no.”

  3. I don’t work at a big city library, but I do work at a big suburban one, which is not part of a consortium (sp?). I work in the youth department and while I’m not an official librarian, I do get order, weed and develop my parts of the collection. Basically- the youth collection ( I believe it works the same for adult) is divided between the full time youth staff. Each month we order books based on reviews in booklist and SLJ basically we order anything with a good review. We also have a certain amount of weeding we have to do for our areas like trying to keep non fiction sections to 5 year currency and hands on weeding. We’ve also added a few new collections recently like video games, playaways, & non-fiction graphic novels. I know a lot of libraries only allow librarians to, and I know not all libraries have a budget like we do or a community that is so supportive, but I feel the way we do things helps a bit with keeping on top of things and attempting to keep up with what our community wants. I know it’s a long comment but I thought your entry was really interesting-

  4. Sing it loud and proud, honey. This has been my unending complaint since I joined the system. Queens has a smart system where things are ordered centrally but individual librarians are able to supplement their own collections with additional purchases of their own. Sounds like heaven to me. I too have been repeatedly horribly frustrated by reading tons of wonderful books only to see a smidgen of them added to our system. For a system this large, this doesn’t make sense. Grrrrrr.

  5. Do any branch-level librarians in large systems still do collection development?

    Yep. (I’m assuming by large system you mean # of branches, not population we serve.)

    I’m a YA librarian in one of the 51 libraries in the Hawaii State Library System. We do the bulk of our ordering off lists that any librarian can contribute to. Just put the appropriate info on a template, email it to the person in charge of the list/section of the list the item falls into, and wait for it to appear on the next order list. Once the list comes out, whoever’s ordering YA material (and/or J, adult, or AV — not all the branches have YA librarians) at each branch goes through the list and decides what books, and how many copies, to order for their library. We also have P.O.s we can spend at bookstores or use with other vendors. For my purposes, this basically means Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and a local vendor I get 95% of my manga from. Also that if I spot an already published/soon-to-be published book on the order list and decide I’d rather not wait for the order to come in, I can get it from a bookstore. Or if I need to buy replacement copies, additional copies based on demand, etc.

    At times, I do wish we were slightly more centralized, iif only to make sure we have more copies of Stephenie Meyer’s books, in more libraries. And K-dramas, if I can also mention AV material. But that’s probably because I wasn’t a librarian back in the ’90s, when there was a huge fuss when collection development was outsourced. I was either in high school or college when the whole thing was resolved, and as librarianship was not on my radar back then, didn’t really pay attention to the details. But examples like yours? Make me really glad HSPLS librarian fought and won.

  6. I’m in a one-branch rural district comparable in size to a lot of suburban branches (25,000 volumes, serving about 10,000). I’ve fought tooth and nail – successfully so far – against 1.) merging with a nearby urban district 2.) consortial buying 3.) turning collection development over to one of our vendors as a fee-based service. With input and feedback from the rest of the staff, I personally and meticulously hand-select every title that goes on our shelves, and I’m absolutely determined to keep it that way. About every eighteen months, the subject comes up again and I go through the numbers and demonstrate that it’s a break-even to pay me for my time versus going over to a centralized system, and that the way we’re doing it offers more local control and responsiveness.

    I just flat would not work in a system where I’m not empowered to select titles. Okay, maybe I’m a little bit of a control freak, but I have happy patrons.

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