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.