How to Write a Collection Development Policy



Mary Catherine Carroll


Table of Contents



Why Have a Written Policy?


What Should Be Covered in the Policy?









            Most every library has some type of collection development policy. The goal of such a document is to provide a comprehensive guide regarding the retention and allocation of resources, and how those resources are to be maintained. The policy statement should be available to the public, but mainly serves as a guide for employees at the library and gives clarification to the purpose of the library in general.


Why Have a Written Policy?

            The policy statement serves as a framework within which the staff works. Because of its scope, it serves a much broader purpose than just selection criteria. It should also describe current collections, assists with budget issues, serves as a channel of communication with staff and clients, assists in overall collection management activities, deselection of materials, cancellations of serials, and asks staff to look at current objectives and goals for the future. There are four areas that collectively justify have a written policy in place: selection, planning, public relations and a wider audience.

            Selection:  The primary purpose of a written collection development policy is to set guidelines for selecting materials, both print and electronic, for the collection of the library. It should explain the step-by-step process of acquiring new resources. This also should include steps on processing, housing, weeding (deselection), retention, preservation and archiving. Having this in place, personal bias is avoided in the selection process, greater continuity is ensured, gaps in collections are identified, and the purpose and scope of the collection(s) is clarified. New staff members can refer to this guide in training as well.

            Planning:  Having the document in place also enables smoother planning for the future as well. Priorities and financial limits are already set, purchases are justified, and other collection-related areas are given more direction.

            Public Relations:  Policy statements can be useful in explaining and justifying the purpose, mission, vision, and budget of the library. Anyone reading the policy knows what to expect from the library. It “legitimizes” the operations of the library.

            Wider Audience:  If and when the library decides to branch out, as libraries are doing more and more, a strong policy statement will help guide the new relationships in resources sharing, etc.


What Should Be Covered in the Policy?

            Introduction:  A brief description of what the policy is all about, what purpose it serves, etc.

            Mission and Vision Statements:  What is the purpose of the library, and where does it hope to be in the future?

Clients/Users:  Who are the users or clients of the library? What are they looking for? What are the main services they require? A survey may be a good way to find out this information. This is also a good way to let administrators know exactly what types of critical services you are currently providing and how much they are being accessed.

Collections:   A general overview of the present collection should be given. This should be done only after closely evaluating the collection. This can be done in two ways: collection-centered evaluations or client-centered evaluations. Most accurate results are obtained when using both evaluation techniques. Current collection levels should be examined, as well as commitment to future acquisitions, and specific goals for collections.  Formats of materials selected should also be identified (i.e. serials, indexes, databases, etc). Electronic media, which is becoming more and more prevalent, should have its own evaluation criteria for selection.

Evaluation of Replacements:  Resources in collection that must be replaced because of damage, etc., must have an evaluation criteria in place based on worth to the collection, user need and interest, cost and availability.

Gifts to the Library:   The policy should also state how and when gifts are to be accepted to the library.

Retention, Deselection and Storage:  The procedures for maintaining collections, weeding resources from the collections and housing the collections should also be addressed in the policy statement. Future plans for expanded or down-sized collections (possibly in going from print to electronic resources) should be included.

Cooperative Collection Development Agreements: This will become more pervasive as libraries are working with larger entities, such as the OCLC. All agreements of this type should be at least briefly touched upon in the policy statement.

Future Goals:  A nice way to wind up a policy statement would be to describe where the library sees itself in 5 or 10 years. This gives staff members a mental picture or direction to look towards.




Dartmouth College Library Collection Management and Development Program. (May, 1999).  Guidelines for Writing Collection Development Polices. Retrieved July 29, 2007 from


International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions, Section on Acquisition and Collection Development. (2001). Guidelines for a Collection Development Policy Using the Conspectus Model. Retrieved July 15, 2007 from


University of Minnesota Law Library: Collection Development Policy. (September 2004).  Retrieved July 15, 2007 from


University of Waikato Law Library: Collection Development Policy. (July, 2002). Retrieved July 15, 2007 from