THE COLLECTION DEVELOPMENT PLANNING PROCESS
by Amy E. Fordham
Collection Development: A General Overview
The term "collection development" refers to the process of systematically
building library collections to serve study, teaching, research, recreational,
and other needs of library users. The process includes selection and deselection
of current and retrospective materials, the planning of strategies for
continuing acquisition, and evaluation of collections to determine how
well they serve user needs. Overall, collection development encompasses
many library operations ranging from the selection of individual titles
for purchase to the withdrawal of expendable materials.
An impressive number of publications on collection development have
been produced within the last twenty years. Between 1980 and 1989 alone,
no fewer than nine new (or newly edited) book-length studies on the nature
of the method of collection development were published in the United States.
While each of these books approaches the subject from a slightly different
perspective, most provide information on the standard topics: selection
and de-selection, policy, budgeting, collection evaluation, and, in some
cases, acquisitions, cooperation, preservation, and historical bibliography.
In the past twenty-five years, three specialty journals relating to collection
development have been founded: Collection Building, Collection Management,
Library Acquisitions: Practice and Theory.
There tends to be varying theories on what collection development actually
encompasses. However, if there is one thread that connects most North American
publications on collection development theory, it is probably the insistence
that collection development should be distinguished from acquisitions and
from selection. The "Edelman Triad" clearly expresses the distinctions:
The first level is collection development, which, although
it can be interpreted as a
passive term when it describes collection growth, should
in fact be seen in the active sense…Collection development is a planning
function…From the collection development plan flows the budget allocation
in broad terms.
The second level is selection, which is a direct function
of collection development. It is the decision-making process concerned
with implementing the goals stated earlier…
The third level of this hierarchy is acquisition. The
acquisition process implements in turn the selection decisions. It is the
process that actually gets the material into the library…
The separation of acquisitions from collection development occurred
in the 1980s with the realization that collection development must be service-oriented
rather than collection-oriented and at least as focused upon the information
needs of the library's clientele as upon the method of collecting materials.
Thus, while the overall collection development process may be viewed
as a continuous process encompassing community analysis, policies, selection,
acquisition, weeding, and evaluation, the focus here will be on the policy
framework devised to assist in the collection development process. The
reader will note that additional aspects will inevitably be included.
Current Issues in Collection Development Planning
Before entering into a discussion of the policy framework, it is important
to recognize the issues currently affecting the collection development
planning process. The first is the debate over quality versus demand. The
special library is usually created for the specific purpose of providing
accurate and current information for a particular set of patrons and, therefore,
must contain materials considered to be of quality and be able to access
them in sometimes demanding circumstances. Inaccurate information in a
special library may cause havoc for the supporting institution. The second
issue involves concern over the information explosion. The amount of research
and number of researchers is increasing, and the amount of published material
is increasing, thereby challenging libraries in their desire to provide
access to this increased wealth of information. Meanwhile, libraries have
also been trying to contend with the rising cost of the materials in conjunction
with the decreasing space in their physical facilities. Additionally, the
impact of technology has created problems in accessing information. Not
only are libraries trying to purchase relevant and appropriate print materials,
they are now also trying to provide information in alternate formats. While
the digitization of information is not a particularly new issue, it does
present a challenge to libraries with limited budgets. The final issue
involves interlibrary cooperation. With improvements in technology, libraries
have the ability to participate in electronic networks which enables them
to conveniently share material at little cost.
The Value of a Collection Development Policy
Collection development policy statements are necessary planning documents.
Although the value of collection policies is not universally accepted,
the prevailing view among library professionals is that a collection development
policy statement is a necessary tool leading to consistent, informed decisions.
The ideal collection policy is a living document, reviewed and revised
regularly, that "organizes and guides the processes of acquiring and providing
access to materials and information sources, integrating these into coherent
collections, managing their growth and maintenance, and making decisions
about preservation, withdrawal, and cancellation (Gorman and Miller 1997)."
Overall, policies facilitate consistency and communication between libraries
and are information tools for working with the library's community.
A written collection development policy statement is intended "…to clarify
objectives and to facilitate coordination and cooperation, both within
a library or library system and among cooperating libraries…If it is well
done, it should serve as a day-to-day working tool that provides the necessary
guidelines for carrying out the majority of tasks within the area of collection
building (Gardner 1981)." As Gardner conveys, a collection development
policy serves a broad range of functions, and in fact he continues by presenting
a dozen reasons why a policy statement should be devised. In his view such
a document is valuable for the following reasons. The policy:
While it is argued that Gardner makes excessive claims for collection development
policies, this list does embody some of the more important arguments that
indicate the overall value of a written collection policy. Essentially,
Gardner argues that a policy is a planning document. Users change, needs
change, and resource availability changes. A policy can draw awareness
to these changes by acting as a collection of baseline data for current
operations and, ideally, as a starting point for future development. As
a formal, written statement of intent, the collection development policy
statement describes the scope and purpose of a library's collections, and
the programs and constituencies they serve. At its most practical level,
the policy guides those who routinely manage and use a library's collections.
Forces staff to think through library goals and commit themselves to these
goals, helps them to identify long- and short- range needs of users and
to establish priorities for allocating funds.
Helps assure that the library will commit itself to serving all parts of
the community, both present and future.
Helps set standards for the selection and weeding of materials.
Informs users, administrators, and other libraries of collection scope
and facilitates coordination of collection development among institutions.
Helps minimize personal bias by selectors and to highlight imbalances in
Serves as an in-service training tool for new staff.
Helps assure continuity in collections of any size and provides a pattern
and framework to ease transition from one librarian to the next.
Provides a means of staff self-evaluation, or for evaluation by outsiders.
Helps demonstrate that the library is running a business-like operation.
Provides information to assist in budget allocations.
Contributes to operational efficiency in terms of routine decisions.
Serves as a tool of complaint handling with regard to inclusions or exclusions.
In addition to the all-encompassing planning and communication aspects,
it is important to recognize the ways in which collection development policy
statements can protect libraries against illegal, unethical, or unreasonable
pressures. Protection of intellectual freedom and the prevention of censorship
may be achieved by including the Library Bill of Rights and other
intellectual freedom statements or by preparing a statement tailored to
the local community. A collection policy protects the library from pressures
to acquire or provide access to inappropriate and irrelevant materials.
Also, carefully written guidelines can protect the library in the appropriate
handling of gifts. This helps the library avoid the burden of unwanted,
inappropriate, and undisposable items. By defining policy and procedures
for accepting or declining, appraising, accessioning, acknowledging, and
processing gifts, both the library and the potential donor are protected
legally and practically. In addition, as budget allocations decrease, the
cost of materials increases, and formats proliferate, libraries need protection
as they prepare to cancel serials and weed materials from the collection.
Making clear the operating principles under which these decisions are made
protects the library from charges of bias and irresponsible behavior. A
policy should define the process through which materials are identified
for withdrawal, cancellation, and replacement, and by whom.
An additional note to keep in mind is that a key purpose of a written
policy statement is to define both the stability and flexibility in the
collection building process. A policy should grow and develop along with
the collection, and, while the policy forms a basic framework for projected
growth, it must always be reviewed at regular intervals to ensure that
it continues to provide an acceptable pattern for effective collection
Formulating a Collection Development Policy
Many useful suggestions have been offered for writing an effective collection
development policy. The American Library Association in particular provides
an excellent standard reference document, Guide for Written Collection
Policy Statements (1996). The ALA guide identifies essential
elements for a written collection development policy and establishes a
standard terminology and structure for use in the preparation of such a
policy. Although not equally applicable to all libraries, the ALA guidelines
were formulated to serve libraries of all kinds of sizes. By drafting individual
policies, libraries can "produce tools that enable selectors to work toward
defined goals and thus to use funds wisely in shaping strong collections,
to inform staff and users concerning the scope and nature of existing resources
and plans for continual development of collections, and to provide information
that will help to provide objective evidence for use in the budgetary allocation
process (Gabriel 1995)."
A BASIC OUTLINE:
Following is a comprehensive, straightforward, easy-to-use collection
development policy outline devised by Bushing, Davis, and Powell for WLN's
the Conspectus Method: A Collection Assessment Handbook (1997):
NOTE: As with the ALA guidelines, this outline has been designed for
use within all library types. Individual libraries will need to alter the
elements and organizational format to fit individual library needs.
Mission statement: This may include the mission of the parent organization
as well as that of the library. A vision statement may also be included
along with long- and short-term goals and any relevant objectives related
to information resources.
Audiences and purposes of the policy: The purpose should discuss
library management, planning, accountability, and consistency. To whom
is the policy addressed? Staff? Board? Users? Community officials and politicians?
Administration? All of these? Be specific about the primary audience as
well as identifying other possible readers of the policy.
Community and user groups defined: What are the characteristics
of the library's user community? What are the educational levels? Use demographic
and other factual and statistical information to define the library's community
or institution. Which groups do or do not use the library? For what purposes
do they use the library? What are their occupations or disciplines of interest?
Description of the types of programs or patron's needs: What educational,
recreational, social, or research needs must be met by the library? Are
there programs or distinct requirements for special needs populations?
Brief general description of the collections and information resources:
general, provide a description of the collections: their size, primary
formats, languages, and reading or information level. At what rate are
they growing or are they being maintained at a stable size?
Cooperative or collaborative collection development issues: Make
a statement with regard to other libraries and access to remotely held
information resources in electronic, print, or other formats. Do interlibrary
loan, Internet access, or patron direct access to other collections have
an effect upon the collection management of the library? If the library
participates in specific collaborative activities, interlibrary loan services
or other consortial arrangements, these should be addressed here.
This section determines how the collection will be developed based upon
general principles, responsibilities and rationales for the character of
the information resources.
GENERAL PRIORITIES, LIMITATIONS, AND ACQUISITION POLICIES
Chronological and retrospective coverage: Chronological coverage
means information about a topic through time. Retrospective holdings means
physically acquiring and maintaining older materials about a topic. What
is the library's policy regarding chronological coverage of a topic or
collecting retrospective holdings?
Duplication, nonprint formats and special considerations: Does the
library acquire duplicate materials? If so, what is the reason? Under what
circumstances does the library acquire an exact duplicate or additional
copy of an item? What formats does the library have? What formats does
the library wish to collect and maintain? What formats does the library
intend to phase out or not collect at this time? Does the library prefer
paper to hardbound books? Hardbound to paper? If so, when and why? Does
the library acquire textbooks? Why or why not? Are there special issues
regarding electronic formats that need to be addressed? Are there materials
that the library chooses not to include in the local collection or to access
remotely? What and why?
Funding considerations: A brief explanation of the sources of funding
and the identification of specially used funds should be supplied here.
If there are special funding sources such as grant dollars to purchase
particular types of expensive research materials or interest on endowment
or trust funds for a particular purpose, the identification of these sources
helps to explain collection decisions that might otherwise appear to be
incongruent with the general policies.
Selection responsibilities and processes: Who has the legal or ultimate
responsibility for the contents of the library and access to remotely located
materials and files? Who has practical responsibility for the various segments,
formats, or divisions of the collection contents or access to other resources?
What criteria are used for these materials or resources? For some formats
or types of access, a list of format-specific criteria may be included.
What general processes or procedures are involved? Also, some libraries
may wish to provide information or criteria about the vendors to be used
Gifts, exchanges, or other special source materials: Clearly state
the gift and exchange policy of the library. Consider whether the value
added to the library's resources justifies the costs associated with the
Collection maintenance: preservation, conservation, and deselection
(weeding): In this section, the intended actions toward care of the
physical condition of materials, archiving, and preserving content are
stated. Binding, repair and intent for housing and replacement are also
Censorship and intellectual freedom: All libraries need a policy
regarding censorship and intellectual freedom. Appropriate national or
international statements in support of the policy should be included here
along with an outline of the procedures, forms, and timelines to be followed
when complaints or censorship situations arise.
This section of the policy should be based on information gathered from
a collection assessment. It should be updated as needed based upon progress
toward or away from collection goals.
FORMAT OR SPECIAL COLLECTION PROFILES
Description of the collection: What subjects or disciplines are
included? How might the boundaries of this format or special collection
be described? Include the size or extent of the collection. When appropriate,
list the formats included in this collection segment and any language information
that might further describe it.
Purpose and management of the collection: Define the purpose or
reason for this particular collection or format and the way in which it
fits into the general policies of the library. What patron group does it
serve? Is it a collection to be maintained with a high degree of currency
or is it to have historical and retrospective materials? Who is
responsible for the management of this collection? What criteria or special
requirements might govern decisions for this collection or format?
Collection goals: Describe the goals for this format or collection.
How does the librarian hope to change the collection? Within what time
frame? How will the librarian judge when the goal has been reached?
This section of the policy is also based upon collection assessment information.
The information may be presented in a set of conspectus reports or in a
narrative manner. This section needs periodic updating to reflect progress
towards goals or goals revision due to changing circumstances. The following
assessment information should be provided for each division, category and
subject assessed by the library:
NOTE: Codes are available in Using the Conspectus Method: A Collection
Assessment Handbook. (The complete citation is available in the Bibliography.)
Division, category, and subject: This will include the classification
number range as well as the terms to describe a particular segment (if
organized in a conspectus manner).
Data about the segment (division, category, or subject): This should
include segment size (how many items -- books, videos, journals, etc.),
languages represented, formats of materials, age of resources, chronological
periods covered, geographical coverage, condition of the material and specific
Current collection level: Based on the collection levels (Exhaustive,
Research, Working, and Browsing); also a corresponding conspectus code
that identifies the character and extent of the existing collection. (NOTE:
Collection levels are discussed below.)
Acquisition commitment: Using the conspectus method, a code identifies
the character and extent of the library's efforts to build and maintain
this segment of the collection.
Collection goal: A conspectus code identifies the ideal goal that
the library envisions for this segment of the collection.
Preservation commitment: A conspectus code identifies the intended
preservation action for collection maintenance.
E. POLICY IMPLEMENTATION, EVALUATION, AND REVISION
THE CONSPECTUS APPROACH:
State specifically who will review and update the policy and when it is
to be done.
The last item on the policy should be the official record of implementation.
The conspectus approach involves a hierarchical structure, similar in
structure and concept to the main library classification schemes used in
the United States. (i.e. Dewey Decimal, Library of Congress, and the National
Library of Medicine). The RLG Conspectus and the WLN Conspectus have similar
structures that include divisions, categories, and subjects, but only the
WLN Conspectus, a revision of the RLG structure, has separate category
lines allowing for comparison across types of libraries and classification
schemes at different levels. A detailed analysis is available in Using
the Conspectus Method: A Collection Assessment Handbook (as discussed
above) and in Qualitative Collection Analysis: The Conspectus Methodology.
(The complete citations are listed in the Bibliography.)
THE NARRATIVE APPROACH:
For libraries that prefer to organize their policy statements in a
organized by subject descriptor or by type of collection, the statement
usually includes several paragraphs expressing the collection goals and
then specific guidelines for the subject fields. The ALA guidelines suggest
particular in-depth categories of information to include for each subject
In addition, a collection level may be assessed. Commonly used levels
are described as follows (Mount 1995):
Exhaustive level: This pertains to a collection
in which literally every item of a
serious nature on a given topic is sought. It could, of course,
be limited to certain languages or certain time periods. Needless to say,
such an option is not likely to exist in special libraries.
Research level: This would be a collection with enough material to
support independent research on the topic. Normally books, journals, special
materials, and reference tools would be on hand in considerable depth.
Working level: This would consist of selected works on a subject,
including books and a few key journals, that would cover current activities
and major developments in a field.
Browsing level: This would apply to material in which only a few
individuals had any interest and which would be used chiefly for refresher
or updating purposes.
AN OPTIONAL OUTLINE DESIGN:
Additionally, Gorman and Howes in Collection Development for Libraries
provide a useful framework for devising a collection development policy,
which includes aspects already discussed. The following figure represents
I. General Policy Statement
II. Statement of Collection Levels
Introduction -- establishes policy framework and scope
Statement of Philosophy -- purpose of institution and library, overview
of needs and priorities
Objectives of the Library -- user groups, programs, and requirements, general
subject boundaries, inclusions and exclusions generally, cooperative agreements
B. Index -- subjects and other access points
Classified Subject Analysis -- standard classification scheme, code of
density (extent of existing collections), intensity (current collecting
activity) and policy levels (the desired level for future collecting)
Collection Development Policy Examples
Numerous policy examples are available in the majority of sources utilized
for the writing of this chapter. Complete citations are available in the
In addition to establishing collection policy guidelines, the selector
should also consider the following criteria when making purchasing decisions
about specific items (Brazil 1990):
Additional Selection Considerations
Purpose and scope: The selector needs to establish the purpose for
which the material was issued and to determine the level of coverage.
Subject content: How well is the subject covered? Are staff and
outside professional reviews favorable? This is probably the most important
consideration. The contents must match the fields of interest of the library's
Comparison/Duplication of other works : How does this item
compare with materials already in the collection? Does it add new information
or does it supplement or duplicate existing information?
Level and Audience for which material is written: Is the book popular
in tone, or is it technical or scholarly? What is the reading level?
Authority of Author: What is known about the author? Is the author
qualified to write on the subject?
Publisher: What is known about the publisher? What type of material
is generally issued by the publisher? Is it a popular or scholarly organization?
If an association or network published an item, what is known about the
association/network and its objectives?
Timeliness: Is the information up-to-date? Does the author include
recent developments or current thinking about the topic? If the work is
a new edition, has the previous edition been rewritten or updated?
Cost: Cost will influence whether the selector acquires the book
in paper or hardcover editions and whether a popular title is acquired
in quantity. It may also influence whether particularly expensive items
will be rejected.
Format: Each type of material must be considered in terms of quality
for its format in such matters as binding, illustrations, quality of paper,
size of type, or audio or visual reproduction.
Bibliographic Control: In the case of serials, an important consideration
is determining which indexing services cover them and whether these services
are print, on-line, or CD-ROM.
Demand or User Need: Has the subject been requested? Will the material
fill a stated user need? How much money can be allotted to this interest
Because the selection process in a special library tends to be elementary,
the following should be considered to assure that the basic collection
meets adequate research needs (Osburn and Atkinson 1991, v.2):
Factors Affecting Collection Development in Special
Subject-specific bibliographic sources may be utilized.
Journals such as Library Journal provide references to popular materials
that are needed to provide a balanced collection.
Trade and industry periodicals usually have a regular literature or book
review feature. These are essential for helping the librarian determine
the target audience for a college textbook or a major introduction to a
Spend time scanning the "new library acquisition" lists from other libraries
within the subject specialty.
Library colleagues are the "silent partners" in building a good collection.
Newsletters are invaluable to help identify technical reports from research
institutes and trade/industry associations.
The most demanding, most appreciative collaborators are the library's own
patrons. Promoting an environment that encourages their involvement in
building "their" collection is a necessity and demonstrates to senior management
that the special library staff are valued partners in the corporation's
Acquiring documents generated by the corporation itself can be a very difficult
task. The librarian needs to have the full cooperation of all departments
to be sure that at least one copy of each major report or study is sent
to the library. The librarian must convince senior management that this
material must reside in the library, where it can be consulted, on an open
or restricted basis, by company employees or outside consultants.
The following are factors that affect special libraries in particular
as presented in Osburn and Atkinson's Collection Management: A New Treatise,
Number of employees to be served, including full-time company employees,
consultants and outside users, and where these individuals work.
Service levels required by the various groups: The special library must
decide how current and how comprehensive the collection must be to satisfy
the research needs of its clients; there needs to be a determination of
the collecting level required in any particular subject (i.e. Exhaustive,
Research, Working, or Browsing).
Degree of need for current, time-sensitive information.
Acceptable turnaround time for patrons' requests
Charging back to departments/clients for services rendered.
Emphasis on journals for current information needs.
Supplementing the collection with on-line information resources.
Participation in multitype library networks, such as interlibrary loan.
Physical working space.
Need for end users to access information when library staff is not present.
Overall, the collection development planning process, highlighted by
the invaluable collection policy statement, provides a means by which the
library selects and manages its collection of information resources. These
guidelines are, in effect, a contract between the library and its community,
supplying a framework within which complex decisions are made with consistency
and reason. While a special librarian's collecting is most often governed
by practical concerns more so than on collection development theory or
criteria, the general consensus deems collection policies useful as librarians
aim to describe their collections in terms of depth and extent of coverage,
types of materials collected, exchange agreements, and the many other special
considerations that special librarians tend to encounter.
Anderson, Joanne S., ed. Guide for Written Collection Policy Statements,
ed. Collection Management and Development Guides, no. 7. Chicago:
American Library Association, 1996.
Bonk, Wallace J. and Rose Mary Magrill. Building Library Collections,
ed. Metuchen, NJ: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1979.
Brazil, Mary Jo. Building Library Collections on Aging: A Selection
Guide and Core List. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, Inc., 1990.
Bushing, Mary, Burns Davis, and Nancy Powell. Using the Conspectus
Method: A Collection Assessment Handbook. Lacey, WA: WLN, 1997.
Cassell, Marianne K. and Grace W. Greene. Collection Development
in the Small Library, Small Libraries Publications, no. 17. Chicago:
American Library Association, 1991.
Curley, Arthur and Dorothy Broderick. Building Library Collections,
ed. Metuchen, NJ: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1985.
Edelman, Hendrik. "Selection Methodology in Academic Libraries." Library
Resources & Technical Services 23 (Winter 1979): 34. Quoted in
Osburn, Charles B. and Ross Atkinson, eds. Collection Management: A
New Treatise, vol. 1. Greenwich, CT: JAI Press, Inc., 1991.
Evans, G. Edward. Developing Library and Information Center Collections,
ed. Library Science Text Series. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited,
Gabriel, Michael R. Collection Development and Collection Evaluation:
A Sourcebook. Metuchen, NJ: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1995.
Gardner, Richard K. Library Collections: Their Origin, Selection
and Development. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1981. Quoted in
Gorman, G.E. and B.R.
Howes. Collection Development for Libraries. Topics in Library
and Information Studies. London; New York: Bowker-Saur, 1989.
Gorman, G.E. and B.R. Howes. Collection Development for Libraries.
Topics in Library and Information Studies. London; New York: Bowker-Saur,
Gorman, G.E. and Ruth H. Miller. Collection Management for the 21st
Century: A Handbook for Librarians. The Greenwood Library Management
Collection. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1997.
Katz, William A. Collection Development: The Selection of Materials
for Libraries. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1980.
Kovacs, Beatrice. The Decision-Making Process for Library Collections:
Case Studies in Four Types of Libraries, Contributions in Librarianship
and Information Science, ed. Paul Wasserman, no. 65. New York: Greenwood
Magrill, Rose Mary and John Corbin. Acquisitions Management and Collection
Development in Libraries, 2nd ed. Chicago: American Library
Mount, Ellis. Special Libraries and Information Centers: An Introductory
Text, 3rd ed. Washington, DC: Special Libraries Association,
Organization of Collection Development. Systems and Procedures
Exchange Center, Kit 207. Washington, DC: Association of Research Libraries,
Osburn, Charles B. and Ross Atkinson, eds. Collection Management:
A New Treatise, vols. 1-2. Greenwich, CT: JAI Press, Inc., 1991.
Perkins, David L, ed. Guidelines for Collection Development. Chicago:
American Library Association, 1979.
Sellen, Betty-Carol and Arthur Curley, eds. The Collection Building
Reader. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc., 1992.
Qualitative Collection Analysis: The Conspectus Methodology. Systems
and Procedures Exchange Center, Kit 151. Washington, DC: Association of
Research Libraries, February 1989.
Wortman, William A. Collection Management: Background and Principles.
American Library Association, 1989.
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