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The Collection Development Policy as a Means of Constructing an Effective Library

Charity Neave

LIS 615: Collection Management

Spring 2006


All libraries exist to disseminate information, or as Curley and Broderick state, “to facilitate communication whether that be between persons in the present or from someone in the past to someone in the present or from someone in the present to some future person.”  However, the effectiveness of a library depends upon how well it facilitates this communication.  An effective library is one that is used, facilitates communication, is viable to the community it serves, and looks out to the community, but also looks inward upon itself.  An effective library upholds Ranganathan’s Five Laws of Library Science, and (grudgingly) Crawford and Gorman’s Five New Laws of Library Science, in that it respects the materials within, the purpose of the institution, the needs of the users, and the ever changing nature of society.


So how does a library accomplish this?

Perhaps the first step towards having an effective library is through awareness of its environment.  Libraries use needs assessment and community analysis to determine the position of the community in the present and to determine where it is going.   Thus the library is able to determine its present and future uses and community needs.  A needs assessment survey may gather a number of different kinds of data (education, income, geography, etc.,) through a variety of different means (community forums, informants, surveys, etc.), and can determine a number of things about the community that may not have been clear beforehand (demographics, technological skill level, and modes of gathering information).  Needs assessment and community analysis allows the library to evaluate its present situation as well, regarding how effectively it is serving the community. 

Now that we know the information needs of the community, the next step is to determine what information needs the library will aim to meet, or develop a mission and/or set of goals for itself.  The first and third laws of collection development (“As the size of the service community increases, the degree of divergence in individual information need increases,” and, “It will never be possible to completely satisfy all of the information needs of an individual or class of clientele in the service community.”) illustrate that a library must decide which of the information needs of a community it will attempt to meet.  At this point the library must also consider its immediate environment; not just the community which it serves but also the institution to which it belongs.  Libraries serve many different types of communities with varying needs, and belong to different types of institutions with different purposes.  For instance a university library belongs to an educational institution with the purpose to research and educate.  Therefore the library would strive to provide reference materials for students as well as research materials for staff, faculty, and students.  Conversely, a special library may belong to a private for-profit organization and thusly, would desire to provide specific reference and research materials for the members of that organization.

Next the library should consider how it will meet the needs of the community, or what types of resources, services, and programs will it offer or not offer in order to be viable to the community.  This would include decisions about selection, and accessibility. Here again the library must consider the type of institution to which it belongs.  to use the above examples, a university library would perhaps offer different services and materials for its members; such as interlibrary loan (ILL), many different scholarly journals, and reference materials on a variety of topics; whereas a special library belonging to a private for-profit organization would probably choose to only offer in depth subject specific materials, and may not participate as readily in services like ILL.  The types of services and resources a library offers is also heavily dependent on funding which varies greatly depending on the type of library, and its community.

At this point the library must consider how to efficiently use the resources at its disposal to provide for the information needs of the community.  Efficient use of resources would include decisions about acquisition and organization.  The library must consider the cost of an item, as well as the value and the possible usage of the item.  The library may consider a variety of other options to split the costs of some resources, such as resource sharing measures like shared purchases, shared collections, or it may opt to rent materials rather than purchase them, for example.  Appropriately, the second law of collection development so states, “As the degree of divergence in individual information needs increases, the need for cooperative programs of information materials sharing increases.”

Similarly, the library must consider how its staff and volunteers will perform to meet these goals.  In this way the library will need to develop standards and guidelines for the staff—both to guide how they serve the patrons directly (a procedural service manual) and indirectly through management of the collection (a collection development policy).  The collection development policy is perhaps the most important single factor to the effectiveness of a library because it must consider all of these aspects; the needs of the community, the available resources and collection, a plan for the development of the collection, and guidelines for the implementation of this plan.  Ultimately, the better suited these guidelines are to the library, the more effective they will be at guiding, evaluating, and representing the library, and thus the more effective and viable the library will be to the community.

Charity Neave Johnson,
Mar 18, 2010, 12:14 PM