Collection Development Question of the Day

If 20 other libraries in our rapid-ILL consortium own a book that a patron wants to use, does that mean we should buy it?  Or does it mean we shouldn’t buy it?

Why we should:

  • We have demonstrated need — a patron asked for it.
  • Some books are clear choices for a browsing, on-the-spot use, academic collection.  The Tipping Point, Everything is Miscellaneous, The Future of Ideas, The Audacity of Hope, the latest Nobel Prize winner, and The Greatest Generation are examples that fall in that category — things that might come up in class discussions or in the news, and which our students may want to have easy access to.
  • “Everybody has it, we should too!” which usually means “it’s the sort of thing that college libraries should own.”

Why we shouldn’t:

  • Is it right for our college library?  As in, how does it fit into our collections policy, and is it relevant to our curriculum?
  • Is it going to have lasting value?  (Will anyone be interested in The Audacity of Hope in 18 months if Obama doesn’t go past the primaries, and becomes just another senator from the midwest?)
  • Our average ILL delivery time for books is under 4 days, and 20 other lending libraries in the prioritized lending program have a copy.  Therefore, we already have speedy access to 20 copies of the book.

The problem is that none of those factors (or any of the 20 more that someone could generate if they tried) are definitive, quantitative, or easy to apply to every book.

Collection management’s hard work.

That is all.

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One comment

  1. Several patrons, not “a” patron should be asking for it. How badly do they want it, is it needed now instead of tomorrow? Is it available on the web? Is there room on the shelves and in the budget? Yes, lots of questions. That’s why instead of a computer to make the tough tradeoffs, it takes a talented librarian. Patrons come to the library because they usually find what they were looking for. That doesn’t just happen, it’s hard work.


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