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Trustee Support Resources

Collection Development Policy

Although RCW 27.12.210 states that one responsibility of library trustees is the “purchase of library materials and supplies,” trustees are not personally responsible for selecting or purchasing library materials to add to the library collection. However, the board of trustees is responsible for adopting a collection development policy that will:

  • Reflect the mission and the purpose of the library, based on an understanding of the community;
  • Provide guidance to staff when dealing with library customers.

The library’s mission should have already answered the following questions:

  • What is the library’s purpose?
  • Who is the library meant to serve?
  • What are the needs of that community?—Note: In the case of a library system, the needs of the communities served by each branch must be considered.
  • What is the best way to meet those needs?

Perhaps S.R. (Shiyali Ramamrita) Ranganathan said it best in his classic work, The Five Laws of Library Science:

  1. Books are for use.
  2. Every person his or her book.
  3. Every book its reader.
  4. Save the time of the reader.
  5. A library is a growing organism.

These laws are timeless and can be applied to all libraries and to all users. Some thoughts on the relevance of the laws to the digital world may be found in “Ranganathan Online,” which appeared in the April 1, 2005 issue of Library Journal. See also the Wikipedia article, “Five laws of library science.”

Benefits of a Written Collection Development Policy

The benefits of a written collection development policy are many including:

  • Clarifying to the entire community of potential users what they can, or cannot, expect the library to purchase and maintain in the collection.
  • Responding to actual community needs because it incorporates the information and decisions that resulted from long-range or strategic planning.
  • Serving as a primary document in defending against potential censorship. It displays the research, planning, and impartial judgment applied to selecting materials.
  • Guiding staff so they can continually focus on identified priorities. It moves the selection process away from individual preferences or bias. It identifies who is responsible for selection and how requests from the public will be handled.
  • Balancing the selection process by setting criteria or standards for selection that result in quality choices.
  • Providing for continuity throughout staff and/or board changes in personnel.
  • Serving as the framework for budget allocations and offers accountability in the use of funds.
  • Functioning as an assessment tool for determining how well the library is meeting its goals in serving the community.

Ingredients of a collection development policy

  • Mission and purpose of the library.
  • Collection development philosophy:
    • Description of community being served.
    • How the collection meets the needs of its users.
    • Respect for diversity of viewpoints within the community—Note: ALA includes a statement supporting Diversity in Collection Development in Interpretations of the Library Bill of Rights. WLA’s Core Values include support of Diverse Collections.
    • Respect for the information needs of the individual, although that information may be controversial, unorthodox, or unacceptable to others.—Note: WLA’s Core Values also include an Intellectual Freedom Statement.
  • Selection:
    • Team or staff positions responsible for selection.
    • Criteria for selection:
      • Relevance to interests/needs of the community.
      • Level of demand by the community (e.g., need for multiple copies of a title).
      • Relationship to the existing collection.
      • Reviews.
      • Suitability for intended audience.
      • Format.
      • Date of publication.
      • Cost.
    • Process for considering public requests for additions to the collection.
  • Challenges to items in the collection:

    Collection development policies also need to include a section relating to customer requests for the library to “reconsider” library materials. The procedure for handling these complaints should describe every step, from the initial response to the complainant through the highest appeal. The policy needs to emphasize that staff will provide the initial review and response to requests for reconsideration, and that if a challenge is sent directly to the board, the board will forward the item to staff for the initial response.

    Many libraries adopt a “Request for Reconsideration” form that must be completed in order to provide the library with the information needed to thoughtfully consider a challenge. The form should include a description of the reconsideration process and make clear that the completed form must be submitted for the library to proceed with a reconsideration request.

    Resources to help libraries to deal with challenged materials include:

  • Evaluation:

    The collection should be evaluated on a regular basis, with an eye to discarding outdated, rarely used, or dog-eared titles. The review process may uncover items of historical and/or monetary value that should be considered as candidates for preservation and/or digitization. Additional information may be found in Evaluating Library Collections from ALA’s Interpretations of the Library Bill of Rights.

  • Weeding collections:

    The disposal of surplus and obsolete library materials can be a sensitive and complex issue in a community, sometimes creating a public relations nightmare. To avoid misunderstandings, be sure to have guidelines in place for handling discarded library materials. The collection development policy should include the rationale and process for weeding, preservation, and/or replacement of materials as appropriate. RCW 39.33.070 provides for the disposal or obsolete or surplus reading materials by school districts and libraries. A board of trustees may wish to clarify the local approach to this issue and work with local government officials, especially the auditor, to reach an agreement on how the library will handle disposal of materials.

  • Gifts and donations:

    The library should have a policy on gifts/donated materials, including:

    • Criteria used to determine if the item(s) will be added to the collection;
    • Whether or not gifts will be accepted if there are any accompanying restrictions or directions for the use of the materials.