Evolving Hurdles: Collection Development

I was talking with a friend the other day about how the problems of one library often are not the problems of another. Case in point: funding. In our world of haves and have nots, all libraries were not blessed with the same financial resources or political champions. In fact, just today, Chicago’s City Council voted unanimously to pass the mayor’s proposed budget, including severe reductions in funding and staff at a library that, until recently, has been revered as something of a sacred calf. Time will tell the outcome, but as history always repeats itself, one may suspect that Chicago will ultimately follow New York and Florida en route to full funding restoration. But I digress.

Libraries all being libraries, there are among them even more commonalities than differences. Libraries have classically claimed a variety of challenges to collection development and development planning, depending on the institution’s size and type. Outsourced development firms can homogenize a collection. Where development staff are unfamiliar with the demographics of a local usership, a library may incur a wealth of items doomed to be sight unseen, while omitting from its collection materials that are truly valuable to its patrons. Academic research libraries, while attempting to address the information explosion and provide access to increasing research publications, face escalating material costs and associated headaches. Add now fluctuations in the publisher-library relationship, inherent contractual issues regarding downloads, and debate over whether student interest justifies huge expenditures tied to digital collections. It’s at once interesting, concerning, and necessary to look at the varied barriers to collection development and to evaluate how these obstacles have evolved.

My questions are several. What are the greatest impediments to collection development today? How have challenges to collection development planning changed and how have they remained the same? Consortia and regional library systems have long shared materials to reduce costs and increase access. In what other ways are we overcoming barriers to growth and diversification?

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About Steven V. Kaszynski
librarian, editor, contributor

2 Responses to Evolving Hurdles: Collection Development

  1. Andrew says:

    Very well written article, Steven. Thank you for sharing. Having worked in small public and special libraries, I’ve always found interesting the subtle dilemma between quality items and items in demand. There’s been some writing on the quality vs. demand topic, and I always like to read how different people in different places have addressed that issue. I’ve also had experiences where English-speaking patrons wondered why we collected so much ESL and foreign-language materials. Thanks again.

    • Thanks, Andrew. I know what you mean about quality or value vs. demand, particularly in public and school libraries. I’d be interested in hearing about how this is manifested in special libraries, as well. Do tell.

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