Wednesday, January 10, 2018

There's No "I" in Collection Development

(Okay, of course there's an "i" in Collection Development, but bear with me...)

Image of teetering, overstuffed bookshelves. If I am not careful, our shelves will look like this.

It's a selector's responsibility to maintain a balanced collection in the library. We're taught that in grad school. They say that if 20% of your library's collection personally offends you (politically, religiously, etc.), you're doing your job.

But there are smaller biases that we need to be aware of, too. What are your personal biases? And how do you check them as you're selecting for your collection?

What I mean is, I can tell what personal interests our selectors have had as I look at our collection. There are some sections that are just perennially popular and have been widely ordered throughout the years: mysteries, large print, Christian fiction... But there are some sections that give me pause.

Looking at the collection, I can tell that at a certain time our selector of nonfiction loved reading biographies. Our biography section ballooned at that time. Other past selectors have had other personal interests I can spot as I look through what's circulating - and what's not - in our collection.

When I first heard I had gotten this job, I thought "Great! Now I can make sure we have any book my heart desires; I can just buy any book I think I want to read!"

Surely, I thought, if I read it someone else will want it. I have great taste! Everyone will love the exact same books I will!

That's flawed thinking and will probably result in many books sitting on the shelf, not circulating or checked out once (by me!). And that's not doing any favors to our collection.

Being in charge of selection is about more than getting the books I personally want to read on our shelves. I'm selecting for the entire community. And that means more than just ensuring that I'm buying books I know my patrons will be interested in. It means checking my impulse to buy the books that personally sound interesting to me and asking myself if they're a good fit for my community as well.

I've learned some surprising things as I've stopped to think carefully about what I'm selecting. I have an impulse to buy every book with feminist themes that is being published. I love reading about icky medical history, I crave short story collections, I am drawn to writers from Africa. Some of those may be interests my patrons share, but I've got to make sure I'm asking myself this question: who am I buying this book for?

If the answer is that my patrons will be interested and check it out, great! In the cart it goes. If not, maybe I add it to my GoodReads to-read list and seek it out for myself later.