It was probably within my first year as a librarian that I started, semi-jokingly, to describe my collection development philosophy by quoting Whoopi Goldberg’s character from Sister Act: “I was thinking more like Vegas. You know. Get some butts in the seats.” (That line is from the scene in which she's defending her secular approach to arranging music for the convent's choir.)
Using pop music to get disillusioned parishioners into a church is just the same as using graphic novels, popular movies, and genre fiction to get reluctant students to set foot in a college library. At my first academic librarian job that was pretty much all we had: reluctant students. In order to get accepted as a student there, you had to have a diagnosed learning difficulty – dyslexia, ADHD, or the like – and so for many of our students, the library represented what they couldn’t do.
Flash forward to where I am now, and I've made the leap from tempting students to tempting faculty. Just as I asked the savvier students at my first job for advice about things like whether or not I should add “The Sandman” series to my collection (the answer was something like: “If you buy this series, people will definitely come to the library to borrow it and look to see what else you’ve got.”), I now make it a point to learn the curricular, research, and, when possible, personal interests of faculty. We have a Spanish professor who teaches epic literature who is also a huge fan of Star Trek; our medievalist is starting to get interested in folklore studies; and one of the computer science professors has a middle grades son who gobbles up series like “Artemis Fowl.” Heck, I even know what authors and topics most interest our outgoing academic dean. We all know that libraries have more, but “the library brand is still books,” according to OCLC’s Perceptions of Libraries, 2010: Context and Community. Instead of spending all my effort fighting that idea, I capitalize on it. This approach gets me more than higher circulation stats. This approach helps me build relationships with my constituency.
That's my point: collection development is just another tool in a librarian’s marketing & outreach toolbox. Sure, I joke about kissing up to our English department by buying books that I know will interest them. I even said it directly to one of our Americanists (who is, by the way, developing a serious taste for graphic novels thanks to me). Despite the tongue-in-cheek way I talk about it, collection development-as-outreach works. Some of the best professional relationships I’ve developed at this college started out with, “Hey, I read a review of a book you might like. Want me to add it to the collection?”
You could call it “descriptive,” or “user centered,” or even “patron focused,” but whatever label I use, it’s clearly a big step away from the way university and college libraries used to build collections. It used to be all about strict adherence to recommended lists and prescribed bibliographies. Those kinds of resources are great for creating a collection, but they only get in my way when maintaining one. Besides, one of the current movements is towards increased engagement with our populations. I can't think of an easier way to start.
For those of you who have collection development responsibilities, how do you make these decisions? Why? For everyone, what do you think of my approach and do you think it could work for you?
As I mentioned in my first post, please leave feedback if you have specific topics and/or questions you want me to tackle. Since next week is ALA annual, my next entry will be about why it’s important to go both to library conferences and non-library conferences.