Collection Development by Committee?

Q: What do you think of collection development by committee? With the elimination of library media specialist positions in our district, the principal at my school wants book selection for each school to be done by a group of people.

First and foremost, we think it’s essential that whoever is responsible for selecting books for school (or public) libraries understands the importance of following the collection development policy and embraces the principles of intellectual freedom as they relate to collection development. They also need to be trained to evaluate materials with the assistance of information gleaned from professional review journals and recommended lists.

In addition to outlining the criteria and principles that should inform collection development, the selection policy at the school where you work may also delineate responsibility for collection development decisions.

Typically, and historically, the library media specialist has the responsibility for selection. In recent years more and more library aides have taken on these responsibilities as districts eliminate library media specialist positions, although a district-level LMS may approve all choices.

The principal at the school where you work may or may not be aware of what the current policy outlines with regard to the principles, criteria, and practices that inform the selection process. S/he may not be aware of the many things that are factored into collection development decisions and the specific knowledge and expertise that the library media specialist brings to the position.

A library media specialist must consider both the big picture (balance of entire collection, allocation of resources) and specific areas of need for staff and students when making collection development decisions. S/he must do this while adhering to the principles of intellectual freedom, which means, among other things, keeping an open mind and making decisions based on professional judgment rather than personal opinion or fear. And they must do it all while following the criteria and guidelines outlined in the collection development policy.

That doesn’t mean that a number of individuals shouldn’t have input on collection development. Inviting suggestions from teachers—who are subject specialists—and other staff and students is important to meeting the needs and interests of individuals across the school.

This is often done through a paper or online form that invites suggestions for additions to the library collection. Any such form should make it clear that final decisions for items suggested for purchase will be made based on professional assessments of the material as well as availability resources.

Involving a committee in the process of choosing materials –as opposed to individuals suggesting titles—might be helpful in formalizing a means for the library media specialist or aide responsible for collection development to obtain valuable input. However, we believe such a committee should serve in an advisory rather than final decision-making role.

Let the principal know that you welcome an advisory committee that will help make suggestions for purchase at individual schools and will use this information to carry out the responsibility for selection as they are outlined in the policy.

If such an advisory committee is put in place, then you’ll have the opportunity and responsibility to educate its members about the principles and policies and issues that inform collection development so that they can make informed suggestions for purchase. While you are at it, you will be educating them to be advocates for the library media program.

August, 2011