Library Doesn’t Have Policy on Gifts to Collection

Q: I’ve seen the issue of gifts to a library mentioned in a couple of the responses in this forum, and you’ve indicated that it’s important to follow whatever a library’s policy says about accepting gifts to the collection. But what if my library doesn’t have a policy about accepting gifts?

If your library doesn’t have a policy on accepting gifts (usually this is part of the larger selection policy), then most likely there’s an informal practice that’s been followed in the past. But with nothing in writing, chances are that gifts have been handled inconsistently over time.

And without a policy, you eventually run into the problem (if you haven’t already) of what to do when someone wants to donate something to the library that doesn’t meet your collection development guidelines in any way. That’s why a policy is necessary, and why it’s essential to follow the policy at all times.

If you don’t have a policy on gifts, or if you have one but it’s outdated (for example, maybe it doesn’t account for materials available in newer technology formats), it’s ideal to keep all gifts “on hold,” regardless of whom the donor is, or what the donor offers to buy or give. Talk to your supervisor (if you are not the library director) about what steps the library can take to address the gap in the policy. Most likley the director will be the one who needs to follow through.

Ultimately, the board will need to update the selection policy to address how to handle all gifts in a manner that is consistent, and that fits into the library’s collection development goals and guidelines. That includes addressing how to handle materials that are donated to the children’s collection but don’t belong there (will the donor allow you to put them elsewhere if they are deemed inappropriate for the children’s collection but fine for the adult collection?), and how to handle materials that don’t meet the library’s collection development criteria at all.

The American Library Association’s Selection and Reconsideration Policy Toolkit has a section devoted to “Gifts and Donations” that may be helpful to your library in developing policy language. Seeing what other public libraries in your region or state have in their policies can also be useful.

All of this may sound complicated, but the revision is likely to be resolved quickly in most communities by a board wanting to provide information and entertainment for all the people of all ages and interests in its service area.

December, 2005