Sunday, May 8, 2016

The Death and Resurrection of Collection Development Policies

Bishop, Andrew

Pickett, C., Stephens, J., Kimball, R., Ramirez, D., Thornton, J., Burford, N. (2011). Revisiting an Abandoned Practice: The Death and Resurrection of Collection Development Policies. Collection Management, 36(3), 165-181, DOI: 10.1080/01462679.2011.580426

Using Texas A&M University Library’s process to create a new, up-to-date collection development policy following at least ten years of not having updated or even consulted one as a lens, the authors examine the reasons libraries abandon having a written collection development and maintenance policy and how and why to return to having and using one.  The literature review found that many libraries do not have written policies, or have not updated them in several years.  The policies that do exist vary in the level of detail.  The studies cited say lack of budget and manhours is the main reason a policy does not exist or is not maintained, although there is some lack of understanding as to “the lack of precise definition of what a written policy is as opposed to what it does” (168) can also be a reason no codified policy exists.  Proponents of formal policies in the literature say written policies provide a guide for acquisitions, as well as a “rationale” for development decisions that helps protect against censorship.  Opponents say the policies limit selector freedom and can be inflexible.  Policies focusing on content were found to be more flexible as electronic resources became more prevalent.

Texas A&M’s Collection Development Committee began their revision and updating of the policy by reviewing the current environment by reviewing the university’s statistics listing not only all the majors, but the enrollment and number of courses for each college and department.  They also reviewed the university’s strategic plan for the new century and several ALA publications relating to policy creation.  They also looked at the websites and catalogs of the libraries from comparable institutions throughout the country, looking specifically at their collection development policies.  The committee determined each subject would have its own, specific policy, based on a committee generated template, while the overarching policy would deal with management issues such as storage and consortial membership.  The authors concluded that collection development policy creation and maintenance require clear purposes and goals.  Texas A&M needed a new policy, for example, because collection development “lacked coherence” (172) and the mandates articulated in strategic planning needed more planning to implement. 

The authors’ final conclusion was that the policy creation process was overall a success due to the committee’s organization, level of study, quality control given to the subject groups, standardization, and recognition of the fact that if the collection development policy needed to remain updated and in touch with the curriculum in order to keep the libraries relevant to the campus community.  The resurrection of the policy helped bridge the gap between the strategic plan and daily collection development practice in a way that supports the subject selectors’ efforts.


A good in-depth look at one method of policy creation in action.  While the method of determining current needs isn’t explicitly explained, given the committee’s review of the curriculum and the recognition that some majors and certification programs were undersupported, it sounds like they used collection mapping or some variant in their process.  For a large, multi-disciplinary institution such as the A&M libraries, creating umbrella subject groups with their own specific policies as well as an overall university policy seems like a good way to combine solid guidance with flexibility and adaptability.

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