On the job: Collection development, Part 2

If you recall, I wrote a rather in-depth post about how I decide which books to remove from the collection. I started with it because removing books from the library seems to be the hardest aspect of my job for the public to understand. But it’s also a big key to how libraries continue to function and stay relevant. There are always more books we need to add to the collection (to please our patrons and to get our information up-to-date), but eventually we will run out of shelf space. As Spock might say, “It’s only logical.” Collection development, then, is a constant balancing act between purchasing books, removing books and keeping books. The decisions that lead to each option can be easy just as often as they are difficult. Suffice it to say, we don’t just dump our books in the Dumpster willy-nilly. Indeed, we don’t even put the books we remove in the Dumpster. If we can’t keep them to the collection, we give them to the Friends of the Library to raise money for the library. If they can’t sell them, they get donated to the DAV (or another local thrift store). If they are in extremely bad condition, we will recycle them. So, it is a little crazy for me to read how libraries get such bad press over their weeding policies. Yes, weeding must be done thoughtfully, but it also must be done, or the library can’t function.

But enough of all that! While, I do spend some of my day evaluating my portion of the collection for weeding, I spend more of it reading book reviews, finding holes in our collection, and scanning book previews. This is the fun part of my job: Buying whatever books my heart desires:

Alright, that’s not true at all. Although, every once in a while I discover a book I want to read that will fit our collection, I am actually purchasing for the patrons: the general public, local students, lifelong learners, etc. While I look for book excerpts that are easy or intriguing for me to read, I rely on my understanding of how our patrons use or can use our library to pick the best books on which to spend money. Of course, this is why it is also the more difficult part of my job: There is only so much money. We can’t always purchase whatever book strikes our fancy, and even though there are books I want to read, I don’t always purchase them. And when I do decide we need a book, I sometimes find myself agonizing over the decision because I don’t want to waste money.

But we do have tools to help us with our decisions. Horizon (the system where we keep track of our books) provides us with insight into how the collection is used. For example, we don’t really need a lot of scholarly tomes meant for graduate students because our patrons are mostly general learners or just looking for a fun read. So even if we need a book on a particular topic, I have to make sure its intended audience matches the make-up of my users. But the best tools are my book reviews. So, I really do spend much of my day reading. While I do spend some time reading books from our collection so I know what is in it, the reviews are my most valuable reads.

These two trade magazines, Library Journal and Booklist, are curated lists of books that will be published soon. Library Journal also has some great features and columnists, making it an important read for me every month. Other review sources include Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus Review. If you become an acquisitions librarian, you will be reading reviews all the time. They may even blur together so you might find yourself not wanting to buy any books, or wanting to buy all the books. That’s what makes being a library assistant at a small library so great: I have a lot of varied duties. Once I find my eyes crossing, I take a break. I might walk around and straighten up the shelves. I might help someone better format their Word documents or learn how to use the public portal to find books themselves. Or I create a display of books to highlight. I’ve planned presentations to local high school classes and am currently working on creating a movie program from my library. Being a library professional is the greatest job ever because I can do so many different things day-to-day, and yet still love them all. Some day I’ll get around to sharing with you all the things I accomplish while on the job. Can’t wait for me to get on that already? Then read all my reflections of life in the library.

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