Things I Wish I’d Known: Collection Development

Welcome to Things I Wish I’d Known, a semi-regular feature in which I talk about things I wish I’d known when I started my job as a children’s librarian.

I’ve been a children’s librarian for 2 1/2 years now, and before that was a teen librarian for about a year. When I look back at what I’ve learned over these last few years, it’s a lot. So I thought I’d try to share some of the things I’ve learned in case they might help some of my readers avoid the same mistakes I’ve made. The first post in this series will focus on Collection Development and all I’ve learned from trying to build and maintain the collection at my library for the last few years.

Whenever I see something like this in a book, I know it’s pretty much my jam.

1. It’s not about you and what you like. This is obvious, and it’s Collection Development 101, but it’s one thing to intellectually know, and another to actually focus on when making purchasing decisions. One thing I learned while perusing review journals early on: I love books that have maps in them. As a kid, I read so much fantasy, and I still love poring over the maps in any epic fantasy I might read. When a review mentions that a book has maps, I’m tempted (still, every time) to buy it without even thinking about it. I mean, it has maps, it must be good, right? I’ve had to learn to think critically about whether or not this particular book is a good fit for my collection, and whether my patrons would want to read it. Fantasy circs really well in my library, which works in my favor here, but I have to make sure I stop, think about it, and make an informed decision about whether the book is one my patrons–and not just me–will love.

Really, any time a review of a book sparks an immediate gut reaction in me, either positive or negative, that’s when I take a step back and make sure I’m thinking critically about the book and its reviews, rather than just going by my own personal tastes. For instance, as a reader I would never pick up a book in verse on my own. It’s just not my thing. But there are many popular and well-reviewed books that are books in verse, and I need to make sure my collection has them.

2. It’s not enough to just buy books that celebrate diversity. I absolutely love the #WeNeedDiverseBooks discussion that’s been happening on Twitter and all over the web. (And I encourage you to follow the link and donate to their campaign if you can.) Celebrating diversity and offering books that are representative of all kinds of experiences and people is something I take very seriously. Buying diverse books is super important, but so is making sure you’re promoting these same books. Places where I consciously make sure I’m including lots of diversity: storytime selections, displays, in-house booklists and bookmarks, and when hand-selling during school visits or readers’ advisory. I hope the discussion around #WeNeedDiverseBooks helps get more books published, so I have even more awesome books to promote.

Why is this out of print? WHYYYYYY??????

Why is this out of print? WHYYYYYY??????

3. Weeding is necessary, but can be painful. I’m not a sentimental person. I’ve always liked getting rid of things that are no longer relevant. So imagine my surprise when I realized how tricky weeding could be. I didn’t realize the heartbreak of a favorite book no longer being in print (I’m looking at you Clip Clop and “Hi, Pizza Man!”) and having to decide whether it stays in the collection, or if I should try to salvage it for my storytime collection (totally happened with “Hi, Pizza Man!”), or if condition demands that we get rid of it. Weeding is making a lot of decisions that are hard. It’s not always making the decisions you want to make.

With nonfiction it gets even trickier. What do you do with books that are dated, but still circ, and there isn’t a new, in-print version on the same subject? (I’m looking at you publishers and authors: I’d love a new book about Venus Flytraps so that I can replace our dated looking, but super popular, book on the subject.) While there are completely easy weeding choices to be made (see one of my favorite blogs, Awful Library Books, for many, many examples), there are also a lot of choices that are harder than I thought they would be.

To sum up: I love collection development and collection management. Getting to buy books and maintaining an up-to-date and usable collection for my patrons is such a fun part of my job. Although I could probably write a lot more about collection development and what I’ve learned, I’ve focused on the pieces that have come up for me over and over again over the last few years. I hope this helps out newer librarians, and if there’s anything I missed, let me know in the comments.

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