How We Build Collections

To cope with the recent economic decline, the College asked all units to cut operating budgets by 5% last winter, followed by news that FY10 budgets would at least be flat-funded, a de facto roll back. Since the library hasn’t experienced such deep cuts in decades–if ever–we thought it would be useful to state how we prefer to build collections in the midst of smaller fund accounts and modest prospects for budget growth.

By obligation, the Library collects information resources to support the curricular needs of the College’s academic departments. We strive to provide relevant materials for established programs and to assemble, to the extent possible, retrospective core collections for new College-sponsored academic initiatives. Collection subjects reflect the undergraduate curriculum, and collection developers are informed by class enrollments, intensity of use, new course offerings, and areas of study which must be supported by strong local holdings.

The primary way we build subject collections is by acquiring materials we think will be used by those teaching and taking courses presently offered by the College. This process is a year-by-year layering of new course materials upon older ones, perhaps best described as follows: in year one, professor X (in addition to her textbook order) submits requests to the library for books that augment required readings for a course she is currently teaching; in year two, professor X submits requests for additional books that further augment readings for this same course. Over the years, as X continues to teach this course, the library steadily shapes a collection around this curricular subject. We try to avoid the opposite approach, to expend large sums of money on a single course all at once, because creating an “opening day” collection means significantly reducing acquisitions in other subjects, and because by having sustained curricular activity drive collecting levels, we’re advancing collections incrementally according to needs of students and teachers.

–Joe Toth

3 thoughts on “How We Build Collections

  1. Jason Mittell

    Joe – what about serials (or is that another post)? Within my own field, it seems like there a number of journal titles that we’re not getting that I need to ILL frequently, and we subscribe to a lot of titles that are no longer really relevant. And many titles that we receive print copies of are also available full text on databases. I know this a really complex area to weed through, but it is also quite costly. Is there a plan in place to reevaluate or journal subscription holdings and plan?

  2. jtoth Post author


    Serials be the subject of another post, as they represent subscription rather than one-time costs, a whole other ballgame. We review databases usage stats yearly, some of which include journal usage, and journal subscriptions every three years, mainly because we don’t want to burden faculty with an annual canvassing of periodicals. The next serials review is due in FY11. In the interim, please submit journal requests to your liaison along with suggestions on current titles you think are no longer relevant. Be prepared, however, for colleagues to announce that the titles you cast in doubt are central to their work, but please don’t allow possible disagreement to foreclose offering your opinions–we need them to gauge the continued suitability of our subscriptions.

    FYI: this article will appear in Library Collections News, a PDF newsletter I’ll be sending to faculty shortly. The main articles in LCN also will appear in this blog. LCN may evolve into a forum in which related collections matters may be discussed holistically among faculty and LIS. I asked LIS for permission to send out a separate newsletter on collections because I sense many faculty members focus very sharply on what we collect, what we don’t, how we do it, who we do it with, and so on.

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