Collection development in school libraries

How to approach collection development in school libraries

The way we build our library collections has remained fundamentally the same over the years. Entering the 20’s, we have almost infinite library collection options through mixed media formats and new subscription-based services. Despite our fortunate situation with seemingly unlimited resources available to us, collection development in practice remains in the status quo.

This article talks about mixed media collection development in school libraries and makes actionable suggestions for school librarians to work with.

Build a collection development plan

We often fight hard for our budgets. So, it is with utmost care that we try to make the best use of them to benefit our students. A collection development plan will give you a lens into the future that will help you understand where you need to spend.

Making sure you populate and then stick to (and adapt if necessary) a collection development plan is essential as it informs purchase decisions, ensuring your school library has the best resources for your students.

A great way to create a thorough collection development plan is to consult students and teachers. With surveys, face-to-face class visits and presentations at department meetings, you can gather lots of information. This data will help you understand what your users find valuable and what they would like you subscribe to and purchase. Remember, experience is great, but always be open minded; what is popular and well-used in one school won’t necessarily be the same in another- listen to the needs of your users.

There are many excellent survey and presentation providers available for free online.

Collection development starts with identifying existing gaps

Always consider where your collection gaps are well before budget submissions are due. Key decision makers are driven by what benefit students will gain from every dollar spent. By showing existing gaps, and how filling them will contribute to positive student outcomes you give yourself the best possible opportunity for budget approval.

Reporting functions in your school library management system are extremely helpful

Your school library management system will help you identify gaps in your collection.
  • Popular author reports are worth checking to make sure you have all works published and show where extra copies would be worthwhile.
  • Comparative reports across different age groups will show where engagement with the collection is lacking, or where a certain cohort is reading in a different direction.
  • High or low use usage reports will show you what is being used in your existing collection and what can be replaced.

Collaborate with departmental heads

It’s always important to know well in advance what will be studied. If you have visibility of the school curriculum, you can make sure that your collection will support it. This is where it’s important to engage with departmental heads to get overviews of the year’s topics. If you have a general outline for the year ahead, you can better assess potential and current resource subscriptions.

Digital content collections – practical tips

There are many reasons why digital resources are so popular in modern library collections. Digital resources are easily accessed from home through your library management software, they take up much less space in the library and they can be used as an interim resource during curriculum trial periods.

Books are expensive, and they’re permanent. When a departmental head passes the note that they’re trialing new subject matter for the year, sometimes the best option is to purchase a digital subscription for a year. Rather than purchase the physical books and find the trial has ended unsuccessfully a year later, leaving you with unusable inventory; you can simply discontinue the subscription.

Here are 3 tips for handling digital resource subscriptions:

1. Check if the digital resource provider has promotional material that you can download. This will save you time making informational material to give to your students. It will also increase usage and raise the profile of the resource.

2. Keep an eye out for digital content providers who are offering free trials of their products. If you time it to coincide with a research project you will be able to see if the students find it useful or not, without committing funds to it first.

3. Remember to use the reporting functions in your school library management system to show usage statistics of digital content. You can’t ‘get a feel for’ digital resources like with book check-outs. The only way to know for sure is to see usage statistics and pick trends.

The other side of collection development

Collection development is more than just what you put into your collection, it’s also what you take out. Weeding out unused, dated and damaged resources gives you more shelf space for your new purchases. It also ensures your students have access to quality materials.

Unfortunately, weeding isn’t a Marie Kondo-esque experience where you decide if the books spark joy for you. Books always spark joy for librarians! Weeding can be difficult and can be a cause for anxiety, so use data from your library management system to drive the decision.

The basics: data hygiene – it helps with circulation

If you look at the resources that aren’t being used, and feel that they should be, try the following:
  • Check the metadata and ensure the data is complete
  • Make sure the book is still relevant in the school curriculum
  • See to it that the books are easy to find
  • Ensure the appropriate tags are applied in your school library system

At the end of the day, just because a book looks good, or is still in great condition and has good bibliographic data – if it no longer fits in your collection, it may be time for it to go. 

A note about student search habits

There is no greater missed opportunity than a fantastic resource that is left to gather dust. As mentioned above, without logical and complete bibliographic data, students may have difficulty in finding the resources. Students won’t always use the best search terms though, because they’re students. So, look at the records and learn if what you currently have in the bibliographic record is helping or hindering. Try using tags or keywords to mark resources as part of a specific study topic. Tags and keywords are an effective way to get resources into the hands of those who need them the most.

To get students attention, it’s also worth considering promoting your catalog in different ways.

Remove large series that take up shelf space

In some instances, you may be able to move some items into the stacks if you have them. Sometimes big series’ can wreak havoc on your shelf space. So, consider only having the first few books in the series on the shelves, and the rest stored somewhere easily accessible. This tip is useful if the series isn’t popular, but still getting some use.

Collection development - always a work in progress

Collection development is an ongoing project which is often driven by budget. It needn’t be daunting to reinvigorate your collection, just give yourself plenty of time. And of course, check in with your professional networks. Your colleagues may have success stories to share which can make the process of collection development much easier.

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