Thursday, April 8, 2010

It Usually Comes Down to a Collection Development Policy...

My Twitter friend @garylandeck, director of the American Alpine Club Library in Colorado, recently brought an interesting blog post to our attention through the Twitter-sphere.

"Marked" discusses how a "Collection Appraisal Project" at New Zealand's Victoria University Wellington library "proposed in 2004 to dispose of up to 130,000 titles - approximately one-fifth of its overall holdings - so that some of its space could be freed up for other functions than the storage and display of books." The post states that librarians made decisions about weeding books based on book circulation. The librarians were set to eliminate books that hadn't circulated in the library's holdings in the past ten years. Books were marked with dramatic red stickers when identified for removal. They remain on the shelves with their red stickers today.

According to the blogger, "What made the exercise at Victoria objectionable then wasn’t the decision to get rid of some books, or the involvement of staff and students in the selection, but the ulterior aim, which was an actual reduction of the overall holdings so that other functions - primarily IT - could be expanded. By rights this move ought to have followed a discussion on what it means to have more computers and fewer books..."

As a strong proponent of collection development policies to manage cultural heritage collections of all types, I am intrigued by this case study. It is a trend in library services to move attention toward technology. We are all trying to strike a balance with computers and "traditional" collections. I have spoken out in my own blog against a trend toward abandonment of printed resources, but I wondered about the accuracy of this post by a non-librarian. I wondered how the librarians at Victoria University really managed the "Collection Appraisal Project." Would librarians in a research setting really set circulation as a criteria for collection inclusion without regard to University culture, community interests (i.e. researchers' needs) and without considering a collections policy?

A search in Google of "victoria 'collection appraisal project'" reveals Yahoo groups set up by students concerned about the library's actions in 2004. More searching started to dig up little pieces of information including this statement (my pay dirt?) in the University's 2004 Annual Report "The Library embarked upon a collection appraisal process to identify lesser-used material from its collections. Following the appointment of a new University Librarian, a collection management policy for the Library is being developed, and it will offer a framework in which academic needs can best be reflected in the Library's collections."

I set out with the intention of writing this post to talk about the need for collection development policies to guide decisions based on my initial impression of the "Marked" blog post. Rather than devising seemingly arbitrary solutions to problems of balancing "traditional" collections with impending issues of what a library is and what it should be, libraries need to think long and hard about their actions before controversy such as that at Victoria University erupts. It seems like Victoria University realized they needed a collection development policy after the controversy, but perhaps before it was too late.

Strategic planning must include consideration of collections AND must incorporate strong WRITTEN collection development policies to move the LAM - libraries, archives and museums - into the future. Collection development policies help clarify our purpose and guide our actions.

I would love to hear more about the Victoria University case from anyone directly involved and your opinions on the matter.


  1. In researching the post I wasn't able to find a lot of information from the library side myself - the pages referenced in the correspondence that I kept were (not surprisingly) all removed from the website. Beside my own recollection, and the correspondence in question with faculty staff and postgraduate students, I did ask a few people to confirm that what I remembered was correct. I can attest that their impression and mine at the time was that the process was being carried out "without regard to University culture, community interests (i.e. researchers' needs) and without considering a collections policy". Professor Easting's open letter - too long to post in the comments, but I can produce it via email - was very forceful in this regard.

  2. Hi Giovanni,

    Thanks for writing. I would be interested in seeing the letter and perhaps you could e-mail it to me if you are willing?

    It would be interesting to research if other libraries have been through anything similar to what Victoria experienced...

  3. I'm sure that your email is here somewhere but I just can't find it... Would you email it to me? Mine's in my profile.