Are community members able to get what they want/need from the collection?
Are they able to find materials that reflect them and their interests?
If they are concerned about items in the library is there a process for them to express their concerns?
Is the library more than a museum for books?
Are libraries maximizing their resources to meet community needs?
Excellent collection development librarians know their community. They often have personal relationships with regulars; they pay attention to what is happening locally; they look for hidden gems; and they analyze what is and isn’t being used.
These librarians use a variety of tools to learn about their community
Listen. This is the first step. Talk to your regulars. Pay attention to what they are reading.
Attend community meetings and listen to what people are saying. What are they excited about? What are they interested in? What are they worried about?
Review your usage data. What is checking out the most? Consider subjects as well as formats. What doesn’t get much use? Why is that?
Is your library in the Montana Shared Catalog? Take a look at these resources that can help you analyze your collection.
Don’t forget online collections. Review online reports as well. Are you a member of MontanaLibrary2Go? Visit https://desk.zoho.com/portal/montanastatelibrary/kb/statewide-projects for information about how to see these reports.
Skim local, regional, and state print or electronic media to find hidden gems that should be added to the collection.
Consider local history and stories. The community’s stories are a powerful way to learn, understand, and create. Consider the Montana Memory Project either as a resource for people to access or as a service where your library actively contributes community history.
Access to the collection is important as well. Don’t forget to practice good cataloging and review these resources that can help organize your collection up in a way that makes it easier to obtain the data you need.
Sometimes the most efficient and economical thing to do is borrow the item from another library – either through traditional Interlibrary Loan methods or through sharing groups.
Libraries have long been places where all people are welcome. We can build on that ideal by ensuring that our services and collections reflect all of our community members and give people access to the full range of human ideas and experiences. This is powerfully illustrated by the simple building blocks created by a group of students who analyzed why their library was so welcoming to all. You can read about the power of five in this article from American Libraries.
One of the key components? “Show me on the shelves and walls. Read those books yourself.”
How do we build collections that reflect our community members?
Use what you learned previously when you listened to community members. Ask your community members to help you choose items for the collection. Be sure you include community members from all walks of life.
Review your census data. How many community members report having disabilities? How many minorities are in your community?
Go beyond that to identify other groups in your community who might not look different from the majority but who live differently. Give them a chance to tell their stories and “share their joy” which is another fundamental thing welcoming libraries do for their community.
The Massachusetts Library System has created a guide about how to build inclusive collections.
Most of us recognize that we don’t want the library to become a museum for old books. Yet, it’s amazing how attached we are to physical items that may have been sitting on the shelf for years.
Keep your collection fresh by weeding it regularly. There are many resources and learning materials on weeding the collection. The CREW Method is the one most frequently used by public libraries.
Add to the collection as you can – either through donations or a regular ordering process. Don't have enough money to regularly add items to the collection? Consider partnering with area libraries and cooperatively managing your collections to maximize the number of items people can access.
Review your collection management policy on a regular basis to consider if you need different formats or subjects.
Finally, you may run into a community member who is concerned about an item owned by the library. This can be challenging and uncomfortable. The American Library Association has guidance on how to handle these types of complaints.
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