...use the basic concepts and principles related to the creation, evaluation, selection, acquisition, preservation and organization of specific items or collections of information
Meaning and Importance of Competency
Libraries and collections go hand in hand. In fact, the second sense of the word library in the Oxford English Dictionary Online is “The books contained in a ‘library’ (sense 1); ‘a large collection of books, public or private’” (“library, n.1,” 2012, March). If libraries and collections can be considered synonymous in certain contexts, then collections obviously play a very fundamental role in libraries.
Libraries exist to serve users, and providing access to collections is one way in which libraries fulfill that mission. Collections represent the recorded knowledge of humanity. In order for knowledge to be transmitted from one individual to another and to be preserved over time, it must be recorded in some form. By collecting and organizing the recorded knowledge of humanity, libraries play an important role both in promoting and facilitating learning, literacy, and intellectual freedom in specific communities and also in preserving these works for posterity.
As librarians, it is important that we consider the influence of different parties’ interests on the types of materials that we are in a position to even be able to include in library collections, as well as the relative ease or difficulty with which users can make use of the materials. Interested parties include authors, musicians, artists and other creators; researchers; journalists; publishers; retailers; jobbers and wholesalers; database vendors; investors; consumers and library users; academia; and us, libraries ourselves. Each party has its own interests, and sometimes the competing interests of different parties lead to inconvenience and barriers to usage for library patrons. Library staff who field questions about library ebooks and the various e-readers and mobile devices are all too familiar with this unfortunate situation. In addition, many factors influence whether a particular individual’s knowledge is recorded and preserved in a form that can be and is acquired by a library. The voices of the poor and uneducated may go unheard as, in the past at least, publishers’ output has been limited to the work of the educated classes. Today, many libraries’ collection development policies dictate that only materials reviewed in specific review sources are to be collected. But in this age of democracy-building, Web 2.0, and self-publishing, anyone with access to an Internet-connected device can record their knowledge on the Web at the click of a button. Thus, for librarians, many new questions about what to collect and how to collect it are raised.
The nature of the materials that make up a library’s collection and the purposes for which particular information is made available vary depending upon factors such as the type of library (e.g. school, public, academic, or special), its mission, the user population, and the time and place in which a library exists. Early libraries held collections of clay tablets or papyrus scrolls, and later, after the invention of the printing press, printed books became the dominant format held by libraries. In recent decades, as new formats have emerged at a steadily increasing pace, libraries have diversified their collections so that they now include formats such as CD, DVD, EPUB, PDF, Kindle, and MP3, to name just a few. In addition, many U.S. libraries participate in the Federal Depository Library Program, which makes U.S. federal government publications available to the public at no cost; the program’s website states, “Information products from the Federal Government are disseminated to these nationwide libraries that, in turn, ensure the American public has free access to the materials, both in print and online” (U.S. Government Printing Office, n.d.). So not only do libraries collect a variety of different types of materials, but there are specific purposes for which certain materials may be collected and made available.
Libraries have long had to consider the manner in which we make materials available to our users. For example, most libraries have both circulating and non-circulating collections; some materials are for in-house use only. Collection development librarians must decide where to place individual items within the collection. Decisions must be made about both physical and digital materials. With the rise of digital publishing, databases, the Web and Web 2.0, traditional notions of library functions such as lending and borrowing, ownership, and preservation give rise to new questions about the advantages and disadvantages of ownership vs. access and their impact upon both the library’s ability to carry out its mission and the community’s ability to use information. As librarians we must also consider whether our provision of certain formats over others serves to widen the digital divide and how we can improve our instruction to ensure that all users are able to effectively access information in the formats in which we provide it.
Copyright law has far-reaching influence on the ways in which we provide information and services, and we, as librarians, should be knowledgeable about copyright law as it pertains to libraries and to users. The use of digital materials is often bound by strict licensing agreements, and we must be savvy in understanding agreements and negotiating with copyright holders. As representatives of institutions that provide access to copyrighted materials, we must also learn to balance the interests of copyright holders and users. Organizations such as Creative Commons and Gluejar are offering innovative solutions to copyright dilemmas, and by learning about them and teaching our users about them, we can empower both ourselves and our users “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts” (U.S. Const. art I, § 8), which is the primary aim of copyright in this country. We should also pay attention to shifts in the prevailing values of society. A movement to “free knowledge” is taking hold on the Web; according to the Wikimedia Foundation, “The mission of the free-knowledge community is to create and share informational resources and cultural works in full compliance with copyright laws. When offering works to the world, however, their creators guarantee five freedoms: the freedom to use, the freedom to study, the freedom to copy, the freedom to redistribute, and the freedom to improve those works” (2012, March 29). By listening to and participating in conversations about the ways in which the production, sharing, and use of information are changing, we as librarians can help to ensure that our services remain valuable and relevant to the communities we serve.
Because libraries exist to serve users, in order for a library to provide the best service to its user population, its collections must be customized to meet their needs. The collection of an elementary school library, for example, will look very different from the collection of an undergraduate library, and the collection of a small rural community library will look different from that of a large, multi-branch urban public library system. In order to make decisions about which items to include in a particular library’s collection, it is essential that collection managers understand the needs, wants, and demands of the library’s user population. This can be achieved by performing regular and consistent community analysis and needs assessments using a variety of qualitative and quantitative methods. Some data is regularly gathered by other organizations and can readily be found on the Web and in government publications; some data may need to be gathered by library staff. In addition, the creation and ongoing review and revision of a collection development policy can help guide selection decisions and enable staff to effectively respond if members of the community raise questions or complaints about the collection. Most policies will be based on a particular collection development philosophy, either demand-oriented, where materials are purchased based on popularity and demand from the community, or value-oriented, where materials are purchased based on judgments about their value to the community, or some combination of the two. It is important to remember also that one of the foundational principles of librarianship is a commitment to intellectual freedom, and in developing collections, it is important that we provide free and balanced access to all sides of any given issue and do not implicitly endorse or promote any particular point of view in our selection of materials. We must strive to break down barriers to usage of our collections by developing policies and practices that are in tune with the needs of our communities.
Thus, the development and management of library collections is a complex and cyclical process involving many parties and many steps. New knowledge is constantly being constructed by individuals, and some of that knowledge is recorded and packaged, thereby facilitating the creation of new information products and collections. Librarians charged with collection development must monitor the steady stream of content that is published and continually evaluate the appropriateness of particular materials for their individual library collections based on their knowledge of the communities they serve. As they monitor publishers’ output, collection development librarians must select and acquire materials on limited budgets. Once materials are acquired, whether they are bought or donated, they are organized using standard classification schemes such as Dewey Decimal Classification or Library of Congress Classification, and surrogates, such as bibliographic records, are created and entered into data structures, such as OPACs, which allow for effective and efficient information retrieval by users. As collections are used over time and as different formats gain prevalence or fade from use, librarians must also utilize their knowledge of preservation techniques to ensure that information remains available and accessible not only today but tomorrow as well.
Preparation and Evidence
To demonstrate my ability to use the basic concepts and principles related to the creation, evaluation, selection, acquisition, preservation and organization of specific items or collections of information, I present two assignments that I completed for courses in the online School of Library and Information Science (SLIS) at San Jose State University (SJSU). My first piece of evidence is a materials selection assignment that I completed for LIBR 266, Collection Management. My second piece of evidence is a pathfinder and narrative report that I completed for LIBR 210, Reference and Information Services.
First Piece of Evidence: Selection Assignment, LIBR 266
As part of my evidence for Competency C, I discuss an assignment I completed for the course “Collection Management” in Spring 2011 in which students were assigned to select adult level books for a branch of the San Jose Public Library on a $500 budget. In that discussion, I describe how, “Using current review sources such as Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, and Booklist, and basing my selection choices on community analysis and information usage patterns, I created a list of recently published books that I would purchase for my branch” (Competency C).
Much information was provided in the assignment to guide students’ selections. For example, the assignment included data regarding the demographics of the community, the most popular non-fiction subjects, the branch’s proximity to local schools, and the types of information seekers—e.g. “Seekers,” “How-To-ers,” and “Enjoyers and Builders”—who comprise the majority of library users (Disher, 2011), and students were encouraged to research community demographics to supplement the information provided in the assignment. Students were instructed to select adult level books in areas other than computers, audiovisual, bestselling fiction, and language material, which would be selected and ordered centrally. We were to submit a list of selected materials, including author, title, price, and review source, along with a total of the amount of money spent, and a four-page rationale for our selections. We were graded on our discussion of criteria, selection philosophy, and decision-making.
In my narrative, I describe the process I followed in selecting materials for this assignment. I describe how the community demographic information I found through my own research confirmed much of the information provided in the assignment and highlight a couple of additional findings. I go on to discuss the collection development philosophy which guided my choices: “I tried to adhere to Francis Drury’s philosophy of collection development, summed up by Evans (1999): ‘Select the best quality reading material for the greatest number of patrons at the lowest possible price’ (p. 8)” (p. 3). I describe how this approach led me to select “primarily non-fiction works in high-demand categories such as business, cooking, home and garden, parenting, and personal finance” (p. 3) and how I tried to select works that would appeal to different populations in the diverse community served by the branch and to both current library users and non-users (p. 4). I also discuss how the cost, durability of format, or bestseller status of particular items influenced my selection decisions and why I purchased only one copy of each title despite understanding “the usefulness of purchasing multiple copies” in order to serve more users (p. 4). I conclude by addressing “important areas that I neglected” due to budget limitations and with an acknowledgment of “what a hard job selection can be” (p. 5). Because of its emphasis on concepts such as community analysis, philosophies of collection development, using review sources, and purchasing library materials on a budget, this assignment demonstrates my ability to use basic concepts and principles related to the creation, evaluation, selection, acquisition, preservation and organization of specific items or collections of information, and I therefore submit it as evidence of my mastery of this competency.
Second Piece of Evidence: Pathfinder and Narrative Report, LIBR 210
As part of my evidence for Competency I, which deals with the use of service concepts, principles and techniques that facilitate information access, relevance, and accuracy for individuals or groups of users, I discuss the pathfinder and accompanying narrative that were the culminating assignment of Dr. Michelle Holschuh Simmons’ course on Reference and Information Services in Spring 2011. In that discussion, I describe how “students were instructed to select a relatively narrow area of interest and create a research guide to help researchers find substantive sources on the topic” (Competency I) and how I created a pathfinder featuring, as my narrative report puts it, “resources that provide instruction to individuals and organizations in the use of online social networking for business and career growth” (p. 2). The creation of the pathfinder and the writing of the accompanying narrative required me also to use basic concepts and principles related to the creation, evaluation, selection, acquisition, preservation and organization of specific items or collections of information, so I will here discuss the assignment as evidence of my mastery of this competency.
In Part 1 of my narrative, I include a brief discussion of my pathfinder’s topic, the scope of the pathfinder, and the intended audience. The audience for my pathfinder, as I discuss on pages 2-3 of my report, includes professionals, business owners, and job seekers at The Seattle Public Library (SPL). I describe how my pathfinder complements other programs and services already offered to this population by SPL and how my pathfinder recommends, on the basis of specific criteria, a subset of SPL’s collection of works on the topic of online social networking for business and career growth (p. 3). Some of the challenges to users researching this topic that I mention include “the speed at which materials on the topic become outdated, difficulties in distinguishing authoritative from non-authoritative sources, and the large volume of materials written on the topic” (Competency I). I also discuss the criteria on which I evaluated different resources from the SPL collection, which included “currency, appropriateness for my target audience, providing a substantial treatment of the topic of how online social networking can be used for business and career growth, and authority” (p. 4). Thus my pathfinder and accompanying narrative demonstrate the use of basic concepts and principles related to the creation, evaluation, and selection of specific items or collections of information.
Part 2 of my narrative consists of a bibliography of sources I selected for my pathfinder as well as a bibliography of items I examined but chose not to include. My bibliography of included sources (pp. 5-13) includes brief annotations and explanations of why I included each source in my pathfinder, specifying how each source fits the criteria explained in the introductory section. My bibliography of excluded sources (pp. 13-17) groups excluded sources into several categories, including outdated, out of scope, too advanced, redundant, superficial treatment of topic, and scope too broad. This section of my narrative demonstrates the use of basic concepts and principles related to the evaluation and selection of specific items or collections of information.
Part 3 of the assignment is my pathfinder itself. Students were instructed “to organize the pathfinder in a way that makes sense for a user, not necessarily for a librarian” (Simmons, 2011, p. 3); I grouped resources into categories I selected with the user group in mind, including “For job seekers: Leverage your social network to get hired,” “Business & marketing: Make money and take your business to the top,” and “Your personal brand: Manage your online reputation.” Thus, my pathfinder itself demonstrates the use of basic concepts and principles related to the organization of specific items or collections of information.
Because my pathfinder and accompanying narrative required me to create a small collection of resources on a specific topic for a specific user group and to select items for inclusion using evaluation on specified criteria and to organize included items with users in mind, this assignment demonstrates my competence in this area. I therefore submit it as evidence of my mastery of this competency.
Because collections play such a fundamental role in libraries, the ability to use collection management concepts is of vital importance to librarians and information professionals. As libraries today, due to the rise of new technologies and shifts in society’s values and practices around the creation, sharing, and use of information, face new challenges and questions related to the creation, evaluation, selection, acquisition, preservation and organization of their collections, the ability to use these basic concepts and principles will remain an important skill for librarians to possess. My experience using these concepts and principles on the job and through my SLIS coursework has helped me to develop a greater understanding of the complexities of collection management, and I feel confident that I will be able to effectively use this knowledge throughout the rest of my professional career.
Disher, W. (2011). Selection assignment. Unpublished assignment sheet, San Jose State University.
Evans, G. E. (1999). Selection process: Theory. In Developing library and information center collections (3rd ed., chapter 4). Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.
"library, n.1". (2012, March). In OED Online. Retrieved April 7, 2012, from http://www.oed.com.libaccess.sjlibrary.org/view/Entry/107923?rskey=gc1WAC&result=1&isAdvanced=false
Simmons, M. H. (2011). Pathfinder assignment sheet. Unpublished assignment sheet, San Jose State University.
U.S. Const. art. I, § 8.
U.S. Government Printing Office. (n.d.). Federal Depository Library Program. Retrieved from http://www.gpo.gov/libraries/
Wikimedia Foundation. (2012, March 29). The power of free knowledge [Web log]. Retrieved from http://blog.wikimedia.org/2012/03/29/the-power-of-free-knowledge/