Retrospective Collection Development

I’m reading the spiral-bound Collection Development and Resource Access Plan for the Skokie Public Library. The authors of this book are Teri Room, Barbara Kozlowski, and the librarians at Skokie Public Library. The book is about a specific, actual library, what’s in their collection, and the reasons why what’s there is there. It’s a bit like reading how your neighbors keep their pantry stocked. Not something that you would’ve thought to pick up, but fascinating once you find yourself 15-minutes into an explanation on the various inventory control mechanisms exercised on white bread vs. whole wheat.*

In reading the Skokie Public Library collection development policy, a lot of things strike me as being quite common sensical. Part of this is because policy statements set high-level, general guidelines but don’t deal with any actual nitty-gritty, fuzzy, marginal book selection and deselection cases, so, in principle, things sound straightforward enough.

One clause from the book did jump out at me, however. On page 31, one reads “in any one year, the Library will not spend more than ten to fifteen percent of the budget allocated to a collection on replacement and retrospective purchases.” This means that if a book is not acquired the year it is published, its chances of ever being acquired are slim. This policy serves two purposes. One, it ensures that a certain amount of materials on the shelves are newly published books. This keeps the collection from getting too terribly outdated. Two, and this is more interesting, it forces the current selector to respect past acquisition and weeding decisions. After all, a collector who has to spend at least 85% of his budget on getting new materials cannot completely overhaul the collection by tossing what has been bought before and substitute in other previously published materials.

Finally, I wonder how the disposition of this 15% in expenditures is split between the replacement of existing materials and acquisition of materials not previously in the collection published in past years. How feasible is it to make up for missed acquisitions? How much does a policy like this account for publishers’ decisions to push out reprints and new editions (since these can presumably be purchased with the 85% of the budget not geared towards retrospective collection development)?

(*There may be no accounting for taste, but I find inventory control to be fascinating. Really!)

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