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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

Building the Library Collection

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, February 3, 2008


Building a library's collection is the task of the librarian.


The purpose of that collection is to meet the information needs of the users of that particular library.


That purpose will vary depending on the type of library, the community of users, and the reason for the library.


That task has sure changed over the past decade.


When I was in Library School 32 years ago, much of the curriculum was centered on the selection process for building a collection for a library.


It is a never-ending process of adding new items, and removing outdated and worn items.


The problem with this picture in 2008 is that a library collection has grown far beyond just shelves of books.


Today, we have various media sources and things not even physically in the library building that forms the "collection."


Magazines, newspapers, and pamphlets were added to libraries in the early 20th Century.


By 1950, long-playing records and films made their appearance as the first audio-visual products in the library collection.


The task of collection development became more difficult as these audio-visual items had a shorter lifespan in the collection when compared to books.


A book purchased by a library can remain part of the collection for 20-30 years.  Our library's collection even contains a few items more than a century old.


As audio-visuals appear and disappear from the information marketplace, libraries start over collecting in the new format.


Films and records became videocassettes and audiocassettes, which moved aside for DVDs and CDs.


It remains difficult to build a collection based on these items as they "keep changing" and wear quickly being used by the public.


Books can be mended, DVDs and CDs need special equipment to clean and rebuff their surface for continued usage.


What is the library's collection today, and where is it physically located?


As libraries found that they could not collect all of the items needed to satisfy people's information requests, cooperative systems were developed with the available technology.


Our cooperative now includes 73 public libraries with 5.6 million items, all online with borrowing abilities.


The Internet and online databases that we purchase for usage supplement our collection.


If we stop paying for these, they go away and we have nothing to show for our purchase.


The library collection of 2008 is not just what is contained within the walls of the physical building, it is also what is available through the services of the library.


People access their library by physically entering one of our libraries, telephoning through the 26 lines that serve our system, e-mailing the library through our Web Page, or electronically using our resources.


Some folks checkout e-books without ever interacting with a library staffer.


All in all, public libraries remain as one of the few institutions remaining in our society that still provides a human factor for the public.


Many public services and offices have been closed and replaced by an 800 number answered by someone in a far-off place, or an Internet site where you wait for the desired response in 24 hours, likely 2 weeks if ever.


Whatever "front door" you use to access the library; welcome.