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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.

Developing a library collection

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, April 6, 2008


The development of a library collection is years in the making.


It is also a task that is never completed, as the collection is constantly being enlarged, and evaluated for things that need to be removed due to condition, age, and relevance.


When the library's collection was first developed with the opening of the Carnegie building in 1902, older collections were donated as a basis for opening day.


By 1906, enough new books had been acquired to permit some of the older, badly worn books, to be discarded.


It is a decision-making process that never ends.


Today, librarians are assisted with various reports that show demand, usage, and age of the collection.


In my 36 years of library work, the basics have not changed in what library users want.


Most nonfiction fits within the broad category of curiosities, or a need for information.


Most fiction fits specific genre, and people have their own desired reading categories.


Books that are new, popular, and best sellers are always the most used.  How people find about them through a variety of marketing has expanded with time.


The old librarian's statistic that 20 percent of a book collection accounts for 80 percent of the usage is the same today.


What has changed is the feeling of pride that a librarian would have about their collection, following years of development.


Today, that collection "moves" faster and requires never ending evaluation, and it is hard to have a "proud" feeling for a collection that never seems finished.


Even harder is for a librarian to have a warm-and-fuzzy feeling of pride for a database.


You can't see it, you can't touch it, and if the computer crashes, it doesn't even exist until the computer is fixed.


As audio-visual products were added to library collections, another issue came to the forefront.


About the time a librarian felt proud of the long-playing vinyl collection (despite the scratches), the media market changed to cassettes.


As the cassette collection improved and developed, it was replaced by CDs and development started all over again.


With such demand for audio-visual items, they were worn out before a sizable collection is ever in the library.


16mm films, 8mm films moved to videocassettes, and now on to DVDs.


I have watched our Technical Services Department add 25 new DVDs to the collection, and within an hour the display looked like it did two hours before.


And all those Books on Tape that we purchased need to be Books on CD.


In the meantime, those discs look like someone ate their lunch using them as a plate, so we have to acquire an expensive machine to buff and repair those discs.


Isn't a library great!  I know it sounds like I am whining, but it is exciting to provide the public with information that they need and want.


And yes, books are repaired and renovated just like audio-visual items.


We average about 3,000 book repairs a year, because people are using the books, and that's what they are for........


Librarians understand that dogs love to chew on library books, and someone forgets and leaves a library book on the patio during a rainstorm, and sometimes we get a book back with tire prints on the cover.


Whenever we can place a book (or CD/DVD) in the hands of a customer of the library, everyone is the winner.