Ask a Storytime Ninja: Collection Development

The final question for March is all about collection development. Please chime in in the comments!




The Question:


I am the only youth services person at my Library. We are a town of less than 1500 people. My director is full time at less than 30 hours a week. We’re fairly small over here.

Anyway, she does all the material ordering for our library. I am able to ask for specific books, etc to be ordered for the collection, but she rarely follows through. For example, she didn’t order The Fault in Our Stars until I asked about 3 times and then pointed out the long hold list. I don’t know the last time she purchased a children’s DVD besides Frozen….I realize our tight-ish budget situation, but I feel like she just does not take into consideration the importance of children’s through YA materials. She has admitted to not being aware of children’s trends and whatnot and has put me in charge of weeding the collections (picture books, easy readers, juvenile, YA) but I still do not feel like I have much input in the collection.

I do not have my master’s degree and realize I may not have much experience with collection development, but I do think I have a really good idea what the community needs, what our collection needs, and what is available out there…Our library and community is missing out on so much. We have a huge shelf-browsing population… after storytime and lots of afterschool parents and families…

I would like some advice as to how to best approach this subject without her feeling like I’m trying to take over or step on toes. How often do small village youth services do the ordering? Or do directors do everything and I am over-reacting? Does anybody have a more official approach to asking directors to order materials? A form or document?


The Answers:


From Inma:


In my own experience it took almost a year before I had section to weed & order within our collection.  I think my supervisor also wanted to make sure I was extremely comfortable with the collection and our community needs.

What system does your library use for ordering books?  We primarily use Baker & Taylor, maybe within your system you can suggest you start creating a cart for your director to review and place the order.  If she only has 30 hours a week this could be a time saver for her. You already know the collection & your community, you can use that as leverage for your director to trust your judgement. Do you handle any weeding?  Do you have access to circulation reports?  You can look at the collection and what circulates or not, what areas are weaker, what areas might need to be weeded and new materials added?

I will also suggest find books/articles to help you develop a sense of collection development, I use Fundamentals of Collection Development by Peggy Johnson from one of my grad classes. Read professional journals to help you be ready to suggest titles and authors to your director.

Hope this helps.


From Polly:


Hmm, tough situation. Practically, in the short term, the best thing I can think of is that you print her out an Amazon record or the page from whoever you order from (if you use a library vendor) when you request something, or make a list of several items with isbns and stuff, so she has a physical record of your request. That’s what we used to do before we got online ordering, we’d submit a paper copy of the title, ISBN, etc. to Technical Services, and they’d order off that. For your end, maybe track your requests in an Excel sheet, so you know exactly what you asked for, when.


What you really need in the long term is for Children’s and YA to be given their own budget line, so it isn’t a question of whether your director takes those collections into consideration. You probably don’t have much ability to talk to people about getting that kind of thing organized, but it’s really important if there’s anything you can do. Even a really small budget is better than what you’ve got.


You probably need to record any questions/comments you get that touch on this issue from your patrons and pass them up to the director. If 17 people ask for The Fault in Our Stars and you don’t have it, make a note of every single one and let the director know! If possible, ask the people who request things to write down their request, email it, or even talk to the municipality or whoever funds your library about the fact that they can’t get what they want; ideally, give tangible feedback in some way that isn’t funnelled entirely through you, so it isn’t always you passing this stuff on.


In regards the last part of your question: it is usually professional staff who do Collection Development, so that may explain your setup. If your director has an MLS and you don’t, that’s probably the rationale. It sounds like the library doesn’t want to surrender that part of the job to non-MLS staff, but obviously they should, at least in terms of getting your suggestions followed up properly. It’s one thing to insist on professional staff doing it when there are professional staff, but under your circumstances, it seems like an impossible dream.


Best of luck, you’ve got a difficult problem, and I’m afraid major changes are the only real solution, unless you can just talk with your director and work out a compromise that works for the two of you.


From Karen:


I have only worked in small libraries like yours, and all of my Youth Services supervisors and/or professional staff are responsible for ordering Children’s and YA materials. I know how frustrating it can be to tell patrons repeatedly that you don’t have certain materials. I agree with what the other Ninjas have already said, and I would just reiterate that you need to keep a running list of the materials that your patrons are asking for and periodically show/send it to her. Document, document, document! I know it’s easier said than done, but I think it would be effective for you to talk with her and bring up the points you mentioned, and say that you read book reviews, are aware of children’s trends, etc. If she isn’t willing to give up control of the entire ordering process, could you ask to at least be able to make at least some of the purchase suggestions? Does your director order Adult materials, too? If not, does the Adult Services manager have an MLIS? You obviously have a great deal of knowledge to add to your library and department, even though you don’t have your MLIS. I think the best thing you can do is to approach your director calmly and with as much documentation as possible. Good luck!

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