Nerds Attack! How you can defend yourself with a collection development policy..

This article on collection development policies jumped out at me because I’m a bit of a sci-fi/fantasy geek.  Nikkel and Belway describe the attempts of an academic library staff to weed a truly astonishing collection of science fiction, ranked “10th in the world in terms of size” (2009, p. 197).  The collection had began in 1966 as a gift by a faculty member, and grew to over 190,000 items (at a school of only 2,200 students).  While impressive, “the collection had been little used for several years, and systematic collection development and management had long since ceased”  (2009, p.196).  The library’s lack of a cohesive collection development policy had allowed books to be added (generally at reader suggestion) without any attempt at creating balance. 

When the library decided that the collection should be weeded to make room for new projects and storage, “responses to the decision ranged from confusion to outrage to thoughtful defenses urging caution and offering advice on how to assess the collection, ironically resulting in more attention than the collection had received in years” (2009, p. 197).  Eventually the librarians sat down with faculty members to hammer out guidelines for weeding as well as future development.   Because no “coherent collection development policy, except for a short statement appearing on the library’s Web site, had been articulated for the collection at any point in the four decades it had been in existence” (2009, p. 202), it had fallen into disuse and irrelevancy.  Meetings with faculty resulted in a number of resolutions, including subtle promotion of donations for a new library (where the science fiction could be housed) and a new collection development policy.  Ultimately “the project … increased interest in the collection and the library, both on and off campus (2009, p.204)

Nikkel & Belway articulate the need for a collection development policy in practical terms, through the illustration of the results of not having one.  Although the end result of this project seems postive, with better understanding and involvement from both staff and faculty, a clear document would have served to guide the collection through continued use.  At the very least it validates Evans and Saponaro’s assertion that “no gift is ever free”  (2005, p. 61).

Evans, G., & Saponaro, M.  (2005).  Developing library and information center collections.  Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.
Nikkel, T. & Belway, L. (2009). When worlds collide: Dismantling the science fiction and fantasy collection at the University of New Brunswick, Saint John. Collection Management, 34(3), 194-208.

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