Imagine this scenario: Miracle of miracle of miracles you’ve have just been given an extra $1,000 to spend on some items for your small, but impressive popular materials public library. Even if this scenario is unlikely, it’s a great exercise for librarians in determining where they see the collection heading or its “flavor”. Of course no two librarians would spend it the same way, but a question like this for any staff member begins a quality discussion about the collection. Does the librarian think about popular materials or filling a hole in a particular subject? Does he or she think of an expensive reference item that normally would be out of reach? For small and medium libraries, each item in the collection is a significant use of budget and space. How do librarians, directors and boards know if their collection is “good”? Is there an unbiased way to evaluate a librarian’s choices in selection or the overall collection quality?
For the small and medium library, collection decisions usually center on criteria of popularity, collection scope, budget and space. With the help of a decent collection policy, there should be wide latitude in what a library CAN buy. Reality is much different. A limited budget means choices. Instinctively we all realize that a popular materials library, containing only materials in Latin, is probably not the most effective use of public dollars. Although most decisions are not that obvious, most are of the variety of choices such as two best sellers or maybe a nice reference book. So for garden variety small and medium libraries, what is the “correct” answer?
Invariably this is where the discussion turns to quality vs. popularity. I probably default to popularity or “use” when dealing with tax payer money. What will get us the most bang for the buck? I could have this debate all day with librarians. It’s interesting and leads us to many discussions of what we have in terms of “vision” for the collection.
Next time you have a library discussion ask everyone to dream about an imaginary $1000 for any part of the collection. Listen to the why and vision behind the choices. What sets your library’s collection apart from other libraries?
In case anyone cares, my money would be spent on some of those really cool but expensive DVDs from PBS and the BBC and a few fun television show sets.