Collection Development or Self-Censorship?

Censorship, Professional Ethics


By: Naomi Bates

It has happened to me in the library…coming in fresh from another library or just being a new librarian, you may experience the same thing I have. The first time I noticed it was when I took my first walk through the stacks of the first library I worked in. I started searching for titles I loved and enjoyed, and although I found some, I didn’t find others. “Hmmmm….that didn’t seem right,” I thought. “Every library needs that title in their collection.” And so I ordered it. Little did I know that this can be the beginning of a slippery slope, and if not identified early, it can cross the lines between professional and personal choices.

One of the most important duties of a librarian is to create a well-rounded collection that will provide information to a diverse community of users. Collection development can also be a tedious task, but it’s the one that holds a library collection accountable. There are all types of professional tools to help libraries balance collections, but there is another tool librarians use as well, and that is their own professional and personal decisions. Libraries are susceptible to opinions and biases that are found in everyone’s belief systems; including religious, political, and personal experiences. Self-censoring can definitely enter the professional world of libraries, because we are, after all, human.

There are safety nets that can be put into place to help overcome self-censoring. The hardest is to understand that the library we serve has collective ownership. Although a librarian is chosen because of his or her professional qualifications, it has never meant the librarian owns the library. The words “My library” need to be translated into “the library.” Once that obstacle is overcome, the library borders become wider and more diverse.

Another thing librarians can do to maintain collection development integrity it to look at purchases through a statistical lens instead of within a certain fiscal year. What kinds of titles or books about a particular subject matter have been purchased? Is there a pattern that is developing? If so, does the theme closely relate to personal or professional inclinations? If so, that would be the time to use any of a variety of collection development tools to help assess those areas that need to be filled and those that need to be culled back.

Don’t think it’s always found in the Dewey section either. I will admit, I am not an avid reader of science fiction. I stick with my favorite genres and share them as much as possible. Those I don’t have much interest in begin to wane in the amount of titles purchased, but it was also reflected in circulation statistics. I’m like any other reader in that I have a favorite niche I like to read from. Unlike other readers, I have the responsibility to make sure all patrons have a variety of titles in their favorite niches as well. And this is what now drives me to read all types of books to make sure I can create readers from all areas, not just the ones I’m most familiar with.

Lastly, ask for recommendations from others. They can be colleagues whose opinions you trust. It can come from professional journal reviews on books and/or articles on literary trends. It can also come from the patrons you serve. It comes back full circle. When the library becomes its own separate entity instead of something you own, collection development becomes more robust and rich with all types of avenues pouring into it.

So it may be time to bite the bullet. To me, this has a double meaning. Of course, it’s about finally facing a difficult task. The other meaning I see is that change can also be a thrill ride to the person biting said bullet. Facing obstacles or riding the rails, when librarians take on the full meaning of collection development, it can be both at the same time. It’s always a great time to start biting and enjoy the ride!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.