One of the common threads across many recent high profile book challenges is the notion that parents, politicians, and others are better suited than librarians to select – or deselect – the books that appear in library collections. Often neglected in this argument is a basic understanding of the amount of collection development training librarians complete. This is true in both public and school librarianship.
ALA Standards for Collection Development
Many employers nationwide require that librarians hold a master’s degree from an ALA-accredited graduate program. The same requirement is true in many locations to achieve state-level certification. ALA bases accreditation on a number of professional standards. Standard II, Curriculum, focuses on the content taught in master’s programs. Collection development is addressed specifically in Standard II.2.1: to be accredited, a program’s curriculum should foster “development of library and information professionals who will assume a leadership role in providing services and collections appropriate for the communities that are served.”
Based on this standard, graduate programs educate their students on proper collection development techniques, which include both selecting and weeding materials. Collection development is often a popular topic for continuing education classes as well.
How does collection development work?
A January 2022 article in Knowledge Quest, Journal of the American Association of School Librarians (AASL), touches on the core tenets of collection development for school librarians – all of which are germane to public librarians as well. Here, Courtney Pentland lists a series of steps for librarians to follow in order to build an appropriate, diverse, and useful collection. Topics she covers include the importance of materials’ relevancy to patrons, how to properly source titles, the need to consult professional reviews, and more. Pentland’s article is not only a great primer for those new to the library profession but also a good overview for others to see the work that goes into selecting titles for inclusion in a library collection. It is clear from reading it that librarians take care when curating their collections.
The notion of professional review sources is also one that can, at times, be confusing for those outside the library field; personally, I know I have spent a great deal of time explaining this concept. School Library Journal, one of the top review sources for both school libraries and youth-focused collections in public libraries, offers a detailed overview of its review process in a video from earlier this year. In it, editors and reviewers discuss how books are reviewed, how reviewers determine recommended age groups for specific titles, and why some books come to appear on their Best Of lists. The process for becoming an SLJ reviewer is also highlighted. Although the video focuses on reviewing titles geared towards children and teens, it provides a basic understanding of the professional review process across the board. Other popular sources for professional reviews include Library Journal, Kirkus, Booklist, and Publishers Weekly, just to name a few.
Collection development may only be a part of many librarians’ daily responsibilities, but it is certainly an important one. In addition to following the best practices covered in their extensive training, librarians also work within their institutions’ materials selection policies. By taking a serious and educated approach, librarians are able to curate balanced and relevant collections that meet the needs of all members of their communities.
Gretchen Kaser Corsillo (she/her) is the Director of Rutherford (NJ) Public Library and has worked in public libraries in a variety of capacities since 2003. In 2013, she received her Master’s of Library & Information Science from the University of Pittsburgh. She also holds a B.A. in Literature with a concentration in Creative Writing and a minor in Political Science from Ramapo College. Prior to working as a professional librarian, Gretchen worked in the marketing and legal fields; the latter, combined with her interest in writing, has made her a strong advocate for intellectual freedom.