Thursday, June 28, 2012

Collection Policy vs. Guidelines

My library has a Materials Selection Policy that is roughly a page and a half long.  We also have a separate, five page "Collection Management Guidelines" document for staff.  Here's the difference:

Materials Selection Policy
The word policy means it's official.  It has been blessed by the Library Board and it's semi-permanent and mostly set in stone.  I say "semi" and "mostly" because policies are updated every now and then and can be recommended for update any time.  For the most part, though, they are meant to be long-term.

Policies are for patrons.  They govern what people can expect from the library and what we expect from them.  Do patrons read our policies?  Well, not very often.  I've never been the type of librarian to slap a printed policy in front of a patron and say, "See here? You're breaking our policy!" or "Says here we don't DO that!"  It's one thing to make patrons aware of a policy and another to use policies defensively.  So, what's the part of the collection management process that patrons are most likely to need to be made aware of? Selection. Our Materials Selection Policy includes a section on weeding and maintenance, as well as "Requests for Reconsideration of Library Materials."  Those are the pieces of collection management that we are likely to need to talk to patrons about, so those are the pieces that our Library Board has chosen to highlight in policy.

Collection Management Guidelines
The word guidelines means that there is more room for interpretation and flexibility than policy.  The Library Board does not need to get involved in guidelines.  Guidelines have more to do with day-to-day library operations, which is not the Library Board's domain.  They're bigger-picture people, after all.  They don't care if we plan to keep a collection of Wii and XBOX 360 games.  They might care on a personal interest level, but they don't generally weigh in officially on that level of detail.  They approve the collection budget; the staff manages the collections.

Guidelines are for staff members.  Our Collection Management Guidelines document goes into detail of selection criteria (ie. "Cost as related to estimated patron use" and "Reputation of the vendor and replacement policies"), specific collections in each deparment (ie. "Easy Readers, which encompass series and titles for children roughly in grades PreK–2, and which follow various reading level programs and formulas."), and whether or not we intend to archive and preserve our materials or simply "attempt to repair damaged library materials whenever the item’s value warrants such an investment of time and resources."  

It's not that we're hiding this document from the public or the Library Board - it's that the Director hires staff to do a job, and that job includes collection management.  Just as I don't tell McDonald's how to cook their burgers (though I could offer them some feedback...), I don't expect the public to know how I do my job.  I'm thrilled to talk about it if they're interested, but mostly they just want access to the information they're looking for.  They don't care how it got there.

Collection Management Guidelines are intended to help staff get a handle on more aspects of collection management - not just general principles of selection and why we weed, but what we collect, why we collect them, where they will be shelved, who they are intended for, when we weed, and how we make our selections.  Seasoned staff may refer to it every now and then as a refresher, and new staff should find it useful as a training tool.

Have Both!
Most libraries have a Collection Development Policy.  That's crucial!  I would argue that if you only have one document, it should be more detailed than just a selection policy.  If you only have one document for staff and the public alike, it should address every stage of the collection life cycle (selection, acquisitions, processing, shelving, use, repair/maintenance, and weeding).  Ideally, my advice is to have a policy meant for the public and guidelines meant for staff who do the work of collection management.

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