One of the first questions I often ask audiences at library conferences when I speak is “are you proud of your library’s collection?” The follow up is, “What are you proud of?”
The library’s collection exists to help the library meet its mission, whatever that may be. We don’t have a collection because that’s just what libraries do. We have a collection to serve our library patrons in some way. My library’s mission is “To connect, enrich, and improve lives through information, services, and spaces.” Our collection, then, is mean to do just that. We are trying to build a collection that connects, enriches, and improves lives. When I look at the collection we have built, in all its diversity of content and format, I am proud!
I’m proud of the breadth of information that we provide in our library. We are a popular materials library (not a research library, not an archive, not a school…), and that is reflected in the materials we collect. We have a little bit of information on a lot of topics, which suits the way our patrons use our library. We don’t have a deep collection on any particular subject, as a special library might. We have multiple avenues for accessing information on a multitude of topics.
I’m also proud of the currency of our collection. Sure, there are some pockets here and there that could be thinned out and updated, but for the most part, our collection is quite current. When my patrons ask for information on cutting edge topics in medicine or technology, I never worry about what I might find. We have databases and other electronic resources that are up-to-the-minute, and our physical collections have a very reasonable average age in timely subject areas.
I am also proud of our physical space. We don’t have any major space issues in our physical collection areas. Sure, some collections have to be weeded more brutally than others to maintain the space (DVDs, I’m looking at you!) because they are so well used that other metrics have to be consulted when weeding in those areas. But we don’t have any major spacing problems in our building. Our physical collections are mostly comfortably shelved with room to move.
When you visit other libraries, do you find yourself thinking “We can do better” or “We are better”? Are you proud of your collection or defensive of it? Do you find yourself thinking your collection is the best you can do with the space, budget, staff, etc. allotted? Is it the best you can do? Is it really, truly the very best you can do? Every library, no matter how large or small, no matter what level of resources assigned, can have a collection it can be proud of. Your energy might be best spent on creative marketing to highlight what you do have (not what you don’t have!), even if it is not physical materials, but I guarantee that it is possible to have a collection that helps your library meet its mission.
Our archive is embarrassing, but I’ve been able to egg people on to s l o w l y dispence with some real doozys. The worst was a piece is really offensive “humor” that would get someone a formal reprimand for wasting paper, toner, and time on if done today.
I have tried very hard to keep the age of the collection about the same as my 7th graders, to make sure all of the books are in good repair, and to keep the entire library free from clutter. My students visit frequently, find lots of books they like, and (I AM proud of this) only had two books that weren’t turned In at the end of the year! (Before all books were due, over 1,500 were checked out!) I hope this means they enjoy and respect the collection.
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