Collection Development for Beginners

That would be me – a collection development beginner.

This year I have taken on some collection development responsibilities in astronomy & physics, biology, chemistry, computer science, geology and math.  It’s a little daunting.

As a public undergraduate institution, we can’t buy everything, so it is important to choose wisely.

So many books, so little time
So many books, so little time

The prospect of building a good collection in areas I am not familiar with is a little scary.  Luckily for me, the faculty make most of the selections at my institution, giving me a bit of flexibility and time to learn.

I am currently developing some strategies to help me with this new responsibility.

  1. I am talking to faculty.  What kinds of projects are they asking students to do?  What kinds of materials do they find acceptable for assignments?  What kind of undergraduate research are they doing?
  2. I am working with our collection development librarian to analyze what we already have in our collection.  Apparently, we have about 100 books on FORTRAN, most from the early to mid 1980’s.  We only have about 10 on PHP.
  3. I am seeking the advice of experts.  I am seeking out book reviews in science and technology journals, and looking for high quality books that meet the needs of our curriculum.  This works best when publishers provide an RSS feed of articles that allows me to filter out the book reviews.  Using Yahoo! Pipes, I can create a single RSS feed for book reviews from scientific journals.  This is very much a work in progress.

I am hopeful that these strategies will allow me to build a collection that will be useful to our students and faculty, with up-to-date authoritative books on subjects our users care about.

We’ll see.

Annual Reporting and the Importance of Librarian as Communicator

It’s annual report season at my institution, which forces me to think about what I’ve actually accomplished this year. It provides a great opportunity for me to re-examine the wonderful things that I’ve learned at the various conferences and workshops I have attended this year.

One of the most common themes I’ve encountered this year is the idea of the importance of the librarian as communicator:

  • Communicating with students about appropriate resources
  • Communicating with faculty about changing library policies and new resources
  • Communicating with administrations and governments about the role of the library at your institution
  • Facilitating communication with the public about science and scholarship

What strategies do we employ (or should we employ) to help us meet our various communication needs?

Traditional tools such as newsletters and posters aren’t as sexy as web 2.0 applications, but they remove the barrier to entry and reach a population that isn’t always wired.

Social media can help connect libraries to their users, but time and effort must be expended to reach the audience you are seeking. Social media can also become insular: librarians following other librarians on twitter, Facebook pages for a library whose only “friends” are other librarians. My library has a Flickr account and a Facebook page, but both are badly in need of updates. Do we jump in on twitter, too?  With a limited staff can we replicate the success of a colleague using twitter at a larger university?

Those tools can help you connect to and interact with users in a way that is impossible with the mass-mailed newsletter, but only when used appropriately.  This is something I am constantly working on.

Working with faculty to manage resources

Librarians and classroom faculty spend their time thinking about different things. Classroom faculty concentrate on teaching their students the subject matter, while librarians tend to focus on the resources students need to learn those subjects.

I just started two important dialogs with faculty about our library resources:

  • The Chemistry department and I need to make a decision about whether to move the web version of SciFinder, or stick with the client version for now.
  • Subject guides for Astronomy and Physics have been neglected for years and were missing several vital resources. As I update these guides, I am asking for assistance from the Physics and Astronomy department to make sure that the resources included in the guides are the resources their students are using.

I’m waiting to find out how engaged the faculty will be in these discussions. My initial overture was an email explaining what was going on. I will probably follow this up with in-person discussions. I have found that a quick trip over the an academic department can save a lot of time typing up emails, and leads to a better overall relationship. As the semester draws to a close, classroom faculty get very busy with final exams and projects and it is often easier for them to express their opinions in a quick face-to-face conversation.