Collection Assessment and the Collection Development Policy

The way that you conduct a collection assessment will depend to a large degree on the collection development policy for your library.  An academic library, whose purpose is to provide material and information for research, for example, will assess its collection very differently from a public or school library whose purpose is to provide a very basic level of information.

The academic library will be less concerned about the age of materials and their circulation statistics.  It will be more concerned with providing in-depth materials and keeping "significant" materials regardless of their age or use.  Collection analysis in academic libraries is often done by subject specialists who have advanced degrees in the subject areas for which they are responsible.

In a small school library or a small public library, materials are usually evaluated on their current usefulness and their level of circulation.  The mission of such libraries is typically to provide up-to-date, popular materials.  Except for a few classics, books that no longer reflect up-to-date facts or the current thinking about a subject do not fit into the mission of such a library.  In most cases, books that have not circulated in five years also may not fit the mission.

The collection development policy may also set collection assessment standards for particular parts of the collection.  Particularly in larger libraries, some subject areas may receive special attention, and this may require that certain kinds of materials be admitted to the collection which are not collected in the library as a whole.  For example, a library may have a special collection for local and regional history.  Materials in this section may not meet the standards set for other parts of the collection.  This, of course, should be spelled out in the collection development policy and considered when the collection is being assessed.

In other words, collection assessment evaluates the collection based on the standards set by the collection development policy.  Without a collection development policy, meaningful collection assessment cannot be done.  Thus, the first step in an assessment of any part of the collection should be a review of the sections of collection development policy that are relevant to that part of the collection.

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