Sunday, September 27, 2009

By the numbers

After selling her on the glamorous life of a school librarian, a friend of mine recently decided to go get her MLIS. And somehow—by virtue of having an MLIS of my own and two years of experience—I am the type of person considered to qualified to answer questions from someone getting an MLIS. Weird.

Anyway, the a few weeks ago she wrote to me with this question (edited to protect the innocent):

Okay, so here's where I need your expert advice and your permission to use you as a source for my research. My professor wants an explanation of my 200 book/item core collection including percentages. I'm finding a couple of collection percentage sources, but not many, and not many that actually make sense to me. Tell me if this is too much of a pain in the ass to provide: What do you think the percentages of your library are? Fiction, non-fic by dewey section, magazine, reference, audio/playaways, online resources? A general guess would work just fine. Any idea would be fine. Second question (similar to the first, in fact, only slightly rephrased to get your personal opinion): If you had to create a core collection of 200 books for a general small high school library, how would you divide up your collection according to the above categories? I love, love, love you if you can provide any thoughts! Thank you! Am sure I'll be bugging you again soon!

My response:

First, just so you know, these are the types of questions that make me worry I'm going to be exposed as a fraud, as there are—I'm sure—widely divergent views on this subject, and the school library world can be shockingly judgmental and cut-throat. Okay, not really. But I do worry about being judged because of how I build a collection—in part because even after two years I still have yet to come up with a collection development plan, even though a collection in a shape such as mine badly needs such a plan. But I never even wrote a collection development plan in grad school, and writing one in the midst of day-to-day "I need this now and by the way can you do a million other things" nonsense is almost too overwhelming to contemplate. So, if you ever need to write a collection development plan for a "hypothetical" library, let me know.

I don't think there's an "ideal" balance for a collection, as it really depends on the needs of your users. For example, my library is going to have a much larger circulating audio and video collection than many school libraries, because non-print sources are more of a focus given our population. And depending on the curriculum and which departments do the most research, you're going to weight your collection differently. Or, in the case of my library, there are a lot of history books at yard sales, so you end up with a lot of those (don't put that in your paper).

All that being said, here goes:

Fiction: At least 25%, possibly more. While a lot of research material is available online and through databases—and many students prefer using online sources for a lot of their research—pleasure reading is one of the things that remains primarily an off-line activity (at least for now). I think the world will, eventually, go e-book, but the technology and other issues are still troublesome and there is still a significant "digital divide" issue. Books require no additional technology or user manuals (unless, of course, you are foolish enough to read Ulysses).

I'm not going to distinguish between reference and circulating for the non-fiction breakdown, in large part because I spent a couple weeks earlier this summer interfiling the two collections. I could talk at length about the reasons I believe interfiling reference is a good thing to do (and will if you want me to), but for right now let's leave it at that.

000s—7%: Focusing primarily on "ready reference" and encyclopedic works. Good sources for general background information before delving into more specific research.



300s—8%: An area often used for research. Also, a great deal of educational and professional reference material would be in this section. A fair amount of high interest non-fiction as well.



600s—6%: I think the 500s and 600s are better represented in database sources, which are generally more current. Students will generally be doing research on contemporary issues, and by the time a book on climate change reaches my shelves, it's already outdated. It's still important to have solid reference sources in this section, however, as well as foundational materials.

700s—8%: Art books. Pictures. Also, sports and graphic novels fall in the 700s, which provide a lot of material for reluctant readers.

800s—7%: Assuming that you don't take "more important" books and classify these books in the 800s instead of fiction.

900s—10%: Generally, history does a lot of research, and currency is not as much of an issue as it is with Science materials.




I can't figure out how to include online resources, but I will say that a library should have, at minimum, access to a) a general online encyclopedia b) a science database c) a history database, and d) a general "liberal arts" database or databases that cover arts, literature, religion, etc.


As I look back over what I wrote, I'm not 100% confident that my answers are "right." I find purchasing decisions overwhelming, and I really wish I did have a collection development plan to give me some guidance. But the idea of coming up with a collection development plan is overwhelming, especially on my own. As much as I like being a one-librarian shop, sometimes I wish I had someone else who knew my collection and my curriculum and my school to help me make these sorts of decisions.

1 comment:

  1. Well, your answers must be on the right track...I got an A on my project and a 103 in the class. I love you K-M the Librarian!