Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The site feed has changed

The New Jack Librarian feed has moved to
where it should have been all this time. As well, I'm moving all these files to a new server so all the 'Cogeco' links will disappear shorty. Please adjust accordingly. All apologies.

Arrested Collection Development

Inspired by the collection policies thoughts of Peter Zimmerman, I thought I would try to briefly summarize my largely antagonistic feelings towards collection development policies. That being said I should state that I have hostile feelings towards the policies I was taught in library school long ago.

From what I recall, a collection development policy can be summed up as several pages of call number ranges with words that essentially express: "we are trying to get lots of this", "we want some of this stuff", and "there's not much on this subject that we want".

Now I collect in the sciences for a middle-sized Canadian university and I am responsible for selecting books that support the research needs of our faculty and graduate students as well as learning resources for our undergraduate population. This means I collect for very specific research topics (e.g. apoptosis and nitric oxide ) and for very general areas (Chemical composition of everyday products). It is possible to describe what I collect using the above collection development method, but it is uninspiring, to say the very least.

And what does it mean to 'collect generally for the sciences' really mean, anyway? Does it mean I buy 'real science' for the faculty and 'popular science' for the undergraduates? Or does it mean I try to buy "the canon" for all the sciences and simply buy more books on local research interests? And how can I - a layperson - describe to my community what I consider 'the canon'?

And so over time I developed a one sentence description of my collection development goals: "I will collect the books necessary to follow the research of the university's faculty and to collect the books most cited by the research published in Nature, Science, and PNAS, supplemented with books dealing with local geography and ecology and well-received popular science". IMHO, I think this one sentence is more useful than a twenty page wish list of call number ranges.

Over the years, I have internalized a number of possible 'rule-based' collection development guidelines that I think could be appropriate for academic or public libraries:

"We strive to collect the books ...
- in Oprah's Book Club
- nominated for the Man Booker Prize in Literature
- published by faculty
- suggested by faculty and graduate students
- published by local authors and publishers
- on the topic of local history and geography (Windsor, Essex County, Detroit) and ecology (Tall Grass Prairie, Carolinian, Great Lakes Watershed)
- that were most frequently requested by Interlibrary Loan
- that make the New York Times 100 Most Notable Books of the Year
- are reviewed in Highly Important Journal in field in question"

Other than being clear and concise, an additional benefit of using 'rules' is that it gives you a means to measure whether you have achieved what you set yourself out to do. If you say that your library is going to have up-to-date dictionaries for the top ten languages spoken on campus, then you can measure your success at present and then again in five year's time. Your community can judge your efforts as easily as well.

I understand that there may be reticence to this form of collection development policies because it appears to hand over the collection making decisions away from the librarian to outside forces, some of them being commercial interests. While I am not in anyway trying to negate the role of the collections librarian, I do think it is about time that libraries try to align the way we decide to add material to our collections to the way that our communities decide what next book they want to read. They certainly aren't decided what to read next based on our collection development policies.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

In case this goes offline...

I am going to transferring servers in the next couple of days. Should have done this properly last year.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Reading Reading Lists

I was going to write a post about a hypothetical academic library catalogue in which only faculty are allowed to tag and link items. But before I began I thought it would be best to search about aimlessly on the web on the topic of university reading lists.

You see, I have a half-baked notion in my head that a university education can be reduced to a professor helping a class work through texts to achieve familiarity in a subject. I have had this theory ever since I had a conversation with a colleague who told me that the coursework of Oxford and Cambridge is largely consumed by the act of reading and learning from daunting readings lists. And then I got distracted by all the reading lists I found online: those for preliminary reading for prospective university students, those to introduce students to the intellectual life of the university, those provided by libraries and those provided by publishers.

Before starting this post, I had assumed that most university reading lists were in locked in course management software (oh why did we call them 'course reserves' instead of 'reading lists?'). Now I'm not so sure. Perhaps there's still time to integrate reading lists into the very realm of reading.