Academic journal article Library Philosophy and Practice

The Materials-Centred Approach to Public Library Collection Development: A Defense

Academic journal article Library Philosophy and Practice

The Materials-Centred Approach to Public Library Collection Development: A Defense

Article excerpt

Part 1


By and large, collection evaluation studies look to how well highly-variegated and specialized materials support academic research and teaching. Universities engage bibliographers or subject liaison librarians to support the specific requirements of users for comprehensive and pertinent information through an ongoing program of selection of materials. While this is clearly defined in the higher education context (where staff often have formal qualifications in their area of specialization and constant dialog with faculty over selection is assumed) the selection role in public libraries is less-easily defined. As collection specialization does not exist in most public libraries it would seem reasonable to assume that the materials selector requires uncommon insight into the variety of subject areas that the library's users may require in order to provide a comprehensive collection. This paper aims to help better define what a specifically materials-centered focus for collection development in non-fiction public libraries might look like and how it might be better understood, specifically with reference to other approaches to collections which are self-referentially userfocused, and with the concept of subject, so crucial to the crux of the debate, at the forefront of consideration.

The public library context

Research on the nature of materials-centered collection evaluation within public libraries is not widespread and, subsequently, what is extant requires supplementation from generalist evaluation research. A starting point can be found in an early study of evaluation in public libraries conducted by Denny (1992, p. 9) who identifies a lack of research on evaluative methods and that 'practical applications of the theories and methods of collection assessment' had not found traction in public library environments. Denny (1992, p. 56). also points to how collection assessment and development activities in public libraries are often curtailed to meet operational requirements.

Public libraries are institutions that express both a visceral and a highly rational character. They are at once repositories for the accumulation and sanctification of types of knowledge that drive civic progress, while offering a value-free, encyclopedic approach to knowledge that does not explicitly privilege science, humanism or any particular epistemological creed. Creating a framework for understanding how such knowledge is sifted and filtered prior to its authorization on a library shelf is important because it allows the assumptions that govern that activity to be interrogated for reliability, truth, representative validity or verisimilitude. Do library users and library sponsors notice though? With reference to the Australian experience, Bundy (2010, p. 329) points to how public libraries tend to be well used regardless of their quality: 'People often do not know what constitutes a good public library, even if they have a sense that the library on which they depend is deficient. They thus do not know when they are being denied one'. This signals the important, albeit somewhat misunderstood role, that the institution plays in the civic and intellectual life of its users. Bundy (2010, p. 321-322) also highlights how the funding models for public libraries are inadequate to meet the demands of an increasingly information-reliant society Poor funding leads inexorably to poor collections. In this context of underfunded public library collections it is crucial that the best use is made of these limited resources for building collections. I argue that only a materials-centered focus can reveal how best this can be done.

Why inquire into materials-centered evaluation?

Where should the locus for evaluation of a collection be sited in a public library context- with the users or with the collection? Davis (1998, p. 54) provides a clear definition of these two currents through delineation of effectiveness as the primary parameter for use and content characteristics for a collection-centered approach. …

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