Books Aren't Us? the Year's Work in Collection Development, 1990

By Sullivan, David S. | Library Resources & Technical Services, July 1991 | Go to article overview

Books Aren't Us? the Year's Work in Collection Development, 1990


Sullivan, David S., Library Resources & Technical Services


Books Aren't Us? The Year's Work in Collection Development, 1990

The literature of collection development in 1990 is selectively surveyed. Topics covered include general works on collection development; library materials budgets; serials and the economics of scholarly publishing; collection evaluation; cooperative arrangements; selection, deselection, housing, and preservation of library; staffing and organization; and the impact of nonbook formats on collection developers. Collection administration is moving into new partnerships with systems librarians, academic computing specialists, and network planners as the library begins to become an address, not a place.

The director of academic computing on my campus remarked, as of a distant age, that in the 1970s calculators with the power of those now housed on pocket-size bits of plastic were kept chained to desktops. Recalling the chained tomes of monastic libraries, I reflected that it took books about a millennium to make the same transition from carefully guarded rarities to cheap, ubiquitous mass-market commodities. The point of the anecdote, and its pertinence to the question posed in my title, is not the comparative speed with which microprocessors have infiltrated our lives, but the collocation of two images powerfully reminding us that the functional convergence of books and computers as tools for storing, disseminating, and manipulating texts is close at hand; that, though books will long be with us and will long engage most of the attention of collection developers, this convergence will in our lifetimes change not only how we do our work, but what the work is and what the institutional context will be in which we perform it. These are not novel observations, but they are observations that resonated through the literature of collection development in 1990.

The literature itself is spreading into new channels as collection administrators find themselves in the same forums as networking experts, electronic publishers, and computer visionaries. Some of us, indeed, must become collection visionaries if the mission of getting the right source to the right user (with all the implications this entails relating to the organization and preservation of the historic record) is not to pass into other hands.

What is new rarely supplants what is old, at least in libraries, and the traditional concerns and activities of collection development have not gone away. Rather, they continue their own evolution as well as absorb ideas from the emerging culture of information. At the same time, adverse economic conditions affecting higher education in general have prompted a rebirth of the literature concerning the economics of scholarly publishing (last seen in quantity during the serial boom of the mid-1970s) and brought renewed attention to the problems of predicting and justifying the costs of building library collections. In this article. I will first survey these more traditional areas, adapting slightly and supplementing the useful rubrics devised by Schmidt, and return finally to work that is stretching the definition of what collection development is and does.

This survey is selective by design; like our colleagues in academe, we probably publish too much, to put it bluntly. I have omitted much, in the interest of throwing themes into higher relief, by concentrating on work presenting original results, methods, or observations; new ways of thinking about our field; or important trends. The survey is also largely limited to the U.S. scene, less by design than because collection management and development as a distinct specialization is only beginning to be recognized outside this country. Lastly, most original work in collection development is currently produced in research libraries or library schools. This is ironic in away, since, as Osburn notes, the literature of collection management grew out of that concerning selection for public libraries. …

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