Collections do not just “happen.” Sure, they evolve, require maintenance, weeding, updating. But how, exactly? The library director and branch managers delegate selection to the librarians. But every librarian has his/her own passions, knowledge, prejudices, and agendas. What should such flawed and very human selectors keep in the upper tier of their minds when selecting? We hope they choose according to: relevancy, currency, balance, and authoritativeness.
Relevancy: A well-rounded library collection in a free, democratic society reflects the demographics and information needs of the community, and should adhere to its particular mission. It assumes that the library is supported by the community, therefore, must serve the community, within the budget limitations. The collection must be relevant to the informational, recreational, and research needs of its patrons, and it must be current to be relevant. Since public libraries can’t be all things to all people, they need to concentrate especially on resources relevant to the locale, accurate by today’s standards, and appealing to the majority of patrons. Libraries should offer a service that pulls in resources from a consortium to make up for the gaps. The collection (as well as services) should respond to the most urgent needs of those who seek out the library and bring some sort of economic return on investment to those who depend on the library.
Balance: Is a useful range of subjects covered, and are the most useful covered in greater depth? Are multiple viewpoints expressed in the selection of materials, especially on controversial topics? Are the selectors being as neutral as they can be, while vetting material for its accuracy, and authoritativeness? The threat of censorship should be addressed, both from within (selectors) and outside of the institution (other stakeholders, Board, Friends, patrons, parents, etc.). Libraries and librarians should be guided by already established guidelines, the First Amendment (freedom of expression), the ALA Freedom to Read, and Library Bill of Rights.
Authority: Are the selectors using authoritative sources (respected newspapers, review journals of the library profession) to target critically acclaimed authors and creators, to select the best that is available, given limitations of budget? Sources should be as truthful and accurate as possible, and be up to date; in other words, represent the latest in research, while preserving works of historical value, if the mission allows.
Do you have other criteria that seem just as important?