Collection development for the less than special

This post written by David Beales.

You are a unique and special person; an independent thinker who does not accept others’ statements without satisfactory proof. I used to think that too until I read about “fifty quid bloke” many years ago and realized that I was not so special after all.

Admittedly, fifty quid bloke has moved on to be replaced by “Top Gear Tiger” which is definitely not me, but I’m sure there’s a marketing guru out there who knows me better than I know myself.

But what does all this have to do with buying books?

I have said before that numbers need to start with a point of view, something which traditional collections management policies tend not to have. The closest they get to market segmentation is in supporting teaching or research. Library collection policies don’t consider the different behaviours of their users or articulate the different ways in which the collection is important to their success.

This can get us into trouble. Unless you know who you are buying for and why, the numbers you collect won’t help you and, worse, they can lead you in the wrong direction (see “the perils of counting” below).

I always keep in my head the idea of the “conscientious student” and what they need from the collection. Does it allow them to get the information they need within a reasonable period of time? Do they get the chance to learn how to make reservations and interlibrary loan requests if the book they need isn’t available?

But this is still too simplistic. I need to start thinking about the behaviors of the “at risk student” who works through the night because they don’t plan their time or who doesn’t go to library training sessions because, frankly, why would they?  Would first generation students benefit from a different style of collection development? How do our graduate students research needs differ from undergrads doing final year projects?

We already have opinions on this when we think about information literacy. It’s not that big a leap to think about it for collections management.

Of course, I would say that. I’m a typical Pisces.

photo: “Robot Boy” by baboon

The perils of counting

Imagine 3 students doing research projects and in need of books on the subject:

  • Student 1: Robotic flight
  • Student 2: Robotic walking
  • Student 3: Robotic swimming

I can afford to buy 3 of the following 4 books, which ones should I buy to maximize student success?

  • Book 1:“All about robotic flight”
  • Book 2: “Everything about robotic walking”
  • Book 3: “Total robotic swimming”
  • Book 4: “The big book of robotic movement: flight, walking, swimming, rolling and climbing”

Option 1:

  • Buy books 1, 2 and 3.
  • Each student will borrow one book which covers their subject in great depth and is very likely to help them be successful in their research.
  • Total loans: 3

Option 2:

  • Buy books 1, 2 and 4.
  • Students 1 and 2 will each borrow 2 books which are relevant to their research, but book 4 only has a chapter on their specific subject and doesn’t add much new information to books 1 and 2.
  • Student 3 will borrow book 4 only. It only has one relevant chapter and is of only minor help in their research.
  • Total loans: 5


It depends on your point of view. It looks like option 1 is best but what about the long term? In two or three years rolling robots will be the next big thing.