16 May 2012

To Keep or Not To Keep

Last year, soon after I started at RTC, I helped weed and sort through a huge collection of donated books. It was an interesting [read: frustrating] process. I wrote a short list to friends in the US about making donations...reminding us all to make relevant donations.

Because almost the entire RTC Library collection is made up of donated books, I've spent a lot of time thinking about donations and how they play into collection development. Like many LIS graduate students, I took a Collection Development (CD) class when I was in grad school. I remember thinking a lot of the class was a bit common sense. But it was helpful to think about a collection of books and think about how you would build, weed or grow a collection in a library.

I know, all you non-librarians are thinking 'Seriously? You take classes in how to pick out books?' Yes. Yes, we do. Since libraries are community-based, collection development is lot more complicated than going to Amazon and picking out bestsellers. It's about picking the best resources for your community of users so that they are connected to the best information for their needs.

At any rate, it's been interesting to approach CD with only donated books. For example, when you make your acquisitions selections from a pile of unknown, donated books you have to be extremely creative. I've discovered that in order to add new books to the collection, I can't think I want book X. Instead, I think: I want subject X. I have to think in broad terms about the types of books needed. What subjects are we lacking in? Of course, since only 2/3 of the collection is cataloged, it can be hard to tell what's still needed, but that's another story.

Also, because new books are hard to come by, weeding takes on a whole new meaning. Every library has [or should have] a policy on when to *gasp* get rid of books. But I honestly struggle to weed here. Because if I weed out one book the chances of it ever being replaced are slim to none.

So my question becomes: Is it better to have mediocre or out-of-date information or no information at all?

And sometimes I just don't know.

The truth is a lot of what's in the library would probably never pass a weeding inspection in a similar, American library. But I'm not in America. I'm in Uganda. And my options are much more limited. It's an interesting dilemma and has stretched me in a lot of ways to think about collections in new ways. I don't have an answer. Maybe we need to revise our policies so we can make things more clear about what to keep or not.

But being the big-picture thinker that I am, the issue is not just about policies. The issue is about donations from other countries and how goods travel across the globe. It's about educating the administration on the importance of getting new books. It's about soliciting for books and materials we actually need. It's about how to get relevant materials to developing countries cheaper.

And, I guess it really just gets back to the basic question:

How do you build and maintain a library's collection so that it remains relevant to its users?

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