In Christopher Harris Next Big Thing column entitled "Should Libraries Be Run Like a Business?" he suggests we should be detailing our collection development plan that shows we "are deliberate and thoughtful in your spending and provides a base from which you can address the impact budget reductions will have on the long-term health of the collection."
For the past 11 years while at one elementary school, I had a written collection development plan of acquisitions based upon Karen Lowe’s strategies and book Resource Alignment: Providing Curriculum Support in the School Library Media Center. Every year while meeting with administrators, PTA, and vendors, I could pull out my 5 year plan and assess where we had made advances or needed an extra boost. One year the PTA added several thousand dollars of books to help improve the areas of nonfiction needed. Other years the administration allowed me to assist them in spending surplus funds the last day of school. I was always prepared to spend funds on books.
This year I am starting fresh at the middle school. I don’t have my plan together yet, and here are my excuses why: First, I had to catalog the back load of books behind my desk – over 1,000 titles to catalog in the first month. Then I did an inventory so I would have an accurate assessment of what was missing. I discovered an addition 400 books that were on the shelf without having been cataloged and I’m still correcting those. Plus I had to order my books using the district funds before they disappeared.
I met with a larger number of vendors than usual so I could rapidly assess what was available for a middle school curriculum. I collected requests from faculty and students and began developing wish lists. I am only half way through the year so I don’t have a total grasp of the middle school curriculum yet, but I’m working frantically to get to the information place I need to be. Between helping students research, teaching, and circulating 10,000 items in the first semester (a new record for our school), analyzing the collection dropped to a much lower priority.
I cannot wait until I can systematically assess the collection based on the Karen Lowe model so the next 3 years are not as difficult. The Tennessee Association of School Librarians will be holding refresher courses on collection analysis and development with Karen this summer and I plan to attend. Why? Don’t I remember how? Sure, but I need the structure and discipline of having to sit down for 2 days to assess what’s there and what’s lacking then to develop the plan for the future. I need a little structure. Another advantage to analyzing while with a group is that I can look at titles that are my favorite and lose my "logical approach" while other librarians with me can simply say, "That’s got to go! Update it."
Why is this so important? Right before winter break, I met with my principal for 5 minutes to help spend additional funds on library materials. I entered with 12 lists of orders, my circulation system’s analysis record, the district’s analysis and justification for funds and a HUGE amount of knowledge in my head. I quickly reviewed everything and pulled out the top priorities to present for approval. One interesting change I had to make was to swiftly put fiction higher on the list than I intended. The principal wanted to meet the needs and requests of the students/faculty. He did not want to spend the majority of additional funds beefing up the nonfiction collection except for the 4 areas I pointed out. After looking at 4 lists, he was finished. Too much information available and I had to carefully funnel what was my highest priority.
Instead of funding all of the nonfiction requests, he suggested that we should be looking at using the internet and our databases as sources for nonfiction material instead of maintaining large collections of nonfiction titles. He could not guarantee that additional funds were available in the future so wanted to maximize spending to reach students. Readers, do not judge us too harshly here. We only had 5 minutes and a short time to spend funds, so I chose not to present reasons why that approach wasn’t perfect. I am grateful for the extra funding and thankful that we were able to work together to meet the needs of our population.
This is what I should have brought in: my circulation records showing that students read 49% nonfiction to 51% fiction in my middle school. I should have maintained the list of subject areas for which teachers needed large numbers of titles available. (Each teacher, 5 classes in one day, 120-165 students). If I had finished the collection analysis, my orders would look vastly different right now.
This is not a bad thing. I had over $6,000 in fiction requests, $2000 in biographical requests, and $13,000 in nonfiction suggestions. I’ll fund fiction and some biographical reference with those additional funds and I will continue to raise funds for the nonfiction improvements. Next year I’ll spend the majority of funds on nonfiction titles. This year I’ll meet the recreational fiction needs.
I will actually look for library donors to help establish collections in the nonfiction area. I can understand in these economic times why administrators worry about locking themselves into long-term investments, but having a plan would have greatly improved our five minute meeting. Even though it’s winter break, I’m still logging in to my database to analyze trends and needs of our collection.
I’m also taking the advice of youth librarians who suggested that I give the local public library copies of the requests I receive so they can order more of these titles. I can count on the public library for fictional recreational reading, but now I need to get my analysis in order so my administration can see the needs of my instructional component in the middle school.
Yes, Christopher, a better business model would have been to have the analysis ready and detailed, but I am also busy in the real world of school librarianship interacting with students and teachers. The interactions are my greatest asset to the school. The analysis and a perfect collection will always come second.