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Collection Development: Selecting Items for the Collection

A guide to building quality library collections that serve the entire community.

Selection Philosophy and Practice

Selection is at the heart of the collection development process. Building a balanced collection is a challenge.  Like any building project, it requires skill, knowledge, and the right tools. Competing selection philosophies (“quality vs. demand”) additionally complicate selection in public libraries. This debate pits selection based on customer preferences (“demand”) against selection based on quality content (“quality”). In practice, most libraries practice a mix of the two selection philosophies.  The  Sussex County Department of Libraries in Delaware has a very straight forward selection policy that might prove useful as a simple model.   

A good selector is aware of current events and trends, is engaged with the life of the community, knows the existing resources available in the library and has a general knowlege of publishing industry trends.    

Selection Criteria


Below are general selection criteria that apply to all resources.   Selection criteria for all types of materials need to be established.  This includes:

  •   Books (Print & Electronic)  -  Audiovisual Materials  - Periodicals & Newspapers - Electronic & Internet Resources


Subject Matter

·         What subjects are needed to build the collection?

·         How suitable is the subject, style, and reading level of an item for the user community?

·         How accurate and current is the information?

Construction Quality

·         Is the item well made and durable?

·         For books and periodicals, does the item have good print quality? Is the paper of appropriate quality?

·         For audio-visuals, will the item stand up to multiple circulations?

Potential Use

·         What will the demand for the material be?

·         What level of use justifies its acquisition?

·         How relevant is the item to the community?

Relation to the Collection

·         How will the item strengthen the library’s collection? (Will it fill a gap, complement something that’s already there, or provide an alternative opinion to what is already covered?)

·         Are the materials available elsewhere in the community?

·         Is there fair coverage of opposing viewpoints?

Bibliographic Considerations

·         What is the reputation of the publisher?

·         Is the type of publication and the format appropriate for the library?

·         What is the reputation and/or significance of the author?

·         What do the book reviews say about the item?


       ·  All libraries have limited budgets and have to make very careful decisions about how to allocate these funds during the selection process. One approach to the selection process is to rank the materials desired for selection. More expensive items that are ranked highly might still be purchased, but then the library would probably be unable to purchase as many items. These decisions can be difficult to make, but prioritizing  needs is always a good way to start.


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