Diversity in Libraries
A blog for exploring and discussing the topics of diversity and multiculturalism in libraries.

How do you define a collection?

By: Gal Warshai

A collection is hard to define because it has many variables which will determine the choices of what will be included. There are many different types of libraries in existence and each has a different approach to what is wanted or needed in that specific library or library system. One variable is what type of library, a Public School system for example has different requirements than a Public Library, or a University Library. Another variable is what type of access the patrons have, and what the users want to learn about or exclude. A public institution might have more leeway in collection choices than a smaller community that might object to specific materials within the collection. The policy for a specific library is usually created with input from the community that it serves.

Each newly formed library creates a collection policy at its inception which are guidelines for the acquisitions of new materials as well as suggestions of what to include. What is harder to do then forming a new collection is evaluating an existing collection, which involves looking what is already owned and what still needs to be purchased to make the collection more complete.

The choices of what is added to the specific collection varies on the demographics of a community and what specific topics in that community are chosen to be highlighted or excluded. There are so many different topics of Multiculturalism and Diversity that exist today that everyone should have access to learn about them but it is hard to choose the topics and to what extent to include them in a library collection. These topics include but are not limited to: ethnicity, nationality, race, gender, and sexual orientation, etc.

Discussion Topics:

What is your specific library’s collection management policy?

How did they form the collection management policy?

Suggested Reading:

Harloe, Bart, ed. Guide to Cooperative Collection Development (ALA Online Store). Collection Management and Development Guides, no.6. Chicago: ALA, 1994.


3 Responses to “How do you define a collection?”

  1. Hmmm, using the demographics of an area to define collection policy: separate but equal? Do people living in poor Polish [or whatever minority] neighborhoods want to read about poor Polish people? Or do they want math books, and books about butterflies and interesting fiction, etc. just like ‘normal’ non-multicultural people.Do people want to see themselves as “multicultural”, a new way of saying “exotic” or do they want to just simply be patrons of a public library? Basically that’s *assuming* and saying, “Hey there you look like a [insert minority type here] we have books FOR people like you…because you are of that ‘other’ type you couldn’t possibly be interested in actual literature like everyone else on the planet, you probably just want to read about [insert multicultural topic].

    Everyone belongs to a minority. Wouldn’t life be dull if the library pushed books about your group at you? Don’t you read books that are about things that are alien to you? Don’t you think ‘multicultural’ people want the same?

    As to the previous, “should books with allegedly objectionable materials be removed?” Well, if you take out the books *you* disagree with and I take out the books *I* disagree with, etc., etc., there won’t be too many books left.

    We’ve seen the logical extension of this thinking: people demanding the Diary of Anne Frank and other Holocaust books be banned because they are “depressing” or show people suffering [I’m not kidding, go google that]. There was another case were a black woman wanted a book on slavery banned because it had grotesque pictures of lynchings. Now, the argument might be: it might give people bad ideas to start that up again; or I don’t want my kid seeing dead bodies; or as a black person this basically chills me to the core and makes the library not a library, but a place of ‘multicultural propoganda’ and I just want to find nice books to read-yes, even though I’m black I just come for interesting books that have nothing to do with being black or a woman or whatever. Pretty good reasons to remove a book huh? But then again you could probably come up with a good reason to ban most books-so we’re back where we were headed: an empty library. Gosh, librarianship can be hard and depressing 😉

  2. By the way, I wasn’t accusing anyone on this blog of doing anything wrong, just throwing out some thoughts and possible caveats to how good intentions can turn out creepy. Which might be a tad off topic for this particular entry-I was thinking about the blog as a whole.

    And yes, I realize that the blog post was actually more about ‘inclusive’ collection development and not leaving anyone out. Which is cool/good/honorable.

    Also I’m not saying “don’t buy that book” because it’s multicultural or not. I’m a buy-everything you can and let the patron decide what they wanna look at (but at some point obviously shelf-space, money and even changing cultural perceptions and norms demand that actual decisions be made about what materials are bought or weeded out from the collection). So I guess it was more of a ‘service’ and ‘promotion’ comment, than a collection development one.

    A less long-winded way of saying the above best illustrated by analogy: if you were awarded a grant to visit a library in Italy, wouldn’t you be bored/offended if they took the extra-step of being “multiculturally sensitive” and got you “American” food so instead of Italian you had to eat McDonalds and KFC the whole time you were in Italy? Wouldn’t you find that instead of being multicultural (sharing) it’s really a way of separating you out (segregating)? Wouldn’t you feel cheated?

    You can say that a book is *about* someone similar to the patron, but that doesn’t mean that the book is *for* that patron, especially to the exclusion of anything else. It’s nice to see your own culture represented in a collection, but I would think most people would rather spend time learning about other people’s cultures. “Awesome, people like me are represented in this library, great, but actually I want to read about the Ancient Egyptians.”

    Like: I have a feeling gay people read (and write) books about things other than being gay. The real triumph would be to get non-gay people to read those books. Also, why waste time preaching to the choir.

    I’m not saying don’t buy books that explore what we now call ‘multiculturalism’, what I’m saying is that it seems sort of demeaning, creepy and even racist to try to *aim* those books at patrons who fit into that category.

    Just be aware it might take a bit of sensitivity to avoid a: “Welcome to our library, you look like a Jew-the holocaust books are over in that aisle” type of vibe.

    Having the books available is good. Multiculturally dividing out people and sending them toward specific cultures according to what you perceive them to be is racist and segregation.

    “I’ve read the statistical demographics of this area and will adjust my collection accordingly because I know what’s best for “people like that”. “It is my job to guide these peasants to the knowledge I think they need to know.” Now, you could find interesting patterns, let’s say people who can only read French in your neighborhood and then get some French language materials-but you could also veer off into the creepy political/racial/gender minefield and end up just offending *everyone* like the previous examples.

    I dunno, just throwing stuff out there-Thinking out loud. Love the blog by the way. It’s put together nicely.

  3. Hey interesting site, just wondering what comment blocker program you use for cleaning up comments because I have been hit by so many spammers on my web site.

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