Collection management, also known as collection development, is one of the most important (I would say the most important) aspects of librarianship. If one just looks at the most prevalent words to describe this activity in librarianship, a number of associations come to mind that emphasize its importance. In spite of this, it is often overlooked, and when budgets need to be cut, the collection management budget is one of the first to come under the blade. I’ve often wondered why this is, because without collection development, and collection management, the collection itself becomes stymied and staid. Even, in some cases, obsolete. Let us explore the terms “collection,” “management,” and “development” more closely. In this way, perhaps I can explain why I believe that it is the preeminent activity in librarianship.
Let us begin with “collection”. This word evokes a number of meanings: things like books, music, and ebooks, interviews and documents. These things can be recorded or written. They can be printed or electronically generated. They are the records of peoples and cultures, beliefs and attitudes, loves and hates, successes or failures. They are the words or the images that describe the best and the worst of a nation, continent or hemisphere. The word “collection” also conjures up images of groups and gatherings, compilations and anthologies, assortments and assemblies—not just of ideas but of the people who think them. The Constitutional Conventions of early American History were gatherings of some of the greatest men—and ideas in the history of mankind. Collections are important and they are necessary to the vitality of a culture. Without them, cultures tend to diminish and eventually, die.
The next word in this realm of possibility is “development”. I chose this as the second word to explore because the word itself implies “a place between” something that is not just beginning, but something, also, that is not fully formed. “Development” is growth and change, adaptation and evolution. It is also collaboration (with the departments or members within a group).Through collaboration, the collection expands, progresses and advances. “Development” also evokes images of maturity and education, and these states of being lead to improvement and enhancement. Things in “development” are always getting better, becoming stronger, and enhancing the things or people that come in contact with them. The ideas and images that surround “collection” and “development” are positive and lead to greatness. This supports the argument that enhancing a library’s collection is the most important activity in librarianship.
Finally, we come to the word “management” in our exploration of the meaning of terms. “Management” can have both positive and negative connotations, and must be treated carefully. The first word to come to mind might be “control” but I suggest that this word be replaced with “responsibility.” Someone has to be in charge and guide the growth and integrity of the collection. This is where management comes in. Organization is needed, as well as administration—someone must serve the needs of the collection and its users. This does not mean a tight fist should be used; instead, management of a collection should incorporate flexibility according to the needs of the patrons. A strategy—a policy—is extremely important in collection management, because without a plan, it is impossible to deal efficiently or effectively with the goals of a library’s community. Knowledge and information are important, but so is use of resources—the collection cannot lead to development and growth if it is never opened or accessed. It is only through use that patrons have success, and something—an idea, an invention, a project or a theory—comes to exist. Of course, budgetary issues must be addressed as well. There are very few organizations that have no limits on spending. I think anyone would love the idea of “the-sky’s-the-limit” for a library budget, but it most cases—sadly—that is a situation that is impossible.
Collection management (or development) is the most important duty of a library because it is this task that makes resources accessible to the community the library serves. A collection is the core of a culture and it is only through the gathering of these materials that ideas, knowledge and understanding can be changed, expanded and enhanced. A collection never stops “becoming.” It is ever-changing and always expanding. It is full of possibility. It is possibility. Through collection development, brought under the guidance of management, the collection of a community (whether of a city, university or other organization) can grow, mature and evolve, hopefully to the advantage of that community.