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Community Engagement in Collection Development: Social Responsibility or Professional Abdication?

Corrall, Sheila (2017) Community Engagement in Collection Development: Social Responsibility or Professional Abdication? In: Community Engagement & Social Responsibility: ALISE’17 Annual Conference, 17 January 2017 - 20 January 2017, Atlanta, GA. (Unpublished)

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The paper uses collection development as a case study to illustrate how the historical background of a subject is an essential part of our approach to introducing students as new professionals to the principles and practices of our field and discusses how best to encourage interest and engagement with the historical context of contemporary practice. Materials selection has long been regarded as a critical function and defining responsibility of professional librarians, indeed “the ultimate source of pride of many collection specialists” (Cogswell, 1987, p. 270), but its place in the 21st century library has been challenged by the implementation of patron-driven acquisition (PDA) systems and notions of community engagement as a library service model enabled by Web 2.0 technologies and social media. Patron-driven or demand-driven acquisition (DDA) systems have divided professional opinion in academic libraries, prompting specific concerns about monopolistic use and questions about patrons “using library funds to effectively build private collections” (Tyler et al., 2014), as well as more general arguments about quality, and selecting material for current users (“just-in time”) versus collection building for future use (“just-in-case”). Lewis (2013, p. 169) argues that choosing items for the library collection was a “professional task” in the paper world where “selection mattered,” but the digital world is different, providing an opportunity and the necessity for a new approach, and changing the role of librarians in the selection process. Although PDA has brought such issues into sharper focus, involving members of the community in the selection of materials is not a novel idea. Cogswell (1987, p. 268) observes that “In 1957 the idea that primary responsibility for book selection should rest with librarians was termed avant-garde’,” and Kohl (2010, p. 1107) confirms that in research libraries at least it was not until the 1960s that faculty “almost universally ceded authority for collection development, and the accompanying budgets, to library bibliographers.” Similar debates have taken place in the public library arena, both in connection with and independently of PDA/DDA systems. Pateman and Williment (2013, pp. 123, 125-126) argue that “The local community should be actively engaged in the selection process” and criticize the “enduring belief that only qualified staff should select stock, as they alone know best what the ‘deserving poor’ want and need.” They characterize the debate as “social control versus social change or ‘reads versus needs’” and point out that it has been going on for 150 years. The issue of librarian-selected versus user-selected models of collection management is neither a new question, nor the only one, as other approaches, such as consortial options, approval plans, and supplier/vendor selection need to be included in the mix. The key point here is that we can better understand the issue of community engagement in collection development if we study its history in our profession, and follow the precepts of the ALA Library History Round Table (1989), whose statement reminds us that “Many of the most important issues of our day…can only be understood in the light of their historical contexts.”


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Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Corrall, Sheilascorrall@pitt.eduSCORRALL
Date: 18 January 2017
Date Type: Publication
Event Title: Community Engagement & Social Responsibility: ALISE’17 Annual Conference
Event Dates: 17 January 2017 - 20 January 2017
Event Type: Conference
Schools and Programs: School of Information Sciences > Library and Information Science
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Active, learning, Collection, development, Community, engagement, Library, history, Materials, selection, Professional, education
Official URL:
Date Deposited: 26 Jun 2017 20:12
Last Modified: 25 Aug 2017 04:55


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