ARLIS/NA Collection Development SIG Blog

For ARLIS/NA members interested in collection development issues.

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Building from the Ground Up: Collection Development Strategies for a New Graduate Master’s Program / Sarah Carter

Libraries must routinely identify and acquire new resources, but they less frequently make large-scale acquisitions to support entirely new academic programs.  This post describes the process of building a new graduate-level, practice-based collection to support a professional Master of Architecture (M.Arch) degree program.  Indiana University announced in March of 2017[1] that it would enroll its first cohort of Master of Architecture students within eighteen months.  The degree program has a dual focus on fine arts practice and architectural design, with strong global, environmental, and technological components.  Students live and work in Columbus, Indiana, a little-known architectural mecca in the Midwest.

The first steps after my arrival in December 2017 at IU Libraries was to meet with the M.Arch faculty and the School of Art, Architecture, and Design Dean to understand their expectations.  After that, I undertook the process of reviewing accreditation requirements, analyzing the M. Arch curriculum, evaluating current holdings, and ultimately writing a collection development plan.  With all of those tasks accomplished, I started to think about strategies for identifying retrospective resources.  Multiple approaches must be taken to develop the best approach for architectural practice collection development.  I took advantage of both informal and formal resources in many formats in order to familiarize myself with foundational literature and make purchasing decisions.

IU’s existing strong architectural history collection provides an important baseline for students beginning their professional M.Arch studies, but contains major gaps that must be filled.  The Association of Architecture School Librarians’ (AASL) Core Periodical List and Core Reference List, as well as both editions of The Guide to the Literature of Art History[2] were my initial guides for developing a retrospective collection. The process of bibliographic searching helped me to determine which of the titles were not currently held in our libraries.  In consultation with M.Arch faculty members, I placed orders for 14 additional periodical subscriptions and 58 reference titles.  These works form the underpinnings to our new collection.

Photo credit: IU Libraries. Professional practice materials for Master’s of Architecture programs range widely from technical works to volumes of visual inspiration.


To further develop our retrospective holdings, I turned to our major library vendor, GOBI Library Solutions.  I inquired about the feasibility of generating a report of our peer institutions’ purchases, and they agreed to undertake the project.  The M.Arch faculty had identified eight programs nationally, which represented the best peer exemplars of their curriculum and theoretical approach.  This information, along with the LC call number ranges (NA 1-9999, TA 630-695, and TH 845-6081) and content level (General Academic, Advanced Academic, Professional, etc.) produced a report of 4000+ titles that had been purchased by peer libraries over the past five years.  All information was de-identified, so that I could not tell which libraries had purchased individual titles.  Every item then needed to be reviewed and searched against IU’s holdings.  Our vendor representative explained helpfully that just because it was on the list, it didn’t mean that IU hadn’t bought the title from another vendor, received it as a gift, or somehow or another acquired it.  After being reviewed to determine whether the titles were owned by IU Bloomington or another campus, I ranked each item according to how important it was to purchase immediately for the M.Arch program’s inaugural year.  Orders were then placed for those materials with the highest rating.

This method is not without problems – namely that vendor lists of past client purchases are limited in time scope and only represent purchases from a single vendor.  In a climate that has increasingly limited resources and improved resource sharing, I am also conscious that it is redundant to replicate the libraries of our peers.  This is why it is important to include multiple collection development strategies, such as examining publisher backlists, reviewing older issues of ARLIS/NA Reviews, and asking faculty for recommendations.  Faculty and student firm orders are given the highest priority, since they know which titles will be used very heavily for projects and coursework.  Finally, to ensure that we will receive the most appropriate materials in the future, our approval plan has been updated to include books supporting architectural practice, which had previously been excluded.  The scope expanded to include materials from more diverse publishers, Asian and Middle Eastern geographic regions, and practice-based subjects.

These are just a few of the resources and strategies available for librarians who need to make decisions about large-scale collection development projects.  Core title lists exist in a variety of disciplines, so this approach may be appropriate within the humanities.  Working with vendors to review de-identified lists of materials that they have sold to other customers will give librarians a basic understanding of the important works in a field.


[2] Arntzen, E., & Rainwater, R. (1980). Guide to the literature of art history. Chicago: American Library Association and Marmor, M. & Ross, A. (2005). Guide to the literature of art history 2. Chicago: American Library Association.


Sarah Carter is the Art, Architecture, and Design Librarian at Indiana University.  

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#metoo and the Library


By Barbara Opar

It was International Women’s Day and one of my student assistants mentioned that it has been bothering her for the past year seeing Richard Meier’s name front and center on the two hour reserve stacks which are directly opposite the circulation desk.  We discussed the Shitty Architecture Men list from 2018 and how disturbing it is to see it books on these figures being revered. We also agreed that no library should have the right to censor information to its users.

Nonetheless it is an interesting issue particularly in light of the recent college admissions scandal. Last year Richard Meier stepped down from his firm in light of sexual harassment accusations. The firm has decided to continue to be known as Richard Meier & Partners Architects. In a New York Times post from October 9, 2018, an accuser, Stella Lee, commented that maintaining the name “tells me that the partners believe that Richard Meier’s brand will continue to have commercial value going forward.”  That remains to be seen as well as how history will view his impact on 20th century architecture. Will his work be selected as often for precedent research? Architecture schools are being asked to diversify and expand the choice of projects studied to include more work by women and/or international examples. Will we see a gradual shift away from his work and that of other architects implicated and included in the Shitty Architecture Men List?

On to the college admissions scandal. Hallmark chose to sever work ties with one of its most popular stars after she was accused of participating in a college admissions scandal. While none of us would consider removing Richard Meier’s books from our libraries, my student assistant wondered if we might put them in storage or shelve them in the regular stacks in order to lessen their impact—sort of out of sight, out of mind. How about publishers? Will publishers stop to consider the allegations against Meier when choosing what subjects to publish? Will more on less books be published on his older iconic designs as well as newer built works? Is that even appropriate to consider his personal life? Can the work stand alone and be viable despite the context?

Libraries are –for the most part- committed to being neutral, to providing access to all kinds of materials. Mein Kampf remains available to patrons. Yet, it can be personally upsetting to see such works in the stacks.

Any observations? Any ideas? Any solutions? Take a few minutes to complete the survey below:

In the same NY Times post,  Lee is quoted as saying: “It is really up to their prospective clients to decide the value of his legacy.”  Will students still be directed to Meier’s work? Time will indeed tell.

Barbara Opar is Librarian for Architecture, Syracuse University Libraries

Photo credit: Olivia Binette


The New Era of Collection Development / Barbara Opar

Without a doubt, collection development is far different from when I entered the profession decades ago.  At times, I even wonder if there is still the same level of interest in collection building across the profession as there was back then when librarians carefully reviewed dealer catalogs for that one gem they deemed noteworthy.  I entered the field when positions for subject librarians were gaining a foothold. Subject expertise was deemed important and colleges and especially universities were looking to create collections that would attract research faculty. Potential faculty were always shown the library. Librarians relished the opportunity to add new materials, display them with pride and work to fill in disciplinary gaps.

Sometimes money flowed fast and furious and selectors needed to expend gift funds quickly. At other times, new periodical title orders were kept on hold for several years or required cancellation of another title.  It was never a perfect world.

Change came as it always does. First it was in the processing of orders and then to the actual selection process. We have gone from standing orders with academic presses using profiling techniques to reliance on vendors to send the right “stuff” fully cataloged and shelf ready. It is not just formats that have changed, but approaches as well.

Yet, until recently most libraries had a substantial investment in selecting specific titles and dare I say pride in their collections, even in lean times.

What has changed? Is it the result or fault of new technologies or new formats? I would venture not. These are tools. Somewhere along the line expediency took over at many institutions. The philosophical underpinnings of collection building changed.  We may, in some instances, be less fussy than in the past. Based upon a profile, the vendor decides what goes into our stacks or our online holdings. Larger bundled packages contain desirable content as well as items totally out of scope. Patrons can now trigger an addition to the collection with a simple click.

We no longer buy just in case. Just in time is the new standard. Inter Library Loan services have been broadened and now are capable of delivering a far wider variety of resources in a shorter time frame. That is certainly good news. Yet, at the same time, it means that often less attention is being spent on a core stack collection with respect to editions, replacements, gaps in sets and so on.

So what is wrong with progress? Perhaps nothing, especially when funds are tight and skill sets lacking.

No one can do it all. But my concern stems from a perception I have that collection development is no longer being viewed as defining the library. Even small libraries with lean budgets strove to strengthen their holdings not just with more but with what they deemed important to their patrons. Time and expertise went into the decision making process.  I hear internally and as well as externally that there is too little time to make choices. Reference or liaison work are often cited as to blame. But aren’t all these activities tied together? Don’t we require the right resources in order to assist patrons? Doesn’t engagement in reference work help us to learn about patron needs as well as the strengths and weaknesses of our own collection? How can we be effective in outreach without at least adequate collections and knowledge of what is available.

True, I would never want patrons to judge the institution only by what we have in hand. Services are crucial components of what makes an institution great. But as libraries continue to redefine themselves, I hope that knowledge of what makes a good collection will be examined or re-examined. Expediency may continue to be a consideration, but it should be weighed against other factors. Greater intentionality and self-awareness are good starting points. We are only as good as our patrons think we are.

Barbara Opar is Librarian for Architecture for Syracuse University Libraries



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The Life of a Gift / Mary Seem

Last month, Chantal Sulkow reported on the NYTSL and ARLIS/NY-led event “Uncanny Valley: Acquisitions Processes between Selecting and Cataloging.” In her post, she touched on each of the speakers’ presentations. I would like to use this post to expand upon the Frick Art Reference Library’s contribution to the “Uncanny Valley” event: the issue of gifts.

Christina Peter and I spoke about two very different gifts and the impact that they both had on our acquisitions process. One donation was received as a part of an estate of a former Frick employee. The process of de-duplicating the titles and then the storage and disposal of the duplicate copies were the main struggles of the acquisition of this gift. Of the total titles included in the gift, we kept only 5% of the titles, as the rest were duplicates of titles already held in the Frick Art Reference Library. This made for a time-consuming – and a bit defeating – process of de-duplication but left us with the larger issue of storage and disposal of the duplicate titles. We are required to retain donated titles for three years, regardless of whether we want them or not, and so the duplicate titles had to sit in our vault until they could be assessed (and hopefully acquired) by book vendors who make regular visits to see our duplicate and unwanted titles. This donation serves as an example of how the processing of a gift does not end with the thank you note and an acknowledgement, but can continue for years afterward. The life of a gift beyond de-deduplication and acquisition is often ignored, but it can be the most onerous part of the process as more donations arrive and storage space remains at a premium.

This is not to say that every gift is a challenge. Some, such as the donation that I discussed during the “Uncanny Valley” event, can be remarkably fruitful. This particular gift helped to backfill a large swath of our collecting scope – namely those titles that address clocks and decorative timepieces. While we ended up keeping a large portion of this donation, with very little to contribute to the storage problem of the aforementioned gift, it did create new questions regarding our scope. We were inclined to keep several titles that were slightly peripheral to our scope because they were a part of the donation. Now we are left to decide whether we should begin to expand our holdings on these new topics. The Frick Art Reference Library’s Book Department has a weekly meeting to discuss potential new acquisitions and the questions relating to gifts and their scope are addressed in these meetings. Just as one gift can create new issues of storage, this gift created new questions about scope.

Donations, large and small, are a part of many libraries’ acquisitions processes, and yet they are rarely discussed. Hopefully this post has elucidated some of the issues relating to gifts and can open up a dialogue about the management of donations.

Mary Seem is the Assistant Acquisitions and Cataloging Librarian at the Frick Art Reference Library

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New Artist Book, “A Surreal Archive: the Young-Mallin Collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art” / Kristen Regina

Hello all!

We are pleased to announce the publication of a limited-edition artist book that the Philadelphia Museum of Art Library and Archives created in partnership with Brooklyn based artist Tammy Nguyen.

Tammy interpreted the Surrealist art collection of Judith Young-Mallin that we recently received, and filled it with a pop-up dollhouse, hidden panels, lace, feather, fake hair and many other surreal elements that whimsically reflect the archive.

For a full description of the book, please see the press release:

For more information about Tammy, she is the founder of Passenger Pigeon press, has her MFA in Painting/Printmaking from Yale, did a Fulbright in Vietnam, and her most recent exhibition was at Crush Curatorial, a review of which was published in Hyperallergic.


Kristen Regina is the Arcadia Director of the Library and Archives at the Philadelphia Museum of Art


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Uncanny Valley: Acquisitions Processes Between Selecting and Cataloging / Chantal Sulkow

On Friday October 19, 2018, the New York Chapter of ARLIS/NA and NYTSL (New York Technical Services Librarians) co-sponsored the event “Uncanny Valley: Acquisitions Processes between Selecting and Cataloging”, hosted by the Watson Library at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

Moderated by William Blueher of the Watson Library, the lightning-round session asked presenters from five local institutions to respond to the prompts: “What part of your acquisitions process works well? What part of your process would you like to work better? What is one takeaway you have after examining these processes as a whole?” The goal of the session was to get librarians talking about the nuts and bolts of acquisitions processes- a topic that is often overlooked in articles and conference sessions.

Lauren DeVoe and Matthew Pavlick spoke about how The Columbia University Libraries, in coordination with the Cornell University libraries, created the Pre-Order Online Form (the POOF) in order to streamline the ordering process. The POOF allows subject specialists to place orders directly to Acquisitions with all the needed information, including the appropriate OCLC record. If an OCLC record is available, the POOF will pull the record in and automatically generate a purchase order and bib record that only needs to be approved by Acquisitions in our Voyager ILS. If there is no record already available, the system will create a provisional order record with the information provided by the selector. This platform allows the ordering process to go extremely quickly and makes things more efficient. The Cornell University Libraries would provide the source code for the POOF to other institutions that may be interested in trying this platform out!

 Chantal Sulkow from the Bard Graduate Center Library touted the benefits of being a smaller institution that can respond nimbly to requests without the need for bureaucratic oversight, presenting a contrast to the other larger institutions at the gathering. Chantal spoke about the BGC Library’s practice of customizing title selection and ordering around the needs of a very specific academic community, using a less structured approach than one would in a wider university setting. Despite this practice, and following a recent migration from Millennium to Sierra, the library has recently begun looking to add more structure to define processes for finance tracking and claiming missing orders, all the while trying to strike a delicate balance between preserving efficiency vs. adding unnecessary layers of work.

John Lindaman from the Watson Library, Metropolitan Museum of Art described ROBOT (Received Order By Ordering Team, clearly a case of the acronym coming first) receiving as a way to eliminate the need for a lot of the physical schlepping of receiving books that will ultimately go offsite by having them sent directly there by shelf-ready vendors. Based on language, subject, or other criteria, books are either selected by the vendor to go offsite directly, or selected by the orderer to be processed on the appropriate shelf-ready account. Records are loaded with an “on order” status when the books are shipped, and records are updated to status “requestable” when the books are accessioned at the offsite facility; this provides the same item-level control as annotating the paper invoice, but without the physical work.

Greg Ferguson from NYU Libraries described their new workflow for managing its e-resources acquisitions using the project management web application Jira.  Jira is designed for software development, but NYU has repurposed it to assign and track the work of its e-resources staff.  Jira allows users to attach documents, store email conversations, and group tasks by product or publisher, making it a de facto knowledge base containing licenses, title lists, processing notes, etc.  This is part of a robust set of workflows NYU is developing for all of its e-resources maintenance in Jira.  Setting up these workflows required a significant investment in time and effort, but has paid off by bringing clarity and order to a part of the library’s work that was previously difficult to handle.

Christina Peter and Mary Seem from the Frick Art Reference Library discussed the life of gifts after they are accepted by the library, including the issues, and time constraints, of de-duplication, and namely the storage and disposal of duplicates. They used two of their recent gifts as case studies: the Suhr gift from a past Frick curator that proved problematic due to the large number of out-of-scope titles and its poor condition and the Abbott-Guggenheim gift that contained many titles we didn’t have but gladly accepted. The issue of retaining the gift titles for the required three years and the search for vendors or buyers for the unwanted titles was also mentioned.

The lightning presentations were followed by a Q+A with the presenters, which became a lively 45 minute conversation involving most of the audience, with a free exchange of ideas and tips about various subjects. This was so successful that there was no need for the small-group discussion pre-planned activity. Due to the variety of institutions represented, attendees seemed to come away with many useful new ideas, and it was great as always to talk and catch up with local colleagues.

Many thanks go to Ken Soehner of the Watson Library for hosting, and thanks to our colleagues in NYTSL for co-sponsoring this very helpful discussion. A number of attendees expressed that they’d love to do this again, and we hope to arrange more events like this soon!

–Chantal Sulkow, Acquisitions Librarian, Bard Graduate Center Library

With contributions from:

  • Lauren DeVoe, Order Unit Librarian Collections, Acquisition and Description, Columbia University Libraries
  • Matthew Pavlick, Head, Monographs Acquisitions Services, Columbia University Libraries
  • John Lindaman, Associate Museum Librarian, Manager of Technical Services, Watson Library, Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • Gregory Ferguson, Head, Resource Management, NYU Division of Libraries
  • Christina Peter, Head, Acquisitions, Frick Art Reference Library
  • Mary Seem, Assistant Acquisitions and Cataloging Librarian, Frick Art Reference Library