ARLIS/NA Collection Development SIG Blog

For ARLIS/NA members interested in collection development issues.

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Notes on Topic Talk Call on eBooks / Mary Seem and Chantal Sulkow

The second Collection Development SIG Topic Talk was held on November 7, 2019, and focused on eBooks. Approximately 15 people joined the call, representing various libraries from the ARLIS/NA community. The Topic Talk notes are available via the Google Doc link below and were taken by Mary Seem, Assistant Acquisitions and Cataloging Librarian at the Frick  Art Reference Library, and edited by Chantal Sulkow, Acquisitions Librarian at the the Bard Graduate Center.

Many thanks to all ARLIS/NA members who have joined us for these Topic Talk phone calls! They are proving very successful, and they cannot happen without your participation. We hope to continue and make it a regular series. We are looking for a topic for our next chat, so if you have a suggestion, please let us know! Send your ideas to Thanks also to Mary Seem for organizing and moderating the call!

You can find the eBooks Topic Talk notes here:


Also: please enjoy Salvador Dali’s “Lobster Telephone”, in honor of our SIG using the phone to connect our members and share knowledge!

Lobster Telephone 1936 Salvador Dalí 1904-1989



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Summary of Topic Talk on Gifts / Mary Seem

The Topic Talk on Gifts – which occurred on July 18th, 2019, and was open to members of the Collection Development SIG and the larger ARLIS/NA community – was an opportunity to discuss issues and concerns surrounding gifts and donations of library material. Approximately 16 people were on the call and they represented libraries in several states. 

The call focused on institutional policies for accepting gifts, processing of gift material and gift acknowledgement, and on the disposal of unwanted gifted material. Different libraries had different policies for accepting gifts – several acknowledged that material donated by trustees and major donors could not be dismissed but that stipulations were put in place for other donations to prohibit people from unloading unwanted material. One library stipulates that the gift must be delivered, another requires endowments for the processing of the material to accompany the gift. When these rules can’t be enforced, stating upfront that material will not be kept if it is not in scope may deter donors from giving material.

Many libraries stated that the assessment of a gift requires the time and effort of volunteers and library staff. Several libraries use volunteers to search for duplicates against their holdings but then rely on library staff to assess the content of the gift for scope and value. Library staff are also often required for the processing and accessioning of the gift into the collection. Most libraries attempt to integrate gifts into their normal workflows – although almost all acknowledge that it is a considerable strain on available resources.

The issue of disposing – or finding new homes – for unwanted gift material has always been a hot topic. Some libraries suggested annual book sales, though they require a fair about of staff labor and are not an option for every type of library. A list of potential resources was compiled during the call (and can be found in the meeting notes: There was general disagreement about the legal retention policy for gifted material – however Kathy Edwards, a librarian at Clemson University, has delved into the topic and will present her findings in an upcoming Collection Development SIG blog post. 

Overall, the call was a great opportunity for Collection Development SIG members to discuss issues that plague all libraries. It was encouraging to have such active discussion. The next call, which will be scheduled for the fall, will be about eBooks especially the constant emergence of publisher-run platforms and packages. I look forward to another great discussion!

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

Detail from The Procession of the Trojan Horse in Troy by Domenico Tiepolo (1773), inspired by Virgil’s Aeneid

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Gatekeeping and Library Ethics 101 / Barbara Opar

This past April, I wrote a column addressing the Shitty Architecture Men list of 2018 and the reactions of some library patrons and staff to certain materials in our small branch.  See This second column includes the results of a brief survey distributed late spring to both the ARLIS and AASL listservs as well as students and faculty here. The results noted below are some of the suggestions survey respondents gave to address ways in which we might “downplay” the prominence of those on the accused list:

“Don’t highlight them in book displays or new book advertisements, but they should remain in the collection. Their presence provides an opportunity for discussion and debate.”

“In instances like this it may be useful to make available information about such abuse and intentionally highlight works about women architects. Uplift others to make a point, and use it to start a conversation to shed light on the situation.”

“Allow for these works to be available in your online catalog the way other works are, but simply move to storage for the time being.”

Just coming off Banned Books Week, I verred away from my initial reaction and started to question whether or not we as librarians should or have a right to “restrict” access or limit purchasing of materials on controversial architects.  As one person responded:  

“NO- it is not our job to endorse, or not endorse. We are here to provide accesses to resources. We are stewards, not cultural critics. Librarians really, really need to be impartial – it isn’t cool to ask why someone wants information- do the reference interview but don’t interject your beliefs. Library ethics 101”

Most of us would agree how disturbing it is to see books by or about these figures deemed seminal. Yet, at the same time, most would agree that no library should have the right to censor information to its users. What about gatekeeping?  The following comments were also part of the survey results:

“I’d say simply stop buying new materials on this person. Use your buying power not to support new scholarship on them. Invest in alternative voices. Seek out more resources on female architects and people of color, etc.–i.e. give more choices to patrons. If the architect no longer represents the changing tides, don’t feature them in library displays. Every library is a library of “great” males to some extent. To what extant is it up to the library to decide how morally great each author or subject matter is?”

“There could be notices on the shelf (that’s a bit harder to do in an online environment). One could contact the publishers of online reference works and ask them to include statements. It’s a slippery slope and difficult to know that all the “bad guys” are included. How far back do we go?”

Ethically speaking, selection decisions should be decided without censorship.  Architecture selection unlike art and photography rarely involves controversial content. There is no decision point requiring content assessment. Most would also agree that materials on well- known figures are likely to be sought after and consulted. So do we have any right to place limits on new materials on controversial figures?  Is it fair to downplay their existence in our collections? What about using media to “influence” and educate patrons about the context of an architect’s work? Where does our responsibility lie? 

Comments and ideas welcome. Email me at


Barbara Opar is Librarian for Architecture, Syracuse University Libraries

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Request for Museum-Specific Issues Regarding Collection Development / Doug Litts

Having been responsible for developing museum library collections of different sizes through my career, I am currently writing a chapter of the upcoming book The New Art Museum Library. While the size of the chapter will be limited, I would like to make sure that I don’t miss any important museum-specific issues regarding collection development. I welcome topic suggestions from the Collection Development SIG membership. Please forward them to me directly at

Additionally if anyone would be willing to review the chapter before I submit to the editors, please let me know. I would really appreciate comments and suggestions for this important chapter.

Thanks so much.

Doug Litts

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From Library Intern to Interim Librarian / Klaudia Kendall

A recent and unfortunate trend in cultural institutions has been the defunding, reduction and elimination of libraries. Recently, in the art museum research library where I started working as an intern in June, I found myself in an unexpected situation. After the museum board enacted organizational restructuring and budget cuts, the head librarian, who was also my supervisor, was suddenly let go. Our library staff was reduced to only myself and the remaining library assistant. As a result, my internship quickly became a very different kind of learning experience, in which I had to take on many more responsibilities than an intern would normally assume, including collection development and managing the library’s budget.

A major problem for the library was that it was not an independent department. As part of the museum’s education department, the library lacked autonomous authority and was subject to their budget and decision making. This situation can seem in some ways to make sense, as libraries are seen as educational resources intended to support institutional growth through their programs, collections, and staff. However, in this case, being made to answer to the education department had robbed the library of its agency, forcing the staff to continually advocate for and fight to prove their relevance to a separate department that didn’t fully understand the library’s function and necessity. One of the last things my supervisor impressed upon me before she left was the risk involved in heading a department over which you lack complete authority. I understand now, more than ever, that too many people are without an understanding of what librarians do. Too often, institutions focus on budget at the cost of other values, and look only at the revenue the library generates versus the cost of staffing and acquisitions. Administrators were not under the correct impressions of my previous supervisor’s work here, and found themselves between a rock and a hard place after letting her go. 

It was this series of events that led to me- a student intern – working on the library budget. One of the first unsupervised tasks that I completed was having to make severe cuts to the periodical budget. It was not easy for me, but, given the stresses surrounding the situation, it was a relief to see an $8,000 EBSCO contract reduced to less than $2,000. For my new supervisor, it may have initially been purely a financial consideration, but when I was able to talk to her and explain the decision making process I had been forced to go through, on my own, she was actually surprised. I explained considerations such as the time and staff it would take to move entire periodicals runs to archival spaces, or evaluating resource value by circulation and use. Having open conversations with her about these issues made the inevitable budget cuts easier to manage, and being honest in the decision making process helped to ensure that the collection was going to be taken care of well after I left. I hoped that this might help future staff make informed decisions in maintaining the periodical budget.

One change I made during this difficult process was in digital collection management, eliminating some older runs of hardcopy periodicals, while transitioning to a larger selection of digital resources. Not only was this more cost effective but it also freed up a large amount of shelf space for future collection growth without librarian supervision. Communicating with the education department about our digital collections was another eye-opener for them, and gave me an opportunity to put my own professional and technical knowledge to use, as they had been previously unaware of the cost efficiency and ease of access offered by electronic resources.

In the midst of so much upheaval there were obviously elements that needed to be preserved, particularly within the library’s special collections. For example, some periodicals were complete runs from as far back as the late 19th century to the present, and rare materials such as these were treated appropriately. 

At the same time, though, some things had to change, and I felt that foremost I needed to work on the educational staff’s perception that the library was not a part of the museum itself, nor an asset worth protecting or investing in. The department was not fully aware of the monetary value of library collections when considering construction in library spaces. The decisions proposed were potentially disastrous to the library and the collection itself. Because the focus of so many conversations had been about budget, I decided to present them with numbers. Before being let go, the library’s director had consulted a local book dealer to give a professional appraisal of the collection; presenting a million-dollar replacement cost to my new supervisor did not go unnoticed. She was shell shocked. This library, and thus the education department, were sitting on millions in donations and library purchases. With an already tight library purchasing budget, the risk of endangering the collections quickly became out of the question. 


Left: Boxes of periodicals from the collections stacked on palettes for removal from the library; Right: Library collections protected with plastic sheeting from localized construction, covered after appraisal discussions with education department. Photos by the author.


After this conversation the preservation of the current collection became a renewed focus for the Education department. Additionally, best practices on how to care for rare and fragile items were introduced into staff seminars so education staff could properly care for library materials. In the future, should non-librarians find themselves handling the special collections items, they would find themselves prepared to do so. Because documents establishing best practices were created, I finally felt that my work was making a difference in the future of the art research library.

Working on collection development and a library budget as an intern is not an easy task, and the decisions that I had to make felt inappropriate, especially as I had little experience. I struggled with this, and wondered: why me? Why was I being given these task? I had just started and was unfamiliar with the museum collections, as well as the needs of the curators and the educational staff. I also wondered: why now? Why would an institution hire an intern, being aware that they were preparing to eliminate the entirety of the library staff in the next fiscal year?

Before my supervisor left she introduced me to the book Art Museum Libraries and Librarianship, edited by Joan M. Benedetti, which has become one of my most valuable resources. Chapter 7, Deborah Barlow Smedstad’s “Art Museum Collections and Collection Development”, outlines the potential needs, varying visitor bases, and collection focuses of other art museum libraries; no doubt, this must have described her own situation when it was published in 2007. Reading this gave me perspective regarding questions that I needed to consider before making decisions about budget cuts, such as: what library materials do the curators physically use? What expenditures can I convince the department are most important? What practices can I establish that require the least formal knowledge to continue library operations? How can we continue to make the library materials available to visitors, while also continuing to serve museum staff? And, most importantly, how can the education department, in the absence of an actual librarian, continue our work responsibly?

Ultimately, one of the most important lessons I have learned from this experience is that collection development is not only about building a collection that establishes relationships with visitors, but also with the organization itself. I am extremely grateful for this experience, despite the downfalls. I have gained skills that I may not have otherwise, navigating the troubled waters of librarianship and outward perceptions of this profession and its importance. I can more accurately communicate the importance of proper training when dealing with rare and fragile materials and the consequences of an improperly stewarded collection. I learned how to engage with organizations focused on budgeting and expenditures. Most importantly, I became a voice for the library at this particular art museum, honing my skills as both a communicator and an educator to advocate for the continued collection of materials during these next few, potentially frugal, fiscal years. At the end of her chapter in Art Museum Libraries and Librarianship, Deborah Barlow Smedstad leaves the reader with the following quote: “While the challenges of limited budgets and staff may seem insurmountable at times, the rewards of working in an art museum library are many. The opportunities for personal growth and cultural enrichment occur on a daily basis and make the environment a highly stimulating one.” Despite the difficult situation I was unexpectedly thrust into during this internship, I couldn’t agree more. 


Klaudia Kendall is a candidate for an MLIS at the University of Arizona and a summer intern at an art research library in the Southwest United States.

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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.