ARLIS/NA Collection Development SIG Blog

For ARLIS/NA members interested in collection development issues.

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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.  

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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