ARLIS/NA Collection Development SIG Blog

For ARLIS/NA members interested in collection development issues.

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Collection Development for a Public/Private Special Collection / Suzy Frechette

St Louis Public Library Special Collections Reading roomThe St. Louis Public Library is fortunate to have a very special architectural collection that is a sometimes awkward hybrid — a restricted rare book room that lives in a busy urban public library. The nucleus of the Steedman Architectural Library was given to SLPL in 1928; the donor, George Fox Steedman, also paid to have a special room designed and built especially to house it. Some of the most influential and beautiful architecture books ever published were part of this original group, such as early editions of Vitruvius, Alberti, Palladio, Frank Lloyd Wright, and a 21-volume set of Piranesi’s works. Mr. Steedman also set up a modest endowment that can only be used to purchase new books for the collection. His intention was to give local architects access to the greatest books of architecture, thereby inspiring them to design great works in St. Louis. We allow architects, architectural historians, and other serious researchers access to the books. The room is not open for browsing, and patrons cannot stay in it by themselves. For more background, and over 400 images of the books, check out

One of my duties as head of the Fine Arts Department is to be in charge of this collection, and it has been my privilege and joy add to it during my 25 years here. There are many factors to consider when seeking worthy additions. A “Steedman Book” has to be highly important in some way, whether it is the definitive monograph on an architect or building, an historic treatise that changed the course of architecture, or a lavish book documenting a body of work. Pattern books or other works that were used by working architects, that inform our understanding of architectural history, are a valued component of the library as well.

Of course, I must stay within my budget each year. That has varied widely over the years, depending on interest rates and even some institutional politics. And, the original donation was so rich and deep, and my predecessors made such wise additions, that it is sometimes difficult to find truly important titles to add.

When I have money to spend, I first check the listings of our current or former ARLIS/NA vendor supporters such as Peter Bernett, Eric Chiam Kline, Ars Libri, Michael Shamansky, and Marilyn Braiterman. I have bought from other antiquarian dealers who specialize in architecture, such as The Bookpress, Ltd. I try to buy most frequently from Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America members; the ABAA website is a rich resource for items for sale and for comparison shopping.

I can’t forget new books, though, for they can be bargains in this context. The price of an expensive new book about an influential contemporary architect, published by someone such as Taschen, Rizzoli, or Monacelli Press, may look fairly steep today, but when it goes out of print, its price on the secondary market will soar. I’ve also found some wonderful newly published titles in the Exhibits Hall at ARLIS/NA annual conferences.

Although it is definitely a challenge, I greatly enjoy the wonderful people and beautiful books that I have been able to get to know while developing this great collection.

–Suzy Frechette (

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The Academic Art Library and Consortial Collections / Sarah Falls, Ohio State University.

Art libraries and their collections are ecosystems unique to their institutions, forged by institutional priorities, cultural prerogatives and the savvy decisions of their selectors. Through the years, I have worked in multiple collections that reflect the needs of their users and institutions, but seemed to be insulated from factors that create universal collections decisions in libraries. Our status as special and departmental allowed us to curate around areas of interest to our users, while creating a basic and underlying corpus of research materials from which to work. We continued to collect print, for instance, and held firmly on to our bound journals as institutions felt they could withdraw those digitized by such vendors as JSTOR. The large, the unique, the artist rendered, the folio, the moving image—all of these formats and more exist under our roofs to help promote the study of the visual.

So, as subject librarians—how do we engage with collaborative collection development and still maintain a certain level of curated uniqueness within our libraries? How do we collect materials that represent the canon for basic research—or do we even need to do that anymore? These are critical questions that I have asked myself since beginning my job as Head of the Fine Arts Library at the Ohio State University. Here, the Fine Arts Library, our collecting happens within a very large university setting (and we are very large!) but also within the statewide consortium of over 100 institutions called OhioLINK. OhioLINK has a shared borrowing program that enables researchers throughout the state to borrow materials from member institutions, private and public, academic and public libraries. Researchers order them from the catalog interface and receive them within days. For the librarian who selects materials for a subject-specific library, purchasing certain materials must be weighed against their availability in the OhioLINK system. While most institutions allow their selectors to purchase materials as they see fit for their collections, a benchmark of five circulating copies within the system is observed by many. In such a system, materials are acquired based not only on the connection to institutional need and collecting policies, but also the speed at which an order can be placed. Here at OSU, we only acquire one institutional copy—and there are many times that I feel in competition with other subject librarians in area studies, architecture and other departments, to get that one copy for my collection.

While this collection environment closes one door…it opens the proverbial Sound of Music window. What materials do I focus on collecting? Instead of buying trade publications, I focus on exhibition catalogs, from more international venues. I order scholarly volumes on the history of art, and I look for unique purchases, such as small artist archives and artist books. Perhaps in the long run, this kind of work will steer us closer to the being considered a campus special collection. In the meanwhile, I also hope to re-energize our space—which has become more of a study hall with a two-story book stack than and the engaged, active art library that it could be. Working with unique materials, perhaps those that directly connect to teaching strategies, allows me to bring a broader range of students to the art library. Artist books are a wonderful way to explore the narrative, story-telling properties of the book as art medium with first and second year writing students, for instance. Many of these kinds of materials lend themselves to exhibitions, or even better, a Fine Arts professor embedding them within an assignment, and the students bringing their works back at the end of the semester for an exhibit and opening. In this way, the opportunity to collect materials that directly connect to the student learning experience is enriching for me. Rather than collecting what we might use, we collect what we will use.

2015-04-29 20.11.13


Exhibition: Not Your Average Codex by Department of Art, Book Arts Course, Spring 2015, displayed in the Ohio State University Fine Arts Library.

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The Package Deal / Barbara Opar, Syracuse University

Another fiscal year has ended and my library again was able to use unspent and reserve funds to acquire a number of large sets, including digital packages. One of these purchases is directly tied to my discipline so I am grateful for our ability to acquire such materials. However, I am also aware that not every institution uses funds this way or makes such a commitment to large packages– even those institutions with stronger collections budgets.

So I would like to review reasons for and against large purchases. Purchasing large sets at the end of the fiscal year is an easy way to spend down the budget and make a big impact. These resources are the kinds that one can advertise on library sites and describe in newsletters. To some extent, our library sets aside some funds specifically in order to make such purchases, intended to offer new content to a broad spectrum of the user population.

Large packages are often cross disciplinary- so do serve the community at large. As pre-selected content, the end use does not need to spend time trying to locate appropriate material- it is there conveniently prepackaged. Such packages allow the library to quickly build up a collection of resources to meet new program needs.

So what is the downside to such spending practices? Title by tile selection is not available to the librarian. Not all important academic content has been packaged or digitized. Scholarly titles may account for a very small percentage of the e-market. Duplication of existing materials in the collection may occur. Vendors are generally free to add or remove content during the negotiation process. While digitized content is most often of high quality, sometimes licensing agreements preclude inclusion. So the user assumption that the prepackaged content contains all the necessary material may not be accurate.

Large packages, especially digital ones, are not always cataloged down to the title level. Vendor supplied cataloging and search engines are making it easier to identify such material. Vendor access policies also vary greatly; the number of pages that can be printed may be limited. Preservation and maintenance of e-packages presents unique problems to the library already operating with less than optimal staffing. And what about the content that is not used or useful?

The pros and cons of large (digital) packages are considerations which must be weighed against the content being offered. E-packages allow 24/7 access. Archival content – not previously available – may only be offered via subscription to the whole. Such content may be new or just reformatted.

There is no right or wrong to the practice of acquiring this type of content. While the librarian may wish to have more monies available for title by title selection at a smaller scale, this may not be an option at the time.

My interest in writing this blog is not to challenge the purchasing method but rather to have collections librarians understand the differences in their institutions buying practices, share their thoughts with colleagues and learn from such discussions. Clearly more research on this is needed and should be considered. But as a start, I would certainly welcome your thoughts. Contact me at

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New publication announcement: Cutting Edge Art in Havana

510wP6vpbwL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_ Cutting Edge Art in Havana : 100 Cuban Artists / Mayret González-Martínez, Yoanna Toledo-Leyva. –    Philadelphia, PA : ATLA Group, LTD, 322 p. with 487 color ill. 23cm. (2015) (ISBN 9780986443336) (pbk)
Book Webpage:
Details on Publisher:
ATLA Group, Ltd
1720 N. 5th Street #T-204
Philadelphia, PA, 19122 USA
Contact: Anthony Rubenstein,
Price:  $59.95
Available from:  Ingram Books  & Amazon & Worldwide Books


Cutting Edge Art in Havana is the definitive Cuban Contemporary Art book. This must-have reference is both an art catalog profiling more than one hundred Cuban artists living and working in Havana today, and a travel guide to Havana’s dynamic arts and culture panorama. Designed to be both practical and portable, it’s a an art catalog for anyone interested in Latin American or Cuban contemporary art, and a travel guide for anyone planning a visit to Havana.

Cutting Edge Art in Havana profiles more than one hundred Cuban contemporary artists ranging from well-known artists appearing in major international collections to new artists just beginning their careers. Complete with artists’ biographical, professional, and contact information, and fully illustrated with representative works selected by the artists themselves, Cutting Edge Art in Havana presents all this information cross-referenced with detailed maps to the artists’ workshops and studios, alongside Havana’s museums and cultural centers, alternative and independent exhibition spaces, and even our curators’ suggestions for the best places to eat and drink in Havana.

Cutting Edge Art in Havana is the most exhaustive and up-to-date Cuban contemporary art guide book/catalog available. This indispensable resource is the result of an exhaustive one-year curatorial process and field study by a team of Cuban curators and art historians.

                                                   ARTIST’S PROFILE EXAMPLE:




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Developing an Approval Plan / Mary Seem (

As a member of the Book Department at the Frick Art Reference Library, I came into this job with a general understanding of our scope that became more developed as I began to purchase desired titles. A relative newcomer to the Book Department, I was very excited to develop a new approval plan with Yankee Book Peddler (YBP). We had used YBP as a vendor previously and decided to rekindle our approval plan with them in hopes of finding more American and UK titles to order that we might have missed otherwise. Our new approval plan with YBP has done just that and had the added benefit of increasing my understanding of our collection development policy. It is also the type of new experience I believe others that are new to the field will benefit from hearing about. I find reading through this blog to be a nice peek into the inner workings of other libraries. However, I thought it might be interesting to share my thoughts on a process that is likely old hat for most established acquisitionists yet I found to be very exciting and eye-opening.

YBP’s approval plan was quite lengthy – a spreadsheet with multiple sheets that addressed scope from a variety of angles. One sheet broke down each Library of Congress classification allowing for very granular distinctions in title preferences. For instance, we do not collect generally on Numismatics (LC classification CJ) but do collect titles about medals and medallions (CJ 5501 – 6661) (See Figure 1). The approval plan also included a sheet of additional “non-subject parameters” that clarified our desire for binding type, format, content level, and so on. Completing this approval plan was time consuming but ultimately presented a very thorough interpretation of our collecting policy. Some of the decisions proved to be obvious, such as the decision to not include titles with a juvenile content level. Others pointed to potential fluidity in the edges of our collecting policy. For example, we don’t collect short stories but may collect novels depending on the content (See Figure 2). Parsing through these individual decisions allows for a very close look at what our scope truly includes and pointed to some parameters that I had previously never considered.

Establishing an approval plan does not end with the arrival of the first approval slips; rather, an approval plan needs to be further tweaked to ensure that potentially desired titles are included while those that are out of scope are not. Our approval plan with YBP is one that will develop over time as areas of study are added or removed from our scope. The development of this approval plan has provided a look at the inner workings of our relationships with vendors and has given me greater confidence in my decisions as an acquisitionist.

YBP Approval Classification spreadsheet
Figure 1

YBP Non-subject parameters
Figure 2

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Open Source e-books and MARC records

As I posted in Jan.2015, Dan Lipcan of the Watson Library, Metropolitan Museum of Art created a file of MARC records of their open source e-publications for interested libraries to incorporate into their local catalogs. The Getty Publications Virtual Library has also built such a file of MARC records for interested libraries. Recently, Princeton University Libraries did the same for their Blue Mountain Project titles. At Columbia, we have happily loaded all of these records into our catalog, and I’m looking for more good open source collections of MARC records to add.

Does anyone know of additional such offerings from cultural or educational institutions?

If not, I’d love to hear from anyone about collections that may have this potential, if we were to ask.

Thank you!

—Paula Gabbard

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The Question of Intent: Building E-Book Collections in the Academic Community / Melissa Goertzen (

Two years ago I arrived at Columbia University Libraries (CUL) and was tasked with completing the E-Book Program Development Study. The central goal was to document the e-book landscape on campus and within the academic community in order to create collection development recommendations and strategies that will shape future e-book services at CUL. When I read the project description, the opportunity seemed both exciting and daunting – the opportunities for experimentation were enormous, but I knew that the complexities involved with e-book collection development, not to mention the speed at which formats and technologies are evolving, would present significant challenges. In the beginning, I felt like I had to provide solutions that would solve the collection development challenges we face on a daily basis. Now, I believe that discovering the right questions to ask in this evolving landscape is the work that will guarantee the long-term success of collection development policies and strategies.

Our questions set us on a journey of discovery and open our minds to opportunities for innovation. When we challenge our assumptions, look at issues from multiple perspectives, and test what we believe against evidence collected along the way, we begin the process of pulling back the layers of a problem to uncover the golden thread – the core issue that ties together all of the seemingly disconnected elements of an investigation. This process provides a context for research findings and can be the starting point for strategic planning and collaborative relationships that define how collections and services will be delivered in the future.

Several months into the study, I realized that I was operating on the assumption that users prefer electronic content for research, teaching, and learning activities. Throughout society, we rely so heavily on the Internet, mobile technologies, and social media to gather and disseminate information, that I assumed users would have a preference for e-books for all scholarly activities. However, as I started to collect usage statistics, examine discovery and access trends, and speak with faculty, students, and library staff through interviews and focus groups, I realized that my initial impressions of content use were far too simplistic and did not tell the full story. As I dug deeper into data sets, I started to ask more and more questions about when, how, and why users gravitate towards certain formats (e.g. print, electronic, archival materials) to support scholarly activities and build knowledge around specific subject areas.

At first, I worried that the discovery of questions rather than solutions would result in a lengthy list of proposals for future studies. But, the opposite turned out to be true. The inquiry process provided a focus and pulled everything I had observed into one overarching question: what is the intended use of e-book content? For instance, are individual titles requested by the user community for inclusion in course reading lists, research pursuits, general reference, or archival purposes? As an example, I’ll refer back to a previous blog post that discussed CUL’s strategy to acquire the Interaction of Color app. After considering the text’s value to the academic community and the unique learning environment provided by the electronic format, CUL wanted to acquire an archival copy to guarantee long-term access. Once the intent was determined, a decision was made not to pursue a license through the iTunes Store (which would only guarantee short-term access) but instead, discuss e-book preservation with the publisher of the app. CUL discovered that academic publishers are also grappling with the issue of preservation and we are now exploring business models that allow for long-term access to enhanced e-book content.

I believe that every e-book collection development decision we must make, ranging from business models, license agreements, acquisition workflows, the marketing of collections, and preservation hinges on the issue of intent of use. Once we have answered this question, we can enter into meaningful conversations with stakeholders, advocate for the needs of users, and develop collections that aim to meet immediate and long-term information needs.

As the E-Book Program Development Study comes to a close, I look forward to setting out on a new journey of exploration and continue advocating for the needs of our users.


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