ARLIS/NA Collection Development SIG Blog

For ARLIS/NA members interested in collection development issues.


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


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Architecture Collection Development: Musings on the Modern / Barbara Opar

Our library collections budget is structured in such a way that we are asked to “spend down” our allocations about now, retaining some funds for routine orders, approvals and faculty requests. Most University press and core publisher titles are automatically received through our vendor interface. So I am looking to enhance the collection by seeking other, more unique titles. This requires a concentrated effort, including reviewing strength and currency of holdings, usage patterns, determining areas/topics needing expansion and then locating the appropriate resources. I do this for both architecture as well as French language and literature.

That said, I have, through the years, not surprisingly, noticed certain differences. While I feel the need to seek new authors to add to our French literature collection, I do so knowing that I am building for the future and not the here and now. The foreign language literature collection should ideally include current authors but our curriculum and teaching across the department does not include contemporary writers and for the most part ends mid-century. Contemporary issues are sometimes addressed in the culture classes. So I have the small luxury of buying “just in case”.

How different this is from architecture- and possibly art! In architecture, the new is constantly being sought and students continually peruse those periodicals and serials which provide in-depth coverage of new designers. Modern and contemporary architecture are the parts of our collection most highly consulted, especially for design inspiration. I am definitely buying “just in time.” As a school still vested in teaching through design precedents, classic examples like the work of Andrea Palladio do come into play. Works by Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier still appear on lists for students to research. But with senior faculty retiring and younger faculty coming in with different educational backgrounds and mindsets, contemporary examples as well as more multinational ones often overshadow the more traditional projects that previously appeared on studio research lists. Faculty pull examples from ArchDaily or firm sites. So I am constantly looking to expand our holdings on newer, more esoteric architects. I just purchased a book on Aureli’s firm, Dogma. Oro Editions, Actar, Axel Menges and Parks Books are among my go-to publishers for current firms and topics. The 2018 Pritzger Prize was just awarded to Balkrishna Doshi and I quickly reviewed our holdings, knowing that students will be seeking information about him and that faculty will be mentioning him more in reviews.

So while I will certainly be checking our library holdings for the next winner of the Prix Goncourt, I will do so more to complete our collection rather than to anticipate increased interest. The nature of architecture is such that the modern and contemporary and cutting edge (should there be anything available) are increasingly important. Students may not use the resources in the same in-depth way they would in terms of a work of literature. But architecture students and faculty are curious, explore and will make use of any and all modern and contemporary book resources that come their way.

Barbara Opar is Librarian for Architecture and French Language and Literature. Syracuse University Libraries


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ARLIS/NA 46TH Annual Conference Collection Development SIG Meeting Minutes / Christina Peter


Monday, February 26, 2018, 5:00 – 6:00 PM Nassau Room, Hilton Hotel

Moderator: Mary Wassermann

Recorder: Christina Peter

Approximately 35 members attending 

The minutes below follow the agenda outlined by Mary Wassermann

  1. ARLIS/NA Collection Development SIG blog. Mary Wassermann, who had been managing the blog, encouraged contributions and circulated a sign-up sheet for potential contributors. She pointed out that there was no requirement for the entries to be lengthy essays; she would also welcome short notices about new acquisitions, etc.
  2. Collection development policies. Mary Wassermann introduced the topic by posing a question about the usefulness of traditional policies in supporting best practices within an institution. A lively conversation ensued with many participants joining in. Some of the issues that were highlighted: frequency of updates (at the Cleveland Museum of Art Library policies are updated annually, following the Museum’s policies; at the Frick Art Reference Library the policy is updated every time a new decision is made); public vs. non-public (most librarians said their collection development policies were public, though there might be additional implementation/procedures documents attached for internal use only); who uses the policies and for what purposes (at Cleveland, librarians refer to it for weeding); general vs. specific policies (at some academic libraries, e.g. Wellesley College, the policy is not specific to the art library anymore; other librarians also stated that their policies were general and overarching); the policies’ impact on library management and offsite decisions. Mary Wassermann wrapped up the discussion by observing that several librarians keep revising their libraries’ policies yet they are inevitably tied to what is often a library’s shifting mission. A  discussion ensued on offsite storage, space issues, criteria for considering items for special collections, and housing for and access to special collection/rare items. Paula Gabbard brought up the issue of shared offsite storage for consortial collections, offering some updates about RECAP, the shared offsite storage facility of CU, NYPL and Princeton. RECAP now shares most items held in the RECAP facility, and they appear in each institution’s OPACs, allowing recall of individual titles by any of the three libraries from the shared physical collections. The Getty has offsite storage in five different cities; UCLA, two storage facilities. Smith College had a consortially shared EBL on-demand online collection; the program however was canceled because of the steep cost increase.
  3.  Trends and issues in collection development  Using a rejected panel proposal as a starting point, Christina Peter started a discussion about the relevance of collection development in librarianship today. Several librarians commented, bringing up some pertinent points: a shift in education – collection development is rarely taught at library schools anymore; a shift at libraries – librarians are expected to be strategists and space planners as opposed to their traditional role as curators of collections; with resource sharing, the preponderance of electronic resources and shared holdings the boundaries of library collections are becoming increasingly more fluid. It was mentioned that library school interns do not want to get immersed in collection building, and that two important collection development-related jobs at major academic libraries had recently been reposted for lack of qualified applicants. On the other hand, it was also observed that student assistants often get thoroughly engaged with collections through their practical work and may decide to go to library school as a result. It was also mentioned that honoring librarians who had been instrumental in building significant library collections might help bring the focus back to the importance of collections (the Phoenix Museum library’s upcoming symposium honoring Clayton Kirking was brought up as an example). 
  4. Action item for the SIG: rework the proposal for next year following the ideas floated at the meeting. Several librarians offered help to work on it.

Other issues discussed briefly:

  • Whether most collection development librarians are responsible for both print and electronic resources (most attendants responded in the affirmative)
  • To what extent librarians consider users’ selections
  • Budget constraints
  • On-demand purchases

Christina Peter is Head of Acquisitions at the Frick Art Reference Library.

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Developing a Zine Collection at the Dallas Public Library / Mariza Morin

The Fine Arts Division at the J. Erik Jonsson Central Library (Dallas Public Library main branch) aims to promote cultural equity above all else, and therefore serves as a bridge between our patrons and the arts world. We provide the Dallas community with many free services, including music lessons and a dance studio, in addition to unique collections, such as our developing Zine collection. Zines are independently published works that could include text, photos, and illustrations, often reproduced using a photocopier. Topics can be broad in scope, from politics and feminism to poetry and personal journal entries. Once reserved for the underground, zines can now be found in many different libraries across the country. DPL’s Zine collection generally consists of Texas-based publications, but we also have several works from other states as well as a few international zines from Canada, Mexico, and Switzerland.

Zines 1

Before I joined the Fine Arts staff last year as Art Librarian, two former library employees developed a program at the library to support the Dallas Zine Festival in 2015, which included panel discussions and a zine exhibit. As a result, many of the participating artists at this event donated their zines to the library and thus began the start of our burgeoning zine collection. Additionally, Fine Arts Manager, Tiffany Bailey, donated several zines to the library after visiting the Denton Zine Festival in 2016. What I find impressive about our current collection is the diverse social and political perspectives (feminism, social injustice, LGBTQ, etc.) covered as well as the creative and experimental nature of each individual zine, whether the focus is on pop culture, visual arts, or music. For example, Women who rock!, created by local organization Girls Rock Dallas, focuses on women in music from early blues musicians, like Bessie Smith, to Riot Grrrl influences, like Kathleen Hannah, to current North Texas all-female bands. Zines like this prove not only to be a terrific form of self-expression and visual communication but they also give a voice to communities not always heard in mainstream publications. Though the bulk of our collection comes from North Texas, we also strive to acquire works from other states and countries to gain a better global perspective on important topics as well as connect our patrons to different DIY communities and experiences outside of Texas.

Zines 2

Zines 3

Zines 4

Zines 5

The Fine Arts Division is very much in the beginning stages of developing this exciting new collection. Currently, we are cataloging all materials we own and trying to figure out how to sustainably obtain new zines, in addition to building relationships with local zine artists and events. Other factors to take into consideration include developing a collection development policy, shelving options, and future programming ideas, including partnering with the Dallas Zine Festival again. Though there has been discussion about keeping our Zine collection non-circulating, the Zine committee ultimately believes that would defeat the purpose of a zine, which is meant to be freely distributed among the public, just like most items in our library. As the Zine collection evolves, the Fine Arts Division at the Dallas Public Library is thrilled for all possible future opportunities to promote and educate all people- kids, teens, and adults, at all artistic levels, with this unique collection.

Mariza Morin is the Art Librarian of the Fine Arts Division at the Dallas Public Library