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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