So far, all of the blogs in this series explaining the work that academic librarians do has focused on face-to-face interactions between librarians and students, faculty, and other visitors, whether that’s in the classroom, at the Reference Desk, or in the librarian’s office for an IRC. This final post in the series, however, focuses on work that’s a bit more hidden – Collection Development.
Kristin Laughtin-Dunker, Coordinator of Scholarly Communications & Electronic Resources for the Leatherby Libraries, told me that Collection Development is the process of “selecting and maintaining relevant and useful” materials for students and faculty. New materials are published every day, and it is part of the job of academic librarians to make sure that the Chapman University community has access to the most up-to-date materials, so that their research is as well-supported as possible.
According to Kristin, there are two main components of Collection Development, which mirror the two main types of resources that the library offers: physical and digital. Physical collections are, of course, books, but also include DVDs, graphic novels, and audio CDs, among other things. Pieces of a physical collection are all things that are purchased once, rather than requiring a subscription. For physical collections, each librarian is responsible for doing the Collection Development for their own Subject Liaison areas. Librarians subscribe to various disciplinary listservs and peruse academic publisher websites and catalogs to keep abreast of the newest physical publications in their field, and purchase materials as needed to keep our collections updated and relevant. Librarians pay careful attention to any decisions their departments are making in terms of new directions in research, as well as the interests of new faculty, and acquire books to facilitate that new research as best as possible. The bulk of ordering for these materials, Kristin informed me, is typically done from August to February.
The digital component of Collection Development is done through the Electronic Resources Committee, which is made up of librarians and staff, and of which Kristin is the Chair. The Electronic Resources Committee, or ERC, meets every two weeks to evaluate all the electronic resources – databases, online journals, etc. – that the Leatherby Libraries is either currently subscribing to or could potentially subscribe to. All librarians, whether they serve on the ERC or not, can bring suggestions to the committee of resources to add. Members of the ERC then carefully consider a number of factors, including the usefulness of the resource, how many faculty and students will use the resource, and the cost of the resource. Many electronic research resources are surprisingly expensive, and their prices increase on a yearly basis, which means that the ERC has to make some tough decisions sometimes. While Collection Development of the physical collections at the Leatherby Libraries has always been just addition – that is, getting new materials – Collection Development of digital materials sometimes includes ending a subscription. ERC members pay careful attention to how frequently Chapman University faculty and students use all of our electronic resources. If they can see that one resource in particular is being used far less often than it used to be – perhaps because that database no longer offers the newest journal articles, or perhaps because that journal focuses on a sub-topic that no-one at Chapman currently studies – they can make the decision to end that subscription, freeing up room in the budget to add new resources to our collection.
When I asked Kristin to tell me a little about the Collection Development she does for her Subject Liaison areas – Communication and Honors – she told me two great anecdotes that sum up how well interests can align with personalities and work. The first was when she was talking about how faculty in each department communicate with their Subject Liaison Librarian when requesting that new materials be added to the collection. For some areas and departments, requests for materials can come from many different faculty at different times throughout the year, but the Communication faculty, she said, is always diligent about maintaining a clear Google Doc that they send to her once a year. “They really are great at Communication,” she joked. The second came up when discussing some of her favorite materials that she has added to the Leatherby Libraries collection. Collection Development, she said, can sometimes be tied not to a particular department or college, but to different university events, as was the case in February 2018, for Wilkinson College’s Interdisciplinary series Interstices 2018: Beyond Human. For this series, Kristin not only got to add materials to our collection focused on this theme, which fit very well with her own interest in science fiction, but also led the book club discussion of The Positronic Man, by Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg.
Many thanks to all for joining me on this exploration of academic librarianship, and special thanks again to Taylor Greene, Lauren Dubell, Ivan Portillo, and Kristin Laughtin-Dunker for sitting down with me to talk about the amazing work you do!