I learned from Evans’ essay that the most important aspect of collection development is assessing the needs and interests of the community you serve. Though this is a challenge in any library setting, I believe the challenge may be greater and the solution less intuitive in a public library as opposed to a special collection or industry-related institution such as a legal or medical library. Therefore, I am going to assume the public library setting for the duration of my reflection on collection development today, but I in no way mean to imply that other types of libraries do not need to take care in these assessments as well.
Evans warns that it is important to strike a balance between felt needs, or those vocalized by the community, and expressed needs, or those needs evidenced by the activity within a community. The specific concern Evans expresses is that “small highly vocal groups can sometimes drown out larger but less organized community groups.”
While it is important to address the interests and needs that arise from community feedback, it is wise to temper these requests with those that arise from your analysis of circulation data, reference questions and specific challenges within your community. You may also want to consult research to analyze normative needs or network with colleagues to identify comparative needs for the population you serve, but be careful not to assume that all of the expert opinions you consult or services at a neighboring facility may not necessarily be perfectly suited to your patrons in particular. Take research like this with a grain of salt.
It is apparent to me that collection development is more an art than a science. Several nuances about your population, your particular organization’s resources and even your own experiences will come into play, and likely result in a years-long learning curve. The most important things to remember as you are learning the ropes of collection development is that you must build relationships within your profession and of course within your particular community to hone your ability to assess the gaps in your collection to focus on with limited finances. Another important takeaway from this essay is to not limit your collection to print media – but to consider that almost anything – media, object, or printed material – can offer information that is valuable to your community. Be prepared to adapt and open to changing information needs throughout your career in order to provide a dynamic collection to your patrons.
(Written in response to: “Chapter 9 – Reflections on Creating Information Service Collections” by Edward Evans in The Portable MLIS: Insights from the Experts .)