It can feel overwhelming to work in a district without a collection policy in place and can be daunting to figure out what a policy should cover and how specific or broad it should be. Here’s a rule of thumb: start small and figure out the basics that a local school committee will support. Explain to administrators or committee members that the basics will include a plan for budgeting, weeding, selection and acquisition, and marketing. Importantly, a plan for what to do if a book is questioned or challenged should be included.
The ALA provides templates for such policies, and they also provide support for any challenges. Challenge templates include questions about what is being reported, why the material is concerning, prompts for contact information, and explains to the challenger and librarian what the process is for reconsidering the book. With an uptick in public challenges, those most visible at school committee meetings, it is important to have as much support as possible when considering this part of a collection development policy. (ALA)
Challenged books are only one piece of a collection development policy’s impact, however. Understanding the weeding process is another key element to keep materials relevant and current: “CDPs are an important tool ‘to give librarians the opportunity to map a course for the future while providing for consistent [collection development] strategies,’” (Levenson, 212). Weeding collections can feel overwhelming and tedious, but using a tried-and-true system like MUSTY allows for a quick review of why you are weeding material. It stands for:
- Misleading: Information is dated or obsolete.
- Ugly: Book is worn-out.
- Superseded: Newer or duplicate copies are available.
- Trivial: Information is not accurate or appropriate.
- Your Collection: Content is irrelevant to what your patrons need.
Updating a collection is exciting and overwhelming, so chunking helps so you don’t get biased toward one area or overwhelmed with the scale of the entire project. Plan to divide your space based on how your library is laid out, say by genre or reading level or even by shelf. Weed first and make updates within this part of the collection at the same time. This does not mean that other parts of the collection cannot be updated as you see fit; chunking instead allows for a focus to be on one specific area. Keeping a record of what is weeded and what is purchased to replace those materials is a great way to ensure patrons, stakeholders, and community members that gaps are being filled and the library is developing a robust, complete collection.
When looking to update the materials at hand, having in mind a set budget and a mental map of the material numbers is essential. If the weeding process removes 15 to 35 books from a collection, searching for 15 to 20 books, plus digital resources, or other media tools is a good place to start. Use weeding to enhance library holdings or pursue initiatives. Look for commonalities within content and/or context to bridge the gap that was weeded. While it may make sense in some instances to replace as many books as have been weeded, budgetary constraints may impede, so making sure to keep with the same content and interests helps in such scenarios. In order to fully vet the materials, using professional review sites like KIRKUS Reviews, SLJ, or Common Sense Media can be helpful; another favorite is The New York Times book reviews. The more reviews and familiarity you have with the material before purchase helps school staff and students better know what materials are going to be in the library. Using these reviews can expedite the process of deciding what books to purchase.
Once the collection is purchased and ready for use, it is important to incorporate a marketing strategy in the collection development policy to show your work and advocate for how you are transforming the collection. School librarians may not often think of marketing techniques and they can come at the end of a long process, but it is an important facet of advocacy for your space. Marketing strategies can vary from newsletters put forth by the library, school, teachers, or students; it can also involve social media posts; and/or collaborations with clubs, the public library, or other community assets. Record the process, present the plan, and document it with photos. Show how this process connects with a district's larger goals around anti-racism, culturally responsive teaching, social emotional learning, trauma-informed practice, or other initiatives. Share it with the school committee that supported the policy in the first place.
All in all, following a library collection policy that includes surveying the collection, weeding it, adding to it, marketing it, and thinking of strategies to use around book or materials challenges is a necessary protocol all school libraries should have in place. If these elements of a collection development policy are in place, then the library should have a solid plan to work with.