Collection Development, Preparing Future Librarians for Challenges Ahead

Morgan Adle - February 13, 2024

Interview with Maggie Zarnosky Saponaro, Director of Collection Development Strategies.

Front view of the UMD Library on a sunny day.

Collection Development, Preparing Future Librarians for Challenges Ahead

In the wake of a rising number of book challenges, legislation aimed at censoring library collections, and sustained budget cuts, librarians continue to face challenges when it comes to building and maintaining collections. Both seasoned and future librarians may be concerned about facing these issues and wonder if they have the skills to navigate difficult situations. Collection development and management are, after all, part of the ALA Core Competences of Librarianship (the knowledge and skills librarians should gain in the classroom, on the job, and through continued professional development). SJSU’s latest MLIS Skills at Work Report also shows that Collection/Data Management and Collection Development are still two of the most in-demand LIS skills that employers look for.

What is “collection development and management”? 

It refers to the breadth of activities and practices done to not only maintain but also improve and evolve our library collections. It covers books and media that have long been parts of a library collection and also the increasingly complex world of ebooks, digital content, subscription services, and licensing. It also touches on a breadth of knowledge areas including intellectual freedom, copyright, and privacy. Librarians rely on carefully crafted collection development policies that align with their institution’s mission and provide guidance on this ongoing process. These policies not only help library staff align their work with institutional values, but they also help explain to library users how collections are built and maintained. A great collection development policy will outline the practices involved in building, maintaining, and providing access to collections.

Interview with Maggie Zarnosky Saponaro, Director of Collection Development Strategies at UMD Libraries

Maggie Saponaro has an MLS from UCLA and almost 40 years of experience working in academic libraries, and today works as the Director of Collection Development Strategies at the UMD Libraries. She has also co-authored Developing Library and Information Center Collections and is the lead author on the 8th edition of Collection Management Basics (CMB8) set to publish in 2025.

How has collection development changed over your career?

Most of the changes Maggie has seen over her career have been technology-based. She notes: “I went from reviewing and annotating paper slips in order to select titles to seeing ordering functions completely automated. I have also experienced changes in resource format ranging from consulting the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature and other reference resources in print to the onset of dial-up mediated online searching (DIALOG) to CD-ROM-based technology to today’s online indexing and abstracting and full-text databases. I’ve watched the development of ERMs in electronic resource workflows and I’ve seen the rise and fall of ejournal “big deals”, the development and spread of e-books and streaming media, and most recently developments in transformative agreements, open access, scholarly communication, and open scholarship. The development of automated and shared storage facilities and the role of consortia in Collection Management (CM) activities are also things that have evolved throughout my career. When you stop to think about it, a lot has changed in not so long a period of time!”

Would you characterize collection development as getting more complicated or harder day by day?

My experience in libraries has been in academic institutions of varying types (master’s granting, community college, and Research 1 or R1), so it differs greatly from someone in a public, special, or school library. That being said, I would say that advances in technology (ILS and discovery systems, automated acquisitions systems, etc.) have made things easier in some respects while making it more complicated in other ways. It’s very challenging to keep up with the latest print and online resources and tools, not to mention being able to assess what is appropriate for the collection and make the resources provided match the budget available.

Also, things happen that are beyond your control both as a CM practitioner and administrator. Certainly, budget constraints are one example, but COVID-19 taught many libraries a lesson in being able to shift gears quickly in order to meet the needs of patrons. At UMD, we were fortunate to be able to take advantage of the HathiTrust Emergency Access Service, which allowed for online access to parts of the collection when the physical collection was unavailable. That was something HathiTrust developed literally on the fly, and had we not had that, we would not have been able to meet the needs of researchers as effectively. It just shows you need to be on your toes in CM!

What are some of the biggest issues in collection development today?

Inflation and its impact on purchasing power is certainly one key issue. In academic libraries, the average inflation for serials (journals) ranges from 3-5 percent for individual e-journal titles (although we’ve seen as much as a 20% increase in some titles at UMD, depending on the discipline), roughly 2-3 percent for journal packages, and between 4-9 percent for online databases. While this one-year average may not seem too steep, for institutions with a flat collections budget and a majority of the budget going to electronic resources, it decreases purchasing power each year and makes for some difficult choices. It is hard to say “no” to a student or faculty member wanting a new journal or database, as more often than not, they do not understand our budgetary constraints. That being said, we, like many libraries, benefit from our memberships in consortia such as NERL, the USMAI, and LYRASIS, which help us enormously either through shared collection building or by negotiating license agreements with favorable terms.

Are there any exciting things happening in collection development today?

I perhaps have a unique perspective, as I am fortunate to have an advisory board for CMB8 that includes public and school librarians, so I get a window into what is happening in libraries that have very different missions and goals than ours. While budgetary challenges are fairly universal across libraries, the issues of preservation, space planning, and selecting resources appropriate for the specific library type vary greatly.

For example, as part of my research for the current edition of CMB8, I was able to visit a fully automated book kiosk at Charles County Public Library (CCPL) that was intentionally placed in a remote part of the county that did not have a branch library. I was impressed by how the main branch could know instantly what items were checked out and that the kiosk included a range of materials including graphic novels, DVD’s, adult and children’s fiction and nonfiction titles, and even internet hotspots. CCPL still has a traditional visiting “bookmobile” (something I remember from my days in elementary school) and a more advanced technology van, but seeing this really was eye-opening to me in terms of the technology. It is also a reminder that not everything is “on the Internet” and the continuing role print plays in the lives of readers in all library settings.

More generally, some of the trends I and my co-authors are seeing include book challenges and censorship (predominantly in school and public libraries), the role of diversity in collections, evidence-based collection building, and patron-driven or demand-driven acquisition (PDA/DDA). Shared collection building, particularly the efforts of such groups as the BTAA as “The Big Collection,” of which UMD is a part, Open Access publishing agreements and the impact of the 2022 OSTP Memo are issues currently facing academic libraries like UMD. The role of AI in research is still in a relatively new phase. It remains to see how all of these will evolve.

What can MLIS students and current librarians do to learn and maintain skills?

A recent study found that collection development and/management is a required core course in only 16.67% of MLIS programs. While these skills may be integrated into more general “foundations” courses which are commonly offered, students and librarians wanting more have several options. MLIS Programs often offer collection development and/or management courses that can be taken as electives (even after graduation) and finding a field study or internship in this area would offer practical, hands-on experience. There are also a good number of books available on the topic and continuing education courses offered by professional organizations. At the end of the day, there is no easy replacement for learning from library professionals working in collection development today.

Maggie urges the importance of understanding that “collection management is more than just ‘buying materials’ or selection. There is a cycle that also includes being able to assess and evaluate the needs of users and the appropriateness of the resource (whether print or online) for the collection. At the other end of the cycle, sometimes decisions must be made as to whether or not an item needs to be repaired or replaced (preservation) or deselected (weeded). Sometimes, due to budgetary challenges, difficult decisions must be made to cancel continuing resources in order to either add a new resource or to meet the budgetary need.

 1Chung, E., Schalk, J., & Yoon, J. (2022). How have lis school curricula evolved over the past twenty years? The Canadian Journal of Information and Library Science, 45(1), 1–30.