Why Do You Need a Collection Development Plan?

When I was in grad school years ago, there was an assignment about creating a collection development plan. Although I was working on one for the class assignment, I couldn’t help but wonder why I should bother. I was a first-year school librarian with an annual budget of less than $1,000. Here I needed to draft a plan that included 20 times that amount of money? It seemed futile.

A collection development plan sounds like a lot of work. It may seem as hopeless as squeezing water out of a rock. But a well-written collection development plan can be a very helpful advocacy tool that can help you garner more support than you might think.

What keeps your administrator up at night? Is it test scores? Is it teacher retention? Is it supporting instruction? If you can answer that question, figure out how you can position the school library program to best support your school’s needs and you will be more likely to garner support for your program.

What is a collection development plan?

You wouldn’t build a house without a blueprint, right? You need to have a plan. You need to know what materials you need in what quantities. You need to know the budget required to build this house. If you built a house with no plan at $1,000 at a time, you might end up putting floors before the roof or putting up the trim before the walls are finished. You may purchase materials that aren’t useful in a year or two or totally forget something all together! A blueprint is a guide that helps you plan and keep your end goal in mind, much like a collection development plan does for a school library.

Collection development involves a number of activities that relate to to the development of library collections, including selection and deselection policy, needs assessments, and financial planning that help systematically build library collections to best support the needs of its stakeholders. Overall, collection development is an ongoing process that encompasses many library operations.  

Why do I need one?

  • To aggregate data important to your stakeholders 
  • Advocate for funding
  • Clarify your selection and deselection policies
  • Be prepared in the instance of challenged books
  • It’s a big part of your evaluation (in many cases)

Selection policy?

In order for school libraries to stay relevant, you should always keep in mind students’ reading needs. You should keep up with trends in literature and consult award-winning lists and popular fiction.

Be sure to keep in mind what your administrator’s vision is for the school. If you can help to meet specific needs, you may help your admin sleep better at night and be more likely to garner support for your program.

Make sure your collection aligns with the curriculum to support classroom instruction. Is Pluto a planet? A dwarf planet? Make sure your collection is up-to-date, relevant, and accurate.

Involve your stakeholders in collection development. If your stakeholders have a better understanding of your collection status and collection needs, they are more likely to support you and help you advocate for funding.

Deselection policy?

Do you still wear jeans from high school? For most of us, probably not. Generally most of us clean out our closets from time to time to get rid of those items that are worn out and no longer useful. It helps us to better see what we have and to make room for new items. Weeding your library collection is much the same. Keeping your collection fresh and up-to-date helps you to stay relevant and useful. Remember, it’s a library – not a museum!

“The continuous review of library materials is necessary as a means of maintaining an active library collection of current interest to users.”

Evaluating Library Collections: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights

Reconsideration policy?

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas has been a wildly popular book. It’s swept recent awards and has topped many recommended book lists across the country. But not without some pushback. Recently, The Hate U Give has garnered attention from parents for being too violent and having harsh language so they have petitioned school districts to pull this book from libraries.

This book may not be the right book for all students, but do we want parents to decide what is appropriate for everyone?

It doesn’t happen often, but censoring libraries can become a slippery slope. If your school or district doesn’t have a reconsideration policy in effect, then you need one. Books such as Charlotte’s Web, Captain Underpants, the Dictionary, and even the Bible have been banned in certain districts. For more help, the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom has put together a brochure to help you understand the difference between selection and censorship.

You can also reach out to the ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom at oif@ala.org for free consulting services and confidential support.

The Library Bill of Rights established in 1967 is available at http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/librarybill. 

Draft your plan.

So now that you know why you need a plan, how do you get started? In our district, we have a template that standardizes the components to help make planning easier for the school librarian as well as give each site the ability to customize their plan to suit their needs.

I recommend keeping your plan simple and easy to read. Utilize charts, graphs, and data from your online catalog. Highlight the awesome things that your library is doing as well as the weak spots. Use data to demonstrate concrete needs and provide solutions with projected budgetary goals.  Develop your plan as a three-year goal so stakeholders have time to advocate for funding and can do so in smaller amounts. Your plan needs to be specific, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.

To see a blank template of our collection development plans for our district, click here:  https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1aNXHdkeymPSctcOhqc3zg2c8Ehsgz5WNoNxtVklgdTM/copy.

Finally, present your plan!

Share your vision with your stakeholders and hopefully reap the benefits! Consider presenting your vision to:

  • School and district administrators
  • Parents
  • PTO
  • Community organizations
  • Boosters

If you have additional comments or questions about collection development plans, please comment below.


Author: Sedley Abercrombie

Sedley Abercrombie is the district digital learning and library media programs specialist for Davidson County Schools in North Carolina, an NCSLMA executive board member, and an adjunct instructor at East Carolina University.

Categories: Advocacy/Leadership, Blog Topics, Collection Development, Professional Development

4 replies

  1. Sedley,

    I’m recommending that your blog readers also look at the “Selection & Reconsideration Policy Tool Kit for Public, School, and Academic Libraries” produced by the Office for Intellectual Freedom in 2018. URL: http://www.ala.org/tools/challengesupport/selectionpolicytoolkit

    Helen Adams

  2. Great column Sedley! The only thing I would add is that forming a collection development plan should involve your Media Advisory Committee to help faculty have input in needs. It also serves the dual purpose of informing the committee members of the collection strengths. Library programs and collections are always better used when faculty are involved in planning. And your Media Advisory Committee can be your school level reconsideration group in the instance of a challenge to materials in the school or classroom.
    Thanks for a great overview!

  3. Sedley,

    This is so helpful! I’m going to share it at our next district meeting. It would be great to spend the meeting discussing and building our policies. I’m sure we all could articulate our policies if pressed, but none of us have a written one. Goals for summer PD!


  4. Agreed. Part of my plan was to build a flexible three to five year buying plan. Be sure you discuss it with your administrator so he or she knows how you are incorporating curricular changes as well as updating the collection to meet national standards. Sometimes this led to additional monies as my principal understood my purpose. I said flexible as it needs to change as courses change.

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