Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Future of Collection Development and Patron-Driven Acquisition

What exactly is collection development? What components make up collection development? What is the future of collection development? These questions are all relevant to libraries and librarians today.

According to Dictionary for Library and Information Science by Joan M. Reitz collection development is:

The process of planning and building a useful and balanced collection of library materials over a period of years, based on an ongoing assessment of the information needs of the library’s clientele, analysis of usage statistics, and demographic projections, normally constrained by budgetary limitations. Collection development includes the formulation of selection criteria, planning for resource sharing, and replacement of lost and damaged items, as well as routine selection and deselection decisions. Large libraries and library systems may use an approval plan or blanket order plan to develop their collections. In small- and medium-sized libraries, collection development responsibilities are normally shared by all the librarians, based on their interests and subject specializations, usually under the overall guidance of a written collection development policy. (2004)

Simply stated, collection development is choosing materials for a library, based on what patrons want and fitting into a specified budget. Demographic changes, new technology, the introduction of downloadable materials, and shrinking budgets are changing the way that collection development is implemented. In his article “Defining ‘Transformation’: The Very Nature of What We Do and How We Do It is Undergoing Fundamental Changes,” Keith Michael Fiels stated:

In the United States, as in much of the world, demographic changes are affecting communities of all sizes, including the continued urbanization of the US population as more and more people move from rural areas to cities. At the same time, new immigrants have also changed the demographics of communities large and small across the country. The fact is, communities are changing – and libraries must continue to change with them. (2013, p. 6)

This change in demographics is leading to many changes in today’s libraries and is transforming collection development; these changes go hand-in-hand with advances in technology and the introduction of downloadable materials. Fiels stated:

Library collections are also being transformed. While traditional collections consisted of books and printed periodicals located within the library, libraries now also provide ebooks, e-journals, and downloadable digital files. Last year, for example, a typical academic library spent two-thirds of its materials budget on digital content. A growing number of academic libraries now maintain institutional repositories of digital content created by faculty and staff. (2013, p.6)

To add fuel to the fire, libraries across the board have seen severe budget cuts due to a period of economic decline across the United States. In Paul D. Moeller’s article “Literature of Acquistions in Review, 2010-11,” he summarized the findings of a survey of Association of Research Libraries’ (ARL) budgets.

Member libraries have experienced three unprecedented years of flat or reduced budgets beginning with FY 2008-09, when 55 percent indicated reduced budgets. In FY 2009-10 that trend continued, with 61 percent experiencing flat or reduce [sic] budgets from the prior year. For this year, 2010-11, 47 percent are faced with flat or reduced budgets. (2013)

While the impact has been greatly felt within the academic library realm, public libraries have not been immune. Moeller quoted Michael Kelly from his article “Bottoming Out?”:

The overall trend in FY10 was a brutal grasping by money-starved government officials for the low-hanging fruit of library budgets: 72 percent of survey respondents said their budget had been cut, and 43 percent had staff cuts. Among libraries serving populations above one million, these figures were even more acute, with 86 percent reporting budget cuts in their libraries and 93 percent reducing staff. They also reported a drop in service hours that on average equaled two branch closings. (2013)

These economic impacts (a.k.a. budget cuts), have intertwined with the above mentioned changes in demographics, advances in technology and the introduction of downloadable materials to spur on the transformation of collection development. “This challenging budget situation and the increase in electronic resources managed by libraries have had a continuing impact on the work of acquisitions” (Moeller, 2013). The increase in these electronic resources, coupled with new technology, may just be the answer to desired changes in collection development. “In this prolonged period of economic challenge, libraries are looking for means of increasing efficiency and effectiveness” (Moeller, 2013).

In the article “Patron-driven Acquisition and the Educational Mission of the academic Library,” William H. Walters defined patron-driven acquisition (PDA), “Patron-driven acquisition (PDA), also known as demand-thriven acquisition, patron-initiated purchasing, or books on demand, allows patrons to select and purchase books for the library collection without staff mediation or oversight” (2012). This is a scary concept for most librarians, as they are relinquishing control to patrons. It does, however, streamline the collection development process, saving money, while at the same time addressing patron demands. “Whether it is referred to as patron-driven acquisitions (PDA), purchase-on-demand, patron-initiated purchasing, or demand-driven selection, just-in-time purchasing has received a good deal of attention as libraries attempt to meet the needs of patrons while limited by distressed budgets” (2013). So what is the future of PDA and how do librarians fit into this model?

While conducting his study, William H. Walters defined 11 main concerns related to PDA (2012):

1.       Failure to Distinguish Between Patrons’ Immediate Desires and Their Long-Term Needs

2.       Failure to Make Full Use of Librarians’ Knowledge and Expertise

3.       Failure to Represent the Full Range of Library Stakeholders

4.       Systematic and Idiosyncratic Biases in Selection

5.       Potential for Overspending and Associated Budgetary Problems

6.       Issues Related to Bibliographic Control

7.       Problems Specific to E-Book PDA Programs

8.       Limited Availability of Titles as E-Books

9.       Digital Embargoes

10.   High Prices of E-Books

11.   E-Book Licensing Issues

Many of the concerns mentioned above can be relieved by combining PDA with other models. Walter’s explained this idea:

 . . . problems such as overspending and idiosyncratic bias can be mitigated by combining PDA with other selection methods, by limiting selection authority to particular groups of patrons, by restricting the set of titles from which patrons can select, and by maintaining professional oversight over the PDA selection process. (2012)

In conclusion, collection development is, and will continue to change, as libraries evolve to meet changing demographics, new technology, the introduction of downloadable materials, and shrinking budgets.

The acquisitions literature review for 2010 and 2011 reveals libraries, vendors, and publishers working cooperatively and collaboratively in the face of the continuing economic downturn. Tools are being developed, refined, and repurposed to meet the needs of librarians. Improving standards are easing the flow of information and improving the user experience. Approval plans are expanding to deliver e-books and print books on demand while being otherwise narrowed to only supply print books with high profitability of use. Just-in-time acquisition models are being embraced because they show promise of more efficiency than traditional acquisition models that rely on title selection by librarians. (2013)

Librarians will always be an important part of collection development, but like everything else, the process and a librarian’s role in the process is not immune to change.


 Fiels, K. M. (2013, May). Defining "transformation": the very nature of what we do and how we do it is undergoing fundamental changes. American Libraries, 44(5), 6+. Retrieved from

Moeller, P. D. (2013, April). Literature of acquisitions in review, 2010-11. Library Resources & Technical Services, 57(2), 87+. Retrieved from

Reitz, J.M. (2004). Dictionary for library and information science. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

Walters, W. H. (2012, July). Patron-driven acquisition and the educational mission of the academic library. Library Resources & Technical Services, 56(3), 199+. Retrieved from



  1. When I think of collection development in the future, my thoughts move to eBooks and digital materials. Digital collections are a new, growing area of libraries that still require a lot of kinks to be ironed out. It seems like a few times a month we read or hear about a publisher who is haggling over how to sell or what to charge libraries for eBooks. Thing spring, Simon & Schuster, a large publisher who has been very hesitant to sell to libraries, finally agreed to start selling eBooks to New York City libraries, a trial system if you will (Owen, 2013).

    When I think about digital collections in libraries, I think about services like OverDrive, one of the leaders in providing digital materials to Libraries. Individual library systems or typically libraries in consortiums sign up with OverDrive (“Public Libraries,” 2013) and share digital materials; all of which have access to a robust set of collection development tools (“Collection Development,” 2013). Furthermore, programs like OverDrive’s Advantage lets libraries inside consortiums purchase books just for their branches, outside of the shared collection that a consortium uses (“Advantage,” 2013).

    Last year, numbers showed that the number of eBooks being read is increasing while books being read are decreasing slowly (ALA, 2013). All of this seems to equate to a library of tomorrow which has to balance their physical material collection to that of their digital content. While many patrons check out physical materials and/or in conjunction with digital materials, the need for digital materials is on the rise and will only continue to grow in the future.

    American Library Association (2013). EBooks and copyright issues. Retrieved from

    OverDrive (n.d.) Advantage. Retrieved from

    OverDrive (n.d.) Collection development tools. Retrieved from

    OverDrive (n.d.). Public libraries. Retrieved from

    Owen, L. (2013, April 15). Simon & Schuster launches ebook lending pilot with New York city public libraries. Paidcontent. Retrieved from

  2. As a librarian-in-training just learning the ropes of collection development, I have to say: I find the idea of patron-driven acquisition to be just a little bit scary! The 11 concerns Walters found more than adequately address my fears. At my library, we have plenty of keen patrons who are always making purchasing requests, from books on obscure Serbian filmmakers, to self-published novels chosen by book groups. We do our best to honor their requests, but I can't help but worry what our collection (and our budget!) would look like if they could "cut out the middle man" and place the order themselves.

  3. I couldn't agree more. It's a very scary idea indeed. I think that a compromise will be necessary. I like the idea of patron-driven acquisition where patrons specify what they want, but librarians review and edit the orders before they go through. It's not that I think librarians can make better decisions for patrons, after all, we are serving the patrons and should be providing what they want, but I think that the review process would make sure that a handful of patrons aren't spending all of the budget. We have a patron at work who always has about 20 DVDs at a time on the hold shelf. She's always first on the wait list for the latest movies. It would be a travesty if she were able to do her own ordering, thereby using up all of our AV budget before anyone else even had a chance. There definitely need to be checks and balances, but I do think it's an important thing to consider. With shrinking budgets, it is necessary to make sure that we are providing the materials that keep our patrons coming back to us. Also, with fewer librarians employed, we are expected to complete more and more tasks with less and less time. I do think our patrons can be a big help.

    Thanks for your interest in my article!

  4. I too think that letting the patrons purchase items for the library is scary, as I have seen some of the requests that they put in to begin with. In San Diego, our library system implemented a centralized ordering process. Centralized ordering sets up a distribution matrix created by a committee of staff from branches and central divisions. In short, it relieves specific libraries from the responsibility of local core collection development.

    In ways this takes away the librarian say in what books they can have on their shelves. It seems to be working, and allows the librarian to spend more time on programming and managing the library itself.

  5. I fully support patron input into purchases, if there appears to be a demand for a resource not provided. It is part of our task as librarians and as a library to connect the consumer with the information. Perhaps a suggestion would be to generate a list of desired books or materials, then request donations in the form of a book drive. Consequently developing a libraries collection and providing a financially viable option.