Guest Post: Managing the Children's Literature Collection at a Small College Library

Today's guest post comes to us from that rare breed (around here): an academic librarian.

This may be the understatement of the month (and in the running for understatement of the year), but collection development works a little differently at college and university libraries than it does at public libraries. In some ways, the library where I work has a foot in both camps, since we’re semi-rural and miles away from the nearest public library. This dichotomy is especially obvious when you examine one part of the Hiram College Library I manage: the children’s literature collection.

Being in charge of our kid lit section presents a lot of challenges, but the biggest one is that the collection has to serve multiple masters. Master #1: It needs to be appealing to school-aged children. There’s been a lot of faculty turnover recently – due to retirement, mostly – so quite a few of our professors have young families. Master #2: It needs to be appealing to our students. Incoming freshmen are only a few months older than they were when YA librarians could count them as patrons. Master #3: It needs to support the curricular and research interests of faculty in our education department. I’m the liaison to that department and in charge of the children’s literature collection because it is one of many tools they use to educate our teacher candidates.

This makes for an ever-growing and eclectic (schizophrenic?) collection.

It’s easy enough to accommodate the needs/wants of the first two groups. I pay attention to what’s on the New York Times bestseller lists, read Library Journal and Booklist and the like, and buy accordingly. Further, there are a few students who are voracious readers who come to me directly to make recommendations, and the same can be said of some of the older faculty children. If those groups were the only important constituents, I wouldn’t have to worry. However, primarily because of the needs of the education department, we are running out of room for the children’s literature collection.

You see, faculty in the education department have asked me to leave all the older-looking and slightly ugly but still serviceable books in place. I haven’t checked in with the person who recently joined the department, but the two senior members of the department both run assignments that start with something like: “Go find a book in the library’s children’s literature collection that looks like it hasn’t been checked out in a long time.” So, as run-down as our copy of Madeline’s Rescue might look, its binding is holding and there aren’t any rips or pencil marks, so I keep it. I understand what they’re trying to do – the whole “don’t judge a book by its cover” thing. I want to have an attractive, glossy, happy children’s literature collection, but I like the faculty in the education department, so I keep the books in place. This is the “collection development as outreach and marketing” part of being the selector for an academic department.

This all means that the kid lit space problem is going to be untenable really soon – probably within the next year. I can’t do much weeding in the children’s fiction, and what I can do mostly leads to replacing old books with new copies (but only when the book is falling apart and can’t be repaired). Weeding the children’s nonfiction is a project I have planned for early in the summer break, but even that won’t help much. I’ve discussed the problem, numerous times, with my director. Neither one of us have any idea where we can move children’s literature, especially since we need to keep it housed with the curriculum materials collection (another nod to supporting the education department’s needs). In my dreams, a wealthy donor will come along and build a new wing on the library in which we could have a tailor-made area for children’s literature. In reality, we’re going to have to do a lot of moving different collections around the building. Wish us luck?

Jessica Olin is the Information Literacy/Instruction Librarian at the Hiram College Library. She blogs at Letters to a Young Librarian, tweets @olinj, and Google Plusses as Jessica Olin.


Anne said…
Maybe their assignment would be just as successful if they had students pick a book with a copyright year of a certain # of years before the current one? It could be from the year they were born or pre-1970 or something like that? Then you could still have a shiny collection and some of the lesser known classics might get circed as well.
Jessica Olin said…
I like that idea, Anne. I'll have to bring it up with them.
Jill said…
As a teenager and college student, my thoughts went this way, "If the book looks old, especially if it has that cloth & board cover, it will be more interesting than if it has a shiny cover or a copyright date from the past decade." I was a strange youngster, huh?

Now I enjoy books from many decades, even if they have shiny covers. ;)
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