In the book Give ‘Em What They Want! (Baltimore County Public Library committee, 1992), larger numbers of librarians started to promote the idea of buying more items that their patrons wanted, regardless of the intended purpose (entertainment, education or information), or what they considered to be the quality of the literature.
Developing collections has never been easy. In the late 1800s many librarians often made purchasing decisions based off what they believed would provide “serious reading and useful knowledge,” even though popular fiction made up a large percentage of all public library circulation. This practice, to some degree, still persists today; it wasn’t until 1996 that Nancy Drew books, considered “junk food” by many, were added to San Francisco’s Public Library collection!
In addition to the more popular or “commonplace” books, other books were deemed inappropriate for library shelves and were often not purchased based on profanity, romance, sexuality and different political, social, religious and cultural views. Although not common, some of these practices still exist today. Most librarians, however, try to find a balance between providing items that the community wants with offering authoritative and current works that they believe the public will be interested in and that will add value to their collections.
Past Director Charles W. Robinson of the Baltimore County Public Library said “Our users are often quite different from the kind of people who become librarians, and placing value judgements on other people’s interests and reading is certainly a violation of the intellectual freedom which librarians profess to hold so dear.”
At the Gardiner Library, a collection development policy and the Freedom to Read and View statements written by the American Library Association provide an overarching framework which guides our buying decisions. However, our day to day interactions with community members influence our purchasing choices greatly as we discover people’s interests and needs. Recommendations are also seriously considered and often end up in the collection. Given that we are tax supported it is our duty to buy what the public wants and adhere to our policy to find materials that fulfill the educational, informational and recreational needs of the community.
Regularly weeding our collections creates space for new purchases and makes it easier to access popular items. Most recently we have expanded our graphic novel section and developed a Do It Yourself (DIY) collection (through a generous donation—see photo above). We are also building our language learning materials section, which is often used by literacy tutors.
Some more interesting items are available to check out as well, including Mohonk Preserve passes, a Mid-Hudson Children’s Museum Family Pass, Taco (our stuffed animal that kids take home with a picture book to share) and Kindles. In the next few months we will start to lend out Speck monitors (that measure air quality in a room) and board games. We are also in the process of forming a partnership with the instrument lending library in New Paltz.
Ideally our collection would represent and reflect everyone in our community but I know we are not there yet. Come in and talk to us, we’d love to get to know you.