/ Collection Development

Theory and Praxis

[Re: My Qualifications?]

In my profession as a cataloger and digital resources manager for a public school district, I work closely with school libraries, but on the periphery. I rarely have direct interactions with children or teachers, but I have many interactions with school library and technology staff, and some small influence on the purchasing and promotion of literature in the school libraries. I enjoy being involved in the school libraries and their collections, and seek opportunities to continue that involvement.  Although I have my perceptions of what books would be good to add to the libraries and share with young people (and occasionally express those perceptions and opinions and act upon them), I am increasingly aware of the reality that I cannot prove my hypotheses concerning collection development choices and promotion. I don’t have opportunity to read books out loud to children, other than my own two toddlers.  I don’t get to ask and find out what my students like and need, because I don’t have any students. I am missing a key piece, and I fear that I lack some credibility because of it.

And yet I love children’s literature, and I want to share and advocate what I feel and hope are good books, and get them into the hands of children, sometimes working with staff members who themselves do not have much inclination to explore the literature themselves.  So what I miss in the on-the-ground experience dealing directly with students I hope to at least partly compensate for by reading and studying widely, and engaging in conversations on children’s literature.  This learning project is one of the primary purposes of this website.  Aware of my limitations, I do try to maintain vigilance in making sure that my decisions and promotions are not based too much on my personal tastes and my weird hopes for what children and teachers could or should use and read, in case my tastes are disconnected from the reality of what is used, enjoyed, and desired. What I do have, at least, are my circulation reports to help me, my children’s choice award ballots to count, my professional journals to read, and of course my impeccable taste.  And still further in my favor, I would point out that there’s a lot of hope and guesswork all the way down the path from writer to editor to marketer to librarian/book store purchaser/Amazon algorithm programmer to parent or teacher or even maybe finally actually to that kid himself who might read a book. There are many mediators and gatekeepers between a book and a reader, many of whom don’t deal directly with young readers.  I’m just yet another one along that path, and perhaps no more or less qualified and capable than most anyone else along the path at finding good books for children.  I do want to keep the good books going down that distribution path.

I want to take this seriously, and I want to be good at it, for several reasons. First, I don’t want to make a bad purchase or encourage someone else to make a bad purchase and waste taxpayers’ money for a book that will sit on the shelf and never be enjoyed or used. Second, I am afraid that if too many such books are purchased and promoted (or even worse, nothing new is purchased or promoted) what is there will constitute a critical mass of lameness, with many students determining that the contents of the library and the books being provided to them, and perhaps even all books, are irrelevant to their needs and interests.  But I realize that there is also a deeper, more personal fear at work here that has nothing to do with my current position of employment or the good of the learning community: if I cannot successfully choose quality literature that children will like, how can I ever hope to create quality literature that children will like?

[See Also Part 2: The Myth of the One]