Thursday, October 18, 2012

Building Collections for Youth

When it comes to developing collections for youth, how should the librarian go about selecting materials?  For decades, the debate has raged between selecting what is popular versus what is considered quality literature; however, many other questions also come into play.  To clarify, these questions may include what type of formats should the library collect, should the library place more emphasis upon depth or breadth of collection, should outside input be considered in collecting materials, and how will the library justify the value of a particular resource in relation to its cost.  I have attempted to address some of these thorny issues directly below.

Upon pondering an  example detailed in Ch.6 of Michele Gorman's and Tricia Sullentrop's Connecting Young Adults and Libraries: A How-To-Do-It Manual, the authors speculated upon whether it would be more apt to purchase ten identical high caliber books on a popular research topic  or if  makes more sense to select ten different books on the same topic (with some being potentially better than others in terms of relevancy, ease of use, etc.).  Almost immediately, I determined that the ten different books made a lot more sense; I mean a quality collection must  present a wide swath of viewpoints right?  However, as the authors point out: with the ten different books scenario, a single user can swoop in and check out all ten.  Indeed, this practical assertion gave me pause.  In this case, would it make more sense to purchase five of the same, and five unique titles perhaps?

One of the major hot-button issues when it comes to building collections for youth pertains to including controversial materials in the collection.  As librarians, we all steadfastly uphold and defend the American Library Association's Library Bill of Rights and Freedom to Read Statements, and who among us could decry the value that materials purporting a wide variety of viewpoints on contentious issues have in a democratic society?  However, all of this has a tendency to get thrown out the window when parents and community members find materials in the youth collection objectionable in terms of violence, sexuality, religion, political stance, or some facet.   Therefore, it is critical that Collection Development policies directly address controversial materials and how challenges will be handled.  Some collection development policies that I have encountered will even go so far as to include a statement akin to the fact that the library reserves the right to create and furnish displays of any material that may be of interest to their patrons, regardless of whether the materials are perceived as unorthodox or controversial.  In my opinion, I am not sure if I would directly broach the subject of controversial displays in a Collection Development Policy geared toward Youth Services.  You may just be inviting overzealous unwarranted attention in doing so.

To continue, it is also imperative for the Collection Development Policy to maintain that challenged materials will remain on the shelf and available to patrons during the reconsideration process.  As stressed in Chapter 4 of Henry Reichman's Censorship and Selection: Issues and Answers for Schools, "No materials should be removed without a formal hearing in accordance with the full reconsideration policy.  Moreover, no materials should be removed upon the authority of a single staff member or school official, up to and including the superintendent of schools...While the reconsideration process is proceeding, challenged materials should remain available to faculty and students as before" (p. 90).   In light of this notion, I am reminded of a  specific incident that a school librarian recently divulged to me. The librarian in question mentioned that the assistant principal of the school she worked at told her to move a book into the Teacher's Collection on account of the book being too sad (The book was Michael Rosen's Sad Book, go figure).  The librarian extolled the virtues of intellectual freedom and defended the content of the book, but in the end wound up listening to the administrator and placing the book in the Teacher's Collection, where it has since never been checked out.  I would argue that this relates to an example of  censorship, even though the book ultimately remained in the collection.

Lastly, in terms of  selection responsibilities, while some may think that the librarian should have sole responsibility in developing collections, as they are the resident experts, I think it is crucial to involve the kids/ teens/students in the process.  Upon forsaking user input, you will end up with a collection that may be highly regarded in terms of literary quality, but one that nevertheless ultimately fails to reflect the varied needs, interests, tastes, and backgrounds of your user population. Harkening back to Gorman and Sullentrop, I admired the way in which the authors remarked that when it comes down to it, what is going to speak forcefully on behalf of the library: circulation statistics or a stack of reviews on materials that no one is checking out?  In the end, an ideal  youth collection corresponds to a balanced collection that fosters a lifelong love of reading and is chocked full of materials that pique the interest and meet the information needs of the users.Through collection development, librarians are truly in an ideal position to reach and make an indelible mark on the lives of their users.


  1. Hey Courtney,
    This was a great post! Popular author John Green's book Looking for Alaska had to fight being censored by community members when it was an assigned text in a high school as it was being characterized as "pornographic." He gave a great rebuttal for why he wrote the book the way he did and why its not porn. In light of your post on collections/censorship. I thought you might enjoy checking out his response. The link to the Youtube video is below:

    Thanks for the great post!

  2. Hi Maggie,

    Thanks for sharing that amaze video! Love, love love!! John Green has every right to be angry that they are calling his work pornography. He had a perfect explanation for writing the book the way he did, and I admired how he chastised people for assuming that teens don't have the analytic skills to understand these complex themes. I agree with him that I really can't wrap my head around why parents and community members fought so actively to ban the book from the curriculum when the choice was given to the parents to either have their child read Looking for Alaska or another book. Fine, you don't want your kid to read it, but what gives you the right to tell other parents what their kids can/can't should/shouldn't read. Kudos to John Green for his impassioned video!! Thanks for sharing Maggie!