How might a Personal Service Priority Plan affect the decisions we make when it comes to our collections? This month I discuss making intentional collection choices tied to a Race and Social Justice Initiative (RSJI) within the limitations of my job scope (a.k.a. doing what I can without stepping on toes!)
I have a somewhat complicated relationship with the collection at my library branch. We have centralized Selection Services librarians who do the huge majority of picking and choosing which materials will be added to the collection. Sometimes I’m sent materials chosen by that department based on system needs and sometimes I choose from a pre-determined list they’ve created. Sure, I decide what stays on the shelf through the weeding process, and our Selection librarians are good about asking for input from branch librarians. But for the most part I don’t have much say in which titles my branch will offer. Except for in one area: uncatalogued paperbacks.
In recognition of the fact that barriers to the traditional materials check-out process exist for many patrons, our branches offer “uncataloged collections” of mostly high-interest paperbacks. These materials are not barcoded or included in our online catalog. They can be taken from our branches by anyone, without using a library card, and are returned on the honor system. Twice a year I get a budget of several hundred dollars to order whatever I think would go over well in my branch. And this is where my Personal Service Priority Plan comes into play.
In my Collection considerations, I wanted to keep/maintain/re-order if:
The material is useful on a shelf at a community branch library rather than in a repository or archival collection.
The materials are heavily used by this community.
Both of these criteria mesh well with what I’d like to accomplish with my uncataloged collection: I will order fiction and nonfiction paperback books that appeal to current tastes and are of high interest to youth in my community.
The material is written by, produced by, or features underrepresented populations in this community.
The material is intended for the strategic audiences identified in this priority plan (Tweens and New immigrant families).
These are more complex and certainly worthy of heavy consideration. There are many great resources for why we need diverse books and how we can find them (see the We Need Diverse Books official campaign site and YALSA’s Serving Diverse Teens @ Your Library wiki). My city has made an official commitment to “eliminate racial disparities and achieve racial equity” which includes ensuring “racial equity in City programs and services” (i.e. the public library). So there are tons of reasons why it makes sense to order as many books as possible by diverse authors and featuring diverse characters.
However, finding and ordering these books is often easier said than done. The number of diverse books published each year remains astoundingly low. Large distributors like Baker and Taylor frequently don’t include books from small publishing companies, and sometimes even when I did find titles that looked great, there was no available stock from which to order.
I will certainly increase my efforts to support campaigns like #WeNeedDiverseBooks with the hope that these limited options will increase in the future. However, in the here and now, I decided to use my entire budget to order multiple copies of paperbacks written by authors of color and/or featuring main characters of color and/or new immigrants. I received a smaller variety of overall titles but I greatly increased the number of diverse books available to branch patrons.
Considering the uncataloged collection through my personal priority rubric as well as through an RSJI lens allowed me to make some important budget allocation decisions and to move forward with a solid basis for my ordering.