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This online course is no longer being updated online. It's only available through the Canvas website for the current course offering. 

After completing this session, you'll be able to:

Begin by viewing the class presentation in Vimeo. Then, read each of the sections of this page for more detail.

Explore each of the following topics on this page:

Principles in Selection

woman selection bookSelection involves looking for the strengths and weaknesses in an item and how it might or might not match the needs of the collection.

Many theorists have examined the topic of selection. You should think about your philosophy of selection. What are your general rules related to selection?

Gregory (2011) shared the following general rules (p. 61):

  1. Library materials are best selected on the basis of suitability for inclusion in the collection.
  2. The collection should be an unbiased source of information that represents as many points of view as possible.
  3. Subjects should be covered in a manner appropriate to the library's anticipated users' needs.
  4. No materials should be excluded from the collection because of the race, religion, gender, nation origin, sexual preference, or political view of the author, the materials, or the user.

readRead Theories Comparison Figures from Evans and Saponaro (2012, 76-79). Compare the different approach of McColvin, Drury, Haines, Ranganathan, Broadus, Curley & Broderick, and Johnson. What's your approach to selection?

ODLIS defines selection as

"the process of deciding which materials should be added to a library collection. Selection decisions are usually made on the basis of reviews and standard collection development tools by librarians designated as selectors in specific subject areas, based on their interests and fields of specialization. In academic libraries, selection may also be done by members of the teaching faculty in their disciplines. Very large academic and public libraries may use an approval plan or blanket order plan to assist selectors. Library patrons also recommend titles for purchase, especially in libraries that provide a suggestion box."

During the 1930s, Helen Haines provided a list of fundamental principles in book selection. These were updated in the 1950 edition of Living with Books. Think about whether these still apply today.

  1. Community - study your community and know its general character. Without this basic information, you have little direction.
  2. Current Interest - be familiar with subjects of present interest – general, national, and local. So what do you think are these current topics, whether you are in a school, public, academic, or special library? Can you be a visionary to determine what this will be before the patrons start to walk in the door?
  3. Comprehensive - represent all subjects that apply to community conditions and reflect community interests. Are there specific conditions or community interests that need to be addressed? If the community is the popcorn capital of the world, it probably wouldn't hurt the public library to have information about popcorn.
  4. Local History - make local history collection extensive and as useful as possible. The school and public library in Milan, Indiana better have a solid collection about the state high school basketball championship that was won that would be accessible to anyone who asked.
  5. All Ages & Formats - provide for all age groups whose activities and interests can be related to books. In 1950, libraries were limited to books, but this principle could be extended to all relevant media formats.
  6. Anticipate - provide for actual/potential readers – existent/anticipated demand, foreshadowed by events and conditions, increasing use. Who would have predicted the demand for resume writing and other job seeking resources?
  7. Demand - avoid selecting books for which no demand is evident; eliminate books that have definitely outlived their usefulness. That may sound obvious, but sometimes we get carried away.
  8. Value - while demand is primarily the basis and reason for supply, select some books for permanent value regardless of whether they will be widely used. Some libraries use the philosophy that has been known as Give Them What They Want and use circulation statistics to discard.
  9. Impartiality - maintain impartiality in selection; favor no special hobbies or opinions. A library shouldn't reflect the personal interests of the librarian. Instead, it should be impartial.
  10. Professionals - as much as possible, provide books that will meet the needs of specialists and others whose work will benefit the community. What is your role as a school librarian to support the needs of the teachers as well as the students?
  11. Best - do not try to build a complete collection. Select the best books: on a subject, by an author, the most useful of a series.
  12. Circulation - give preference to an inferior book that will be read over a superior book that will not be read. Dr. Moeller and Dr. Irwin recently completed a comparison study of a "best" graphic novels list developed by librarians and a bestselling list of graphic novels from the same period. There was no overlap. Which list would you use for selection?
  13. Trends - keep abreast of changing current thoughts and opinions. Represent the scientific, social, and intellectual forces that are shaping the modern world. Is it best to approve offshore drilling for oil to decrease America's dependence on foreign oil or to not risk another BP accident?
  14. Promptness - maintain promptness and regularity in supplying new books. In the public library, do you know the release date for the next Nora Roberts, James Patterson, and John Grisham book? How about the release of the latest comic hero movie?

Do you think these 14 principles still hold true after 60 years?

try itRead!
Chen, Kristine (October 2010). Given them what they want. School Library Journal, 56(10), 29.
Pearl, Nancy (September 1 1996). Gave 'em what they wanted. Library Journal, 121, 136-38.
Rawlinson, N. (1981). Give 'em what they want! Library Journal, 106, 2188-2195.
Compare the three perspectives that have been published over the past 30 years. What's changed? What's remained the same?

Selection Criteria

If you have responsibility for one section of the library’s collection, it is important for you to know the library’s general criteria for selection.  This will in part be based on the mission, budget, users, and strengths and weaknesses of the current collection.

knittingYou'll generally be doing two types of selection:

ODLIS defines selection criteria as

"the set of standards used by librarians to decide whether an item should be added to the collection, which normally includes a list of subjects or fields to be covered, levels of specialization, editions, currency, languages, and formats (large print, nonprint, abridgments, etc.). Selection criteria usually reflect the library's mission and the information needs of its clientele, but selection decisions are also influenced by budgetary constraints and qualitative evaluation in the form of reviews, recommended core lists, and other selection tools."

In 1981, Richard Gardner developed a list of criteria for judging materials, specifically in the selection of nonfiction materials.

lego and boylego book

As with the principles, these criteria work in school, public, academic, and special libraries.

Create your own set of questions and criteria. Explore ideas for selection criteria:

Needs Connection

Intellectual Content

Physical Form

Hardware Selection


Now, it's your turn to create a set of criteria for your library. If you need help, lots of resources are available:

Selection Tools

magazine stackTo help with the process, a number of sources are available.

ODLIS defines selection aid as

"a publication used by librarians to develop a balanced collection of materials to meet the information needs of library users. The category includes bestseller lists, best books lists, core lists, national bibliographies, and review publications intended specifically for librarians (Booklist, CHOICE, Library Journal, School Library Journal, etc.)."

Selection aids and tools vary depending on their purpose.

Review Sources

Tools for review include sources that provide background information, varying points of view, critiques, and suggestions for use.

There are two types of review sources.  One type provides information about materials prior to their publication.  Some of these sources include Booklist, Choice Reviews Online, Library Journal, and School Library Journal.

Other sources provide reviews concurrently with or after publication.  These include newspapers, popular magazines, professional publications, media, and scholarly journals.

Go to the Introduction: Reviewers section of the course for a more complete list and links to the IUPUI databases.

Retrospective Tools

Selection tools sometimes provide non-evaluative bibliographic information for items. Some of these sources are specific for retrospective selection, while others are specific to library type, user type, or by literature, format, or genre.

There are a few retrospective sources to use if you are looking for items that may be judged good, but aren’t the most recent items available. Book Review Digest, published by H.W. Wilson and Book Review Index, published by Gale are two sources to use to locate reviews for older materials. These are particularly useful if you are considering the value of a donated item, for example.

Go to the Introduction: Reviewers section of the course for a more complete list.

To get to lists of award books and the “best” materials, there is a range of lists and awards. Many of these are given by the American Library Association. For example, there are a lot of youth media awards. Equivalent awards and “best” lists for young adult materials.

An example of an award that is given by an organization other than the American Library Association is the National Book Awards. This just begins to scratch the surface on the “best” lists and awards that are given, so it is good to be aware of those that relate to your collection development area.

Go to the Awards section of the course for a more complete list.

Tools by Library Type

H. W. Wilson (EBSCO) has published a range of “core collection” tools to help librarians build a collection.  These include

Another group from the American Library Association also develops an annual list of Outstanding Reference Sources “for small and medium-sized libraries”.

Tools by User Type/Age

Another type of selection tool looks at the type or age of the user.

One example is another H.W. Wilson (EBSCO) tool, Children's Core Collection for public libraries.

The American Library Association provides “Best Books for Young Adults,” which is now Best Fiction for Young Adults and Notable Books for Adults.

american born chineseTools by Literature, Format, or Genre

If you're looking for a specific type of literature, format, or genre, there’s probably a list.

Trust H. W. Wilson (EBSCO) to come to the rescue here, too, with tools likeFiction Core Collection (formerly Fiction Catalog), Nonbook Materials Core Collection, and Graphic Novels Core Collection. As an FYI, most of the Wilson tools are available online and in print. 

ALA also comes through with The Reading List that breaks the adult “best” list into various genre. 

Often bibliographies are listed in journal articles. In other cases, selected bibliographies are published as part of a series. How do you know if the books on the list are good?

Use the following criteria when using bibliographic lists:

Tools for Academic and Special Libraries

Many of the selection tools are specific to the area of an academic library collection and include the following that often give costs and availability, not reviews:

Another source is the scholarly and professional journals for specific subjects. This will be very discipline specific in terms of usefulness; however, a number of general sources include:

Go to the Introduction: Reviewers section of the course for a more complete list and links to the IUPUI databases.

Book Review Digest, probably the most useful source to facilitate access to reviews, provides excerpts and citations to reviews of current fiction and non-fiction. The limitation of this source is that the reviews are brief and not particularly scholarly. Other review indexing tools include Book Review Index, New York Times Book Review/Index Issue, New York Review of Books, Social Science Citation Index, Arts and Humanities Index, and Wilson Indexes (now owned by EBSCO). They're available through IUPUI.

Many of these sources could also be useful in public libraries, depending on the size of the library and its budget.

Publishers. Another way to collect is to go, in part, with selected publishers. Because IUPUI houses a library and information science program, University Library has a standing order for all publications of the American Library Association, for example.

Authors. Related to going with selected publishers is to select, in part, from known authors. This method and the previous one mentioned should be used cautiously to avoid bias in your collection.

Recommendations. Finally, you would select, in part, based on faculty recommendations in the academic setting and staff suggestions for the special library. In addition to meeting user needs, this method takes advantage of their expertise.

In addition, you might take a patron-driven acquisition (PDA) approach focusing on the needs and interests of library users. Get users or faculty involved with selection. Rather than a formal committee, consider an email discussion or forum where ideas can be posted and shared. Also get teachers involved with seeking new materials at conferences. Let the patrons know that you're interested in their suggestions and ideas. However be certain they provide ideas that can actually be used in the curriculum. In the same way, get students involved with book discussions and idea sharing.

library students

try itRead!
Anderson, R. (2011, May 31). What patron-driven acquisition (PDA) does and doesn't mean: An FAQ.

Compare and contrast the most popular professional review journals. Ask yourself the following questions:

Who Selects?

While it seems logical that a trained librarian would be in charge of selection, this is changing.

Some large library systems are using vendors to assist in selection. In some cases, the vendor service provides the "first round" of options followed by individual selections to meet the needs of specific branches. This approach may be cost effective, but it's very controversial.

Vendors provide lots of resources to help in selection

try itRead!
Hoffert, Barbara (September 1, 2007). Who's selecting now? As Phoenix Public Library boldy passes on selection responsibilities to its vendors, some libraries follow - and others dig in. Library Journal, 40.

try itRead!
Pattee, Amy (March 2009). Expedient, but a what cost? School Library Journal, 55(3).
What are your thoughts on the use of vendors in selection?

The Real World

How does selection happen in the "real world"?

You win some, you lose some. Even after carefully reading reviews and examining awards lists, you can still end up with a dud. The book cover is ugly so no one checks it out. Or, it lacks interesting pictures and people put it down before giving it a chance.

Just do your best. Here are some tips:


Keep a consideration file containing items you are currently considering for purchase. The file can take many forms. A word processing document, database, or electronic spreadsheet can be used for this file. Consider a spreadsheet with the categories of title, author, publisher, copyright date, ISBN, cost, review source, curriculum connections, grade level, and priority number for each item. Regardless of your method, you need to keep your options organized. You never know when you may get extra money that must be spent immediately. By organizing your materials by priority, you'll always be ready.

When establishing priorities, consider a numbering system. This will make it easier to sort your consideration file. You may also have different categories of items such as immediate purchases, when possible, wish list, replacement items, and duplicate copies needed. Also consider those items that are needed for the curriculum versus items for leisure reading. Where are your priorities? Your list will always be much longer than your funding.

Richard Gardner summed up the selection process quite well.

“Any collection is a dynamic organism, continually changing and growing. A well-selected item added to a collection enhances other items in that collection. An item is never an isolated work; it is related to others.  In any collection, a work will supplement, complement, or fill in other works. A collection is an aggregate of titles, each of them unique, but it is more than that; it is an aggregate that has a life of its own.

The great library collections developed over the ages have achieved statures because they are more that collections of individual works.  It is the bringing together of related materials, which reveals unsuspected relationships in thoughts and ideas, that makes a great collection. To the dedicated book selector and developer of collections, there is no greater thrill than seeing a collection emerge that has individual character and life. Every selection made is one more building block in developing a collection.”  (Library Collections, 1981, p. 191).


Alsop, J. (2007). Bridget Jones meets Mr. Darcy: Challenges of contemporary fiction. Journal of Academic Librarianship, 33, 581-585.

Anderson, R. (2011, May 31). What patron-driven acquisition (PDA) does and doesn't mean: An FAQ.

Bob, M. L. (1982). The case for quality book selection, Library Journal, 107, 1707-1710.

Chen, Kristine (October 2010). Given them what they want. School Library Journal, 56(10), 29.

Evans, G. Edward & Saponaro, Margaret Zarnosky (2012). Collection Management Basics. Libraries Unlimited.

Fialkoff, F. (2005). Balancing act. Library Journal, 130, 8.

Gardner, Richard K. (1981). Library collections: their origins, selection, and development. McGraw Hill.

Gregory, Vicki L. (2011). Collection Development and Management for 21st Century Collections. Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc.

Haines, Helen Elizabeth (1935). Living with Books: The Art of Book Selection. Columbia University Press.

Hoffert, Barbara (September 1, 2007). Who's selecting now? As Phoenix Public Library boldy passes on selection responsibilities to its vendors, some libraries follow - and others dig in. Library Journal, 40.

Pattee, Amy (March 2009). Expedient, but a what cost? School Library Journal, 55(3).

Pearl, N. & Buthod, C. (1992). Upgrading the McLibrary. Library Journal, 117, 37-41

Pearl, Nancy (September 1 1996). Gave 'em what they wanted. Library Journal, 121, 136-38.

Rawlinson, N. (1981). Give 'em what they want! Library Journal, 106, 2188-2195.

Quinn, B. (2000). McDonaldization of academic libraries? College & Research Libraries, 61, 248-261.

Portions of this page were adapted from Collection Development & Management by Irwin and Albee (2012).

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