Collection Development – know your users


I have been shocked recently with the trend of school librarians seeking opinions about books and regularly asking for others opinions on books they are thinking of buying for their libraries on listserv and on social media.  I have always thought that one of the joys of running a library, especially one where you are so connected with your users, such as in a school library, that buying books which specifically appeal to your students is easy.  Why ask someone who doesn’t know your users?  Why ask someone who doesn’t work in a school at the same level as you?  Why are you so scared of buying something which you could easily send back if it doesn’t fit?  Yes budgets are tight.  Yes, sometimes you make a mistake? I’ve just finished a book which I should not have bought, thank goodness I read it before it hit the hands of a Yr 9 boy – far too much graphic sex.   But you have to have some confidence in yourself.  Decide that you know your existing stock, that you know what you need in the library, that you have great selection tools and do some research yourself.  That is what librarians do.  Don’t think that by posting on the listserv that you will get opinions from people which will match yours, you might get me, and I might tell you to go to a bookshop and have a look for yourself.  I might tell you to look at the blogs or at Goodreads to see what other people are saying about the books you are considering.  I might tell you that it is your job to know what will work for your students and staff.

Why are you so unwilling to take a punt on books which have been nominated for awards? Which have been compared to a heap of others which fit the same category of reader – junior fiction (if you are an intermediate school you are going to want those right) Senior Fiction is much more tricky I admit.  There are always some I don’t buy because they don’t fit (too girly or ugly cover so nobody will borrow it, we already have 16 of this kind of book and don’t need any more there are plenty of reasons a book won’t work for me, but I can tell by looking.  So can you!) but New Zealand kids need to read NZ books, they need to read the best of the bunch.  And I’m happily going to say that one of the best NZ kids books I read last year wasn’t on the list of NZ Post Books and I was gutted about that, but I can push that book to my kids and not everyone can be a finalist.  Kids need to read a variety of books and they don’t only need to read your taste.  Maybe you are someone who likes ‘lovely’ books.  Old fashioned charmers.  Well you can’t just buy ‘old fashioned charmers’ for your school library.  Peter Rabbit is all very well and good but your kids don’t live in England in the 1960s they live in NZ in the 2000s.  They are not you when you were a kid.  Read some new books.  Read what is on the lists.  Learn to love the modern.  Or you should consider looking for another job.

School librarians are hip, they are down with the cool kids, they love new, they love cool and they love kids and they most of all get kids.  If you get kids then you know what to buy them.  Stop asking the world to do your job.  Get on the blogs, follow cool school librarians from all over the world, look up reading lists, follow Zac HardingLorraine Orman and Bob Docherty, join Goodreads and look for other school librarians and see what they love.  Look at what is hot all around the world, what is winning awards, what are people raving about.  It is the joy of finding gems that you didn’t know about before by hunting around that makes me happy.

Mostly though, you should be a librarian.  Good at choosing, good at researching and good at reading books for kids!

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  1. #1 by booktrailers4kidsandya on April 28, 2014 - 5:06 PM

    Agree! I love going into a local bookshop and knowing my students, I often buy books knowing exactly which kids will want to read particular books. I don’t always buy books just because they are on awards lists as they still have to match up with the readers I serve. Totally agree too that you have to put time in and look at blogs, goodreads, Magpies etc. Most times I hit it right but sometimes a book might end up inappropriate and I just find somewhere to donate it if the cost of returning etc is not worth it. I think in order to make it all work, you have to be a reader and read widely and out of your own comfort zone. If we want kids to read we have to offer not just what we might think is good for them, but what they want to read. Choosing books is one of the highlights of my job!

    • #2 by Bridget Schaumann on April 29, 2014 - 9:18 PM

      Sounds like you and I are on the same page 🙂 I really don’t understand why people want to do our job unless they are really into the reading for the kids thing.

  2. #3 by A pinch of salt on May 24, 2014 - 4:12 PM

    All good advice Bridget. I totally agree.

  3. #4 by Sharon C on November 27, 2014 - 8:00 AM

    Yes, excellent advice, we are the ones that know our readers and they are the ones we need to buy for.

  4. #5 by Angela on February 3, 2016 - 6:40 PM

    Yes, you are venting for me.
    Read book reviews and join in with discussion groups at least if you haven’t got time to read much.

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