Library Catalogues and Collection Development

by Moya K. Mason

Library catalogues list the titles owned by a library, and in some cases, those they have access to through interlibrary loan. Their main purpose is to help patrons and librarians locate items, while keeping track of and organizing them. Sometimes they are used for the development of collections as "stock selection tools" (Gorman 1989,252). Collection development librarians can use a library catalogue for their work as a subject bibliography, which is without the evaluative factor. As William A. Katz writes:

The primary aim of a library is to build a useful collection to serve users. This objective presupposes selection from a vast number of possibilities. In order to assist the librarian, certain bibliographies indicate what is available in a given subject area, by a given author, in a given form, or for certain groups of readers (Katz 1982,44).

Library catalogues are simply bibliographies that represent the choices made by a group of people building a library collection. As a collection tool, they can give insight into what is considered important in a particular subject area, and what is not, by its exclusion. In this way, some library catalogues may also be seen as an evaluative tool in library collection. For example, bibliographies such as Canadiana and the National Library of Australia Catalogue are considered alerting devices for the selection of materials, "but the carefully selected material in some special collections does reflect selection rather than simple acquisition, and to that extent their catalogues are evaluative" (Gorman 1989,253).

Using library catalogues for collection development has some advantages that include helping to identify materials written about a subject area by doing a subject search. It also gives some standard information on author, publisher, ISBN, and possibly prices, that may assist collection librarians with selection and acquisition. Library catalogues are also very accessible on the Internet, and encompass a wide range of subject areas. They are quite useful if retrospective collecting is the goal, since they alert librarians to the existence of titles (Reed-Scott 1991,307). They can provide a picture of what materials another library found important to include, but they can also present bias viewpoints of a catalogue's developers, and "may not reflect the interests, collection levels, or other purposes of your library" (Hall 1985,14). They are also very limiting because they only include the holdings of one or a handful of library collections, and do not give a clear picture of what is really available in the universe of knowledge. Overall, these inventory lists are only appropriate as alerting tools for collection development, and must be used with an authoritative annotated list and reviews, to learn the value of the items. Remember that the collection will only be as good as the materials chosen.

Relying on library catalogues as collection development tools is problematic. Certainly, they can be a preliminary starting place for the building of any subject area, especially in retrospectives, which rely heavily on standard texts and important books in a field. But, if collection librarians rely exclusively on catalogues for collecting, many good books will be overlooked. In addition, it is impossible to know if an item is worth buying simply by finding it in a library collection. It could lack authority in the subject area, and only be in the catalogue because the library does not have a good system for weeding. Another disadvantage is that doing a subject search in a library catalogue brings up numerous listings to consider. Finally, the information in these types of bibliographies may have some use as tools of identification, but the accuracy of the records can only be measured by the dedication and exactness of the cataloguing librarians and the information they had to use. For authoritative bibliographic details, one should always turn to a national bibliography.

Library catalogues have some inherent qualities to recommend them as collection development tools, especially if a reliable staff of collecting librarians have recently put together an indepth anthology of choice works. However, as librarians, we are often not privy to that kind of information, and have no idea of the care or lack of care that went into the process.

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Gorman, G.E. and B.R. Howes. 1989. Collection Development for Libraries. London: Centre for Information Studies.

Hill, Blaine H. 1985. Collection Assessment Manual for College and University Libraries. Phoenix: The Oryx Press.

Katz, William A. 1992. Introduction to Reference Work Volume I: Basic Information Sources, 6th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Reed-Scott, Jutta. 1991. Typology of Selection Sources. In Collection Management: A New Treatise, ed. Charles B. Osburn and Ross Atkinson, pp. 301-312. London: JAI Press.

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