Subject Bibliographies and Collection Development

by Moya K. Mason

Subject bibliographies are lists of materials that relate to a particular discipline or subject scope. They are often attempts to select: the most worthwhile books on a particular subject" (Gardener 1981,153). Subject bibliographies are a good place to start when collecting in a specific area. They give a valuable overview of a discipline, and are very useful in collection development. These tools are important when building retrospectively, and allow the librarian to see what has been considered historically worthwhile in a field. In Collection Development: The Selection of Materials for Libraries, William Katz points out that:

Once a subject is chosen, the divisions common to national bibliographies may be employed -- time, form, origin, and others. However, unlike most national bibliographies, a subject work may use all the divisions (Katz 1980,66-67).

However, subject bibliographies also have inherent problems that fundamentally reduce their usefulness in certain fields of study, fields that need cutting edge materials. Subject bibliographies are out of date the day they are published, and sometimes contain books that currently have little value, having been replaced by newer and better titles (Gardner 1981,156). For instance, it is easy to see how textbooks on genetic engineering or computer technology can be quickly superseded by the latest information resources available. The compiling of some subjects is better suited than others for collection development using this tool.

Another difficulty is the subjectivity of the author who compiles a subject bibliography. As G. Edward Evans writes, "personal opinions vary, and these are either one person's opinion or a composite of many opinions about the value of a particular book" (Evans 1987,128). Coupled with this reality is the underlying purpose of organizing and writing a commentary on such a list of materials. Since everyone has an agenda, this could certainly influence such a compilation (Evans 1987,128). Finally, finding some materials listed in subject bibliographies can be very time-consuming, and sometimes impossible if an item is no longer being published. This can be very frustrating. Nonetheless, a librarian can probably find many that have enjoyed continued success. Checking in Books in Print is a good place to start looking for newer editions.

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Evans, G. Edward. 1987. Developing Library and Information Center Collections, 2nd ed. Englewood Cliffs, CO.: Libraries Unlimited.

Gardener, Richard K. 1981. Library Collections: Their Origin, Selection, and Development. New York: McGraw-Hill.

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

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