Acquisitions and Collections Development


Collection development and acquisitions is a complex problem for electronic resources. To rehash, in the print-only days, acquiring resources was a more-than-it-is-now linear process. Librarians became aware of an item, sought reviews of the item, possibly collected the item, described it, and then shelved it. And maybe, depending on the type of the library, weeded it from the collection at some future date during their regular course of collection assessment.

The above is a simplistic take, but there are additional vectors to be aware of with electronic resources. First, as we have learned, libraries may not own digital works, and different subscription services require different kinds of contracts. Second, electronic resources (ebooks, journal articles, databases, etc.) require different handling and disseminating procedures due to differences in technologies and licenses. Martin et al. (2009) pinpoint the issue when they write that:

As much as we would like to think our primary concerns about collecting are based on content, not format [emphasis added], e-resources have certainly challenged many long-established notions of how we buy, collect, preserve, and provide access to information (p. 217).

Collection Development

Although a world where the format dictates so much makes an intriguing world, it can be problematic and worrisome that it does dictate so much. We think that content, and not format, should be king and that "collection managers should focus on the content of the information provided, regardless of the actual form in which the information arrives" (Harloe & Budd, 1994, p. 83). We have already learned that some formats cost more, but we must also ask new questions: how does format (or form) either prevent or facilitate access? If you catch the implicit gotcha there, you can see that a thread connects acquisitions, collections development, and usability, since usability is an access problem. We will cover usability issues later.

In a collection development course, you would unquestionably focus on content and on the work that is involved creating a collection development policy (CDP), which I hope you do or spearhead if your library does not have one. Content and CDPs are relevant to the acquisition, collection, and management of e-resources. However, in a major way, it is also important to understand how the management of electronic resources have impacted librarian work flows and how that has shaped, or re-formed, library organizational hierarchy.

Organizational Hierarchy

A quick note about the organizational hierarchy, which are often graphically presented in organizational charts. I developed an organizational chart based on my readings of librarian departmental reports written during the late 1950s and early 1960s by librarians at the University of Kentucky, and thus, well before electronic resources took over. These departmental reports are archived at the University of Kentucky's Special Collections Research Center. Organizational charts have been around since the 1800s, but I do not think they were commonly used in libraries until at least the latter half of the 20th century. (I didn't see one in my research on UK Libraries for this time period.) Thus, I inferred an organizational structure based on the detailed reports written by the various department heads in the library at the time (See Fig. 1). When you compare my chart based on the past to the most recent one provided by UK Libraries (see aside below), it's clear that additional complexities have been added.

Organizational chart UK Libraries late 50s / early 60s
Fig. 1. This is a derived organizational chart based on annual reports of University of Kentucky departmental head librarians. Research is based on reports held at the UK Library's Special Collections Research Center.

Aside 1: The most recent organizational chart for UK Libraries is from 2019, and they may have decided to stop making them. Much has changed since then, including a new Dean, but the general point I am making should hold about the complexity of the modern library.

Aside 2: The concept of organizational charts dates back to the 19th century, Based some cursory searching, the first known chart was created in 1855 by Daniel McCallum, a railway general superintendent. McCallum, with the assistance of a draftsman and civil engineer named George Holt Henshaw, designed an organizational chart for the New York and Erie Railway to showcase the division of administrative duties and the number and class of employees engaged in each department (Organimi 2020, Lanteria 2021). This chart was initially referred to as a "Diagram representing a plan of organization" and was not yet called an organizational chart (Organimi 2020, Pingboard).

The terminology "organization chart" became more common in the early 20th century, and by 1914, a certain Brinton advocated for broader use of organizational charts (Wikipedia Organizational Chart). The use of organizational charts gained more traction in industrial engineering circles and became more popular among businesses and enterprises in the latter half of the 20th century (Miro 2021).

These early developments set the stage for modern organizational charts, which have now become crucial tools for delineating responsibilities, hierarchy, and the structural framework within organizations across various sectors. From a historical perspective, a study of organizational charts of the years can shed insight on how the organization evolves, especially when cross-referencing that evolution with other changes, such as the introduction of electronic resources in libraries.

This complexity is very interesting. The growth in electronic resources, associated technologies, and markets do not explain all of it: knowledge has become more specialized, and library organizational structure reflects that; student populations have grown considerably since then, in size and heterogeneity, and library structure will reflect that; and the theory and praxis of library management has evolved throughout the decades, and library structure will reflect that. Other issues are at play, and it is certainly true that they are all interconnected. However, I do think that technology and e-resources account for a large portion of the increasing complexity that we see here in the difference between these two organizational charts at different times of the Library's history.

But again, consider the influence of format. Lamothe (2015) finds that if electronic e-reference sources are collected and perpetually updated, then they get continually used. If it's a static e-resource, then usage declines. I hope additional studies pursue this line of questioning because it raises questions about the expectations that patrons have about content; perhaps something about how fresh they expect that content should be. It also suggests that a resource like Wikipedia has an advantage, since many articles on Wikipedia are regularly updated (although not all), and that might lead to a perception of Wikipedia as fresh, relative to what is in a library's collection.

Open Educational Resources

Let's switch topics to discuss Open Educational Resources (OER), which is a hot topic these days. Textbook prices, England et al. (2017) notes, have skyrocketed in recent decades. It's suggested that college students budget up to $1,240 per year in books and supplies, and public elementary and secondary schools expend nearly 2.5 billion dollars per year on textbooks. In response, libraries have notably moved to highlight open educational resources at some level. For example, UK Libraries provides resources about Open Educational Resources and provide a LibGuide on OER.

Sites such as, openstax, LibreTexts, and others function as digital libraries of open access educational resources. The idea is to eliminate these exhorbitant costs, which put great burdens on taxpayers, families, and students who pay for them, by providing high quality, open access textbooks and other educational resources.

Most of these resources are, I believe, pushed to faculty to replace proprietary textbooks. However, it's useful to ask whether libraries ought to collect and acquire these resources, which would involve promoting OER at a whole other level. For example, librarians could catalog OER items and add records for them in their catalogs or discovery systems (see Hill & Bossaller, 2012 for a comparable discussion). Or should libraries not be involved at all? This seems like a duh kind of question, but libraries, public or academic, have not traditionally collected textbooks. So, should they? Would this change their fundamental mission? Would it change the game for them as educational institutions?

Aside: If interested in following developments in open educational resources, then I highly recommend subscribing to the SPARC Open Education Forum email list.

Collection Development Policies of Electronic Resources

Finally, I'd be guilty of a serious wrongdoing if I did not discuss the importance of having a collection development policy (CDP) and using that policy to guide the collection, acquisition, and assessment of electronic resources. I want to emphasize the importance of a CDP for e-resources. Unfortunately, not all libraries, even at major institutions, create or use a CDP. If you end up working at such a library, I highly encourage you to convince your colleagues of its importance. A CDP should define a collection, and then include most if not all the following topics:

  • mission, vision, and values statement
  • purpose of CDP statement (scope may be included here)
  • selection criteria: this could be general but it could also include subsections that focus on specific populations, genres, resource types, and more
  • assessment and maintenance criteria
  • challenged materials criteria (esp important at public, K-12 libraries)
  • weeding and/or replacement criteria

It can be helpful to see how libraries treat electronic resources in those that have policies that include them. The following two CDP policies, one from the University of Louisiana (UL) and one from the Lexington Public Library (LPL). do contain sections on electronic resources. The UL CDP is not their main policy but a sub-CDP that focuses on electronic resources. The LPL's policy is their main policy. Although it does not include a long discussion of electronic resources, electronic resources are mentioned. Neither approach is wrong because each are catered to the specific libraries and their purposes, communities, and vision statements.


This section addressed collection development of electronic resources, how the format of electronic resources influences workflows, how electronic resources influences organizational hierarchies, how the movement to make educational resources open has extended to libraries, and how collection development policies address electronic resources.

Readings / References

England, L., Foge, M., Harding, J., & Miller, S. (2017). ERM Ideas & Innovations. Journal of Electronic Resources Librarianship, 29(2), 110–116.

Lamothe, A. R. (2015). Comparing usage between dynamic and static e-reference collections. Collection Building, 34(3), 78–88.

Martin, H., Robles-Smith, K., Garrison, J., & Way, D. (2009). Methods and Strategies for Creating a Culture of Collections Assessment at Comprehensive Universities. Journal of Electronic Resources Librarianship, 21(3–4), 213–236.

Additional References

Harloe, B., & Budd, J. M. (1994). Collection development and scholarly communication in the era of electronic access. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 20(2), 83–87.

Hill, H., & Bossaller, J. (2013). Public library use of free e-resources. Journal of Librarianship and Information Science, 45(2), 103–112.