Skip to main content
SearchLoginLogin or Signup

Opening the Collection Development Policy

How the ISU University Library rewrote their collection development policy to emphasize values.

Published onJul 13, 2022
Opening the Collection Development Policy

The Iowa State University Library has set its sights on making academic literature more open, available, and reusable. This is a huge endeavor and several units within the library work to make research information more open. You can see evidence of this on our website:

I’m the relatively new (11 months) Director of Collections and Open Strategies. Most libraries have someone with the job title of collections manager or director of collections, or head of collections. Making research information open is such a priority that ‘open strategies’ has been added to that job title and description. The traditional part of my job focuses on building library collections that support research and teaching at ISU. The newer portion of my job focuses on moving academic publishing to open as the default. This means working to make research by ISU authors openly available and to support platforms and organizations working to make research open. This two-level approach supports ISU research and teaching and aligns with ISU’s mission as a public and land grant university.

Events of the past few years caused academic libraries to explicitly incorporate our values into our work. Open research stands beside longer-standing library values of diversity, equity, inclusion, social justice, intellectual freedom, and privacy. One of the first tasks assigned me was an update of our traditional collection development policy. The traditional policy included some of those values, but they weren’t the center of the document. We wanted a policy with those values front and center, instead of as an aside.

* * *

There are two potential audiences for this piece. One group of librarians want to know about the process: who was involved, how long did it take, what tools and resources were used. Another group of librarians will be more interested in the content. Why was the ‘traditional’ format abandoned, why the focus on values? You can read the entire document or choose your own adventure and follow the link that most reflects your interests:


I chose an approach loosely based on project management tenets. I put together a workplan—including a timeline—and a set of resources. Then I recruited a small group of librarians and we got started.

The working group consisted of two subject librarians, one in social sciences and one in STEM, and the director of the ISU Digital Press, who also served on the Library Diversity Committee. Resources included a review of the current policy by the Library Diversity Committee, links to a variety of other collection development policies, and some recent articles about updating collection development policies.

The first meeting was a wide-ranging discussion about what should and shouldn’t be in a collection development policy, based on each person’s experience and perspective, the policies we’d examined, and a few readings. At the end of that meeting we agreed we would discard the current policy and craft a new policy that explicitly states and centers the Library’s values that we follow as we build our collections. We stripped out anything remotely procedures oriented. We also agreed not to include lists of formats, publishers, languages, etc., that collection policies often include. This decision was possible because the selectors have their own subject-level collection development policies with that information.   

A few more meetings let us focus on our initial list of values. We expanded and tweaked the list. A valuable discussion surfaced the distinction between values and strategies. We all agreed that the values inform what we collect. The strategies guide how we go about that collecting. Strategies aren’t procedures, they’re more like guiding principles. At this point writing assignments were made, and within three months we had a draft policy to take to Library stakeholders. Stakeholders included the Associate University Librarian, Collection Development Management Team, Scholarly Communication & Collections Committee, and Library Administrative Cabinet. Feedback was received from each group and incorporated. The document was approved in February 2022 and is now posted in the Digital Repository. From start (creating a workplan) to finish (approval of new policy) this process took six months.


We started with a traditional collection development policy with a table of contents, allowing the reader to move directly to any of its 12 sections. The sections were Introduction, History, Communities, Authority, Selection, Budgeting, Formats, Accessibility, Decision Making Factors, Technology & Scholarly Communication, Conclusion, and Appendices. 

This document barely mentions values. Links to the University’s mission statement and the Library’s strategic plan are included. The Library’s mission statement is replicated. The section on accessibility focuses on our work to make electronic materials accessible. The Technology and Scholarly Communication section focuses more on campus-wide access to online resources and the fact that more formats are part of the academic record now. There is no mention of the Library Bill of Rights, Freedom to Read, diversity, open access, or intellectual freedom.

We started our work during fall of 2021, at the start of renewed activity regarding book bans in school libraries, when misinformation was again at the forefront of the news, and during the discussion about systemic racism and how that affects our collections and hiring in academic libraries. Both the University Library and Iowa State University were heavily promoting staff and student discussions about diversity, equity, and inclusion. When our group read through the older collection development policy, it seemed irrelevant for 2021.

We quickly agreed we needed a totally new document—one that centered our values as our guiding principles for our collection activities. We needed to explicitly state those values, why the library collection existed, and how it advances the activities of the university and supports the citizens of Iowa.

Part of the resources we used to fuel our discussions were a small group of collection development policies from other libraries. Some were more traditional and others more values oriented. The University of Sheffield University Library Comprehensive Content Strategy and the Collection Development Philosophy of Denver University Libraries are examples of the type of policy we hoped to compose.  

We used the tried-and-true method of listing words and phrases describing values and voting on them with sticky notes. One of our members enjoys organizing and grouped the terms we considered most relevant. Next, we dissected and discussed those groupings. That’s when we realized everything on our list wasn’t really a value. We decided to label the other important ideas Strategies.

We chose our writing assignments and completed a draft in a few weeks. Our first reader, the AUL who assigned this task, pointed out that we’d completely overlooked privacy. Once we added that, our list of values was complete: Intellectual Freedom; Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; Openness; Accessibility; and Privacy. I’m not going to restate the policy here to describe why we consider these our guiding values. The document is three pages long; you can quickly read how we use these values.

The strategy section pulls together important aspects of the ways we work and the environment we work within. This short section covers budgetary stewardship, the explosive growth of research outputs, and our collaborations with other institutions. The policy also acknowledges that university needs change over time and so the library collection must also change.


This was a great project for a new collections director. The relatively short time frame allowed the working group members to focus on the project for a short time, hopefully without burning out or feeling overwhelmed. Changing over to a value-centric policy makes the document more relevant and useful.

I look forward to the hard work of living up to this document. Opening research information and building more diverse collections are priorities. Doing that while attending to accessibility, privacy, and responsible budgeting is the challenge.

No comments here
Why not start the discussion?