Taking a Library Collection Development Approach to Building Your Content Library

Taking a Library Collection Development Approach to Building Your Content Library

Editor’s note: While many content marketers take a somewhat haphazard approach to content development, the most successful have a content plan that helps them meet their audience needs. This is something many content marketers struggle with, so we brought in a library professional to give you a different perspective on the process.

Collection development is the purchasing and maintenance of library materials. It chiefly concerns ordering new and replacement materials as well as repairing or discarding items that have become damaged or no longer have a place in the collection.

This can be physical materials such as books, DVDs, magazines etc., but can also refer to the library’s digital collection of e-books, databases or other subscription services the library provides. Multiple factors are considered when developing a library collection and include:

  • Budget.
  • Available space for physical materials.
  • The informational needs of the community.

Community Definition and Research

Now that we’ve identified what collection development is, and the factors you need to consider, you’re ready to tackle the most difficult part—how do you know what your audience needs?

Communities are diverse and constantly changing, so it is vital to research those needs instead of assuming you have a clear picture of what your customers want. Conducting a community assessment is how to gather information about your customers and thereby better understand gaps in the service you are providing. A community assessment includes both direct surveys of your customers and external data sources that describe the community demographics.

The primary way librarians identify community information needs are in the form of surveys, either online, at the library location, or both. In this way, we get the expressed interest of customers on the types of materials and services they are most interested in. While this can be illuminating, it is important not to stop there as surveys have the disadvantage of only reaching your most avid or vocal members. Surveys of this type give little to no information about infrequent or non-users of the library, which is needed if you are to grow your patron base.

To better understand the needs of these disengaged community members, you’ll have to turn to research. This can be done with readily available sources, such as the US census data. Also look at local government sources such as the health department for your city or county to give you an insight into the makeup of the community and needs that may not be expressed directly.

Collection Development Basics

Once you have a clear picture of the community’s needs, and a budget in place so you know how much you can spend, it is time to start evaluating materials for purchase. For libraries, this is done primarily through trade publications that contain reviews such as Publishers WeeklyBooklist, and Video Librarian.

Vendors such as Ingram also aggregate reviews for you for simpler browsing of new materials for purchase. There are also a plethora of online consumer review sources such as GoodreadsRotten Tomatoes, and IMDB, that can help you decide which items and how many to purchase. In the case of movies, for example, the box office proceeds listed on IMDB can be helpful in deciding how popular a movie will be and so can give you guidance on how many to purchase.

Collection development isn’t a static process. It also helps to be flexible and re-evaluate an item’s popularity over time. The Integrated Library System (ILS) that each library uses to run all circulation functions will track the number of checkouts for a title, as well as holds requested. This data can help you decide if and when you will need to order more copies. Later on in the lifetime of an item, it can be used to determine which items are being used frequently and which are not, so they may be removed to make space for the continuing supply of new materials.

It’s a similar approach for online materials and services. Though they may not take up physical space, ongoing licensing fees can be better spent on other materials or services if they are underperforming. Your digital collection, like your physical materials, needs to be constantly updated to provide the best resources for library users.

Giving Your Community Access to the Right Information at the Right Time

Content development is a constant process that begins before any materials or services are purchased and is continued throughout the lifecycle of a collection. Though many of the examples I’ve given are specific to the library, the concepts remain the same across many disciplines including content marketing.

As with collection development, in content marketing, it is important to:

  • Document your content strategy ahead of time
  • Evaluate its performance over time
  • Understand your audience needs—both spoken and unspoken
  • Research to understand what content is out there and how it is performing
  • Identify gaps between what your audience needs and the content you have to offer

Following these steps is crucial to the success of any enterprise where your primary product is serving your customers with information. Anticipating customer needs beforehand and reacting to their expressed needs after will give you a much better chance of gaining new users and retaining those you already have.

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