A look inside: Building the Library’s collection

by on April 26th, 2012

In the Academy Award winning short film, “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore,” books gently flutter, bird-like, to their spot on a shelf to await a reader. It’s a lovely image, but not really the way library collections are built. Developing a collection to serve the UNESCO City of Literature does include a little magic, along with a healthy dose of art and science.

Collections at the Iowa City Public Library cover the broad expanse of what’s available to entertain and inform users of all ages. The Library spends approximately $10 per person each year to develop and maintain the collection, with about $1.50 of that contributed through gifts to the Library’s Friends Foundation. Materials are selected in a variety of formats to serve preferences of all kinds – books, magazines, newspapers, video, audiobooks and music, as well as digital formats that can be downloaded to a computer or a portable device.

Applying the art of selection is the responsibility of six librarians, each assigned to develop portions of the collection. They discover new titles by regularly reading review journals such as “Booklist,” “Publisher’s Weekly” and “The New York Times Book Review,” but also by keeping up-to-date on specific subjects by reviewing popular magazines like “Bloomberg Businessweek,” “Parents Magazine,” “Jet,” “Fine Gardening” or “Scientific American.” Newspapers and other forms of media, blogs and online resources help keep them alert to new trends, authors and artists. Suggestions for new titles are also made by the public and by other Library staff. Along with all of that input, they check the collection against “best lists” to find areas where coverage may be inadequate or a title missed, and they monitor popular titles and topics to ensure there are enough copies to meet demand within a reasonable period of time.

The art is also practiced by assessing the quality of music, film, fiction, artwork and picture books by evaluating their style, storyline, performance and production merit. Factual materials are evaluated by researching an author or creator’s qualifications on the topic, the age of the information and how a title compares to other materials in presenting the topic.

The science is applied through statistical reports that are regularly generated to identify items that have not checked out, or have checked out so many times they may be worn out and need to be checked for replacement. Alerts are generated by the Library’s online system and sent to staff when the number of holds on a title exceed a set ratio and would mean excessively long waits for patrons. Staff also review reports on titles that have been checked out and not returned or those that are missing. Materials that are worn or damaged are evaluated. Support staff respond to suggestions for additions to the collection. End-of-the-year reports provide data to analyze precisely what areas of the collection are getting heavy use and those where interest is light.

So where’s the magic? That comes when staff see a child’s delighted face as they carry a favorite picture book to checkout, and the satisfied smile as patrons stroll out of the Library with a bag packed with pleasures to take home, or when Library staff are able to say, “Yes! We have that!”

Foundation gifts grow collections

The Library Development Office works with the Board of Directors of the Friends Foundation and other contributors to ensure there are enough copies of the newest best sellers, hottest DVDs and CDs, and useful online materials available to patrons. The Foundation is a nonprofit organization and its sole purpose is to raise funds to support the Library. Donations of all amounts are welcomed and put to use by the Library for whatever is needed most or for a specific purpose determined by the contributor.

Many donors have wonderful memories of the new worlds opened to them as children through books checked out from their public library. They give to ensure Iowa City area children can also experience that same magic. Cory and Caroline Jens of Iowa City recently asked family and friends to make a contribution to the Foundation to celebrate their daughter’s first birthday. Very generous donations received in Lucy’s name will result in the addition of dozens of new picture books for preschoolers, each carrying a special bookplate. Caroline Jens explained, “She doesn’t understand what gifts are, and since we love to read, we just thought this would be a nice tradition.”

Last summer, a newlywed couple requested contributions be made in their names to the Library in lieu of other wedding gifts. They said they wanted to acknowledge the “tremendous amount of time we spent there looking for and finding marvelous things to read between studies at the Writers’ Workshop.”

The Library also receives memorial contributions from those whose loved ones enjoyed the wide variety of materials available including large print, books on disc, and eBooks, or the At Home service that provides materials through the mail for patrons who cannot physically get to the Library.

Building the Library’s collection is also the purpose of a unique event hosted by the Iowa City Public Library Friends
Foundation. On the first Sunday evening in May, Library friends get together at hotelVetro for two hours of fun spent bidding on opportunities to enjoy time with an author, artist or musician at the homes of other Library supporters. “Building the Collection: Celebrating the Creative Spirit” features a live auction of 12 to 14 special get-togethers with those whose creativity shines in the books, music and artwork available at the Library. The evening also includes a silent auction, light refreshments and cash bar.

The ninth annual “Building the Collection” event will be from 6-8 p.m. May 6 at hotelVetro’s Ernie Lehman Ballroom. Reservations are required: $30 per person paid in advance through the Library Development Office, online, or at the door. The Friends Foundation Board of Directors, Masters of Ceremonies Bill and Charlie Nusser, and Auctioneer Mark Sharpless hope you will join us for a memorable evening.

Additional information about attending Building the Collection, supporting the Library, and making tribute and other
tax-deductible contributions is available at icpl.org/support/ or contact Patty McCarthy, Development Director, at Patty-
McCarthy@icpl.org or 319-356-5249.

• 230,000 items
• 183,000 print materials
• 47,000 non-print items (DVDs, CDs, reference databases)
• 560 items added each week
• 58,000 children’s books
• 90 storytime kits
• 440 magazine and newspaper subscriptions


• Patrons suggested more than 3,000 items for purchase last year.
• We withdraw approximately as many items a year as we add, making room for fresh copies, new titles and new editions.
• Adult fiction is about half as big as the adult nonfiction collection.
• The nonfiction DVD collection is nearly the same size as the movie collection.
• The Library’s state-of-the-art computerized catalog alerts staff when there are more than three holds placed by patrons on an item, so adding additional copies can be considered.
• 25-30% of fiction collection is checked out at any given time.

*These numbers are approximate.*

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