Collection development policies in health libraries

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Last Update

  • Updated.jpg 16 February 2017


See also Brandon-Hill and Doody's Lists | Collection development | eBooks | Print ordering | Reference collections | Top Information Sources in Biomedical Reference Services

Collection development policies are often written to guide long-term acquisitions and maintenance strategies in health libraries. Most health librarians have some sort of responsibility for the development of their electronic and print collections, and work closely with other librarians to make decisions on what to buy, lease/rent or "watch". Although hospital library collections may focus specifically on clinical information, other health libraries may place their focus on the academic, research and patient information.

Collections specialists or bibliographers in health libraries typically assist reference librarians with the ordering of print materials and in writing collection development policies.

The purpose of a well-designed collection development policy is to:

  • support reference and information services by acquiring relevant, balanced collections in variety of formats
  • respond to changes in clinical, teaching and research programs
  • maintain physical condition of the collection
  • participate in resource-sharing and networking within geographic region, locally or further afield
  • ensure that the building of a balanced collection of books in a health library is a long-range, iterative process
  • ensure currency of materials which is a critical concern in the health professions

Health librarians make collection development decisions based on rigorous assessments of the information needs of users, analyses of print circulation statistics and budgeting. Collection management duties for health librarians may include the application of well-developed selection criteria, replacement of worn items and ongoing weeding and transitioning to online versions of print materials. Many academic health libraries use approval plans and blanket ordering systems to build their collections and to minimize the delay in receiving important or popular items. In many medium-sized health libraries, such as those in colleges and smaller universities, collection responsibilities may be shared among a group of reference and liaison librarians.

Guiding Principles

Some of the guiding principles of a collection development policy include:

  • access to current print materials is critical; from the bibliographic record in the OPAC to physical shelves
  • quality, not size, of the collection is what determines its value and utility
  • research materials are carefully examined for authority, value, bibliographies, special sections and historical content
  • each book is examined for its merits by a librarian or in consultation with subject experts
  • librarians are assigned a monographs budget determined by a bibliographer or collections administrator
  • librarians are responsible for all print firm orders; items deemed appropriate for collections and replace damaged/missing books as necessary
  • materials whose publication or copyright date falls five or more years prior to the current year will be subject to withdrawal
  • no items should be added that are older than five years from current date (depending on topic there are exceptions)
  • items that are worn should be removed, new editions sought or acceptable equivalents acquired
  • the Library cannot meet every need from its own collections; specialist needs can be addressed through document delivery and interlibrary lending
  • some high use materials will be purchased in electronic formats; e-book purchases are restricted by budgets
  • librarians order copies of textbooks and recommended materials to support education
  • librarians aim to use Doody’s Core Titles and older Brandon Hill lists as guides
  • librarians select some items to support liaison areas and to develop local collections
  • materials in both print and e-collections are removed based on currency, authority and in the case of print condition
  • users should be involved in weeding as much as possible; while they do not often have time to assess items, librarians can create lists of withdrawn items based on good weeding guidelines and share those lists with relevant users and library committee members
  • weeding is performed to keep the collection current and functional; it is done on a continuous basis as new materials are added

Various sites support unique collections

Other considerations in writing a collection development policy:

Selection practices

Selection depends on the subjects or disciplines onsite (specialties/services) and usage statistics; users recommend purchases of library materials but decisions for materials rests with librarian.


Priority is given to publications in the English language. Exceptions to this will be made where non-English resources are required to support patient information in languages other than English


Each site purchases copies of popular texts but other sites may opt to share non-reference items as needed (non-reference items can be sent through internal mail). Copying and scanning chapters of reference books can be done for users at other sites.


Price, in addition to the other listed selection practices, is considered for every title. If paperback items are cheaper they may be selected to save funds unless items are particularly popular or warrant durable hard copies.


The Library accepts gifts provided they fall within collection priorities. Acceptance of major donations must be approved. Materials are accepted based on control over what is kept and discarded, and where items will be located. Items that enhance collections are added. The Library accepts financial donations.


As items go missing, replacements can ordered. Consideration of items and popular titles is done on a case by case basis; or noted for ordering ebook versions in the future. When missing books go out of print, used copies are occasionally purchased.


While we may have standards in the collection (ie. Standards Association for Healthcare), we do not collect standards. This is the responsibility of each department to collect or mount on their own Intranet space.

Archival and Historical Materials

The library does not collect and/or archive historical materials.

Reference or reserve items

The Library provides access to high demand materials by designating them as Reference-Only. Copying must comply with the educational copying provisions of the Copyright Act.


Journals are a major element of any health library. The Library is committed to providing access to a broad range of journals which meets the learning, teaching and research needs of users. An increasing number of journals previously acquired in print are now licensed or purchased in e-formats in licensed databases. The Library prefers to purchase e-journals that are in high-demand based on the needs of the medical programs.


The general principles of selection apply also to multimedia. The ability to play videos has reduced due to a change in technology. DVDs and the use of streaming technology are now the preferred method of delivery. Special attention should be given to items which may quickly become outdated; this may be determined by the nature of the subject area/discipline according to how quickly information is outdated in each area.

Further weeding principles

  • Due to limited shelf space, print books are periodically reviewed and considered for withdrawal; criteria include usage of the item, local availability of electronic or other editions, and physical condition
  • Books are withdrawn when they meet a combination of the following criteria based on the librarian's judgment:
  • How often has the item circulated? If the item has not circulated for 3 years, it may not be worth keeping
  • How current is the item? Is it out of date, factually inaccurate, still relevant?
  • Are illustrations useful? Are they well done? Or, are there better alternatives?
  • Is the item a duplicate copy?
  • Physical condition, is the item torn, worn; pages or parts missing?
  • Materials that are not high in quality or appropriate anymore should be withdrawn
  • Reliability; or item represents a fad, and is no longer of interest to user groups
  • Information is no longer timely
  • Reconsider weeding if the work is of historical significance
  • Has unusual illustrations or the illustrations are by a well-known artist; local author or illustrator
  • Does the item describe local events, personalities or issues; is the item a gift?
  • some libraries have "graduated weeding" policies where items that might be useful are kept on a shelf to determine requests made for a period before complete withdrawl

See also Larson J. CREW: a weeding manual for modern libraries. Texas State Library and Archives Commission, 2008.


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