Collection Development FAQs

What is Collection Development?
Who are the Collection Developers?
How do the collections librarians decide what to buy?
Where are the collections housed and how are they organized?
Who pays?
How do I know what the collections include in my discipline or major?
How do I learn about the types of publications and resources that the Library will acquire?
Are there things that the Library will not acquire?
What if you don’t have what I need?


What is Collection Development?

Collection development is the term applied to the set of practices employed by libraries to build, manage and maintain collections resources. These include:

  • selecting titles to acquire in all formats
  • establishing and managing approval plans
  • monitoring the curriculum and developing relationships with the faculty who shape it
  • monitoring changes in publishing to anticipate their impact on Wellesley’s readers
  • developing the fiscal resources required to support these needs
  • determining which need conservation treatment or replacement
  • selecting resources to be reformatted to expand their utility and extend their usefulness
  • selecting titles to withdraw from the collection
  • negotiating license terms that are cost-effective and permit the broadest possible use
  • determining the titles that are moved to off-campus storage and develop recall mechanisms that meet research needs
  • establishing cooperative agreements with other libraries to expand access to research materials for Wellesley’s users

Who are the Collection Developers?

Subject specialists in the Library Collections and the Research and Instructional Services groups share responsibility for collection development. While the RIS specialists are responsible for building the reference collections, the LC specialists are responsible for the general collections, with responsibility for selecting material in all formats to support the various subject disciplines taught at Wellesley. They work closely with faculty to anticipate evolving curricular needs. Since faculty involvement in collection building and decision-making is critical, the collections librarians serve as liaisons from the library to the academic departments; conversely, the department chairs appoint faculty members to serve as their library liaison. Students are encouraged to recommend resources that they need to do coursework and research. In addition to building strong collections, the collections librarians’ goals are to encourage faculty and student involvement in collection development, to stimulate their use of library resources, and to provide ways that they can contribute their ideas and recommendations about the library’s holdings.

To ensure that the excellence of this outstanding resource is sustained, members of the College community are encouraged to join the collections librarians in the effort to enrich the collections by suggesting items for purchase.

How do the collections librarians decide what to buy?

In selecting material for the collection, the collections librarians are guided by these priorities:

  • Support for the curriculum and the research needs of students are the primary focus
  • The basic research needs of the faculty
  • The basic informational needs of College staff
  • Diversity of opinion
  • While focusing on supporting the curriculum, we attempt to achieve balance by collecting in interdisciplinary and peripheral subjects to ensure that Wellesley researchers are able to discover new areas of inquiry and begin their exploration of them on campus
  • We will establish relationships with other libraries and information providers to meet user needs for items that we do not hold on campus.


A number of factors guide collections librarians in ordering materials for the collection:

  • knowledge of the subject discipline
  • knowledge of the curriculum of the College
  • knowledge of the existing resources in the collection
  • the research needs of students
  • awareness of the research interests of faculty
  • understanding of the teaching methods used by the faculty in their subject disciplines
  • the financial resources available
  • knowledge of resources held in other local libraries


They also apply selection criteria to their decisions:

  • The subject is relevant to the curriculum and meets the basic research needs of the community
  • The treatment is authoritative and includes the expected scholarly apparatus (notes, bibliography, etc.)
  • It was published by a reputable publisher who upholds high standards of scholarship in accepting manuscripts for publication
  • The format is appropriate to the content and will meet user needs
  • It was written in a language that is taught at Wellesley
  • The price is reasonable and, for subscriptions, sustainable over time
  • Production quality is the best available
  • License terms permit the broadest possible use

The collections librarians use a variety of sources to learn about new publications and items needed by Wellesley scholars:

  • Faculty and student requests
  • Publisher catalogs, announcements, and online alerts
  • General and subject-specific book review sources (e.g., CHOICE reviews,New York Times Book Review, Times Literary Supplement, Booklist,Notes)
  • Websites of online vendors and booksellers
  • Wellesley maintains print approval plans whereby books are acquired according to carefully constructed profiles by discipline, publisher, reading level, etc. Books that match our profile are supplied as they are published; information about titles that fall outside of the plan’s parameters is supplied by the vendor and used by selectors to make additional purchase decisions.
  • Titles requested at reference desks and via interlibrary loan
  • Recent bibliographies

All of these factors and criteria are also applied to gifts.

Where are the collections housed and how are they organized?

While composed of five physical spaces (Clapp Library, Art Library, Astronomy Library, Music Library and Science Library), there is one Wellesley College Library. Users of the library draw upon all resources of the libraries in the system as needed to support their research. Duplication of titles across the library branches is reserved for important multi-disciplinary reference works.

The Library collections are organized and located through the classification and call number system. Most of the general collections materials are classified in the Library of Congress system; some portions of the collection are in the Dewey Decimal System and the Government Documents collection is organized by U. S. Superintendent of Documents (SuDOCs) scheme. Call numbers guide the placement of books, periodicals and media by library:

  • Materials classified as art are shelved primarily in the Art Library
  • Specialized astronomy titles are housed in the Astronomy Library in Whitin Observatory
  • Humanities and most social sciences are shelved in Clapp Library
  • Music books, scores and sound recordings are housed in the Music Library
  • Science and most psychology titles are shelved in the Science Library

You can see the library's Collection Statistics for further information.

Who pays?

Responsibility for the development and allocation of the Library’s collection budget lies with the CIO & Associate Provost. The budget is composed of general College revenues and a large number of endowed funds and gifts. While a large portion of the budget is devoted to supporting the ongoing costs of subscriptions to journals and electronic databases, a significant amount is allocated to the academic departments to support the acquisition of books and other print and non-print resources needed to support teaching, student research and basic faculty research in their discipline. The collection librarians and the faculty share these budgets, working together to ensure that the funds are expended fully to best meet curricular needs. All works acquired through these departmental allocations are cataloged and added to the Library’s collections. A small amount of funding is reserved to support multi-disciplinary needs that cannot be met by the departmental allocations. Each month the library sends a report on their budget to the chair and faculty library liaison of each academic department.

Since the costs of library materials have historically increased at rates that exceed the cost of living, it is increasingly difficult to meet all of the needs of the community. Each year we evaluate the deployment of resources to ensure that we continue to meet the core needs. Constraints on growth of the collections budget have required that we make decisions about funding the highest-priority needs and collect very selectively beyond that core. The Collection Development policy outlines the criteria and priorities that we employ to do this.

How do I know what the collections include in my discipline or major?

The library’s catalog provides access to all resources acquired in all subjects. There are also descriptions of the resources available in the College ArchivesSpecial Collections, and the Government Documents Collection.

How do I learn about the types of publications and resources that the Library will acquire?
For guidelines by form or format, please see the collection development policy.

Are there things that the Library will not acquire?

Yes, items are usually not acquired due to their readership level (e.g., pre-college, popular, highly-specialized), format (e.g. workbooks, ephemera) or high cost. This list is reviewed continually to ensure that they do not deter the study or research efforts of our patrons. These limits do not extend to interlibrary loan, which can be the antidote to these restrictions.

What if you don’t have what I need?

The library is committed to helping researchers locate the material that they need that is not in the collection of the College. Students, faculty and staff can request books, copies of journal articles, book chapters, dissertation, media, etc. not owned by the library through Interlibrary Loan