General Selection Guidelines

The Libraries develop collections, which support the curricular and research programs of the University. Since it, along with research libraries at other universities, does not have sufficient resources to acquire everything published in areas pertinent to the Universities program, library materials selectors employ the following general criteria when evaluating titles to be added or removed from the collections. Particular criteria assume greater or lesser importance depending on the type of material under consideration, the resources available, the stated acquisitions commitment level as detailed elsewhere in this policy statement and the subject matter covered.

  1. Relevance to the actual or potential needs of Columbia’s educational and research programs
    Library materials selectors maintain close ties with the departments, institutes, and research programs, which comprise the primary user group for a particular subject or area. Additionally, they keep, for resource development purposes, records of research activities, grant received, and the curriculum for their areas. This information permits the selectors to anticipate and provide for current and changing needs of Columbia’s faculty and students.
  2. Scope and content
    Selectors must gauge each acquisition in terms of the breadth and depth of information needed by their primary user groups and quality of the research being presented. Overall, however, library materials selectors comprehensively collect important general monographs related to the research interests of the Columbia community, and selectively acquire more specialized treatments. Similarly, for periodicals, preference is given to titles whose coverage of sufficient breadth to be of use and interest to an entire department, while those of interest to a small number of individuals, are collected selectively.
  3. Depth of the existing collection in the subject and local availability of the item
    When considering the purchase of a new title, a selector must also consider the strengths and weaknesses of the existing collection in which the new title will be located. While we do generally build upon strengths, unneeded redundancy is avoided. We do purchase duplicates where high use is expected. Availability of expensive or tangential titles through consortial arrangements is also considered and an access instead of ownership option may be considered.
  4. Quality
    The quality of a title must be evaluated weighing several subjective factors collectively, i.e., its sponsorship; scholarship; level of creativity; lasting value; the reputation of the author, the publisher, the contributors, the editorial board; the quality and importance of the illustrations; bibliographies included, etc. None of these are the deciding factor alone but each are considered as they contribute to or detracts from the overall quality of the item under consideration.
  5. Currency and timeliness
    For many disciplines, particularly the sciences require up-to-date information. In those areas, preference is given to titles which report new and revised information in a timely fashion.
  6. Bibliographic accessibility
    The contents of periodicals, particularly, require bibliographic indexing and abstracting (I/A) tools to insure sufficient user access. Inclusion or exclusion from the major I/A tools is one of characteristic employed by selectors when evaluating the subscription to a periodical magazine or journal.
  7. Price
    The value of a book, periodical, newspaper, etc. to the collection cannot be measured only by considering its price. The price, however, in addition to the other criteria mentioned here, has to be considered when evaluating a purchase. When evaluating "free" materials, the cost of acquisitions processing, cataloging, shelving, and preservation must also be considered.
  8. Language and country of origin
    The language of the primary and secondary users of each title under consideration must be considered. The Libraries do collect social science and humanities materials in most languages to support its extensive area studies programs.


Additional Policies


Generally a single copy of each title is acquired, unless sufficient demand for multiple copies can be projected.


Library materials can always add a new periodical if they cancel another title (prior to our paying for it) of equivalent value.  Assuming a fund did not run a deficit in the previous budget year, selectors can, in general, safely assume that about 2% in value of the previous year's subscriptions will cease publication.  Another 2% in new periodicals can therefore be initiated annually.  If a fund ran a deficit in the previous year, unless it receives a significant increase (in new money or transferred money) to cover both the deficit and at least an 8% inflationary increase allowance, no new subscriptions can be initiated in the subsequent year.  If a fund ran a surplus in the previous year, and projections about inflation suggest a continued surplus using the new allocation (which likely was reduced to reflect the absence of need to continue the previous allocation), new subscriptions can be initiated up to the projected surplus amount.


Decisions to discard specific items, like decisions to acquire new titles for the collection, are made within the context of the total collection policy, so that the integrity of the total collection is not impaired but in fact may be enhanced when unneeded materials are removed from the collections.  Materials identified for discard in one library are first made available to other units of the University libraries; if there is no interest at this level, these materials may be used for exchange with other institutions, sold to students or dealers, given to other libraries, or in some other way applied to the University's benefit.  In some instances, materials may be so deteriorated or otherwise useless that disposal through any of the above channels is not possible; such materials may simply be discarded.