Blogger Abby Johnson

Collection Development Librarian, Get Out of Your Office!

Was I the last collection development librarian stuck to my desk in our collection development office? In case I’m not, I’m here to give the call to action: get out from behind your desk! I made this a priority this year and it’s completely changed how I was managing our collection.

Abby Johnson, collection development librarian, pulls books for patrons!
Abby Johnson, collection development librarian, pulls books for patrons!

A few years ago, our library restructured and created our first collection development librarian position. And yes, there was only one. I was hired for the position of doing all collection development for my library. Children’s, adult, teen, print, digital, periodical – you name it, it was my job. And I did the best I could to keep the lines of communication with our front line staff open. One of the first things I did was create an online form staff (and eventually patrons) could fill out to suggest items for purchase. I put together a collection committee of interested staff members and met with them monthly to get their suggestions or talk about any issues. I was touching base regularly-ish with our librarians. I had done my best to open lines of communication. It worked okay, or so I thought…

In June, while our library’s doors were closed due to COVID, I started our Grab Bag program and began taking patron emails myself and filling the grab bags. And it completely changed how I was doing collection development. 

Hearing first hand from patrons what they want (so many unicorn lovers! So many Wimpy Kid fans!) was a game-changer. And having to actually be the one pulling books (and seeing how many of our popular favorites were grubby and falling apart after so many checkouts) got me in touch with the collection in a way that secondhand suggestions never could. I could have told you that kids love Diary of a Wimpy Kid, but until I was the one pulling our copies and seeing how beat-up most of them were or looking for readalikes and realizing how few copies we had of my favorite diverse selections, I didn’t realize what our needs truly were.

I started ordering lots more replacements for grubby books with super high checkouts. All the craft books we had looked so old and dated, so I ordered new ones. I bought every Mickey Mouse picture book or easy reader I could find (we had several requests for Mickey Mouse and almost nothing at all in our collection). Knowing what patrons were actually asking for and what our books on those topics looked like helped me to invest in titles I knew people would want. 

Beyond improving my collection development techniques, I love front line service because I want to get the newest amazing books into patrons’ hands. I know I can email staff when I’ve just gotten in a particularly amazing new series. But I know it still may not come to mind for them weeks later when a patron asks. Whereas if I’m answering the question, I may think of it because our collection is always forefront in my mind. I was thrilled to be able to give a family a new picture book I’d just ordered and ask them to tell me what they thought about it. 

We’ve just hired a second collection development librarian to take half the stuff off my plate. And when I hashed out the job description with my director, weekly reference desk service was on my list of essential duties for both the new position and mine. While our services are limited due to the pandemic, that might look more behind-the-scenes like filling grab bags and answering emails. As soon as we open our youth areas, I will be smiling from behind the children’s desk every week! 

This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competencies: I. Commitment to Client Group, II. Reference and User Services, IV. Collection Knowledge and Management, and VII. Professionalism and Professional Development.


  1. Alison Francis

    HI Abby,

    I enjoyed reading about your experience choosing books based on patrons’ reading preferences! I am curious about your “Grab Bag” program. It sounds intriguing; what does it consist of?


    1. Abby Johnson

      Hi Alison! Great question! Here’s a link to the ALSC Blog post in which I wrote about our Grab Bags (we called them Book Care Packages at the time):

      Let me know if you have any questions!

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