Blogger Abby Johnson

Collection Development During COVID

A neon sign that reads "We Buy Books & Records", the perfect motto for the collection development librarian
Photo by Thomas Hawk, cropped by Abby Johnson, used under a Creative Commons license

How has your collection development changed due to COVID? This is the question I’m hearing asked from lots of librarians around the country right now. Are you facing budget cuts? Have you shifted collection funds to digital materials instead of print? Are you ordering as many new books as you normally would? Do you even have space for all the new stuff with reduced traffic in your buildings and lower circulation? Let’s talk about it; I would love to hear!

I know this is different for every library. Lots of libraries are facing budget cuts. Libraries are in vastly different stages of buildings being open or closed depending on what’s going on in their community. Purchasing materials may be the last thing on your mind if you’re facing staffing shortages.

At my library, we’ve not had budget cuts YET. We’re still bracing ourselves that they may be coming, but our 2020 collection development budget did not change. I still placed my orders every week this past year, even when our building was completely closed and we were all working from home. 

I did move money from print to digital and spend more on digital books than I had previously. It’s still a super popular and growing area for us, so this change makes sense and I asked my director to move money from print to digital for next year and ongoing. A few months ago, I posted my tips about purchasing e-books for your library, so you may want to check that out if you’re involved with digital collection development at your library.

About halfway through the year, I realized that we weren’t going to have cuts to our 2020 collection development budgets and I had a lot to spend. And with our building still mostly closed at that point, our shelves were absolutely overflowing. I bought new books and they just sat on the shelves because it’s so hard to discover them just by searching our catalog. So I switched gears on purchasing and began to purchase replacements heavily. Brand new Pigeon books, a whole new set of Fly Guys, and I replaced any grubby copies of my own favorites that I was sending out over and over again in our Grab Bags

As I look into 2021, again with uncertainty about what will happen with our budget, I’m looking at starting the year with light purchasing. I usually figure up my weekly purchasing targets by dividing our total budget by the number of weeks we’ll be purchasing. For the first part of the year, I always go a little lighter and usually aim to spend about 75-85% of our true targets. That way if our midyear draw is smaller than we think it’s going to be (which sometimes happens), we’ve not overspent. That also helps me save a little money for the fall, which is traditionally the biggest publication season with lots of big-name authors and series publishing new books. If we end up with no (or light) budget cuts, hopefully we’ll be in a good position to bulk up our digital collection some more and continue replacing grubby favorites.

Another area I’m looking to in 2021 is weeding. With everything going on this year, weeding honestly got placed on the back burner. Because we are trying to be as safe as possible, our staff is still working on two separate teams. Introducing curbside services and rethinking basically every service we offer has left very little staff time or energy for upkeep tasks like weeding. On one hand, it irks me since weeding is a great behind-the-scenes task that would have been perfect to work on while our building has been closed. (I am very into optimization.) But that’s the reality of library services in a pandemic: sometimes it does not leave room for optimization and that’s okay. In 2021, I’m hoping to get us back on a monthly weeding schedule. We will need to carefully consider how this year (plus) of very low circulation affects our usage statistics going forward.

So, what’s going on with your collection development right now? How are you managing budget cuts or adjusting your purchasing due to pandemic changes? Let me know in comments – I’d love to hear what’s happening at your library!

This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competencies: IV. Knowledge, Curation, and Management of Materials.


  1. Joanne Friedman

    Thank you very much for this helpful information relevant to making major changes to collections. My department lacks sufficient floor space and shelf space, but needs to add more easy reader series in print. Also, we need to address when and how to use leveling for those families for whom this is important. It’s definitely the right time to make improvements.

    1. Sean G

      Joanne, same with my Library. Our children’s department lacks sufficient shelf space and adequate places for play/sitting/relaxing. We are currently looking at changing our easy reader collection and are a bit stuck. We plan on leveling books based on Fountas & Pinnell, by placing a color coded sticker over the spine label. The biggest issue we are facing is whether to create a non-fiction easy reader collection based on categories or dewey. Overall, we are working extremely hard to make sure our collections are weeded so we can eventually do a shifting project. It’s been challenging, even though we are closed to the public, because only a limited number of staff can be in the building at a time.

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