Awash in a sea of books? You need a collection development policy!

All right. Now you’ve got donated books flooding in like that little Dutch boy got tired of holding his finger in the dam, and your head is starting to spin. You bought all the stuff you need. You have books and a mission statement. So why doesn’t it feel like a library?

(image credit:

(image credit:

Because, as you now know, a library is more than a bunch of books on a shelf. It’s an intentional and curated information collection that has a specific audience and a purpose. This all sounds great on paper*, but all of a sudden, you’re running into problems and questions. What do you do when somebody donates a book that’s out of date or in bad condition? If your collection is for elementary schoolers, do you buy Make Love Like a Porn Star? If you have a commitment to diversity, what does diversity mean—will you equally represent the perspectives of disenfranchised minorities and the KKK?


What you need is a document that translates your philosophy and mission into concrete actions that you’ll take in selecting your books. This is called a COLLECTION DEVELOPMENT POLICY.

Developing a collection development policy was, for me, like trying to pull a magician’s scarf from a hat. Every time I thought I was done, I realized that there still one more thing that needed straightening out. So don’t be alarmed if yours expands! This is a guiding document that will form the backbone of your collection; it’s great to be as detailed as possible. But let’s start with the basics.


  1. Your selection philosophy: what kinds of books you will select and why
  2. Sources you will use to guide your selection
  3. Your library’s purpose and methods in selecting controversial material, and what you will do if that material is challenged (i.e., if someone attempts to ban or remove the book)
  4. How you will handle donations (including: your requirements for quality of donations, and what you will do with donated materials that do not meet these requirements)
  5. Your weeding policy: which materials you will get rid of, why, and how often

A good collection development policy does a couple of things: it guarantees that your collection adheres to your library’s mission statement, it protects you in case of a book challenge (libraryspeak for “someone asks to remove or ban a book in your library”), and helps you keep your library current, relevant, and user-centered.

There are lots of great collection development policies available online. The one I developed for the Skybrary is as follows. I’ll be frank: this is my baby, but it’s not the most scintillating read. If you’re working on your own coll dev policy or other project, though, I hope it’ll be a great resource. Read on!

I. Selection philosophy (or: how we determine what goes in the Skybrary):

The mission of the Skybrary is to promote education, information literacy, and reading culture. To that end, material in the collection should do at least one of the following:

  1. Support curriculum. Each semester, the Skybrarian will meet with the teachers and look through the offered courses, and strive to provide materials that will support and enrich course offerings. (For example: biographies of Amelia Earhart and Joan of Arc in conjunction with a women’s history class.)
  2. Support information use: maintain a current collection of reference materials, both in print and digitally.
  3. Support student interest. Education does not stop outside of the classroom! Through Google surveys and conversations with students, the Skybrarian should keep a running list of topics that Skybridge students are passionate about, and strive to provide books that support those passions. (For example: books on street art, edible plants, the Yakuza, etc.)
  4. Support passion for reading by including fun, engaging, and/or entertaining material that students want to read. The job of the Skybrarian is not to “improve” students by pushing the classics on them. If students learn to love reading, they will discover worlds all on their own. This includes letting them read what theyare interested in—if this is a Minecraft novelization or a Monster High book, more power to ‘em! The Skybrarian will determine student interest through ongoing conversations with students, a book request clipboard kept in the library, and a Google survey conducted no less than once per year.

II. Criteria for selection:

All books in the Skybrary should:

  • Be appropriate for the age, emotional development, ability level, learning styles, and social development of students.
  • Be of student interest.
  • Be in good physical condition.
  • Be current and factually accurate.
  • Not promote the oppression of, disenfranchisement of, or prejudice against others.

Breaking down the criteria:

  • Appropriate for ability level and learning styles
    • The Skybrary should offer books in a wide range of reading levels and formats to accommodate student need. As the budget is very small, digital and audio versions of books can only be made available on an as-needed basis, but should be made available for interested students.
  • Of student interest
    • Consider: is this book of interest to students ages 10-16? Just because a student can read a text doesn’t necessarily mean that it is relevant to their personal or academic interests. Equipment operating manuals, wry comedies about dating in one’s 40s, and old college accounting textbooks are a few examples. However, our students do have a wide variety of interests! Use your best judgment.
  • Be current and factually accurate
    • Outdated travel guides, business books from before the age of e-mail, anthropological texts written before the civil rights era, and similarly obsolete texts are not only unhelpful to students, but potentially harmful. In order to build information literacy, the Skybrary collection must be a trustworthy and reliable source of correct and accurate information.
  • In good condition
    • Books should be free of mold and insects, have intact covers and pages, and be free (or mostly free) of highlighting and writing. If the Skybrary receives a newer replacement copy of an old volume, that volume will be removed from the collection.

Diversity and books on controversial subjects:

In order to assist our student population in becoming global citizens by exposing them to a wide range of ideas, and in order to serve the needs of our entire student body, the Skybrary is proud to offer books that engage with diverse and controversial subject matter. To quote another great school library: “Selection of these materials will be based on the objectivity of the information they contain and the necessity of maintaining a diverse collection that represents various viewpoints, thus encouraging users to engage in critical analysis and to make judgments based on intellectual evaluation.

For more information on library selection policies in general, please see the following documents from the American Library Association:

―Evaluating Library Collections: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights‖ at: tinglibrary.cfm

―Diversity in Collection Development: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights‖ at: tycollection.cfm

–from the excellent Pineview High School Library Collection Development Policy:

III. Resources for selection:

In addition to conversations with students and teachers, Google surveys to gauge student interest, and the book request clipboard, the Skybrarian may use the following publications and bibliographies to guide material selection:

Review publications:

  •             Booklist
  •             Horn Book
  •             School Library Journal
  •             Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA)

Lists and Awards:

  •             ALA Top Ten
  •             YALSA Best of the Year/Best of the Best
  •             Printz Award
  •             Lonestar List
  •             TAYSHA List
  •             VOYA Top 10
  •             Margaret A. Edwards Award
  •             Coretta Scott King Award
  •             Pura Belpre Award
  •             National Book Award

Other resources:

IV. Donations:

The Skybrary thrives on book donations! Donated materials are subject to the same criteria as regularly selected materials. As such, donated items must: be of student interest, be age-appropriate, and be in good condition. Materials not chosen for inclusion under these criteria, or that are duplicates of books already held in the Skybrary, will be donated to Goodwill or another charitable organization, given to the art teacher to be used in projects, or placed in the “free” box.

V. Weeding (or, removing books from the Skybrary):

In order to keep our collection current, relevant, and powerfully serving our mission, the Skybrarian will “weed” the collection, which is the process of removing books from the collection.

Ideally, the Skybrarian will follow the CREW method of collection development: “Continuous Review, Evaluation and Weeding.” This means that the Skybrarian is constantly engaging with her collection and keeping it current and relevant. If there is no acting Skybrarian, the administration or volunteers should weed no less than once per school year.

In weeding, the Skybrarian or administration determines what to deselect using the MUSTI(E ) criteria:

M=     Misleading: factually inaccurate
U=      Ugly: worn beyond mending or rebinding
S=       Superseded by a new edition of by a much better book on the subject
T=       Trivial: of no discernible literary or scientific merit
I=        Irrelevant to the needs and interests of the library’s community
(E=       Elsewhere: the material is easily obtainable from another library)*


*E is in parentheses here because the Skybrary is not part of a school or public library system, and therefore items are not easily obtainable by this library from another library.

Weeded books will be donated to Goodwill or another charitable organization, given to the art teacher to be used in projects, or placed in the “free” box.

VI. Mature Readers:

The Skybrary is dedicated to supporting readers along the full spectrum of its community’s age range: grades 6-12. Some materials developmentally appropriate and/or necessary for older teens, however, may contain themes inappropriate for our youngest demographic. These books include texts that thoughtfully explore: “first time” sexual encounters, drug and alcohol use, relationship violence and/or sexual abuse, depression, and other topics that our older teen readers may be curious about and need a safe method of exploring vicariously through reading, and/or may be experiencing for the first times themselves and need the advice, solace, positive modeling and solidarity found in literature about people experiencing the same thing.

Therefore, rather than exclude the materials from the library altogether, these high-school-appropriate materials are given a call number beginning with “M” and placed on the MATURE READERS shelf in the office.

What designates a book “Mature”?

Consider the audience. If the material presented in the text, and the manner in which it is presented, both gives you pause and has no educational, social or psychological value for middle school students, place it on the Mature shelf.

Topics that may flag a book as “Mature” include:

  • explicit depictions of sex or heated sexual activity (The Difference Between You and Me; In the Shadow of Blackbirds)
  • a casual attitude toward sexual activity (A Song for Ella Grey)
  • drug use by protagonists (Looking for Alaska)
  • adult depictions of depression and suicidal tendencies (The Belljar)
  • sexual violence or other extreme violence (Speak)

If the Skybrarian is unfamiliar with a book, the website offers age-appropriateness ratings by parents, teachers and librarians. It is a good, though not infallible, resource. also lists the intended readers’ age for youth and children’s books (as determined by the publisher). Any books rated age 14 or older may be assigned to the Mature Readers section unless the Skybrarian decides otherwise.

Are all books containing this content appropriate for the “Mature” shelf?

No. Though high schoolers are relatively more developmentally advanced than junior high students, there’s still a wealth of reading material pitched explicitly toward adult sexual, psychological, and life experience. This material does not belong in a youth collection, even if the students are academically able to read the text.

The best example of this is 50 Shades of Grey, which multiple jokester students nominated in the “What do you want to see in the Skybridge Library?” survey in spring 2015. A respectful first-time sexual experience narrative is developmentally appropriate for this age group. A trilogy focused on the darker, nuanced elements of kink and sexual politics is not emotionally or developmentally appropriate. Use your best judgment.

Some guiding questions to determine if a book is “Mature,” or just too adult for the collection:

  • Does this book contain educational, social or psychological value for high school students?
  • Who is the publisher? Did this book come out from a teen imprint, or an adult imprint?
  • The Skybrary contains plenty of books from adult imprints (for example, Of Mice and Men), but checking the imprint can serve as an indicator of intended audience when evaluating a book with darker or more adult themes.
  • What do other youth educators and librarians think? Check Goodreads or ask around on the YALSA list-serve if you’re uncertain.

Who can borrow a “Mature” book?

Mature Readers material circulates normally to all high schoolers, as well as to middle schoolers whose parents give written permission. For middle schoolers, permission may be given on a general, rather than per-book, basis.

Some Skybridge students take a mix of high school and middle school classes. For these students, use of the Mature Readers section may be determined by the student’s Composition class level, or at the administrator’s discretion.

Mature Readers material is subject to the same circulation and renewal policies as non-Mature books.


Questions? Comments? What’s in your collection development policy? Share below!


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