Skip to content

How to Build a Better Collection: Practical Tips on Incorporating Diversity, Equity and Inclusion into Collection Development Workflows

December 3, 2019
The Self-Regulating Wind-Mill

Detail image from Scientific American 1, no. 2 (Sept. 4, 1845): p. 1. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Librarians at Villanova University’s library have begun to talk about what it means to have diversity as a core value when it comes to collection development. The DEI focus up to now has been on raising awareness through programming and displays, diversify staffing, and increasing cultural competencies among our current staff. A recent conversation with a colleague revolved around weighing the LC classification system versus the LC subject headings as a means of doing DEI gap analysis. It was agreed both are flawed methods, because they can be a skewed metric for many reasons and are inherently representative of the dominant political culture. The Change the Subject documentary was still fresh in our minds. How then do we get started?

The findings of Ciszek and Young (2010) still seem to apply: “Libraries wishing to assess a collection for diversity should have a clear definition of diversity in place before assessment. Many collection assessment methods useful for determining the diversity of a collection are not applicable for large libraries. Additional tools may need to be developed to facilitate this type of assessment in the future, especially at large libraries.” The main practical piece of advice is to have a controlled vocabulary for talking about what exactly DEI means for your library.

Two very insightful points made by Anne Doherty in a 2019 Choice360 webinar, Creating an Inclusive Collection: Selecting and Evaluating Diverse Resources, were, “scarcity of time and resources” and “turning outward to expand inclusivity.” The former is mentioned whenever the idea of bringing DEI into focus concerning collection building, but as she says this is a “challenge which I think could be a bullet point on any library presentation about library workflows.” However instead of letting this challenge inhibit the process she states recognizing this “at the start can help you as you define how you want to move forward.” The latter idea is one she credits as coming from the Libraries Transforming Communities initiative which allows libraries to improve their community engagement. (See the simple Turn Outward assessment.) Doherty goes on to say Turing Outward is a phrase and terminology “predominantly seen in public libraries” but to turn outward can be an inspirational consideration for every library when it comes to DEI and collection development.

Cruz (2019) makes several suggestions “for building and maintaining a diverse collection.” Beginning with establishing a committee charged with evaluation and modification of the collection for diversity. Actively identify smaller publishers and discover niche sources for DEI-related materials. Gather feedback from the patrons of the library. Get professional help assessing “the collection for diversity criteria.” Develop a ‘diversity selection criterion’ to be sure what’s collected includes divergent points of view. Use a ‘diversity acquisition code’ to evaluate what monies have been spent on DEI acquisitions and to make the case if a larger budget is required to ensure “ideas from non-dominant sources” are represented and “diverse items” are collected. Cruz goes on to elaborate the central role distinctive collections can and should have in diversifying the library’s holdings overall, which seems a wise approach but not one that works well for every library.

However, in response to the ALA’s recently revised interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights related to diversity in collection development and the library’s own strategic objective to “diversify the collection,” librarians at the Sherwood Public Library did several things on a shoestring budget that all libraries can consider doing:

  • Created separate fund for DEI collection building and sought grant funding
  • Prioritized filling gaps in “Own Voices titles,” i.e., books “authored by those who share a diverse, minority, or marginalized trait with their protagonist”
  • Monitored new media sources, such as e-journals, blogs, podcasts, and independent book publisher’s websites, for book reviews and award announcements related to “marginalized authors”
  • Selected books based on analysis of curated lists which highlight “a broad range of voices, perspectives, and authors representing ethnic diversity, all genders and sexualities, and all abilities.”
  • Acquired hard-to-get books from a wide range of smaller publishers at an international book fair
  • Expanded world languages represented in the collection based on data about the community the library serves
  • Adjusted deselection criteria for DEI books, to allow them more time to circulate



Ciszek, Matthew P., and Courtney L. Young. “Diversity Collection Assessment in Large Academic Libraries.” Collection Building 29, no. 4 (October 12, 2010): 154–61.

Creating an Inclusive Collection: Selecting and Evaluating Diverse Resources. ACRL-Choice webinar. Recorded May 21, 2019.

Cruz, Alice M. “Intentional Integration of Diversity Ideals in Academic Libraries: A Literature Review.” The Journal of Academic Librarianship 45, no. 3 (May 2019): 220–27.

“Diverse Collections: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights.” American Library Association. Adopted July 14, 1982, by the ALA Council; amended January 10, 1990; July 2, 2008; July 1, 2014 under previous name “Diversity in Collection Development”; and June 25, 2019.

Garcia, Crystal, and Adrienne Calkins. “Figuring Out Where to Start, and How: One Library’s DEI Strategies.” OLA Quarterly 25, no. 2 (October 28, 2019).



Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: