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Survival Guide for Idaho Librarians: Collection Management

A quick-start ready reference source for the accidental public library director or school librarian in Idaho

Collection Management

The Collection:  Or, Do You Have ....?

There is only one way to learn about your library's collection. You have to use it. The longer you work in your library the better you will know your collection. There are some ways to quickly learn what you have.  Read the following document to gain tips in learning about your collection.

Acquisitions:  Or, More Books for the Buck

Once you know what is in your collection, how do you know what to add to it? The first thing to do is to look at the library's collection development policy. If one exists. This may tell you very specifically about the materials that you are expected to buy. If no such policy exists, ask your board to give you some general guidelines until they can complete a full policy. Read the following document for more information about library acquisitions.

Catalog:  Or, I Know We've Got It Somewhere!

About the Library Catalog
The library catalog is the tool used for inventory and tracking of library materials.  What started as a printed, card-based system has evolved over time to become the Library Management System (LMS) or Integrated Library System (ILS).  The ILS is the source of a number of library functions. Depending on the brand of ILS and the available features of that brand, the ILS might include:

Bibliographic records – This is the inventory function of the system. Each bibliographic record identifies an item available through the library.  For example, the bibliographic record for a book will include the title, author, publisher, number of page, materials type (book, ebook, audio recording, etc.), physical size, ISBN, and a unique identifier for the book such as a library barcode. The barcode for physical items helps to distinguish items that may be similar, such as two copies of the same book. The bibliographic record will also contain a call number and other location information that helps to identify the location of an item when it is at the library.  Bibliographic records in the ILS are most commonly in MARC format.  Learn more about MARC at in the Cataloging with MARC tab in this guide..

Item records – Sometimes referred to as holdings records, these are a next step to the bibliographic record. Where the bibliographic record describes the item, the holdings information ties into the circulation functions to let the library staff and users know where a book is supposed to be and the item’s availability.  The item record is what identifies the shelf location (3rd floor? Oversized items? Branch? Reference?), defines status (Lost? Withdrawn? Checked out? Special Rules?), and identifies other important details of the particular item in question, especially when it comes grouping the item with particular circulation policies.

Because most library items are meant for use by library patrons, the ILS will also include patron records, policy settings, and tracking functions to facilitate the process of loaning and returning library materials.

Patron records – An individual customer of the library, or sometimes a family group, will have a patron record in the ILS.  The patron record contains information about the person who will be responsible for the items they check out from the library.  Generally, this means name, contact information, and a status identifier.  Sometimes library policies will have different details for different users like adults, children, staff, non-residents, etc.  By identifying the status, the system can be set up to automatically carry out different functions depending on the user (more on this in policy settings).  Each patron record will also have a unique identifier, usually a patron barcode.

Policy settings – The ILS will usually have options to set different policies for different user groups or materials types.  A library may choose to have a 4-week checkout period for most materials, but only allow 2 weeks for the most recently released titles.  Similarly in academic settings, there may be different check-out periods for teachers and students. If patron status and material types are identified in the patron and item records, the ILS will be able to assign due dates automatically.

Sometimes the ILS has optional features that tie to library acquisitions – the process of buying to adding materials to the library.  Some acquisitions modules tie to the systems/vendors through which library staff will purchase materials.  When this happens, some bibliographic information is added to the ILS even before the item is received.  The item’s status will indicate it is unavailable, but purchased. 

The ILS will have a number of options for creating reports to evaluate how well the library is doing in terms of meeting organizational goals. Reports might show the number of items checked out in a period of time, the number of library card holders that have check out materials, the balance of inventory across different subject areas, totals of overdue fines, and a great deal more information. 

Overall, the ILS is the tool that helps the library to identify its inventory, track where materials are at any given time, and create efficiencies for library patrons and staff for managing the library collection. 

Cataloging is the process used to describe items and add them to the catalog.

Why catalog?

  • So we can find what is in the library.
  • So our users can find what is in the library.
  • So we have an inventory of what is owned by the library.
  • So we can track who has used the items from the library.

Each item in the library collection should be described and inventoried.
Where this was once done using 3 x 5 inch cards, most libraries now use computer software.  The catalog, then, is really more of a database.

A database (the catalog) is made up of records. Each record has fields and, possibly, sub-fields.  The fields each represent a characteristic about the item being described.

Libraries use MARC as the accepted format for the records in library catalogs. MARC is Machine Readable Cataloging. It was developed in the 1960s.  It is a standard – a set of rules that defines the structure of a bibliographic catalog.

The rules create a template so when machines go through the record, the machine always knows that the title is going to be in a consistent location.  In this way, whether the record is in a catalog designed by Koha, Destiny, Sirsi, or another automation vendor, we can rely on the fact that the title is going to be in the 245 field. 

Basic MARC Tags

In MARC,the high level fields are known as "tags."  Tags are 3-digit numbers broken down into the following blocks:

0xx Control Information
Fields that contain standardized numbers that uniquely identify an item. Can also include fields for other coded information.
1xx Main Entry The primary access point in a record. There can be only one in each record.
2xx Titles
Includes the title (245 field), the bibliographic record, translated titles and abbreviated titles. 2xx fields also describe publishing information and edition.
3xx Physical Description May include a description of the physical item including number of pages, physical size, publication, and frequency.
4xx Series Statement If the item is a part of a series, it is recorded here. This does not, however, guarantee that it can be found by the series name in all catalogs. For that, catalogers will want to include the series information in the 8xx fields, too.
5xx Notes Used for notes about the item including summary, chapter listings, and target audience.
6xx Subject Headings Lists the subjects covered by the item.  Most subject headings come from a common subject thesaurus of subject heading system like Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH).
7xx Added Entries Additional access points describing an item such as additional author names.
8xx Series Added Entries If an item is part of a series, include the series name here. This can also be used to identify access for electronic records.
9xx Local Fields If a library needs to add more descriptors for an item and a field for that descriptor does not already exist, that can be added here.  This is where a library may want to include local processing information or notes.

Some common tags you will encounter are:

  • 010: LCCN [Library of Congress number (example: 2010007504)]
  • 020: ISBN [10-digit and/or 13-digit number]
  • 022: ISSN
  • 100: Author info
  • 245: Title info
  • 250: Edition info
  • 260: Publishing info
  • 300: Physical description [length; contents; height of material)
  • 490: Series statement [Series name & Volume number]
  • 500: Notes [General]
  • 505: Content notes [multiple chapters; anthology; etc]
  • 520: Summary of the book
  • 600: Subject Added Entry [Personal Name]
  • 700: Personal Name

Options for Cataloging

  • Purchase the records - purchase MARC records from the suppliers when purchasing books or other materials for the library.
  • Original cataloging - using the record template in the ILS (catalog), create a record from scratch for items being added to the library collection.
  • Copy cataloging - acquire the MARC records from other sources, such as OCLC, available through subscription membership.

Public Library Partnerships Project

The Digital Public Library of America’s Public Library Partnerships Project (PLPP), funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, worked with existing DPLA Service Hubs to provide digital skills training for public librarians and connect them sustainably with state and regional resources for digitizing, describing, and exhibiting their cultural heritage content.  

In this project, DPLA worked with state and regional Hubs Digital Commonwealth, Digital Library of Georgia, Minnesota Digital Library, Montana Memory Project, and Mountain West Digital Library to write and iterate a workshop curriculum based on documented best practices. This curriculum is available in a self-guided version intended for digitization beginners. Please feel free to share, reuse, and adapt.

To access the curriculum go to

Book Donations

Resources for donating unwanted or duplicate materials:
Duplicates Exchange Union hosted/maintained by ALA/ALCTS
"The Language Project"  The organization is building English language libraries in Laos and are doing very good work. They are interested in donations of specific books (they have a wish list), book covers and old digital cameras.
LibGuide about book donation programs.