About the Collection Development Department

Robarts Library
University of Toronto Library
130 St. George St.
Toronto, Ontario
M5S 1A5
phone: 416-978-7640
fax: 416-946-0635


The Book Selection Department, as the Collection Development Department was called until 1991, was set up late in 1965. The year 1966/7 was largely a period of organization, during which existing staff took on new responsibilities, new staff were recruited, and approval plans (known at the University of Toronto as Dealer Selection Orders or DSOs) were established. The number of active DSOs rose from one in July 1966 to 34 by June 1967. Since then, their number has grown as the Department revised systematic acquisition policies to include areas outside Europe and North America.

The establishment of the Department was the Library's response to an unprecedented expansion during the 1960s of graduate programmes at the University of Toronto, many of them in non-traditional fields. It was clear that the old Acquisitions Department, which was geared mainly to processing individual faculty requests on a first-come, first-served basis for as long as the year's book budget lasted, could not meet the more complex collection needs of a growing University, and was also wasteful and inefficient. It was felt that the University's increasing needs would best be met by specialized selectors who would be responsible for collection development in their designated areas. The business aspect of acquisitions – ordering, receiving, paying invoices and book-keeping – was assigned to a newly-established Order Department. In recent years, the Collection Development Department has moved to a more decentralized or distributed collection building model of selection, one that draws on the subject and language expertise of professional librarians across the central library system. Where the language expertise among Library staff is lacking, partnerships with other academic institutions have been undertaken to provide the needed specialization. A case in point is our collaborative arrangement with the Columbia University research library in the United States to have one of its librarians select Tibetan material for our collections.

The main activity of the Collection Development Department is selection of library materials both within and outside the framework of the approval plan system. This includes the evaluation and selection of electronic resources, in addition to print and microform. Less obviously, the Department deals with many questions and problems concerned with acquisitions that are not simply matters of book-keeping or record-keeping. Selectors also make decisions on the acceptance of gifts and gift collections, and are responsible for retrospective collection development. Knowledge of the antiquarian book trade and ingenuity in maintaining and spending funds are aspects of this work, and the Library also benefits from the selectors' skill in obtaining donations-in-kind and grants in support of specialized collections. This subject expertise also allows the selectors to organize or contribute to exhibitions in Robarts Library and in the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library; these exhibitions and their catalogues are an important source of publicity for the Library and the University.

The continuing assessment of the Library's collections is a crucial part of the work of the Department. Each year a number of the University's graduate programmes come under review, and the appropriate selectors must present a statement of the Library's ability to support them. Staff also assemble bibliographic and bibliometric information to assist in assessing the strength of the collections and to evaluate the various electronic journal and e-book packages to which the Library subscribes. This ongoing assessment ensures that the Library meets the teaching, learning and research needs of faculty and students.

All of the Collection Development Department's staff deal regularly with a varied clientele of Library colleagues, faculty, candidates for faculty positions, students, members of the public, potential and actual donors, booksellers, publishers' representatives, visiting scholars, and librarians from all over the world. They give tours of the Library, explain acquisitions practices, policies and procedures to users, and provide specialized reference service to faculty, students, other Library departments, and to the departmental libraries. The combined experience of its staff allows the Collection Development Department to make an essential contribution to the excellence of the Library's services.

The Dealer Selection Order System (Approval plans)

For the past fifty years, the Library's main source of currently published works has been its various DSOs, the purpose of which is to ensure as comprehensive a coverage of the world's important new publications as possible, while at the same time reducing ordering and book-keeping procedures to a minimum. The DSOs mostly cover individual countries or groups of countries; in addition there are some special DSOs for music scores, atlases, and certain publishers. While most DSOs are with commercial agents who have a proven record of good service, the Library also participates in co-operative programmes operated by the US Library of Congress, but most DSOs are with commercial agents who have a proven record of good service.

Dealers are authorized to select and send important new publications first produced in their respective countries which, in their treatment and subject interest, are felt to be of university research quality. They are provided with lists of the subjects that comprise our interests, and are instructed not to exceed the sum allocated to each DSO without our written authorization. The Library reserves the right to return any book it deems to fall outside the provisions of the parameters of the plan.

Additional selections made by librarians in the Department on the DSOs are always necessary either for technical reasons or because they are borderline cases which dealers may prefer to leave to our judgement. Most importantly, our additional selections enable us to counterbalance an individual dealer's deficiencies and ensure an overall consistency. Some dealers are generally cautious in all fields. Others are cautious in some fields but not in others. The wide variation is shown by the fact that our additional selections amount to as much as 60% in some cases, and to as little as 10% in others. The average is about 40%.

Basic principles underlying acquisition of current books by the DSO system

  1. That it is feasible to collect comprehensively in any field only when books are first published, since only then is the full range of what is published readily available.
  2. That this form of acquisition lends itself to procedural simplifications, which result in very significant savings in time and money.
  3. That this form of acquisition is best able to react immediately and flexibly to changes in publication patterns.