Selection Criteria

Every library — academic, public, and school (public, private, charter, independent, and international) — should have a comprehensive written policy that guides the selection, deselection or weeding, and reconsideration of library resources. The most valuable selection policy is current; it is reviewed and revised on a regular basis; and it is familiar to all members of a library’s staff. The policy should be approved by the library’s governing board or other policy-making body and disseminated widely for understanding by all stakeholders.

Selection & Reconsideration Policy Toolkit for Public, School, & Academic Libraries

For library professionals to make informed choices, selection policies for all types of libraries — public libraries, academic libraries, technical school libraries, and school libraries (public and private) — should include criteria to guide in the resource selection process. The criteria should be a blend of general, specific, and technical to enable library staff to select materials in all subject areas and formats. In addition to criteria such as appropriateness to the age and level of the user, librarians must also consider creating a collection that reflects diversity of ideas and authors as well as being reflective of the population the library serves.

Guidance on Selection Criteria

Selection policies should include specific criteria to guide professionals in purchasing items. The criteria should be relevant to the library’s objectives: excellence (artistic, literary, visual, etc.), appropriateness to level of user, authoritative and varying perspectives on controversial issues, accessibility, and ability to stimulate further intellectual and social development. Librarians should consider authenticity, public demand, general interest, content, and circumstances of use. For libraries serving minors, librarians should consider age, social and emotional development, intellectual level, interest level, and reading level. Technical criteria should be included in the policy (for example, clarity of sound in audio materials, quality of cinematography in video, and quality of graphics in games).

Public Library Selection Criteria

By considering a range of criteria in selection, public libraries will be able to create a collection that serves the community and makes the best use of their resources. There are some general criteria for selection that apply, but each organization will need to determine the relative importance of these criteria for their community. General, content specific and/or special to particular collections, these considerations will serve as guiding factors when making decisions about how best to invest resources to maximize the impact of the library’s collection.

Example: Public Library Selection Criteria

Public libraries are diverse and represent a broad demographic. With a patron base that can include infants to the elderly, selection criteria should take into account the various interests and needs of the patrons the library serves. Criteria for selection of materials should also depend on the goals and mission of that particular library/system. In general, public libraries provide collections containing a wide variety of material formats, including print, audio-visual, and electronic. In selecting materials and developing collections for adults, as well as for children and teens, library staff includes materials that represent the broad range of human experience, reflecting the ethnic, religious, racial, and socio-economic diversity not only of the region it serves but also the larger global perspective. Library collections will provide a broad range of opinion on current issues.

Collections contain popular works, classic works that have withstood the test of time, and other materials of general interest. Works are not excluded or included in the collection based solely on subject matter or on political, religious, or ideological grounds. In building collections, library staff is guided by the principle of selection, rather than censorship. Furthermore, the selection of a given item for a library’s collections should not be interpreted as an endorsement of a particular viewpoint.

To build a collection of merit, materials are evaluated according to one or more of the following standards. An item need not meet all of these criteria in order to be acceptable.

General Criteria:

  • Present and potential relevance to community needs
  • Suitability of physical form for library use
  • Suitability of subject and style for intended audience
  • Cost
  • Importance as a document of the times
  • Relation to the existing collection and to other materials on the subject
  • Attention by critics and reviewers
  • Potential user appeal
  • Requests by library patrons

Content Criteria:

  • Authority
  • Comprehensiveness and depth of treatment
  • Skill, competence, and purpose of the author
  • Reputation and significance of the author
  • Objectivity
  • Consideration of the work as a whole
  • Clarity
  • Currency
  • Technical quality
  • Representation of diverse points of view
  • Representation of important movements, genres, or trends
  • Vitality and originality
  • Artistic presentation and/or experimentation
  • Sustained interest
  • Relevance and use of the information
  • Effective characterization
  • Authenticity of history or social setting

Special Considerations for Electronic Information Sources:

  • Ease of use of the product
  • Availability of the information to multiple simultaneous users
  • Equipment needed to provide access to the information
  • Technical support and training
  • Availability of the physical space needed to house and store the information or equipment
  • Available in full text

Top Five Recommended Public Library Reviewing Sources:

  • Booklist
  • Goodreads
  • New York Times Book Review
  • Publishers Weekly
  • Shelf Awareness

Additional Review Resources

School Library Selection Criteria

School libraries vary and include libraries in public schools, charter schools, independent private schools, schools with religious affiliations, and international schools based in countries outside the United States. Criteria for selection of materials in these libraries are dependent on the goals and objectives of the educational institution of which the library is a part of; however, there are general criteria that will fit most, if not all, school libraries.

Example: School Library Selection Criteria

General Criteria:

  • Support and enrich the curriculum and/or students’ personal interests and learning
  • Meet high standards in literary, artistic, and aesthetic quality; technical aspects; and physical format
  • Be appropriate for the subject area and for the age, emotional development, ability level, learning styles, and social, emotional, and intellectual development of the students for whom the materials are selected
  • Incorporate accurate and authentic factual content from authoritative sources
  • Earn favorable reviews in standard reviewing sources and/or favorable recommendations based on preview and examination of materials by professional personnel
  • Exhibit a high degree of potential user appeal and interest
  • Represent differing viewpoints on controversial issues
  • Provide a global perspective and promote diversity by including materials by authors and illustrators of all cultures
  • Include a variety of resources in physical and virtual formats including print and non-print such as electronic and multimedia (including subscription databases and other online products, e-books, educational games, and other forms of emerging technologies)
  • Demonstrate physical format, appearance, and durability suitable to their intended use
  • Balance cost with need

Top Five Recommended School Library Reviewing Sources:

  • Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) Notable Children’s Books
  • Booklist
  • School Library Journal
  • We Need Diverse Books website
  • Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) Best Books for Young Adults

Additional Review Resources

Academic Library Selection Criteria

Academic libraries vary and include large university libraries, small special collection libraries, and academic libraries in colleges. Criteria for selection of materials in these libraries are dependent on the goals and objectives of the library and the academic institution and departments that the library serves. There are, however, some general criteria that will fit most university and college libraries.

Example: Academic Library Selection Criteria

The selection of materials for an academic library should be consistent with the mission of the college/university and support the institution's curriculum and research needs in collaboration with the administrators, faculty, and staff. According to the Association of College & Research Libraries' Standards for Libraries in Higher Education, "Libraries provide access to collections sufficient in quality depth, diversity, format and currency to support the research and teaching mission of the institution."

General Criteria:

  • Currency and timeliness of material
  • Accuracy, quality, and depth of material
  • Relevancy of subject or title to the institution's current and potential scholarly/curriculum needs including "standard or important works in a field"
  • Represents a variety of perspectives on controversial subjects
  • Scope and content (subject representation and diversity)
  • Cost
  • Resources in a variety of formats and accessible both virtually and physically
  • Coverage appropriate to the level of study of a subject (minimal/basic, instructional support, intermediate study, advanced study, research level)

Top Five Recommended Academic Library Reviewing Sources:

  • ACRLog
  • Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries
  • Library Journal
  • Publishers Weekly
  • Resources for College Libraries

Additional Review Resources

Home | Introduction

Why Do I Need a Policy? | Politics and Timing of Policy Creation | Selection Policies for Non-Public Institutions

Basic Components of a Selection Policy

Library Mission | Support for Intellectual Freedom | Objectives | Responsibility for Selection | Selection Criteria | Acquisitions Procedures | Special Collections | Selecting Controversial Materials | Gifts and Donations | Collection Maintenance and Weeding | Policy Revision | Reconsideration

Reconsideration Procedure

Guiding Principles | Statement of Policy | Informal Complaints | Request for Formal Reconsideration | Sample Reconsideration Form | Sample Letter to Complainant | Reconsideration Committees


Intellectual Freedom Core Documents | Challenge Support and Reporting Censorship | Bibliography of Additional Selection and Reconsideration Policy Resources

Updated January 2018 by ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom