Special Collections

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

Public, school, and academic libraries often have “special areas” within their collections. These special collections are often resources in a variety of formats that are distinctive and have intrinsic value to the institution. Special areas can include rare books, genealogy materials, archives, local history, theses, and books from local authors. The selection of materials for these special areas should be consistent with the institution’s mission, policy, and history, as well as the user’s needs. The selection criteria should include guidelines that build on the preservation and enhancement of these important collections. The policy addressing special collections should include the scope and specific purpose of the collection. Special collections often have unique attributes that require libraries to limit access, control the physical environment, or deny circulation. Security is not based on controversial content but rather the value, rarity, or fragility of the item.

Public Library Special Collections

Special collections vary depending upon the geographic location, mission, size, and service area of a public library. Large libraries may maintain and enhance a number of special collections, donated or purchased over time, which are of significant research value such as sheet music, historical children’s materials, and rare books, among others. Small libraries may maintain a local history collection based upon important figures or events related to their location or service area. Priorities and scope for special collections can be outlined in a special collections policy drafted by the institution.

Other items to consider are whether the library serves as a depository of the Federal Depository Library Program or as a resource collection for its state/district/commonwealth. The library could also serve as a repository for its local city/municipality publications. The special collections policy could provide guidance as to how to maintain these items.

School Library Special Collections

Special collections in school libraries should reflect the unique character and mission of the schools in which these libraries serve. Within a school district, different schools may have different needs. As a result, each school library may have different priorities within its collections or special collections. Therefore, if a special collection is needed in a school library, then that school library should have a school-specific selection policy providing guidelines for the special collections in addition to the district-wide selection policy. One example is a school library with a magnet focus in specific curriculum areas. A school with a specialized curriculum may have special collections that support those areas.

Academic Library Special Collections

Special areas or collections reflect the university/college mission and cultural history. Selection of materials can be in a variety of formats that support the academic curriculum and research needs unique to the institution. In most cases, librarians with specialized subject knowledge will set the standard for acquiring materials in these collections, taking into account the collection’s special security requirements and sometimes limited access to its users. Selection criteria should reflect the unique collection development needs of these “special areas” and include the consideration of donations.

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