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Collection Development Policy

Collection Development is the process of building useful, balanced collections over time within a set budget, based on assessed, ongoing information needs of the library’s users. It also includes selection criteria, resource sharing, replacement of items, and routine de-accessioning. The collection development policy guides the Washington University Libraries in selecting materials that support our community and enhance the existing collections.

Purpose and Goals of the Collection Development Policy

The collection development policy for Washington University Libraries helps library staff to meet collection goals as they relate to the mission of the library, informs the University community about the principles by which materials are selected for inclusion, and guides how we spend our collections funds. Additionally, the policy helps define our commitment to support the current research and teaching at the university, as well as supporting new models of research and scholarship.

Purpose and Goals of the Collection

Through collection development, the University Libraries will facilitate seamless access to robust and distinctive collections. As a premier research library, we strive to enhance and simplify access to resources that support and enrich our users’ teaching, learning, and research. The University Libraries not only acquires print and electronic collections for the campus community but cultivates partnerships with other research libraries to achieve fast and efficient access to resources not owned by Washington University Libraries.

The University Libraries collect materials that support the current curricular and research needs of Washington University’s undergraduate and graduate programs and that of students and faculty members. The University Libraries support the University’s mission to discover and disseminate knowledge, and to protect the freedom of inquiry through research, teaching, and learning.

Library Clientele

The University Libraries support the information needs of its primary clientele: Washington University students, faculty, and staff. Washington University Libraries also provide service to alumni, local and visiting researchers, and members of the surrounding community.

Intellectual Freedom

Selection Activities and Responsibilities

The University Libraries are responsible for developing collections through a combination of selection practices, including approval plans, individual title selection, and requests from the Washington University Libraries’ community. Librarians hold the ultimate responsibility for developing and maintaining the University Libraries’ collections based on their knowledge of the collections, expertise with collection tools and resources, and understanding of the information and resource needs of the University Libraries’ community of users. Selection processes are cooperative and can involve consultation with faculty and departments.

Librarian Collection Responsibilities

Librarians serve as subject liaisons to various departments across Washington University. In this role, they are responsible for developing familiarity with the curriculum of their departments and with the relevant parts of the collection that serve their subject areas. Librarians also have the responsibility to keep faculty informed of important changes regarding the collections. A significant portion of the University Libraries’ collections are developed through the use of approval plans containing profiles that are tailored to many programs of the university. Title-by-title selection supplements the approval plans, with librarians selecting items outside of the profile parameters and to meet the more specific needs of the collection, faculty, and students.

Faculty Collection Involvement

Faculty members are encouraged to participate in collection development through regular consultation with their subject liaison librarian. This contribution to collection development is valuable for the in-depth knowledge that faculty members have of their specific subject areas and broad discipline, as well as their curriculum and research needs. The subject liaison librarian is the contact person for faculty to voice any questions or concerns they may have about the University Libraries’ collections and services, or to make suggestions.

Selection Guidelines and Criteria for the Collection

The University Libraries’ collections are developed to support and enhance the instructional and research activities and goals of Washington University in St. Louis.

The University Libraries focus on adding newly published materials to the collections that are authoritative and/or ground-breaking in their fields; however, librarians are able to make retrospective selections in order to fill gaps or respond to requests with consideration according to selection guidelines.

Acquisition Methods

The Librarians and staff of the Acquisitions Unit will make the determination about how a resource should be purchased. Subject librarians are encouraged to share any special information. Examples include: information about reduced prices, location of out-of-print copies, US or foreign vendors for unique foreign publications.


All deaccessioning activities at Washington University Libraries adhere to the language in the collection’s deed of gift or general professional standards of libraries and archives. Four criteria are typically taken into consideration when identifying material for routine deaccessioning:

  • Condition: Damage is so extensive that items cannot be repaired without expensive and time-intensive conservation treatments or cannot be repaired at all. Some examples of this damage include mold, vandalism that renders the content unusable, and large sections of missing pages.
  • Redundancy: Multiple copies of the same item, duplication between physical and digital collections, or between the Libraries’ holdings and those of organizations where we have reciprocal borrowing agreements. All deaccessioning decisions must balance the needs of our community and the sharing agreements with our partners.
  • Out-of-scope: Incomplete serials holdings, low-use items, or titles that are superseded by later editions in the collection. Out-of-scope determinations are based on our core collecting areas and our archival mission.
  • Care: Technologies required to access items are outdated, or environmental storage requirements that the Libraries cannot meet.

Items flagged for deaccessioning based on the above criteria will be posted on the Libraries’ website for one month to allow for faculty review and comments before removal from the Libraries’ collections. Retained items will be returned to library stacks after any necessary treatment(s). Deaccessioned materials will be offered to Better World Books (a company that funds literacy projects in the United States and around the world) or similar organizations. Any remaining items will be recycled. Libraries staff may not personally profit from any deaccessioning activities.

Generally, routine deaccessioning activity will not exceed 2% of the total collection size in any given year. Any projects which fall outside of the above criteria for “routine deaccessioning” are approved by the Libraries administration in consultation with relevant faculty.


Washington University Libraries do not generally purchase duplicates; however, exceptions can be made.


The University Libraries seek to purchase resources in the format that will be the most useful to faculty and students.

Gifts and Donations

University Libraries will be pleased to consider donations of materials that support the current curriculum and research conducted at Washington University. For more information, please see the University Libraries’ Gift Policy.

Select the following links to learn more about how you can Support the University Libraries or specifically about Donating to Special Collections.


The University Libraries’ Preservation Unit has the responsibility to work from the collection down through strategic programs like emergency preparedness for collections, environmental monitoring, preservation review of brittle materials, and user education. The Preservation Unit also works from the item up through collections care and book repair, a commercial binding program, and physical processing and labeling of materials.


The University Libraries focus on retaining materials that enhance the relevance of the curricular and research needs of the university. We are committed to securing long-term, perpetual access to the print and electronic content on which our patrons depend.

Scholarly Communications

Scholarly Communications pertain to the creation, transformation, dissemination, and preservation of knowledge. It encompasses both teaching (the promotion and transmission of knowledge) and research (the creation of new knowledge). In essence, scholarly communications are at the heart of Washington University’s mission.


It is the preference of University Libraries not to purchase textbooks. In particular subject areas or for specific reasons, however, exceptions can be made.

Subject Specific Policies