Behind closed doors: collection development week at the Minster Library

Maria Nagle leaves the door ajar at the York Minster Library.


You may have wondered why for one week, often in the height of summer, York Minster Library closes its doors to the public. No, this isn't our chance to escape to the seaside - it's our collection development week, and it's a crucial time when we can dedicate all our efforts into making our collections more accessible and usable for our readers.


The imposing front door of the Minster Library
(photo adapted from an original by Char,
under a Creative Commons licence)
The Minster Library closed last week (28 July - 1 August) for collection development. This covers a range of activities; purchasing, cataloguing, classifying and
deaccessioning books and resources are just a few. It's not just the books that make a library however, it's how resources are organised within the library space that helps readers to make sense of them. Each collection development week, we pinpoint a part of York Minster Library's spaces and collections that needs improvement and set out a plan to achieve this in the time we have.

Working in a historic library often means that you find yourself working with collections that haven't changed or moved for decades (sometimes centuries!) so it is important that every decision can be justified and is made with the people who use these collections in mind. It's also important to differentiate between the quirks of working with historic collections, and hereditary systems that need modernising; it can be all too easy to fall into the trap of "well that's how it's always been...".

In previous years, during collection development weeks, we have:

  • Moved books available to be borrowed to a lower point on their shelves, to make them easier and safer to reach.
  • Created a local studies area in our reading room, focusing our excellent local history collection in one area to make research easier.
  • Created a reference section for a small number of books published before 1850 in our lower stacks room. This removed the books from the loans section but left them available for study.

This year, we focused on our large and diverse History of Art section and on the Special Collections room. Anyone who has ever used or worked with art books will know that they can range from the tiniest pamphlet to a back-breaking folio, so it was important for us to revisit this section to ensure these items are stored correctly; for the safety of readers and of the collections. Our History of Art section is stored on the highest shelves in our lending collection, so part of the task was to move them down to a safer height and relocate any oversized books that were too heavy, were a tripping hazard, or might suffer damage through being on these shelves. We had lots of help from our wonderful volunteers who moved many of these books before we began. However, that was just the start of the task and we moved over 3000 books during the week, rearranging them in a much more accessible manner. Clear labeling and a review of the location map finished the task, ready for re-opening on Monday 3 August.

Figures 1 & 2: The History of Art section in the lower hall

As well as this, we embarked on the mammoth task of reorganising our Special Collections room, where many of the oversized books from the L section have been transferred to ensure they're better cared for. Until recently, the room was a bit of a melting pot of various shelfmarks and different collections, meaning it took longer than needed to find and retrieve items. We spent some time rearranging these books by size to ensure they were stored correctly (a surprisingly satisfying task) and standardising their shelfmarks to ensure we can find them quickly. While this area is strictly behind-the-scenes, these changes will mean less delay with Special Collections requests, and will increase accessibility to the collection through correct location of items.

Figure 3: The Special Collections folio shelves before...

Figure 4: ...and after!
In many large libraries, this kind of work continues behind the scenes during opening hours - with smaller libraries like us, time often has to be set aside for collection development work. While this is only one week out of the year, the effects have been evident for people working in and using the library and have helped us to ensure that our collections are kept up to date and are easily accessible for anyone wishing to use them.

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