How to Build an Opening Day Collection

You have the once in a lifetime opportunity to stock a new school library in a new building.  Your school district tells you your vendor is Follett, and they offer a standard opening day collection, or ODC, for libraries in your situation.  Your school library needs around ten thousand books.  Why not let Follett take care of selecting those books?

But the vision of your library collection is anything but standard.  You serve students who love to read but have been without a library since Hurricane Katrina.  You have a dedicated faculty looking forward to utilizing this resource that they’ve been without for so long.  You think of the criteria for materials selection that you’ll be using for years to come, a collection that supports classroom instruction, that provides students access to quality, well-reviewed literature and exposes them to multiple perspectives.  You could let the vendor build your ODC, which would certainly include many popular and well-reviewed titles, but you can’t be sure that every title they send you will align with the vision you have for your collection.

No.  You have this one chance to open a library, and you want to make sure that every purchase counts, that every title is there for a reason.  You will build your own ODC, tailor-made to meet the needs of your PreK-8 school.  Six hundred students with a goal of ordering at least 15 books per student, not including reference books.  Your looking at putting together an order of around 10,000 books.  How to go about completing such a task?

This was the opportunity I was faced with beginning Summer of 2011.  Left to my own devices, a first year librarian with a new library to open in the winter, I would have taken Follett’s ODC without hesitation.  Fortunately I was not alone.  I was a summer practicum student in UNO’s  School Library Certification Program.  The program is led by Dr. Patricia Austin, my professor, mentor and friend, who saw the challenge of building an ODC as an opportunity for a grand experiment that me and my fellow practicum students could learn from.  The process started in June and ended in early November.  This is how we did it.

There were six other students taking the summer practicum course with me.  Dr. Austin explained that part of our training would include building my school’s ODC.  We signed up for Titlewave accounts, which would allow us to create lists of books from Follett’s inventory.  Our first task was to search lists of awards that honor books for young people, some of which I’d heard of before but many of which were introduced to me by Dr. Austin.  Following are some of the award lists we consulted, looking at both winners and honors, that were added to our ODC:

  • Newbery Award
  • Caldecott Award
  • ALA Notables
  • ALA Best Books for Young Adults
  • Christopher Award
  • Printz Award
  • Ezra Jack Keats Award
  • Geisel Award
  • Lee Bennett Hopkins Award
  • NCTE Poetry Award
  • Coretta Scott King Award
  • Pura Belpre Award
  • Americas Award
  • Notable Books for a Global Society
  • Orbis Pictus Award
  • Robert Sibert Award
  • Scott O’Dell Award
  • Awards given by NCTE, NCSS and NSTA

Merging the lists, we had the beginnings of a collection that included award winners and nominees across a variety of genres, age levels, cultural perspectives and content areas.  However, this was still a small fraction of what we needed to complete the final order for our collection.

With the goal of supporting the teachers’ instructional program at my school, Dr. Austin and I approached my principal about surveying the faculty to find out what they would like to see in the library.  My principal welcomed the idea and called a voluntary faculty meeting to discuss the new collection.  Surprisingly, even though summer vacation had already started, the majority of the faculty attended this meeting.  My classmates and I were able to collect data about special classroom units, favorite authors and titles, field trips, school celebrations and other events that could be supported in the library.  This was my first introduction to the faculty and it was important not only for the feedback we received to inform the collection development, but to communicate to teachers that the library is as much a resource for them as it is for students.  I think it was also nice for my fellow practicum students to meet the people who were benefiting from their hard work on the project.

Next, Dr. Austin divided the major classifications of the Dewey decimal system between the practicum students.  As part of the library’s selection policy, we agreed to only choose titles that had at least two positive reviews.  The teacher requests were incorporated into our Dewey searches.  For example, the practicum student building the 500s would look for books about the life cycle of butterflies and the student building the 300s would look for titles related to holidays celebrated at the school.  Using Titlewave’s advanced search feature, we could narrow our search by subject, copyright year, reading level, binding, Dewey range, and number of reviews.  In this way, we could assure we were building a collection that was current, well-reviewed and responsive to faculty needs.  Dewey building went beyond teacher requests in anticipation of anything a student might search for in nonfiction.

At this point, all of the practicum students merged their individual Titlewave lists to create a master list, the first of many to come.  Titlewave’s “Analyze List” feature creates tables and pie charts showing the breakdown of titles by classification and reading level, presenting a visual analysis of the balance of the collection.  Using this tool, we had a picture of the strengths and weaknesses of our collection.  We could see which Dewey numbers needed more titles or if students at different reading levels had enough to choose from.

Summer ended, and with it my fellow practicum students finished their work on my school’s new collection and returned to their own responsibilities as teachers and librarians.  I am so grateful for the hours of work they put into hand-picking quality titles to serve the students and teachers at my school.  With the base of the collection completed with their help, the fine-tuning was left to me and Dr. Austin.  I started the school year in my little temporary library made up of about two thousand donated books and a full schedule of fixed library classes.  Dr. Austin started teaching three different courses at UNO.  Our full schedules meant that completing the collection order for an October 31 deadline would have to take place on nights and weekends.

Over the course of many eight-hour Saturday sessions, Dr. Austin and I worked on the collection.  I cannot overstate how much the list was served by Dr. Austin’s decades of experience reading, reviewing and teaching children’s and young adult literature.  Not only does she know every author and title you’ve ever read and could want to read, she has them all in UNO’s COEHD Young Adult and Children’s Literature Resource Center, a lending library for students in UNO’s College of Education.  Using her memory and her own catalog, she entered titles into Titlewave and ensured that we had the greatest authors, poets and illustrators represented in my school’s new collection.  We reviewed the Dewey classifications, double-checking the teacher requests and making sure that we had enough titles for all reading levels.

We searched the master list with an eye for diversity.  Is the collection proportional to the racial and ethnic balance at the school?  Is every cultural lens represented, even those not found within our school, ensuring that we are fulfilling the library’s mission of exposing students to multiple perspectives and experiences?  Are there books about students with various disabilities?

With a focus on creating a strong Louisiana collection, we searched for local authors and books that capture everything that makes our state and city of New Orleans special – books about history, music and musicians, architecture, cookbooks.

We checked each other for cultural and political bias.  Do we have enough books about sports?  Enough books about the military?

Lastly, we wanted to make sure that there were books students wanted to read.  We added popular series titles – Lightning Thief, Hunger Games, Magic Tree House, Junie B. Jones – books that students were sure to ask for whether or not they were surrounded by award-winning and well-reviewed books.  A suggestion box was set up in my current library where students added their input over the months.  This was also helpful in addressing student preference and let my students know that they were helping to build their library collection.

Saturday after Saturday, hour after hour, bleary-eyed from monitor glare on tandem computers, we searched Titlewave, read reviews, merged lists, analyzed charts, and looked for imbalances and holes in the collection that needed to be filled.

In the end, an ODC of more than 11,000 books was submitted.  That includes reference books (and I’ll save that story for another day).

So how do you go about building an opening day collection?  With more than a little help from your friends and by standing on the shoulders of experts.  The process was a long labor of love for many people, and I am particularly indebted to Dr. Austin, whose attention to this project continued long after it benefited her summer practicum students.  Because of her vision, passion and dedication,  my students will have the best K-8 school library collection in New Orleans.

Along with the experience I’ve gained working to create a balanced library collection, I have the added benefit of knowing my collection much more intimately than I would have had I ordered Follett’s standard ODC.  When the books arrive and are placed on the shelves, I am in a better position to direct students to the right titles, pull resources for teachers, and support their instructional program in the library.  Because every book was chosen deliberately, there is also a tremendous satisfaction in knowing that the entire collection is aligned with the mission of the school library and meets its criteria for selection.  A solid foundation has been built with this collection, and I look forward to building upon it in the years to come.