Collection Development Policy

approved May 21, 2024

1. Introduction & Purpose

The Boston Public Library (BPL) is a vibrant urban library system that operates as a department of the City of Boston, serves as the Library for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and stands among the nation’s foremost research libraries. We provide free access to collections that meet our users’ informational, educational, recreational, cultural, and research needs through our neighborhood branch libraries, the Central Library in Copley Square, and online services.

This Collection Development Policy defines our goals and principles for collection development for both library staff and the public. It guides staff in maintaining our physical and digital collections and making responsible decisions when acquiring new materials. It also provides transparency to the public about the criteria we use in acquiring materials and how we make materials accessible.

This policy is informed by the BPL’s institutional mission and values, racial equity commitments, and professional guidelines and ethics. This is a living document and will be reviewed annually to ensure that it reflects up-to-date collection practices and the evolving needs of our user communities.

2. Collection Scope

The Boston Public Library holds extensive collections reflecting a wide diversity of subjects, cultures, geographic locations, time periods, and languages in both physical and digital formats. Although most resources are print based (books, periodicals, newspapers, and other published material), significant collections in other formats include manuscripts, photographs, archival collections, microform, works of art, maps, architectural drawings, sheet music, audiovisual material, sculpture, and other objects.

Our physical collections fall into three general categories:

  • Circulating: Materials of high interest and popular demand to current user communities. These collections are easily replaced if lost or damaged and are durable enough to be used outside of library spaces. This category can include (but is not limited to) print books, periodicals, and audiovisual materials for all ages, across multiple languages.
  • Research: Materials of interest to current and future research communities. These materials have specialized content, high replacement cost, and/or limited availability. Fragility, storage space, and format-based requirements are considerations for inclusion in this category. Research collections also include materials acquired through special agreements or partnerships (such as the Federal Depository Library Program).
  • Special: Materials of rare, distinctive, and enduring value. These collections require mediated access in designated library spaces due to their cultural, artistic, and/or historical significance; fragility; preservation needs; rarity; and/or uniqueness.

There may be overlap between materials collected and maintained within each category.
As materials age, the category an item falls under may change due to intended use, fragility, rarity, and uniqueness of the material.

The above collecting categories are supplemented with digital collections licensed and/or hosted by third-party vendors. Some vendors have their own collection development policies which are not defined by this document and may change over time.

3. Goals & Guiding Principles

A. Our collections are for everyone.
We center public access in all collection development decisions. Our materials are available to all people regardless of their age, home language, ability, income level, education, race, sexuality, gender, nationality, religion, immigration status, or other identity categories.

B. We collect a wide variety of materials.
Our collections promote personal growth through literacy, academic support, research, intellectual curiosity, career and job-related skills, creative and artistic pursuits, and the love and joy of reading and learning. We provide materials in formats and languages which span reading levels, accessibility needs, and literacy skills. In support of this work, we purposefully collect material from various vendors, publishers, authors, creators, and collectors.

C. Our collection work integrates equitable, diverse, and inclusive practices.
We commit to building collections that represent the diversity among and within our communities of users. Choosing what materials to collect is an exercise of power. We recognize that the gaps and erasures present in publishing industries, historical records, and biases of the library profession have filtered into our library collections. To address these gaps, we continue to strive to elevate the voices, histories, and lived experiences of historically marginalized groups in our selection of new materials.

D. We provide access to free and uncensored information.
We are responsible for ensuring all users have access to materials in our collection. We oppose attempts by individuals or groups to censor items. No materials will be excluded from BPL collections because of the origin, background, or viewpoint of those contributing to their creation.

E. All collection development decisions consider existing resources and ongoing needs.
We make acquisition and maintenance decisions that are consistent with strategic priorities, collection objectives, storage and space requirements, budget allocations, staff capacity, access needs, preservation considerations, and ongoing maintenance costs and responsibilities. When we commit to the responsibility of owning and maintaining collections, we must ensure that resources are used wisely to serve and benefit the public.

F. Our collections are accessible, findable, and shared.
We prioritize cataloging, processing, and describing existing and future library collections to facilitate public discovery. We share our materials with users around the world by participating in interlibrary lending networks and by supporting a robust digitization program.

G. Patron and collection needs will continue to grow and evolve.
As we maintain holdings that represent our past, we also continue to look to the future. We carefully evaluate new formats, modes of access, and subject matter as the needs of our communities evolve.

4. Collecting Criteria

Acquisition of collection materials is carefully evaluated due to the considerable investment of time, funding, space, staffing, and ongoing maintenance needs. Staff weigh the following criteria for collection decisions:

  • Alignment with the BPL’s mission, initiatives, and strategic plan
  • Community interests, demand, and suggestions
  • Representation by and of diverse individuals and groups (including racial, ethnic, linguistic, religious, national, gender, and sexual identities; disability; veteran status; socio-economic and education levels)
  • Significance and relationship to the City of Boston and Commonwealth of Massachusetts
  • Representation of varied opinions, subject matter, and viewpoints
  • Authority and qualifications of the creator(s), publisher(s), and/or producer(s)
  • High-interest materials outside of mainstream publishing and reviewing journals
  • Price and availability
  • Accessibility of format and content
  • Anticipated viability and/or longevity of the format

For materials in languages other than English, additional criteria include:

  • Languages other than English most frequently spoken and/or read in the City of Boston
  • Changing demographics and informational needs of Boston residents
  • Patron and community demand
  • Availability of titles for purchase

For Research and Special Collections, additional criteria include:

  • Historical, cultural, and/or artistic significance
  • Connection to existing collecting areas at BPL to enhance their value in supporting research, learning, education, and exhibition
  • Provenance, custodial history, and adherence to ethical collecting standards
  • Freedom from permanent or overly prohibitive restrictions on public access or use
  • Ongoing costs, including processing, conservation, reformatting, storage, and digitization
  • Confirmation that the acquisition will not further ongoing oppression of the communities in which it was created, even when legally purchased or donated
  • Current physical condition and future preservation needs to support long-term public access

We encourage the public to suggest items and subjects to be considered for the collection.

5. Intellectual Freedom & Requests for Reconsideration

We respect the freedom of information for our users and follow the principles in the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights, Freedom to Read, and Freedom to View statements.

We oppose attempts by individuals or groups to censor items in our collection. No materials will be excluded from BPL collections because of the origin, background, or viewpoint of those contributing to their creation. Individuals should form their own opinions about resources they choose to read, view, listen to, or otherwise access, and the BPL supports this by providing unrestricted access to materials. Responsibility for the reading choices of minors rests with their parents or legal guardians.

Library collections will be organized, marked, and maintained to help users discover the materials they seek. We will not use any system of coding, rating, or labeling to identify or segregate materials to limit discovery or access. Our selection of materials does not mean we endorse the contents or views expressed in those materials.

As a longstanding collecting institution, our holdings include historical collections that reflect the attitudes, ideas, and norms of the era and culture in which they were created or collected. As such, some materials and item descriptions contain imagery, language, or opinions that may be offensive or harmful to marginalized communities. We make these materials available because access to primary source materials is uniquely valuable to the research community at large.

We recognize that some Massachusetts residents may question the inclusion of materials in our collection. Individuals may submit a request for reconsideration of library materials. A written response explaining the decision to remove or retain the title in question will be provided to the requestor. No titles will be removed from the library collection while they are reviewed. We reserve the right to limit the number of times a title will be reconsidered within a designated time frame.

6. Donations & Gifts

In addition to purchase, additions to our collections may be made by gift, bequest, transfer, or exchange. Due to resource constraints and costs associated with processing additions, we can only accept a limited number of donations. All potential donations are reviewed on a case-by-case basis through the acquisition evaluation process, and all accepted donations must conform to the procedures and practices governing acquisitions in each collecting area.

Upon receipt, all unsolicited donations are considered legally transferred to the BPL. We do not take responsibility for unsolicited donations and cannot guarantee that they will be added to the collection. Any unsolicited donations sent to us for consideration will not be returned to the donor and may be disposed of or donated to partner organizations, if appropriate. We do not provide valuation on donated materials.

7. Collection Maintenance

We are committed to developing and maintaining collections that are relevant, accessible, engaging, and inclusive. Library materials are continuously reviewed and assessed for condition, age, and relevance to library users. Factors considered when maintaining collections include changing community needs, preservation and conservation requirements, collection demand, collecting scope, collection size, storage requirements, industry standards, donor agreements and other legal stipulations, and strategic priorities.

The acquisition of materials does not commit us to keep them in perpetuity. The periodic withdrawal of materials is necessary to allow us to add new items to the collection. These decisions are made carefully and transparently, follow established procedures based on the type of collection, and are handled in accordance with applicable donor agreements.

8. Privacy considerations

As a public agency, we are bound by Massachusetts Public Records Law (G.L. c. 66, § 10). Public records include the contents of collections as well as records related to acquisitions. These, and other internal records, may be subject to the Freedom of Information Act (5 U.S.C. § 552).

We contract with third-party vendors to provide digital content and collections. These platforms have their own privacy policies and confidentiality practices. Lack of a publicly available privacy policy or failure to handle patron information in accordance with BPL policy may result in the cancellation of those vendors’ services.

Donors of archives, manuscripts, and other original materials are responsible for reviewing items for sensitive or restricted information prior to donation and should consider their obligations towards the privacy of associated individuals.

9. Roles & Responsibilities

The overall responsibility for the Boston Public Library’s collection rests with the Library President as authorized by the Library’s Board of Trustees. Responsibility for the evaluation, selection, documentation, care, and provision of access of new library materials is delegated to experienced and qualified staff members.

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