About collections & how they work

Library collections are about the past—and the future

UVA Library boasts such a rich history of collecting the scholarly and cultural record in print that defining Library collections in today’s ever-expanding digital world is increasingly complicated.

Library collections now include so much more than the traditional print book or journal. In addition to traditional print materials, collections are about…

  • streaming videos of theater productions,
  • massive data sets related to astronomical observations,
  • renditions of old maps,
  • digitized historical documents,
  • born-digital books,
  • ejournal articles, and more.

Library collections now reflect the traditions of scholarship in sometimes uneasy coexistence with new and emerging trends in information technology, delivery, pedagogy, and research.

Library collections are also about communities

Collections are designed, acquired, managed, and preserved to support multiple communities of scholars at the University, like research groups, lab teams, institutes, departments, and classrooms.

In practical terms, what does that mean? Libraries create collections to provide the broadest possible access for the greatest number of potential scholars—collections have to be format-agnostic, ethically procured, and sustainably managed.

Collections are…

Collections are for you: We endeavor to serve the entire University community. When we purchase a resource, we purchase it for everybody, not just one person.

Collections are at the highest academic level: The Library’s chief focus is on providing access to research-level materials for students and faculty in current and emerging areas of teaching and research.

Collections are thoughtfully constructed: The Library buys books and materials from sources different than those used by individuals. We use suppliers to streamline our processes and reduce costs—this often involves establishing purchasing plans based on bibliographic outlines pre-set by our own subject librarians.

Collections are diverse: Diversity, inclusion, and equity in resource content, subject matter, authorship, language, culture, and the diverse populations served by the Library are important factors in selecting and acquiring materials.

Collections are accessible: The accessibility of Library resources to all of our users drives collection decisions. Occasionally publisher practices may contravene our collections principles, so we try to find alternate methods of access to the desired content.

Collections are universal: The Library selects the format of a resource, be it print or digital, that best supports the broad needs of our students and scholars in the most financially- and ethically-managed way possible. Networked access to materials may substitute for print acquisitions when the price of print is exorbitant.

Collections are collaborative: Access to a resource might mean something other than a purchase. For instance, we collaborate with other institutions to share materials and sometimes to create collections in concert.

Collections are judiciously purchased: The explosion of information resources available to academic institutions means that exhaustive collections are no longer possible. Inflation-based increases to collections budgets deliver less purchase-power in relation to the multitude of resources available for purchase.

Collections are streamlined: The Library must be fiscally responsible by carefully selecting and curating materials and minimizing duplication of resources.

Collections are a reflection of the University: New faculty hires, new curricular approaches, and new departmental certifications mandate periodic reapportionment of collections budgets.

How collections are evaluated

Collections assessment is really about understanding how well acquisitions strategies align with University priorities. It is no longer possible for any research library to obtain all the resources created. In general, collection assessment activities at UVA Library strive to:

  • follow curriculum and research imperatives;
  • respond to the changes in information-seeking behaviors of our various communities of users;
  • provide strategic directions by identifying collection strengths and weaknesses based on emerging and interdisciplinary University initiatives;
  • employ usage data to fuel discussions on collections strategies and acquisitions.

Collection assessment is often a tension-filled conversation because many people believe it is synonymous with discarding materials. At a research library like UVA, it is unusual to discard materials. In general, this only happens when materials are so damaged that they cannot be saved, information is out-of-date or wrong and may lead to incorrectly-informed decisions on the part of the reader, multiple copies of a specific edition or volume are no longer needed, or well-intentioned individuals leave items that duplicate materials we already own (this is one reason unsolicited gifts of books are discouraged).
Read more in our Frequently Asked Questions.

Collections policies