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Supported collection size?

In response to my 13-point checklist for school administrators <>, Anne asks:

Under Collection size, you ask if there has been a baseline set for the size of the print collection. I'm having trouble finding guidelines for [the size of the print collection] . Can you please point me in the right direction?

Good one. I don't have a very good answer.

The ALA/AASL national standards have not included quantitative standards for many years, preferring terms such as "sufficient to meet the needs of the program." (I would be delighted to stand corrected if I am wrong.)

That means individual districts or states need to establish such benchmarks. In our district, the district library/technology committee established these "supported collection sizes" about 10-12 years ago:

  • Secondary schools 500+ students: 12,000 volumes
  • Elementary schools 500+ students: 10,000 volumes
  • Elementary schools under 500 student: 8,000 volumes.

These are the "core" collections that we base our replacement budgets on, replacing 5% of each collection each year.

The Minnesota Educational Media Organization's Standards from 1999 state are quantitative using this rubric for minimum, basic and exemplary:

14.Do the collections and resources support the school curriculum?

Materials are professionally selected using recognized review tools. There is a current* print collection of at least 10-15 print items per student, a selection of periodicals, and electronic research terminals for at least 25% of the largest class. Students have access to:

  • a computerized periodical index
  • electronic encyclopedias


*Current is defined as the collection having an average age of not greater than 10 years, acknowledging that some areas will need more current materials and some areas will have older materials.

There is a current print collection of at least 15-20 print items per student, electronic research terminals for at least 25%-50% of the largest class. Students have access to:

  • a computerized card catalog of local materials
  • on-line full text periodical databases
  • a wide variety of computerized reference tools like electronic atlases, concordances, dictionaries, thesauruses, reader's advisors and almanacs
  • content area specific reference materials
  • videodiscs and players
  • full on-line access to the Internet
  • educational television programming
  • a wide range of educational computer programs including practices, simulations and tutorials

Resources are specifically chosen to support curricular needs. 

There is a current print collection of over 20 print items per student, electronic research terminals for over 50% of the largest class. Electronic research materials are available from all networked computers in the building. There is a written collection development policy that shows collaboration with other libraries and outside information agencies. Students have access to:

  • a computerized union catalog of district holdings as well as access to the catalogs of public, academic and special libraries such as MnLink from which interlibrary loans can be made
  • a collection of materials to support local history studies
  • access to desktop video conferencing stations or an interactive television classroom
  • emerging technologies as needed to support the curriculm



Of course things have changed dramatically since these standards were put in place back in 2000. Electronic resources, including e-books, have taken off, eliminating the need for certain kinds of print materials in many schools.

My only suggestion is that you check with your state for numbers and guidance, make a recommendation through your library advisory committee to your administration, and get budget deciders in agreement.

Life was easier with quantitative standards and they aren't as practical today as they once were. Still, it would be nice to have an authoritative voice provide some guidance.

Other suggestions for determining the size of your print collection? 

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Reader Comments (2)

Hi Doug, I am in an international school in a country where space is premium, our library space is small compared to other lands, and especially so when we need to cater for 1400 students from years 1-13 in the future. We are also a 1;1 laptop school with all students from year 6 having their own macbook. Many also own their own iphone or itouch. We are an IB school.

As a result of the space limitation and access to electronic information the collection policy is being developed to best take advantage of both these features of our library.

Students still like books, however the books they like are general interest non fiction - like Guinness World Records, Star Wars, novelty type - Horrible Historys, etc. In our secondary non fiction area I am purchasing more of these 'special interest' books with great pictures and graphics and less of the books that will support the curriculum. For non fiction we are moving toward more use of Databases, and electronic books - such as found on google books and Overdrive. They take up less space and are easier to find what you need - ie scanning, highlighting etc. For the junior school, books are still important as the students do not have as much computer access, however, we have moved toward electronic in this area as well with online encyclopedias and junior databases.

As an IB school we simply do not have the space or money to cater for every topic that may emerge in a students questions and inquiry. And as time moves on books simply cannot provide many of the answers anymore due to them being quickly outdated, limiting in scope and sometime difficult to navigate. .

Fiction is where our collection is growing. The hard copy book is a definite winner for fiction, and so our physical collection will eventually consist of more fiction than anything else as we move toward more e sources. We are a new school and we currently have 18,000 physical copies on our shelves, but we have access to over 100,000 electronic resources.

Guidelines for the size of physical collection will be dependent on the school. facilities and the program you are running. This year was our first year of database use (only been open for 2 years) and for the amount of money spent, they are extremely good value if the students and staff are encouraged to use them.

July 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDianne McKenzie

Hi Diane,

Your example is a great argument for establishing "target" sizes individually per school. Programs, needs and facilities differ a great deal.

Thanks for your thoughtful comment,


July 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

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