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Collection Development Policy


The policy statements for individual disciplines use a common set of terms to characterize depth of collecting activity. These descriptors, adapted from work by the Research Libraries Group (RLG), are:

Levels of selection

Comprehensive Level

Collections that strive to be exhaustive as far as is reasonably possible in a field in all applicable languages include:

• Exhaustive collections of published materials

• Very extensive manuscript collections

• Very extensive collections in all other pertinent formats

A comprehensive level collection may serve as a national or international resource.

Research Level

Collections that contain the major published source materials required for doctoral study and independent research include:

• A very extensive collection of general and specialized monographs and reference works

• A very extensive collection of general and specialized periodicals

• Extensive collections of appropriate materials in languages other than the primary language of the country and collection

• Extensive collections of the works of both well-known and lesser-known authors

• Access to a very extensive collection of owned or remotely accessed electronic resources, including bibliographic tools, texts, data sets, journals, etc.

Instructional Support Level

Collections that provide information about a subject in a systematic way, but at a level of less than research intensity and support the needs of general library users through college and beginning graduate instruction include:

• An extensive collection of general monographs and reference works and selected specialized monographs and reference works

• An extensive collection of general periodicals and a representative collection of specialized periodicals

• Limited collections of appropriate materials in languages other than the primary language of the collection and the country, for example, materials to aid in learning a language for nonnative speakers or literature in the original language, such as German poetry in German or Spanish history in Spanish

• Extensive collections of the works of well-known authors and selections from the works of lesser-known authors

• Access to a broad collection of owned or remotely accessed electronic resources, including bibliographic tools, texts, data sets, journals, etc.

Basic Information Level

Collections that introduce and define a subject, indicate the varieties of information available elsewhere, and support the basic needs of general library users include:

• A limited collection of general monographs and reference tools

• A limited collection of representative general periodicals

• Access to a limited collection of owned or remotely accessed electronic bibliographic tools, texts, data sets, journals, etc.

Sources of Supply and Major Selection Tools

Approval and blanket plans and standing orders

To assure expeditious acquisition of current monographic titles from North American university and commercial presses the Library relies on an approval plan with an American vendor. Each of the Library’s bibliographers has worked closely with the vendor to develop and maintain detailed and accurate profiles based on their collection development policies. All titles that fit the subject, publisher and price criteria agreed upon are supplied to the Library as soon as possible after publication, subject to return privileges after review by bibliographers. Similar arrangements with a number of foreign vendors provide coverage for specific disciplines based on so-called blanket plans to supply books published in a country within defined parameters, or based on lists of literary authors or composers. The Library maintains standing orders for all titles published in some important monographic series.

Approval and blanket plans and standing orders assure that standard books desirable for the collections arrive in a timely way without bibliographers having to select and order them individually. This frees them to devote more time to title-by-title selection of specialized works based on their knowledge of the subject and of research and teaching needs at Chicago.

Individual “firm” orders

Guided by their collection development policies, bibliographers evaluate for potential purchase titles that they encounter in a number of ways, including: electronic or paper notifications from vendors, publishers’ catalogs, discipline-specific lists of recent publications, book reviews, and recommendations from readers.

Exchange agreements

The Library maintains exchange agreements with some foreign libraries, scholarly societies, research institutes, and non-governmental organizations when this is the most reliable means of acquiring their publications. As commercial book markets have become more robust and efficient, for example in formerly Communist countries, the number of exchange plans has decreased.

Types of Materials

  • Current Monographs are generally acquired in print format with selective collection of e-books.

  • Serials. The Library subscribes to journals and other serials in appropriate subject fields, as well as to newspapers, avoiding redundant formats and duplicate subscriptions whenever possible. When a journal is published in both print and electronic versions the Library will subscribe only to the digital version unless one or more of the following situations exists:

o The print version contains significantly more material than the electronic.

o The quality of images or graphics is demonstrably poorer in the electronic version.

o There is no reliable guarantee of electronic archiving.

  • Films and videos are purchased selectively and with respect to their research or instructional value.

  • Audio recordings, whether musical or spoken word, are purchased according to the teaching and research needs of local scholars.

  • Microforms, once a significant format for acquiring serial backfiles and major collections of rare print material, have become less important as digitization has expanded. Microform can still be an important means of gaining access to archival collections, but bibliographers are highly selective in acquiring microfilm of print sources which may become available in electronic form.

  • Rare books and manuscripts that serve research and teaching needs are purchased selectively and housed in the Special Collections Research Center.

  • Dissertations written at the University of Chicago are part of the Library’s circulating collections. Beginning with Summer Convocation, 2009, Chicago dissertations are electronic and are made available through the ProQuest Dissertations and Theses database. Print dissertations from other academic sources are considered research materials and may be acquired selectively in accordance with the overall collection policy.

  • Government documents. The Library is an official depository for documents from the United States Government Printing Office (GPO), the Canadian government, the European Union, and several other international intergovernmental organizations.

  • Textbooks are generally considered out of scope for purchase, but may be acquired if they constitute a reference source or represent significant contributions to the presentation of a subject, or if there is a scarcity of other material in the field.


Selection of electronic resources

Digital resources have become essential to research and scholarship. These include indexing and abstracting tools; corpora of full text, images, and sound; reference works; and specialized scientific and technical databases. The Library provides a selection of them, balancing programmatic needs as articulated in disciplinary collection development policies, anticipated use, and available budgetary resources.

The selection of electronic resources calls for careful weighing of factors, including:


  • The importance of the resource for its discipline and the expected level of use.

  • The comprehensiveness, currency, durability and accuracy of the database.

  • The extent of overlap (if any) with other databases and the relationship to the Library’s print and other holdings.


  • Design of the interface.

  • Platform(s) available.

  • Functionality, including links to the online catalog and to other databases, integrated Interlibrary Loan request capability, and output formats.


  • The Library strongly prefers web versions of digital resources.

  • The Library’s digital resources must conform to current computing standards. Obsolete formats and platforms are not generally supported.


  • The cost of the database.

  • The availability and cost of computer storage space if needed.

License conditions, Archiving, and Management:

  • Appropriateness of licensing conditions reviewed by the Library’s Electronic Resources Officer.

  • The Library pays particular attention to its rights to continuing access to information paid for and to the archiving of information.

  • Availability and content of usage reports.


The Library generally does not buy multiple copies of titles unless there is clear evidence of very heavy ongoing use.


The Library welcomes donations of books and other materials when these are within the scope defined by the collection policy statements. Its holdings have often grown through the gifts of collections assembled by those whose specialized knowledge of a field or amateur devotion to it has enabled them to gather materials that the Library has not acquired in significant depth, perhaps because they are difficult to obtain or they represent a highly specialized area that an earlier bibliographer could not afford to buy exhaustively.

Donated materials are not free: it requires substantial clerical staff time to sort them and bibliographers’ time to review them title by title in order to decide whether to add each to the Library. Given the size and diversity of our collections, a substantial percentage of donations duplicate existing holdings and the subject specialist needs to decide whether use and demand would justify adding a second copy. Cataloging, labeling, and shelf space have associated costs. With rare exceptions, gift materials must be in good condition so that the Library does not need to conserve them.

Donated books that do not complement the Library's research needs may be sold at periodic book sales, raising funds that we can spend acquiring needed materials.

Purchase requests

The Library welcomes requests and suggestions from its readers for the acquisition of materials in support of their research and teaching programs. Subject bibliographers review requests and if they are within scope as defined by the relevant collection development policy assign them a high priority for purchase, fiscal resources permitting. An online request form is available here.

Preservation policy

The University of Chicago Library is committed to ensuring the preservation and long-lasting availability of its research collections and resources in all formats.

The Library’s comprehensive Preservation Program as administered by its Preservation Department, provides a wide range of services to care for collections.  Preservation is accomplished through a variety of item- and collection-level approaches and strategies.  Actions are taken to prevent or slow down the deterioration of library materials, improve their condition, or provide access through reformatting to preserve intellectual content and to protect fragile originals.

Proper storage environment and housing, careful handling, binding, and treatment of individual items (conservation) are methods used to protect and improve conditions to extend the useful life of materials in original form.  Digitization of materials at risk can prevent further damage from use and ensure that unique content in obsolete formats is not lost. 

In accordance with copyright provisions, digitization of paper-based materials and the conversion of media to current formats also provide wider availability and enhanced access to collections and resources.   

The Preservation Department works in close consultation with bibliographers and other Library staff members to identify, assess and prioritize materials needing preservation attention.  Preservation decisions are always made within the context of the Library’s collection development policies, balancing costs and the limitations of resources, historical and scholarly value of the materials, and the needs of users.

Retrospective Print Journal Retention

The University of Chicago Library supports “study and teaching at the University by building and creating information resources and providing services that enhance their usefulness, accessibility, and availability over time.“[1]  As a premier research library, we also recognize our role as a resource to the larger scholarly community.   In practice, this means that we currently retain multiple formats for retrospective journals holdings (e.g., print, microform, and digital), in many cases duplicating content over many years of journal volumes. 

More recently, the commitment to print journals subscriptions for prospective collection building has been replaced by a commitment to provide premier electronic journals access.  Even where digital journal content largely duplicates print collections there are reasons to retain bound print journal backfiles.  Among these are lack of information about the completeness of electronic backfiles, inadequate quality of the digital facsimile (e.g., photographic content created from microfilm or photocopies),  and omission of some content from digitization program (e.g., advertising omitted, photos removed due to lack of permissions, or covers not included in scanning).   We continue to monitor regional and national developments in collaborative print archiving which may have profound effect on future policy and practice.   Any significant changes in the current policy will be communicated to both the University community and to the larger library community, including key partners.

The University of Chicago Library is committed to retaining indefinitely[2] our retrospective collection of print journals.  This commitment is limited and restricted in the following ways:

  •  This commitment in no way indicates a commitment to retaining a current print subscription for any title. 

  •  In all but a very few cases, the Library retains only one copy of any given journal volume.  While this provides less protection against loss of content, the cost of housing and providing access to more than one copy is deemed significantly higher than the potential benefit.  We expect many academic libraries may withdraw print journal collections, but also that there will be print repositories elsewhere.[3]  

  •  Cataloging and holdings information for the print copy is subject to current University of Chicago Library policies and standards.  While we contribute to and recognize the value of shared information about serials holdings,  we do not guarantee the completeness of either the bibliographic record or holdings statements in OCLC, SERHOLD, or other tools.  We also do not offer validation of holdings to volume, issue or article level, although we make reasonable efforts to have holdings statements accurately reflect actual physical holdings.

  • Collection development policies and practices of the University of Chicago Library determine whether or not a title or volume may be withdrawn from the collection.  Volumes may sustain irreparable damage, or be lost, and not be replaced.   

  • Lending of print materials is governed by University of Chicago Library circulation policy, ILL policies, reciprocal borrowing, and other agreements in place at the time of the request, including those specifying fees. 

February 17, 2010


[2] Without specific length of term, not necessarily perpetual or permanent retention

[3] See the Center for Research Libraries’ Print Archives Initiatives Worldwide for more information