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Collection Development Policy


Chris Winters
May 2009


Brief overview of the collection

·         History: Materials on geography have been collected by the Library since the early days of the University.

·         Broad subject areas emphasized and de-emphasized: The geography fund is used to acquire material in three overlapping areas: academic geography, urban studies, and environmental studies.

·         Description of Academic Program: The Committee on Geographical Studies now offers only a B.A. and has only two geography professors (several adjunct faculty and one history professor are also associated with the Committee). It is a descendant of the Department of Geography that for several decades was generally reckoned one of the North America’s major geography departments.

·         Audience/Purpose. The collection supports the research and teaching needs of faculty and students in the Committee on Geographical Studies as well as of scholars in numerous other disciplines. Among the campus units where some faculty members and students have considerable interest in urban and/or environmental studies (as well as in literature in geography) are the Departments of History, Sociology, Anthropology, Ecology and Evolution, and Geophysical Sciences, as well as certain area-studies departments; the Harris School of Public Policy Studies; the National Opinion Research Center (NORC); and the Committee on Social Thought.


Collecting guidelines

·         Levels of selection. Comprehensive, research, instructional support, basic information; for a description of these levels, see the general policy statement.

 It is impossible to define the geography collection in terms of a set of Library of Congress call number ranges. Only a small minority of works in academic geography is assigned a plain G, GB, or GF call number, and these ranges include much material that is not geographical (e.g., books on the hospitality industry, the polar areas, and the engineering aspects of remote sensing). Approximately half of all geographical material ends up with regional call numbers DA-F. Many geography books are put into the H's. Some geographical material also gets assigned call numbers in the A's, B's, J's, L's, M's, P's, Q's, R's, S's, T's, and Z's. Similarly, while core works in urban studies are often found in the HT’s and NA’s and core works in environmental studies sometimes fall into the GE’s, works on urban and environmental studies are found throughout the call number ranges. Thus, little attention is paid to call number in doing selection work. The geography collection consists of works by geographers, works on subjects that would widely be considered to be geographical in nature or that focus on urban or environmental studies, and works requested by geographers, urbanists or environmentalists that do not clearly fall in someone else’s territory.


Generally, works on those areas of human geography that are still the object of active research at the University of Chicago and works in urban studies are supported at the “research” level (see general policy statement for definition). Areas of active local research in geography include urban geography, cultural geography, historical geography, and the study of modern cartography. Works on several other areas─for example, economic geography and  GIS (digital cartography)─are supported at the “instructional support” level. Works on physical geography are supported at a level between “basic” and “instructional support,” while works on environmental studies are supported at a level somewhere between the “instruction support” and “research” level.

Collecting also encompasses several additional subject areas.

Because of its call number (GV), non-discipline-specific material on sports and play are to some degree the responsibility of the geography and/or anthropology bibliographer. Scholarly material in this area is acquired at “instructional support” level.

A few current guide books are funded with the geography fund every year. Emphasis is put on guide books likely to convey a sense of the character of daily life in the places being described.

Atlases and reference books on cartography are usually funded with the geography fund. World, national, and regional atlases are collected at the “research” level, as are scholarly thematic atlases.

·         Type of materials included and excluded. Emphasis is put on printed scholarly works. There is, in general, more theoretical and historical than “practical” material.

As with other fields, introductory textbooks, anthologies of previously published works, and unedited dissertations are generally not acquired. Specialized textbooks (e.g., on urban geography or on a particular region) constitute a respected genre in academic geography and are certainly in scope.


·         Physical formats included and excluded. All formats are acquired. The great bulk of monographic literature is still available only in paper; however, Library access to a monograph in electronic form is generally considered a good reason not to fund the paper edition. Serials and certain reference sources increasingly are available in electronic form; subscriptions to these are considered adequate substitutes for paper equivalents.

·         Publication dates collected. The geography fund is used largely for current material, although older imprints are acquired when requested, to fill gaps in the collection, or to replace lost or damaged copies. The increasing availability of older imprints on Google Book has lessened the need for purchase of pre-1923 material or reprints of early books.


·         Languages. There are no absolute language limitations on collecting activities. But, other things being equal, the threshold for the purchase of material in English is a little lower than for other languages. For those areas acquired at the “research” level, material in the major continental Western European languages─French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian─is funded to nearly the same depth. Material in Dutch, the regional languages of Spain, and (especially) the Scandinavian languages is acquired somewhat less intensively. Material in most non-Western-European languages that are used for scholarly purposes is the responsibility of the area-studies bibliographers.

·         Geographical range. There are no limitations, but see comments below about the relationships with area-studies colleagues.


·         Chronological span. There are no limitations.

Areas of distinction

The geography collection at the University of Chicago Library is characterized more by its breadth than by its distinction in any one area. It is arguable but unprovable that no other North American university library has so self-consciously built and maintained as international a collection of materials on academic geography.

Related University of Chicago collections

Several colleagues are responsible for the purchase of certain classes of material.

The area-studies bibliographers generally acquire geographical material on the Middle East and North Africa; South Asia; East Asia; and on Eastern Europe and the former Soviet states, while the Bibliographer for Classics and the Ancient Near East is responsible for most works on the Classical world and the ancient Near East. The geography bibliographer occasionally funds material overlooked by area-studies bibliographers that would clearly be of interest to geographers or students of urban and environmental studies.

Southeast Asia is a special case. The Bibliographer for South Asia has some responsibility to purchase Western-language materials for Southeast Asia, but Western-European-language material on this area is historically the responsibility of the geography bibliographer.

Special Collections holds numerous early atlases and explorers’ accounts as well as the papers of some University of Chicago geographers.

The scope of “urban studies” and “environmental studies” calls for particular comment.

“Urban studies” is defined to include works that are not discipline-specific or that are written by scholars associated above all with the study of urbanism or planning. It is expected that colleagues would acquire works in urban studies that are associated with particular fields (such as urban economics) or works on the history of particular cities (unless the focus is on urban planning or the author is a geographer or planner).

“Environmental studies” is defined to include non-discipline-specific material that largely deals with human activity. Colleagues would be expected to acquire material in such fields as environmental economics as well as material that does not deal largely with human activity.

In practice it is very difficult to establish the boundaries of the geography collection. The disciplinary affiliation of authors is often determined in order to establish responsibility.

Cooperative arrangements and related collections

There are no formal arrangements for cooperative acquisition, but the existence of certain materials in other libraries has influenced the building of the geography collections over the years.

For example, because of the superb Africana and transportation collections at Northwestern University, the University of Chicago Library often forgoes highly specialized materials in these areas.

The Newberry Library has a first-rate collection of material on the history of cartography, particularly its early history, and, as a result, the University of Chicago Library has put only modest effort in this area.

The Municipal Reference Library at the Harold Washington Library and the Research Center at the Chicago History Museum maintain substantial collections of Chicago government publications and general Chicago-related materials respectively. As a result, the University of Chicago Library has had a tendency to collect material about Chicago to only a modest degree more intensively than it has material about other places.