Assessing the relative value of domain knowledge for civil society's libraries: the role of core collections

Matthew Kelly

Abstract


Core collections were once at the heart of assessment of a public library's ability to meet users' needs. The commitment to valuable public knowledge has receded over time based upon postmodern readings of what this concept might mean and a move toward a user-centred paradigm within LIS. Working within a knowledge organisation framework that problematises how users' definitions of value are assessed, this paper looks to how core collections can still have relevance within a framework of knowledge that has become increasingly context-laden and contingently based. The question of how value across domains is conceptualised and implemented is investigated with an aim to contribute to a hermeneutically-grounded method of selection that can aid users in finding the best materials to support self-guided learning.

This research aims to explicate why certain domains should be prioritised for civil society settings; what range and depth should be invoked in the process of selection and evaluation and what is the nature of subjective choice in delineating a balance between a core collection and the broader non-fiction collection. The research is grounded in hermeneutical phenomenology and a desire to see librarianship as, primarily, a human science, or at least a philosophically-informed humanistic endeavour. It looks to Betti's objectivist approach to interpretation of Geisteswissenschaften as a guide to understanding how library and information science balances one of its core assessment tasks: defining subject priority. This research outlines why scientific subjects should be apportioned a sublimated priority in civil society collections, but also that primarily the defining aspect of civil society collections is how they deal with the need to balance science, humanistic knowledge and the practical, technical and applied topicality that users require. The research reveals that the unravelling of these meta-categories is not as straightforward as might be supposed.

 

Keywords: collection evaluation; public library collections; subject coverage; core collections

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