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Reference collection - Van Pelt Library collection development policy

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Program information

The Reference Collection at Van Pelt Library serves a broad segment of the University community including undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, researchers, and staff, especially those affiliated with the School of Arts and Sciences, the School of Social Work, the Graduate School of Education, and Liberal and Professional Studies. In addition, students and faculty from other Schools, notably the Graduate School of Fine Arts, Wharton School, and the School of Nursing make regular use of Van Pelt Reference. The Reference Collection also serves many special groups who participate in the University's extensive community outreach programs.

Collection description

Van Pelt Library houses a general social sciences and humanities reference collection. A significant reference collection was in place in the University's Furness Library over 50 years ago. (See the 1940 Faculty Survey of the University Libraries for a brief description). That collection has grown considerably since the Library moved to the new Van Pelt building in 1962. Major additions to the reference collection resulted from the consolidation of the Penniman Education Library and the School of Social Work Library into the Van Pelt collections. Today, the goal is to maintain the print collection at around 22,000 volumes. Increasing use of electronic sources makes this stability more feasible.

The growth of electronic reference sources has been dramatic in the past few decades. Currently most of the major indexing and abstracting sources are available as networked, web-based products. Most include links to the full-text of articles. 

Guidelines for Collection Development

1. Chronological

The chronological periods covered vary according to discipline. For most social science disciplines, reference tools in the Van Pelt collections emphasize contemporary concerns. A few major tools on the history of the discipline may be included in the collection. Reference sources in the humanities may include older publications. Important general reference tools from the nineteenth century, such as biographical dictionaries and comprehensive bibliographies, are still retained in Reference.

2. Formats

Selection decisions about format (networked electronic or print, rarely CD-ROM) consider several factors: means of access, anticipated use, cost and frequency of updating.

Since a large portion of the reference budget is devoted to online sources the criteria for selection deserve elaboration. Preferred characteristics are:

  • permanent access [demonstrated through long-term use elsewhere or clear financial stability of the provider]
  • vendor-provided domain-restricted access
  • site licensing which allows for unlimited simultaneous use or an adequate number of simultaneous connections
  • web-based graphical interface which does not require distribution of client software to a user's desk top
  • ease of use in combination with sophisticated search capabilities, minimally including Boolean functionality, positional operators and field specific searching
  • variety of output choices and formats, preferably e-mail, print and file-save
  • vendor responsiveness and commitment to ongoing development
  • frequent updating
  • inclusion of graphics especially tables, charts, and maps.

3. Geographical

There are no geographical limits, but emphasis is on North America and Europe.

4. Language

Though English is the primary language of print publications and access protocols for online sources, language is not an essential criterion for selection. However, the collection does emphasize western languages and deliberately excludes works solely in Middle Eastern, South Asian and East Asian languages since these are covered in area studies seminar collections.

5. Publication dates

The collection is continually coordinated with the university's curriculum and research programs and its materials must be timely and authoritative.

Principal sources of supply and major selection tools

Serials, especially annuals, make up approximately 40% of the titles in the collection. Materials received on approval, acquired through blanket orders (ALA publications) and received through depository arrangements (US, UN, EEC) are reviewed for addition to reference. However, because many reference titles fall outside the scope of these programs, due to cost and distribution factors, many firm orders are necessary.

Reference staff regularly read the following sources for new acquisitions: ARBA, American Libraries, Choice, College and Research Libraries, Journal of Academic Librarianship, Library Journal, RQ, Reference Services Review.. In addition, Reference receives a large number of publishers' flyers and catalogs. Often sales people from major vendors visit promoting their products. Staff responsible for selection of French, German, Spanish and Portuguese, Russian, and Italian materials often suggest additional titles.

  • Subjects collected and levels of collecting

    A. Verification tools 4/4W
    The primary tools for verification are online databases, especially RLIN/Eureaka and OCLC/Worldcat. For older materials national library catalogs and union catalogs remain essential. Bibliographical sources, including national bibliographies, national library catalogs, "in-print" listings, a few catalogs of major subject-oriented libraries, and union lists of serials, are collected insofar as they do not duplicate the contents of online sources. CD-ROMs are increasingly replacing older verification tools, especially national bibliographies and library catalogs. In addition, space constraints lead us to transfer long back-runs of some titles to the Van Pelt stacks as non-circulating volumes.
    B. Indexes and abstracting services. 3/3F
    Van Pelt Library collects multi-disciplinary, national, subject-specific and narrowly focused indexes and abstracts that will enable users to find sub-volume level materials (articles in journals and newspapers, primarily) in Penn's library collections and elsewhere. Many online indexes and abstracts now include the full-text of the materials they index. These databases are especially attractive to users and are a high priority for acquisition. Paper subscriptions are usually canceled when online versions are selected.
    C. Encyclopedias, Topical Dictionaries, Handbooks, Fact Books, Almanac and Yearbooks 3/3F
    Van Pelt Library collects current English and other Western language materials of these types in all the subject areas for which it takes responsibility. As important general and specialized titles become available online we are likely to purchase them in that form.
    D. Subject or Topical Bibliographies 3/3W
    Van Pelt Library collects bibliographies of secondary literature in all areas of the social sciences and humanities. However, Reference does not select bibliographies on individuals. Narrowly focused bibliographies may be selected for high interest, with the understanding that they will be transferred to the Van Pelt stacks when interest wanes and other topic emerge.
    E. Statistical compendia 3/3W
    Van Pelt Library collects statistical abstracts, yearbooks, and comparative or historical statistical works for all states in the United States and all countries of the world. Currency is especially critical with these titles. As they appear in electronic form, we will prefer networked versions when possible.
    F. Legislative Manuals and State Blue Books 3/3F
    Van Pelt Library collects directories (blue books) from all states in the US and legislative manuals (rules for law makers) from most states. Directories of foreign governments and legislative bodies, especially those of Western Europe, are also collected. Usually every fifth edition of these titles are chosen.
    G. Biographical Sources 3/3W
    Van Pelt Library collects current "who's who" volumes for all countries of the world as well as: subject specific biographical sets, including discipline based, biographical finding tools, bibliographies of biographical sources; obituary indexes.
    H. Book Review Sources 2/2E
    Van Pelt Library subscribes to the major serial English-language book review sources.
    I. Atlases, Gazetteers, Maps 2/2F
    Van Pelt Library collects general, national, and, for the US, regional and state atlases. Both contemporary and historical atlases are selected.
    J. Dictionaries 2/2W
    For major Western languages, Van Pelt Library collects unabridged, authoritative multi-volume dictionaries and primary etymological dictionaries. Other kinds of dictionaries--bilingual, slang, thesauri are collected selectively. Bilingual dictionaries are collected for some languages from Asia and the Middle East.
    K. Directories 2/2E
    Directories of organizations, associations, institutions of higher education, learned societies, social assistance agencies, federal/state/local and governmental agencies, libraries, archives and publishers are selected. Increasingly these are available in electronic form. The Penn Libraries have preferred the networked versions. Again, currency is vital.
    L. Serials bibliographies, union-lists. 2/2W
    Van Pelt Library acquires major bibliographies that allow staff and users to locate and identify serials worldwide.
    M. Newspaper Indexes, Bibliographies, Union Lists 2/3F
    Van Pelt Library collects historical and current bibliographies of newspapers for most countries of the world. Unions lists of newspaper holdings are purchased selectively. We try to acquire up-to-date listings of newspaper holdings, especially currently received papers, for local area libraries. Selecting online services providing full-text access is a priority.
    N. Dissertation sources 2/2F
    Van Pelt Library collects major bibliographies of doctoral level dissertations done in the US and Canada and in Western European countries.
    O. Guides to the literature 2/2E
    Van Pelt Library collects authoritative guides to any social science or humanities discipline.
    P. Quotation Dictionaries. 2/2F
    Van Pelt Library buys quotation dictionaries in several languages and for specific subjects, as well as general works.
    Q. Library Catalogs 1/1E
    Any newly published catalogs from national (deposit arrangement) or subject specialized libraries are purchased very selectively. By policy, we prefer to create links to web sites of other libraries.
    R. News Summaries and Services. 1/1E
    Van Pelt Library collects general English-language news summaries. For current materials, the most important news summaries are available electronically primarily through the Government Printing Office depository program.
    S. Funding sources. 1/1E
    Van Pelt Library buys current sources on financial aid and directories of grants, granting agencies, foundations, public and private funding agencies, and sources aimed at specific groups, e.g. women, minorities, etc. are collected.
    T. Travel guides 1/1E
    The titles chosen emphasize historical and cultural aspects, rather than hotel or restaurant information.
    U. Manuscript Catalogs 1/1W
    Van Pelt Library adds manuscript catalogs very selectively, e.g., major collections, regional repositories, or subject-related bibliographies of mss. Most of these are housed in Van Pelt stacks.
    V. Genealogical and Heraldic Reference sources 1/1E
    Van Pelt Library collects very selectively in this area, with the aim to serve historians and ethnic studies researchers.

Subjects excluded

Van Pelt Library collects very selectively in those areas of the social sciences and humanities which are covered by another library unit or are not central to the teaching and research activities of the University, such as journalism, sports and recreation, food and nutrition, agriculture, library science, and military science. The department does not buy how-to-do-it books or self-help manuals. We have no sources on consumer-oriented reference sources such as auto mechanics, computer games, child care, pest control, used- or new-car prices, or airline schedules. Many of these are now on the web which makes this exclusion less problematic than in the past.

Cooperative arrangements

Several seminar rooms within the Van Pelt building house important reference sources and/or entire reference collections. For example, the Music Seminar Room is in fact the music reference collection and the Music Librarian provides reference service. East Asia, Middle East and South Asia seminars also hold most reference sources for those areas and all reference titles in non-Roman alphabets. The librarians/bibliographers for those areas give reference service. The Classics and Judaica/Ancient Near East Seminars, for example, house major reference tools that are not duplicated in the general reference collection.

Some interdisciplinary subjects are covered by both Van Pelt and a departmental reference collection. The most important of these are: ecology and environment (Van Pelt RIS, Fine Arts, Biomedical to some extent); energy resources and management (Van Pelt RIS, Fine Arts, Lippincott, Engineering Library); film studies (VP RIS and Annenberg); the social, political ,and economic aspects of health care (VP RIS, Lippincott, Biomed); public opinion (VP RIS and Annenberg); urban studies (VP RIS, Fine Arts); transportation (VP RIS, Fine Arts, Lippincott, Engineering Library); and computer science (VP RIS, Lippincott, Engineering Library). Deliberate duplications are rare.

We rely on other area libraries, especially Drexel University and the Free Library of Philadelphia, for reference resources in areas that are peripheral to Penn's collections including child care, auto repair, gardening, and for material types, such as sheet maps, pictures and prints, and some of the more extensive video catalogs. We direct members of the Penn community to the appropriate local public or alternate academic library. Subscriptions to electronic union catalogs and direct links, when possible, simplify such referrals and are increasingly common.