Fairfax County Public Library

Building a strong, responsive collection with Core Collections

At a Glance

Fairfax County Public Library
Fairfax, VA

Institution Type:   Public Libraries
Related Products:   Core Collections

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Dianne Coan is the Division Director of Technical Operations at Fairfax County Public Library (FCPL), a 23-branch library system that serves 1.2 million (and growing) residents in Fairfax, VA. They also have an Access Services Outreach serving community members who are not able to get to a branch location. FCPL has subscribed to Core Collections for many years – initially to the print edition and then switching to the online database. Over the years Dianne and the staff of FCPL have refined and expanded the ways in which they use Core Collections, making it an essential tool in managing purchasing decisions, determining weeding priorities, responding to changing demographics, and building relationships with community partners.

Managing a physical collection in a pandemic

For the first three months of the pandemic, FCPL was on a freeze from buying physical materials. During this time, Dianne took a deep dive into the FCPL nonfiction collection — what were they missing? She ran queries in Core Collections to see, for example, all of the nonfiction "Essential” titles and then how their collection stacked up. If FCPL did not own a particular title, Dianne would put it on a list of "candidates to buy." 

"By putting it on that list, then I could say, 'OK, what kind of budget do I have? What kind of coverage do I have?' So I could take the list of what the experts have said 'This is something you should have in your HS collection or nonfiction for public libraries.' And then I would take that piece of it and align it with some other data and see how I could make sure I either had coverage in particular areas or make sure that because of pandemic buy restrictions I wasn't missing some of the more important works." 

Though it is always important to be careful with a physical budget, Dianne felt this even more so during the pandemic. FCPL has an extensive digital collection with consistently high circulation, which only increased during a time when fewer people were checking out physical books. “I didn’t want gaps to start creeping into our collection that we wouldn’t be able to later fill,” said Dianne. “Using Core Collections, I was able to ensure I had copies, and enough copies, of titles that were being called out.” 

"When it comes to materials and when it comes to launching a collection, that is a pretty big chunk of change that you have to invest to even get going. So we stepped into it, and we figured out ways to do it with less initial cost, knowing that we would need to expand the collection over a few years and to grow to where we wanted."  

Dianne Coan
Division Director, Technical Operations
Fairfax County Public Library

Core Collections as a weeding tool 

One of the crucial uses of Core Collections at FCPL is its incorporation in the weeding and evaluation cycle. "We primarily do centralized selection and decentralized weeding with guidance," said Dianne. This "guidance" involves considering factors such as recommendation level in Core Collections, number of items in the library system/respective coverage in the subject area, circulation data, and physical condition. Dianne and her team use the levels in Core Collections to key into what their next step should be. They have also developed a form through the FCPL intranet to communicate various new title and replacement requests, notifications, and recommendations throughout the process, as a centralized way for all branches to communicate needs with collection development.

Serving a diverse community

Fairfax County is one of the more diverse counties in the nation. The school system is highly rated. There are many languages spoken in Fairfax County — in the schools, they number in the hundreds, which can make collection development a challenge. Vietnamese, Korean, Spanish, and English language collections are the largest, with Arabic, Urdu, Mandarin, and Tamil at the children's level in "kits," a project (and collection) that is currently growing. During the pandemic, FCPL expanded Spanish into their digital collection, which had previously only included print items. 

When purchasing foreign-language titles, Dianne is looking for original language works as well as translated titles from Core Collections lists. They'll look at the "must-haves" in children's titles and then seek out translated editions.

Though Fairfax County is one of the more affluent communities in the nation, it does encompass a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds. There are pockets of "book deserts" — areas that are less economically developed, thus requiring more targeted collection development, programming, and outreach. 

Community partnerships and outreach 

One of the most crucial community partnerships in Fairfax County exists between FCPL and the county school system. By directly connecting teachers and media specialists in the school system with collection development at the library, FCPL has been able to better support students. Each branch of FCPL also has its respective set of schools, so there is individual outreach on an even more local level within the branch communities. This partnership also involves a lot of paying attention to what's happening in the schools in terms of demographics and where there are needs. This is especially true with language in a diverse community like Fairfax County. "If somebody had been coming to us saying 'Do you have Mandarin books?', 'Do you have books in Urdu?', and we were constantly telling them no, how long are they going to keep asking us before they just stop coming to us?" said Dianne. 

Dianne first consults Core Collections for the Essential titles in a collection. She will then use that list to seek out translated or original language editions. When a community is clamoring for materials in their first language, a reliable resource and outside fundraising can expedite the process. 

The diverse community of Fairfax County is also reflected in its staff and its outreach. One circulation manager reached out to her mosque and created a giving project for Ramadan, securing a donation from the Muslim American Society of Washington raising money to expand their Arabic or bilingual collection. There is a Tamil academy near the Chantilly Regional Library branch of FCPL. They made a community donation to help launch a Tamil collection. "What we found was when we got the word out was that the word traveled, and very quickly," said Dianne. 

"When it comes to materials and when it comes to launching a collection, that is a pretty big chunk of change that you have to invest to even get going. So we stepped into it, and we figured out ways to do it with less initial cost, knowing that we would need to expand the collection over a few years and to grow to where we wanted." 

Getting started

If your library is just getting started with Core Collections, Dianne has some advice for you. To start, take it slow. Try researching a specific recommendation level, subject, or Dewey range first. Once you’re comfortable with this then you can start to explore how to incorporate it into your purchasing and weeding processes. Dianne also recommends making use of the online interface, as it provides numerous ways to quickly see recommendations from the various levels. You can also upload your own collection to better compare it against suggested titles. Most importantly, don’t get overwhelmed. Core Collections has a lot of capabilities, all of which play a part in making a healthy collection — which is the goal! And you’re on your way there. 

Ready to learn more about Core Collections?