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Group Libraries: Finding Balance In Your Collection

Anne Marie Miller
Atlanta GA USA
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 40 No. 1, February-March 2004, p. 16.

Anyone know when these [books] were removed from the Bibliography? I am auditing the Library with the list…and cannot find these books listed anywhere...."

"We own eight big crates of books and few of them are ever checked out. Whenever a new book comes out, we buy it and it is used for a few months, but then forgotten. We cannot store the books at our meeting place...Nobody wants to be the Librarian...I love having the books at the meeting as I can pull just the book a mother needs...but the physical mechanics of having the whole Library there every month is a real chore."

All of these questions relate to a topic familiar to every professional librarian—collection development. As the daughter, stepdaughter, and wife of librarians, I have heard this topic discussed for over 30 years. It is easy to assume that when you first become a Leader, all you need to do to develop a Group or personal LLL Library is rely on the LLLI Bibliography. Then you start running into some dilemmas. What should you do about the old copies of Mothering Your Nursing Toddler? Are the childbirth books out of date? What do you do with the book that is in perfect shape but is eight years old and never checked out? How many books does an LLL Library need? How can a Group Library meet the needs of the particular group of mothers in the area? What about that favorite title that has gone out of print, and then back into print, but doesn’t show up on the current list? It is important to develop and maintain a balanced collection of books in your Group Library. This set of guidelines summarizes what I have worked with for many years.

Use the LLLI Bibliography

The LLLI Bibliography, the list of books approved for use in Group Libraries, has far more books on it than most Groups will ever need or be able to purchase. Several members of the Book Evaluation Committee (BEC) have read each book listed, looking for accuracy in breastfeeding content, topic suitability (relevant or related to LLLI’s purpose, philosophy, and/or mission), new information, and how the book compares to other approved books already on the list that address that subject. Most books fit in one of these four major categories: breastfeeding, childbirth, nutrition, and parenting. If you look at the Bibliography, you will discover that there are other categories (Children’s Books, Special Situations, Professional & Advocacy, Audio Tapes, etc.), but the four major categories listed above are a good place to start in developing a basic Group Library.

Is this a comprehensive list of all books on those topics available in bookstores? No, it can’t be, because there are always new books being published, and books go in and out of print unpredictably. However, by providing this list, the LLLI Book Evaluation Committee has helped weed through the large number of books that are published. Many of the books we review are rejected because they are poorly written, inaccurate, or not in harmony with La Leche League’s mission and philosophy. If you find a good book that you don’t find on any of the indexes on the LLLI Web site, consider making a recommendation to the BEC at chair at (email).

Build Your Library’s Foundation

Your first two books should be THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING (the most recent edition available in the local language) and WHOLE FOODS FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY. These books provide basic information on breastfeeding and nutrition—the core of our organization.

Include Books from the Four Major Categories

Have at least one book in each of these four major categories: breastfeeding, childbirth, nutrition, and parenting and child development. If your Group has little money, THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING and WHOLE FOODS FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY could be two of those four books.

In picking the first set of four books, focus on the new mothers looking for information about their very young children. Also, pick fairly general titles within that framework. MOTHERING MULTIPLES is a fantastic breastfeeding book—but unless your Group focuses on mothers of multiples, purchasing that book for a Group Library is a low priority. (It still might be a great reference book for your personal collection.)

Expand to Meet the Group’s Needs

As your Group Treasury allows, start looking at the issues the mothers in your Group most commonly face and pick books relevant to those issues from among the titles on the Bibliography. Also, find out their patterns of reading. Some mothers may prefer books on tape, videos, or LLLI Conference session tapes.

Mothers who return often become Group helpers and future Leaders who often want to read more. You can have fun picking and choosing among new titles as funds are available. If a mother wants to read more than the Group and she can afford, check to see if another Group or Leader can lend you a book. Also, see what your public library owns or what they can obtain through interlibrary loan.

Periodically review your collection. Books with technical information and very specific listings of brand names tend to become outdated in about five or six years. Plan your book budget to replace books, especially ones on childbirth.

How Many Books Does the Group Library Need?

It is neither necessary nor practical to own every book listed in the Bibliography. Keep in mind that public libraries are always weeding their collections, both to remove outdated material and to make room for new purchases. If you find the Group Library becoming unwieldy, it may be time for you to weed. Look at things such as the condition of the books, how often they are checked out, and how many titles you have on any one subject. It may be enough to bring just a part of the collection to the meeting. Or perhaps it is simply time to bite the bullet and downsize the Group Library. On the other hand, you may find that the Library is a magnet for mothers and that you need to celebrate your collection. This is a decision that will vary tremendously. Even if you do decide to keep your large collection, take time to review it carefully to make sure it is up-to-date and in good condition. It becomes easy not to see the worn out books and outdated material when you are busy with other things.

Many women in La Leche League tend to have trouble with the idea of discarding a book. If you don’t need a book but it is still useful, consider selling it or donating it to a Group with less money. One Group reviewed its collection, discarded a number of titles, and then let the mothers in the Group buy the books at used book rates. The Group gained some money, lightened their load, and enriched the mothers in the Group.

"Outdated" Books

What about the older, nontechnical books? Were they originally on the LLL list? Is there an updated edition? What condition are they in? Again, go back and look at your collection as a whole. When you look at the titles you own, have you reasonably covered the major subject categories? Are you considering the needs of the newcomer mothers with very basic questions? Does your Group have the budget to replace old favorites that are wearing out? Is there a title that can adequately replace the out-of-print and disintegrating favorite on discipline or child development?

When a book goes out of print, the BEC lists it as out of print for a while and then, if it hasn’t been revised or reprinted, puts it on the delete list. Only rarely is a book deleted for content—unless it is technical, in which case you can assume about five years of usefulness. Sometimes there is a better book available on a topic. Remember that the BEC provides the delete list as a guideline, not as absolute insistence on a book’s removal from your Group Library. We are dealing in practicalities here. Babies don’t change. A book you already have that is not technical in nature and is in good shape is likely to remain useful for some time after a publisher has stopped printing it.

At the same time, I encourage you to review older books in your Library to see if the language and context of the material still apply to the mothers you serve. I have come across books used by LLL 40 years ago and, because of the dated images and language, the message becomes lost to many of today’s mothers, even if the information is still accurate. This is where we are walking that line between the guidance provided by the larger organization, and the intimate knowledge we have of the needs of our local area.

It’s always preferable to have the latest editions of books because the language and situations discussed will have been updated. Revised editions may be expanded from the original, which means we have more ideas to help mothers and fathers with their babies. At the same time, if the Group’s budget is tight, it is probably preferable to keep an old copy of The Fussy Baby because you want something about that topic in the Library.

Books that have more technical information often need updating as we learn more and as situations change. A book may not be as up-to-date as we would like and might need to be removed, even if it is in good condition. The books I most frequently find myself replacing are childbirth books. I also tend to check nutrition books to see how general they are. I remember a nutrition book from years ago that discussed a lot of specific brands of food. Such a book would rapidly become inaccurate and outdated as manufacturers change ingredients.

Also, it is important that La Leche League, as the foremost authority on breastfeeding, present up-to-date and accurate information.

It can be unsettling to realize that you are part of the decision-making process in developing the Group Library, but you really are able to do it. When you do the overview I have suggested, you will often find that the decisions become obvious. If you are still having trouble deciding about a particular book, talk it over with another Leader or your District Advisor/Coordinator. Remember, though, that you are the one who knows best the population you are serving. Focusing on supporting LLL’s mission and serving the women in your own community will help you develop a good Library that serves your Group well.

Anne-Marie Miller has been involved in LLL since 1978. She was accredited as a Leader with the Atlanta-Emory Group in 1979 and still works with that Group, as well as serving as Associate Division Finance Administrator for the EUS and participating in LLLI’s Book Evaluation Committee. She and her husband, Tony, live in Atlanta, Georgia, USA and have four children and one grandchild.

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