Collection Analysis: The Conspectus Approach


For the purposes of analysing subject collections the Guide for Written Collection Policy Statements (American Library Association, 1989) strongly recommends that the conspectus approach be used by libraries of all sizes. The Guide… defines the conspectus as “an overview or summary of collection strengths and collecting intensities, arranged by subject, classification scheme, or a combination of either, and containing standardized codes for collection or collecting levels and for languages of materials collected. Such a conspectus is a synopsis of a library collection or of a consortium’s or of a network’s coordinated collection overview or policy.”
For each subject category, existing collection strength; CCI:current collecting intensity (or acquisition intensity); DCI: desired collecting intensity ( or collecting goal) are described using codes to indicate collection intensity levels. Notes are used to describe special features of the collection, e.g. chronological and geographical parameters, any subject emphasis unique to the institution, and inclusion/exclusion


The conspectus approach is not without critics who decry its subjectivity, and its use of ill-defined adjectives in its collecting level definitions. The use of the conspectus is defended for the following reasons:


  • It is a method by which the collection priorities of an institution may be summarized so that they can be easily communicated and compared for the purposes of co-operation among institutions.

  • It focuses the librarian’s attention on fundamental questions with respect to collection quality and the relationship between collection strength and utility.

  • It forces a comparison of the quality of different subject collections at the same institution and improves the librarian’s perception of collection effort and priorities.

  • It is a vehicle for communicating librarians’ opinions about their collections i.e. “subjective assertions about the value and utility of subject collections by those who are responsible for developing them.” (Ron Atkinson “In Defense of Relativism” Journal of Academic Librarianship v.17 no.6, 1992 p.354)

  • It serves as a catalyst for a systematic collection development program; although many would contend this is more a promise for the future than a present reality.