Acquisitions Librarians


Exploring this Job

There are many ways to learn more about the career of acquisitions librarian. You can read books and magazines about librarianship and visit the Web sites of library associations. (There is a good list available at You might also visit the Web sites of library acquisitions departments to learn about issues that affect acquisitions librarians. Ask your school librarian about the acquisition or collection development aspects of his or her job. A librarian, teacher, or school counselor may be able to arrange an informational interview with an acquisitions librarian.

Contact professional associations to see if they offer memberships for students or the general public. For example, through an arrangement between the American Library Association (ALA) and 46 state library associations, cost-effective joint memberships are available to students.

The Job

Acquisitions librarians are responsible for building and maintaining a library's collection of books and periodicals (including e-publications), CD-ROMs, music, videos, and other resources available for use. They must be able to balance the wants and needs of library patrons with the limitations of their budget. They work with library directors to assess the needs of the library and determine how to best allocate financial resources. Acquisitions librarians rely on reviews in trade publications, information gathered at trade shows, suggestions from patrons, vendor approval plans, and the Internet to help them make purchasing decisions.

Changing technology has created new challenges for acquisitions librarians; not only has information become more readily accessible with the advent and popularity of the Internet, it also comes in new formats. Acquisitions librarians must determine what format is best for each resource. For example, they may choose to purchase a magazine subscription in online format to save storage space or to allow more people to access the resource. Or they may prefer hard copies of a particularly popular reference material if there is a shortage of computer terminals in the library. Although space concerns can often force the issue of moving from a print to an online journal subscription, an acquisitions librarian must weigh the demands of faculty and students against the decision to end a print subscription. For example, researchers in some disciplines, such as the humanities, have been slow to make the change to online research, favoring the more measured pace of print publication and scholarship, while researchers in the sciences often demand the immediacy and currency of online publication. Acquisitions librarians must have a firm understanding of their patrons' needs and preferences, while at the same time efficiently managing an annual budget.

Acquisitions librarians may acquire resources in one subject area or in a broad range of subjects, depending on the type of library in which they work. For example, in large academic or research libraries, an acquisitions librarian, sometimes known as a subject specialist or bibliographer, may acquire resources in a specific field (such as French language and literature) in addition to performing other traditional library work in reference, instruction, or public services. In smaller academic or public libraries, all librarians on staff may have some acquisitions responsibilities, without necessarily having a deep affinity for the subjects in which they are acquiring.

In order to know what items are needed within the library, acquisitions librarians must first be familiar with the resources that are currently held within the library. They work with cataloging and circulation librarians to find out what items are most popular and which ones might need to be replaced due to wear and tear or oversights in prior purchasing. They may even help these librarians catalog and maintain existing resources, conduct repair work on used items, and assess which books, magazines, and other items need to be replaced.

Acquisitions librarians may also rely heavily on vendor approval plans, whereby book vendors and distributors deliver batches of titles to the library on an ongoing basis, based on some pre-set parameters (such as subject, publishers, genres, and so forth) that the acquisitions librarian establishes at the outset. The acquisitions librarian then decides on a case-by-case basis whether or not to purchase a title.

When budget limitations restrict purchasing, some acquisitions librarians seek out other sources of funding. They may write grants for public or private funding or lead donation drives to add to their collection.