Reference Collection Development Policy

Revised February 2016

Table of contents

The Reference Collection Development Policy describes the purpose of the reference collection and provides general guidelines for management of the collection. For all areas not specifically addressed in this policy, see the Collection Development Policy at


The reference collection is meant to serve the research and information needs of the students, faculty, and staff at James Madison University. The reference collection should provide users with a current, authoritative collection of non-circulating materials that will answer quick, factual questions on a variety of subjects.

Most of the materials acquired for the reference collection are selected to support the current curricular needs of the university. However, a more limited portion of the collection supports the general information needs of JMU Libraries users, including regional, legal, and health resources.

The reference collection should be as lean as possible to enable efficient use of the collection and to remain within the boundaries of the designated reference section. The reference section is not a repository for all works that have “dictionary”, “encyclopedia”, or similar words in the title; many such works are more appropriately housed in the circulating collection.


The development and management of the reference collection is the joint responsibility of the reference coordinators and the liaison librarians. General reference resources are selected by the reference coordinators. Liaison librarians are responsible for reference materials related to their subject areas. This includes the full life-cycle of reference collection management, from selection to withdrawal.

Each library location will develop internal practices related to maintenance of the reference collection. These practices should be reviewed with the relevant technical services units.

Collecting Guidelines

JMU Libraries provides access to a wide variety of reference resources in both print and electronic formats. Accessibility should be a guiding principle when it comes to the selection of materials for the reference collection. This includes the decision as to which works to purchase, the selection of a format (e.g. print or electronic) for a specific title, and the choice to place a print work in the reference section rather than in the circulating collection.

In addition to the criteria listed in the Collection Development Policy, materials for the reference collection must have added reference value. Elements that add to the reference value of a work are that it:

  • Is designed as a reference work
  • Supports the current curriculum at JMU
  • Maintains a broad base of interest and heavy potential use
  • Has a compelling justification for being limited to in-house use, such as size, value, or demand (for printed reference materials)
  • Possesses indexing that is becoming of a high quality reference book

A work may meet one or more of these criteria but still not be appropriate for the reference collection.

Specific Resource Types

The ready reference collection is shelved near the reference/information desks and includes a limited number of resources, such as style guides, that are frequently used to answer reference questions.

Substantial dictionaries of English and other languages will be purchased for the reference collection. Foreign-language dictionaries will be limited to those that support the study of languages taught at JMU.

Resources with a very narrow focus, such as encyclopedias or bibliographies about a single person, will generally not be purchased for the reference collection. Exceptions may be made for topics or individuals for which there are high demand among our users, such as William Shakespeare.

Consumer-oriented publications, such as career guides, travel guides, pocket dictionaries, test preparation materials, and automobile repair manuals, are not included in the reference collection.


When a reference resource is available in multiple formats, the advantages and disadvantages of each format should be carefully considered before purchase. In general, electronic versions are preferred in order to provide maximum accessibility to all JMU users in all physical locations. If an electronic version is available, justification must be provided for purchasing the print version instead (e.g. the electronic vendor’s licensing terms are unacceptable, poor user interface, or inadequate reproduction of content).


While JMU Libraries normally acquires only one copy of a title, the nature of the reference collection may make duplication of titles necessary. Ownership of a particular print reference title in one location does not preclude purchasing a second print copy for another location.

Except in rare cases, print copies will be removed from the reference collection after an electronic version of the same title has been purchased. A title may be retained in both print and electronic formats when there is justification for keeping the print version (e.g. continued access to the electronic version is uncertain or the print version includes content not available in the electronic version).


Reference materials should be weeded on the same cycle as circulating materials in the same call number range. Additional weeding of the reference collection may sometimes be necessary due to space constraints or other special circumstances.


For more information relating to replacements, weeding, and preservation please refer to the JMU Libraries Collection Development Policy:

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