What to watch?

Working in an academic library, our collection development policies are driven by the teaching and research needs of the university. This provides some pretty clear guidelines to select within, and there is only a small amount of discretionary selecting done for non-scholarly resources.

I was walking past the trolleys of returned material recently and, slightly smugly, noticed the movie “Elephant” waiting to be reshelved. When I first came to the library  where I work in 2005, I was a Library Assistant in the Acquisitions section. One day I was doing the invoices for a box of DVDs that had just arrived and was despairing at the titles the AV Librarian had been selecting. I don’t remember what they were, but they weren’t anything a self-respecting 19 or 20 year old university student would be watching, unless they were taking it home to spend some quality time with mum for Mother’s Day.

As a Library Assistant, I wasn’t supposed to select material myself, and only the AV Librarian was allowed to order DVDs. But, feeling brave, I sneaked in orders for a couple of DVDs that I personally liked. I ordered “Elephant“, “Ghost in the Shell” and “Amores Perros“. I figured that I could put a related-to-curriculum spin on my actions if I was found out. However, I never did have to justify myself to anyone, and subsequently saw my little contribution to the Library’s collection go into reasonably high circulation. I felt like a proud parent when I became an Information Librarian a couple of years later and helped students coming in looking for manga videos.

Now, after 10 years living in a regional town that is 3 hours away from the nearest art house cinema, with two young boys who influence the small amount of movie viewing I do get time for, I would be hard pressed to select movies any better than the ones the poor AV Librarian did back then. So now I’m interested in whether there are any best practices here.

Browsing through a book on the subject “Developing Library Collections for Today’s Young Adults” (2013) the focus was on books, and generally referred to publishers lists, or subscription journals of reviews. I was surprised – for a fairly recent book I’d expected some mention of social media or sites such as Good Reads, but didn’t find it.

I also had a look at the collection development policies for some public libraries, for example this one from Coffs Harbour, whose criteria for selection of Young Adult Books are”
  • Literary merit,
  • award winners,
  • best sellers
  • Imaginative and original writing
  • Well sustained plot with effective characterisation
  • Australian authors
  • Current reading trends
  • Attractive physical presentation
  • titles listed in the Premier’s Reading Challenge.

And even though there is a lot of information on the Library’s website for teens, there is nowhere they (or any other patrons) are invited to suggest new material.

I’m  not feeling that these are going to help me discover what movies we should be purchasing to appeal to the young adults coming through our library.

So, instead, I’m going to set myself an exercise and see whether I can come up with some good practices myself.

An obvious choice would be to ask students to nominate titles, but this can be difficult. At the moment we are working on developing a library at our new campus due to open next year, so we are holding a competition asking the students to place suggestions. This is taking a lot of work and resources, and we are getting only minimal engagement. This doesn’t surprise me, university students are notoriously time poor and we are in the middle of major assignment period, so things like this are just a distraction.

I’ve been referring to Common Sense Media to check the appropriateness of movies for my children. I suspected it would be a bit young for the age groups that I’m hypothetically purchasing for, but I was able to limit my search to movies recommended for 17 or 18 year olds, and then sort by the highest ranking. After scrolling through pages and pages of horror movies and block busters, “Zero Dark Thirty” seemed to be the only one that had any scholarly value and a high ranking. On closer look though, all of the young people doing reviews were around 14 and 15, so I can’t regard Common Sense Media as useful for this purpose.

Mark Furnell is the movie reviewer on Triple J, so I had a browse around on his site. It turns out that you have to listen to each of his reviews to hear his rating. After listening to a few, I’ve decided to purchase “Paper Towns“. He gave it 4 out of 5 stars, and although I’d thought it was more geared towards high school students, Mark advises that it pulls apart lots of young adult movie cliches, especially the Manic Pixi Girl trope, so it might be of value to the English and Theatre Media students.

Googling “Cannes Film Festival”, I skipped the official website and went to the Guardian’s complete list for 2015, where the face of Amy Winehouse filled my screen. Now, I remember Amanda Palmer raving about the “Amy” documentary earlier this year – although neither of these ladies would be contemporaries of the 19 year olds I’m purchasing for. However I’m going to take a chance that they’d be interested in Amy Winehouse’s life, in the same way that I was interested in the documentaries of the musicians that were slightly ahead of my age group.

Finally, I Googled “Best films of the last 10 years”, which resulted in so many lists that I gave up on my experiment. I’m very concerned that I’ve only got three movies and no diversity whatsoever. Some of the lists of best films looked quite good, and if pressed I would probably work through them as they did tend to display a bit of multiculturalism. The trouble is that I couldn’t determine the demographic of the people curating the lists or the readers of the website. Without knowing this, I wouldn’t feel confident that these are the movies that would resonate with young adults.

So, I’ve concluded that it is lucky that I’m no longer working in Acquisitions, and that I’m not employed at a public or school library. Looking through the lists, I don’t even recognise most of the directors and actors. And I suspect that, once you are out of touch, it takes a lot of effort to rebuild that knowledge. I have a lot more sympathy now for the AV Librarian back then, but I’m also going to talk to our current Acquisitions staff and ensure they are utilising the knowledge and opinions of the younger Library staff that we have.


Pattee, A. (2013) Developing Library Collections for Today’s Young Adults. Scarecrow Press


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