Is “Just Necessary” a meaningless term in collection development?

I’ve been attending a number of interesting presentations lately, while my library is working on hiring a new librarian. I treat these presentations like a continuation of grad school. I can’t help it, I’m just a perpetual nerd.

All of the presentations were about building and maintaining a biomedical collection, but the principles of collection building are applicable to all disciplines. One of the interesting aspects of collection development is anticipating patron needs. That is, do you build a collection just in case someone may need a book or database down the road, or do you build it with the “just in time” mentality, hoping new books will come in fast enough?

One new term I keep hearing about is “just necessary.” I had never heard it before these prospective librarian presentations. From what I gather, Just Necessary means that there are some things that we must get, whether or not the patron demand is there. There doesn’t seem to be very much information about the Just Necessary style of collection development, so I want to try to develop a good definition for it.

What makes Just Necessary so different? It sounds like an approach to building a reference collection, instead of a circulating collection. It is Just In Case on steroids, and a small jab at the idea of getting things Just In Time.

Along the same lines, there seems to be consensus among the librarians that a good collection development plan is a mixture of Just In Case and Just In Time. Doesn’t that mixture allow for the idea that some materials are Just Necessary?

hmmm, I should continue to subscribe to this database because it’s absolutely necessary (otherwise we’d fail as a library), but these journal articles we can get just in time thanks to our consortium, and I should get a few of these other books just in case someone needs it, because there’s a good chance they will.

Yet even in that imaginary thought process, there appears to be a fine distinction between Just Necessary and the other Just In Case books. Just Necessary is not dependent on patron needs and usage. No matter how little it may be used, it’s just, well, necessary. Like those World Books and encyclopedias in many reference collections.

But are Just Necessary items actually little-used? After all, it’s┬áJust Necessary to have Harry Potter books on hand. It’s Just Necessary to have classics like Sherlock Holmes or The Canterbury Tales.

Perhaps a better way of defining Just Necessary is by erasing that last phrase. “Just Necessary means that there are some things that we must get, whether or not the patron demand is there.”

Of course, that doesn’t get into the whole definition of “necessary,” so I feel like this definition is lacking. What do you think?

  1. Is Just Necessary even a needed term to distinguish from Just In Case and Just In Time styles of collection development?
  2. If it is a needed term, is the above definition a good one, or does it need to be further explained and refined?
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