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The McCollister Collection: Recreational reading at the library

By September 25, 2017September 16th, 2023No Comments
The McCollister Collection bookshelf

The McCollister Collection bookshelf on the first floor of Wilson Library.

By Jon Jeffryes

“Does the library have any…fun books?”

Ask almost any University of Minnesota Libraries staff member and they’ve probably encountered some form of this question. With a collection focused on supporting the research and education needs for faculty, students, and researchers, it’s easy to see why some people might believe that all of our books are weighty and serious.

But the answer to the question is an emphatic “Yes!”

The McCollister Collection

The Robert & Virginia McCollister Collection for Contemporary Literature on the ground floor lobby of Wilson Library provides access to many of the Libraries’ most page-turning popular books.  The collection is designed to be browse-able so readers can peruse the shelves to find their next great reading experience. Comfortable chairs can be found next to the shelves to facilitate the leisurely sampling of a book or two.

The Libraries has always selected books of fiction and popular nonfiction along with scholarly titles, but those books can be hard to find when they’re interspersed within a collection of more than 7.3 million volumes.

It’s difficult to browse the shelves for current literature. “At an academic library, current literature is interfiled with criticism and the old is next to the new,” explains Malaika Grant, the English and Literature Librarian who coordinates the McCollister Collection.

Robert and Virginia McCollister — great lovers of literature with a passion for literary conversation — donated the funds to start the collection in 2005.  Robert McCollister had worked on the University of Minnesota campus for over 40 years as a faculty member and associate dean in the Medical School. He often used Wilson Library’s collections to access literary titles to read for personal enjoyment.

‘It’s mostly contemporary literary fiction, some popular nonfiction’

The collection has a base of 200 books. The books come to Wilson Library through a book-leasing program, so titles only remain while there’s demand for them. Seldom borrowed books rotate out of the collection on a quarterly basis and are replaced by a refreshed collection of new and noteworthy popular books. Another similar popular reading collection can be found in Walter Library.

“It’s mostly contemporary literary fiction, some popular nonfiction and a little bit of popular genre fiction.” Grant says.

Grant reviews popular bestseller lists like The New York Times and Amazon as well as lists produced by National Public Radio to help generate ideas for books to add. As the librarian for English and Literature, Grant also reads through many book reviews to determine the best books for the collection.

“It’s part of my workflow,” Grant explains, “I’m adding for our collection, I’m figuring out what also should be in McCollister, or what should just be in McCollister and not in our collection.”

‘We’re supporting students as whole people’

The titles most likely to circulate are literary fiction. Grant cites Commonwealth by Ann Patchett, The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, Yes Please by Amy Poehler, and All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr as recent popular selections. They get checked out again almost as soon as they’re returned to the shelf.

Grant learned that serialized books in the mystery and science fiction genres don’t circulate well — so she tends to avoid them. But standalone titles in those genres are popular. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins were two long-circulating popular titles that recently rotated out of the collection.

The collection provides more than just free access to best sellers.

“It’s something to do to relax,” Grant says. “We’re supporting students as whole people and not just their academic life.”

Mark Engebretson

Author Mark Engebretson

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