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Physical sciences & engineering reference collection policy

Liaison librarian

  • Louis [dot] Houle [at] mcgill [dot] ca (Email) 514-398-4763

Collection policy under revision

I. Introduction

Reference collection

The reference collection in the Schulich Library of Science and Engineering consists of approximately 3,000 print and electronic sources. It encompasses engineering and physical sciences reference works as well as some multi-disciplinary and interdisciplinary materials.

Objectives of the reference collection policy

This policy provides guidelines for the development and maintenance of a reference collection that will:

  1. support the academic programs in engineering and physical sciences at McGill University.
  2. meet the needs of the Library's clientele for factual and bibliographical information.
  3. ensure efficient operation of the reference, online and interlibrary loan services.


The first priority is to provide reference materials which directly support the academic programs of the university in engineering and physical sciences.

Clientele to be served

The objectives of the collection policy and the criteria for selection are focused on the academic requirements of the faculty, researchers and students in the departments of the faculties of Science and Engineering listed in Part II subject scope. The Reference Collection serves a larger user group as well.

Reliance on other libraries

At present, informal cooperation with other McGill libraries assures minimum duplication of specialized materials and adequate coverage of overlapping areas. Reliance on other university libraries for reference resources is kept to a minimum. There is a certain amount of dependence on local special libraries for subject specific materials and Ecole Polytechnique for standards.

Selection committee

The Schulich Librarian is responsible for the coordination of purchases for reference to ensure that all subjects and multidisciplinary areas have balanced coverage.

There is no formal reference selection committee. All librarians have subject selection responsibilities and are expected to forward suggestions for the purchase of reference materials and to provide advice in his/her subject field. Similarly, recommendations are forwarded to the subject selectors for the purchase of materials which do not fall within the scope of the Reference Collection. It is also the responsibility of the librarians to suggest transfers and withdrawals of reference materials.

To ensure reference support of existing and newly approved courses and programs, the appropriate academic documentation is reviewed regularly and clarification is sought from faculty when necessary.

Because a collection policy is not a static set of rules but is a changing, developing code of principles, it constantly must be subject to expansion, amendment and refinement. Consequently the Schulich Librarian consults regularly with colleagues in other libraries and departments, especially concerning subject areas which lack clear definition. It is the responsibility of the entire department to be sensitive and responsive to the need for changes to this policy and to draw to the attention of the Schulich Librarian the desirability of additions or alterations.

Every few years, the Head of Public Services' file of notes concerning possible changes should be drafted into the policy, which is then reviewed by all the Department's librarians. The Head of Public Services would submit the final draft to the Physical Sciences and Engineering Area Librarian for approval.

Definition of a reference work for the purposes of the Schulich reference collection

In general terms, a reference work is defined as one designed by its arrangement, treatment or content to be consulted for bibliographic or factual information. As a rule only titles which fall within the scope of this definition, and which meet both the general and specific criteria set out in this policy are kept in the Reference Collection. Dictionary or encyclopedic format alone does not lead to automatic inclusion. Books or other materials are added to the Reference Collection because they serve a reference function.

II. General selection criteria

Academic level

Reference works are selected for the use of Mcgill staff and students working at the undergraduate, graduate, and research level.

Subject scope

Schulich Library serves:

The Faculty of Engineering, Departments of:

  • Chemical Engineering
  • Civil Engineering and Applied Mechanics
  • Electrical and Computer Engineering
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Mining, Metals and Materials Engineering
  • School of Architecture

The Faculty of Science, Departments of:

  • Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences
  • Chemistry
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences
  • Geography (Physical)
  • Mathematics and Statistics
  • Physics
  • School of Computer Science

Research Facilities, including:

  • Biomedical Research Unit
  • Geotechnical Research Centre
  • McGill Research Centre for Intelligent Machines (McRCIM)
  • McGill Metals Processing Centre
  • Office of Technology Transfer (OTT)
  • Polymer McGill


Whenever possible, materials are selected on the basis of a favourable review or annotation in a reputable source. As it is not always practical to await reviews of current publications, the reputation of the author, the publisher, and the credentials of the issuing body are taken into account.

Chronological limits

The aim is to acquire and retain works which are currently the most authoritative in their fields. Therefore the acquisition of currently published material has priority. The collection is kept up-to-date by the acquisition of new materials and the retirement of superseded volumes.


When the title is available electronically, the electronic version is usually preferred. When there is a choice of binding, the hard bound edition is usually preferred.

III. Specific policies

Almanacs, annuals and yearbooks

Generally only the latest volume of an almanac, annual or yearbook is kept in Reference; however, exceptions are made for backfiles of encyclopedia yearbooks and some annual reviews.


A selection of core, comprehensive Canadian and world atlases are maintained.


Subject bibliographies and guides to the literature are not heavily used in science and engineering. They may be collected if they complement existing courses or subject focuses at McGill.

Binding policy

Monographs: Most catalogued monographs are bound except for loose-leaf and quality spiral bound materials.

Serials: All serials which are to be retained permanently are bound. Annual indexes must also be bound either with the journal or separately.

Biographical directories

The following biographical tools are included in the Reference Collection:

  • Current biographical works in science and technology (Who's Who type; American men and women of science).
  • Specialized biographical works are considered on their individual merits and for their potential usefulness in the Reference Collection. Titles which have a very narrow regional, chronological or subject scope may be recommended for the stack or Mossman collections.

Business and commercial directories

Canadian and American business and commercial directories are collected extensively by the Humanities and Social Sciences Library. Since these materials are very expensive, Schulich Reference duplicates only heavily used product indexed titles: Frasers Canadian Trade Directory


All materials in the Reference Collection should be catalogued.


All dictionaries in the engineering and physical sciences subject areas are considered for the Reference Collection. Emphasis is placed on current authoritative works of a general nature, i.e. French-English computer science. More specialized subjects and multi-language dictionaries would then be collected selectively depending on current research fronts at McGill, i.e. Japanese artificial intelligence. Very few basic non-science dictionaries would be purchased since these are available at McLennan.


Of materials in the Schulich stacks

Duplicate copies of works available in, or on order for, the Schulich stacks are ordered only if their transfer to Reference would mean breaking up a set or if it is believed that a circulating copy should be available as well.

Of materials in other McGill Library reference collections

Duplication of reference works available in other McGill library reference collections is limited largely to interdisciplinary works relevant to a field of study for which the Schulich Library is responsible and to works which are basic to fundamental reference.

Electronic sources

Policy not yet decided.

Encylopedias: general

Only one current English language general encyclopedia and its supplements or yearbooks should be considered for purchase. Superseded editions of current English language general encyclopedias may be transferred to a branch library. Current Canadian Encyclopedia would be purchased (and Quebec if extant).

Encyclopedias: specialized

The most important English language encyclopedias in science and technology should be purchased, as should works in the specific subject areas served by Schulich Library. Expensive or highly specialized subjects would only be purchased if research warranted it. Superseded editions would be kept in the stacks.

Gazetteers and place name dictionaries

Reference would purchase one general world gazetteer only. Humanities & Social Sciences Reference also has a basic collection of international gazetteers and place name dictionaries.

Government documents

The Government Information Service's reference collection is fully catalogued. It includes both trade and government published works which relate to its holdings and support its functions. The Government Information Service offers to the Reference Department publications received on a depository basis which may be more suited to the Schulich reference collection. Reference duplicates Government Information Service's reference materials only when warranted by heavy use.

Guides to graduate study

Interdisciplinary guides to graduate study, e.g. Peterson's Guides and Directory of Canadian Universities are selected, as are specialized guides for graduate study in the disciplines served by Schulich Library.

Handbooks and tables

The Reference Department maintains a highly selective collection of subject handbooks and tables. Works of this type which are extremely limited in scope and would serve only a small minority of users are excluded. They would be more suitable in the stacks where they could be borrowed.

Library and information science

In general, library and information science materials are not selected for the Reference Collection. Exceptions are made for thesauri, guides to the literature in science and technology, and reference works in information technology and online searching.

Patent information

Canadian Patent Office search tools (subject matter index, classification manual and patent class listing) are kept in reference as are the class definitions, abstracts on microfiche of Canadian patents since 1976 and the latest unbound issues of the patent office record. All of these items are received on deposit from the Canadian Patent Office. They require reference assistance if they are to be used by the public.

Schulich Library keeps the abstracts to Canadian patents only - not the actual patents. These patents may be purchased from Micromedia. Users of patents are referred to both Micromedia and the Canadian Patent Office in Hull.

Current guides to patenting (both Canada and U.S.) are kept in reference.

Periodical and union lists

Union lists of scientific periodicals are collected. A special effort is made to collect the serials lists of academic, public and special libraries in this province.

The Reference Department maintains a current collection of publishers' catalogues.

Quotation books

Only the current editions of major English language dictionaries of quotations are kept. Books of scientific or technology quotations are also selected.


When, after a reasonable length of time, a missing publication is declared lost, it is automatically considered for replacement. The criteria for decisions relating to the replacement of lost materials are identical to those for the selection of new acquisitions.

Photocopies of missing pages are obtained immediately upon the discovery that they are lacking. Single pages may be tipped in - whole sections will be rebound.

Resume guides

An up-to-date sample of resumé guides is maintained.

Scholarships, fellowships and grants

The Reference Department attempts to maintain a good basic collection of materials relating to scholarships and grants available to Canadians for the pursuit of university level work. Since the Research Grants Office of the Faculty of Graduate Studies keeps up-to-date files of pamphlets relating to foundation and government research grants, this type of material is not acquired.


The reference department does not actively collect and maintain complete sets of standards.

Standards collected in Schulich are:

  • an individual title requested for a course or to support a McGill research area.
  • current edition of local, provincial, and national building and electrical codes.
  • CGSB (Canadian General Standards Board) and Normes du BNQ (Bureau de Normalisation du Quebec) - on deposit.
  • annual book of ASTM standards is purchased every 2 or 3 years (Schulich has attempted to co-ordinate purchase with Concordia, who order every three years, to avoid duplication).

Current catalogues for Canadian (CSA) foreign (ISO, ANSI, BSI) and subject specific (IEEE) are kept to allow verification and/or direct ordering of specific standards by the user.

Indexes or concordances providing access to equivalent standards would also be considered.

Standing orders

Statistical yearbooks

Official statistical yearbooks (national, international, municipal, etc.) are collected by the Government Documents Department. Only Canada Yearbook, Le Quebec Statistique and U.N. Statistical Yearbook are duplicated in Schulich Reference (not on a regular basis). Subject specific yearbooks are collected in areas such as metals.

Style manuals

A good selection of current style manuals suited to the needs of Schulich users is maintained, i.e. sci-tech focus preferred. Those, however, which are designed to serve the purposes of a single journal, learned society, or publisher are selected only if they have an established reputation for use by a wider public, e.g. Chicago Manual of Style.

Trade bibliographies

The books-in-print covering Canadian, American, and British publications are kept in Reference. The Department relies on McLennan Reference for all other books-in-print.

University and college calendars

Only current issues of McGill, Ecole Polytechnique and Université de Montréal calendars are kept. (Concordia and UQAM calendars should also be held.)


The Reference Collection is regularly weeded in order to keep it useful and current. In deciding which materials should be retired to the stacks and which should be withdrawn, a very conservative policy is followed with respect to science and technology works, (with a view to preserving materials for future generations of scholars). For general reference works, Schulich Library relies on McLennan to retain the single historical copy of superseded items.

McGill University Libraries Interim Collection Policy, January 1995

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