What are vertical files and why have them?
For many years librarians thought of vertical files as collections of pamphlets, clippings, pictures, and maps. Early terms related to pamphlet and leaflet information include broadside, chapbook, festschrift, handbill, newsbook, and small press publication. Newer terms given to elements of this broad range of miscellaneous printing include underground publications, alternative publications, curiosa, and gray literature. The ALA (American Library Association) Glossary of Library and Information Science defines vertical file as:
vertical file 1. A collection of materials such as pamphlets, clippings, and pictures, which, because of their shape and often their ephemeral nature, are filed in drawers for easy reference.The collections of these materials in the past have been called ephemera and fugitive. Neither quite describes the subject of this book. Ephemera (materials of transitory interest) is not quite right because some items we discuss will be of lasting interest. Fugitive (hard to find) is another misnomer because most materials are very easy to locate. A more modern term, information files (files of data), is broader in scope but implies that the material is print or graphic suggests that the material will be in files. Our discussions include materials that are not limited to vertical file cabinets or limited by format. Supplementary materials (complementary to the main collection) is a term broad enough to include all kinds of materials and carries no implication of limits. Supplementary materials is the best term to describe the subject of the book.
2. A case of drawers in which materials may be filed vertically.
Descriptive terms that indicate the subject or type of material in special collections of supplementary materials include clippings file, picture pamphlet file, or report file. You may call one group of materials your transcountry file if it is limited by geography. You may call another biographical about people; another might be career or vocational; another could be maps or simply pamphlet file. You will call your materials the name that describes them for your library. You may even call your general collection vertical file.
What are the characteristics of vertical-file materials or supplementary resources?
The characteristics we associate with vertical-file materials relate to the format, subject, purpose, approach, source, availability, cost, and shelves. Most supplementary materials will have one or more of the following characteristics:
- fit in the vertical-file cabinet
- offer unique information
- focus on a small segment of knowledge
- provide current information
- have a short shelf life
- are written in simple, concise language
- are presented in an appealing format
- are available from sources other than your usual vendor
- are free or inexpensive.
Size. Most materials for vertical files will be concise. A simplification of the issue of size is to think of items for the vertical file as those things that might get lost on the shelf if they were catalogued. Most pamphlets will be 50 pages or less, but you may want to include longer items in the file such as reports, catalogs, or directories, which may be 100 pages or more. Your file cabinets will fill quickly if you include many book-length items. Items such as maps, pictures, or posters should fit into the file flat or folded in a hanging folder, file, or envelope. Alternative housing should be considered for larger items.
Subject. Materials on specific or unusual topics are often easier to find in the vertical file than on the shelf if they are organized alphabetically by subject. The patron can often bypass the index and go directly to the files.
Shelf life. Many of the items in the vertical file are important for only a brief time. If the relevance for your collection is a year or less, then the vertical may be a good way to handle the information. Examples include current class schedules for your local university or college, election materials, and reviews of a traveling production coming to your community.
Source. Much of the vertical-file information will be acquired from sources other than standard publishers or book and periodicals jobbers. Examples include associations, commercial companies, special-interest groups, and governments or government agencies. A policy may be established to house all materials from special groups as vertical-file materials.
Purpose. Ask yourself why the author or publisher produced the material. Information received from associations, special-interest groups, businesses, and government agencies often reflects the perspective or bias of the group. Much of the material provides an excellent resource, but you may choose to keep it in a temporary status rather than adding it to your permanent collection.
Availability. Much of the free and inexpensive material available in the vertical file is also available to the public for the asking. Adding the source and cost to items in your files will be an aid to users who want to acquire materials for themshelves.
Cost. Many of the items in the vertical file are available free or at very little cost. Unless otherwise noted, inexpensive will refer to items that are $10 or less. Discussions about audiovisual items such as computer programs, audiotapes, films, slides, and videotapes for supplementary collections will be limited to include only materials that are free or inexpensive. Current prices are given in this work so that the reader will have a general idea of the cost, but most items are subject to price increases. (Nothing is really free. Although many supplementary materials are free or inexpensive, you will invest time, supplies, and space. It is important to keep in mind these hidden costs when you select materials.)
Treatment. The quick-and-easy treatment and the temporary status of materials are probably the most distinguishing characteristics of items for the vertical file. Almost any kind of material in your library can be given the vertical-file treatment. Vertical-file and supplementary materials will have several of these characteristics but not necessarily all of them. The characteristics discussed relate to vertical-file materials in general, but other characteristics may be present in special kinds of supplementary materials.
What kinds of things go in a vertical file?
Vertical files contain many of the supplementary materials found in libraries. In the broadest sense these supplementary resources include everything that is not in the regular collection. Materials such as maps, government documents, and reports that are supplementary in one library may be in the main collection of another library. Historically, supplementary materials were either print or graphic, but there are now a growing number of miscellaneous items that are neither. People learn in many different ways, so librarians should be open minded in their consideration of the kinds of items they consider for addition to the collection.
Print. Pamphlets and clippings are the most frequently collected print materials, but vertical files may also include such things as annual reports, association flyers, bibliographies, biographical sketches, bookmarks, bulletins, career guides, college catalogs, comic books, court decisions, curriculum guides, election materials, exercises, exhibit catalogs, flyers, forms, government documents, guides, handouts, how-to guides, instructions, interviews, lesson plans, librettos, local history, magazine samples, mail-order catalogs, manuals, newsletters, notebook insert guides, photocopies, playbills, programs, publisher catalogs, recipes, reports, reprints, reviews, schedules, scripts, sheet music, speeches, study guides, telephone books, tests, trade catalogs, transcripts, translations, and travel brochures.
Graphics. Maps and pictures top the list of graphic materials, but other graphic materials for consideration include art reproductions, book jackets, calendars, cards, cartoons, drawings, charts, clip art, greeting cards, patterns, photographs, placemats, portraits, postcards, posters, reproductions, and time lines.
Miscellaneous. Some miscellaneous supplementary materials (audio, visual, or realia) you may find in your library include audiotapes, records and discs, book-talks, bulletin-board materials, busts, buttons, computer programs, conversion wheels, cut-outs, decorations, films, flags, flash cards, games, holiday items, interviews, lettering guides, masks, microfiche, miniature books, models, money, music, oral history, pins, puzzles, puppets, sculpture, projection slides, transparencies, and videotapes. Some of these will be a part of the regular collection in many libraries, but all of them can be considered for a vertical file or supplementary collection in other libraries.
When do you have a special library?
Decisions to create special collections are very individual. Most libraries have a few special collections. Various parts of the supplementary materials of a library can be pulled together (apart from the rest of the collection) to form a special collection. What qualifies for a special collection? Decisions are often based on format or subject, with consideration for the size of the special collection.
Format. Special collections based on format will include materials of the same format but on a variety of subjects. For example, a picture file would probably have pictures on all subjects. Traditionally, special collections of supplementary materials have included clippings, maps, pamphlets, and pictures along with perhaps government documents and audiovisual materials. All of these are “special” because of their format. Some special formats may be a part of the regular collection in some libraries and supplementary in others.
The combination of format and quantity will often determine whether you establish a special collection of materials. Large collections of materials such as maps, catalogs, newsletters. scripts, sheet music, or reports may be easier to find or for staff to manage if they are separated from the rest of the supplementary materials.
Subject. Special collections may also be special because of the topic. Special collections based on subject will likely include a variety of formats. For example, a music collection might contain biographical information about musicians, portraits, interviews, lesson plans, librettos, posters, sheet music, scripts, timelines, and study guides.
There is, of course, a very wide range of subjects that could be collected. Teachers will have special collections of materials based on the subjects they teach, associations or clubs may have special collections based on the interests of the members, academic libraries may have special collections based on curriculum emphasis, and public libraries will have special collections based on the needs of their users. Topics for general subject collections include art, geography, business, college, career, drama, education, holiday, health, language, literature, music, science, social studies, travel/countries.
Quantity. A special collection will be less likely to be overlooked if it is of substantial size. There is no specific formula for a special collection based on numbers, but it you have a collection of several hundred items or the equivalent of several file cabinet drawers, you may want to consider a special collection. There is some risk of confusing your users by creating too many special collections, but advantages of special collections are that they can be placed near related materials and can be promoted separately.
Who should collect and use supplementary resources?
Almost all librarians and teachers benefit from collecting and using supplementary materials of one kind or another. Small school and public libraries collect supplementary materials to fill gaps when they cannot buy more expensive materials. Large libraries collect supplementary materials because they want to offer both breadth and depth in the subject areas they cover. Librarians and teachers develop personal and classroom collections to enhance their work with individuals and groups.
This book was written for the small public or school library with little or no budget for supplementary materials. Throughout are suggestions for larger public and academic libraries, which, it is assumed, have a budget for supplementary materials.
Small public libraries. Small public libraries or those with practically no budget for supplementary materials can develop a vertical-file collection. There is a great deal of free material available for the asking. Libraries who have no restraints except for postage and who have time or help can build sizeable collections on a shoestring. This book is for you.
Examples of some items for consideration include selected annual reports, art reproductions, bibliographies, biographical sketches, calendars, charts, clippings, court cases, documents, election materials, government documents, guides, handouts, instructions, interviews, mail-order catalogs, manuals, maps, newsletters, pamphlets, pictures, postcards, reports, reprints, speeches, time lines, and travel brochures.
School libraries. School libraries probably vary as much as public libraries in the range of support in staff and funding. Regardless of the size of the school or the size of the budget, there never seems to be enough time or money. With a budget of a few hundred dollars and volunteer help, many schools have put together fine vertical-file collections.
Examples of items for consideration by school libraries include art reproductions, bibliographies, calendars, cartoons, charts, clippings, college catalogs, court cases, documents, flash cards, games, guides, handouts, instructions, interviews, lettering guides, maps, pamphlets, photographs, pictures, portraits, postcards, posters, puzzles, reports, reprints, schedules, scripts, slides, speeches, study guides, tests, time lines, and travel or country brochures.
Larger public libraries. Larger public libraries will probably make use of a number of free resources along with some purchased items in developing collections for travel, local history, newsletters, and pamphlets. Friends of libraries groups and volunteers can be a great help in the acquisition, organization, and management of vertical files and special collections in their public libraries. Funding for vertical-file collections in public libraries varies. A vertical-file budget of, say, $500 to $1,000 could be used to purchase some individual items, and more expensive collections could be funded through the materials-collection budget.
College and university libraries. College and university libraries may focus more on purchased items and less on free materials. Examples of purchased collections would be annual reports, art reproduction, college catalogs, charts, pamphlet collection, PhoneFiche, and time lines. … Special collections in college and university libraries may include materials such as federal and state government documents, maps, and test files. University libraries that cover a broad range of subjects are more likely to need complete sets of materials than are school and public libraries that may have more narrowly defined collections. Academic libraries may budget $1,000 or more for materials. Materials purchased as expensive sets, such as college catalogs, annual reports, or PhoneFiche, are considered a part of the serial or book collection.
Special libraries. Special libraries vary so widely in purpose, scope, and funding that it is difficult to make any comments that will be helpful to special libraries as a group. It is expected that librarians working with vertical files in special libraries will benefit from the general suggestions in part 1 of this work. There are few references to specific materials for special libraries.
Teacher or classroom collection. Teacher or classroom collections are included because a number of specific kinds of supplementary materials discussed will be collected by the classroom teacher for personal or classroom files. It is assumed that in most cases budgeted funds for the development of collections will go to the school library for common collections that can be used by all teachers in the school and that most teachers will be interested in free and inexpensive materials or materials they can develop themselves. Teachers who spend their own time and resources to develop personal collections of materials to enhance their teaching will find suggestions in this book. Personal files can be managed differently than collections used by a number of people.
Possible materials include items such as book-talks, bulletin-board materials, buttons, cartoons, charts, clip art, clippings, computer programs, felt pictures, flash cards, games, guides, guides, handouts, holiday materials, lesson plans, magazine samples, maps, masks, music (recorded or sheet music), photographs, pictures, portraits, postcards, posters, puppets, puzzles, reprints, slides, study guides, tests, time lines, and transparencies. Other possibilities include relevant bibliographies, art reproduction, biographical sketches, career profiles, court cases, flags, foreign money, and wheels and other manipulatives.
Librarian’s files. The librarian’s files are included as a separate category because there are a number of materials the librarian may prefer to keep for personal use. Examples include bibliographies, book jackets, bookmarks, book-talks, bulletin-board materials, buttons, clip art, felt pictures, forms, greeting cards, guides, handouts, magazine samples, pathfinders, and puppets.
All collections will benefit from adding information that is not available from other sources or that offers a different approach. Each collection will reflect the individual needs of that particular library or classroom as well as the amount of time and money available to develop the collection.
What do you need to build a collection?
Building a collection of supplementary materials is an area of high payoff for the dollars invested, but there is more than money involved. Commitment is essential. If you are in a small library, a school library, or a classroom setting, you must be committed to the importance of supplementary materials. If you are in a large library system, it is also critical to have the support of the library administration for continuing development. In addition to commitment you need the following:
- Budgeted funds for some purchases and a few supplies ($500 to $1,000 per year is a moderate allocation for a small collection). Additional money is required if you need to buy file cabinets or a large number of supplies. Many libraries get supplies from their general supplies, run the postage through the office expense, buy resources from petty cash, or order only “free” materials. Try to keep things simple and be aware of the costs.
- Space to house the materials and to provide for library use. You need tables and chairs near your materials, and it is useful to patrons to have a photocopy machine located near the vertical file.
- Time to supervise the acquisition, processing, and management of the materials. Ideally, coordination will be by one staff person, but volunteers or rotating help can be used for some tasks.
If you are really “tuned in” to supplementary materials, you will find them everywhere. They will be in the doctor’s office, at the grocery store, the drug-store, the copy center, even as placemats in restaurants where you eat. They will come to you from organizations, periodicals, newspapers, and many other unexpected sources. Many of these finds will be excellent additions to your collection. There are several techniques and tools for actively building your supplementary collections. Save found items that you think will be useful to your users for later reference. Begin with the following:
- Clip the local newspaper.
- Order pamphlets out of magazines you read.
- Canvas your city for materials. Sources in many cities include banks, car dealers, the chamber of commerce, city hall, the local health department, credit unions, dentists and doctors, health associations (e.g. American Cancer Society), hospitals, organizations (e.g. American Red Cross), political party headquarters, travel agencies, visitor centers, fairs, and special shows.
- Begin an active, systematic approach to developing your collection by following the suggestions in this book.
Part 2, “Supplementary Materials and Special Collections,” discusses the different types of supplementary materials and special collections. Most of the materials discussed are for information files, but also included is a section on other free and inexpensive materials and one for items for the personal files of librarians and teachers. Specific information about acquisition, processing, and management, indicating special problems and alternatives, is given for each type of material. Part 2 also discusses special collections (maps, career and local history materials, etc.) based on format and subject.
Additional information in the book includes an appendix of vendors, with addresses and resources for vertical-file projects; a glossary of terms related to working with supplementary materials; a bibliography with some annotations; and an index with subject, author, and title entries.
This book is a starting point if you are a volunteer or a library staff member just beginning a vertical file. For the experienced librarian working with an established collection, this book reviews basic principles, offers ideas for options in developing and managing collections, and makes suggestions for pursuing additional materials.
Your materials will be as valuable as you make them. Vertical-file and supplementary materials collections can be an excellent resource in even the smallest, most underfunded libraries. These materials have the potential to be the most unique and exciting feature distinguishing your collection from that of other libraries.
Sitter, Clara L. The vertical file and its alternative: a handbook. Englewood, Colorado: Libraries Unlimited, 1992.