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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

Selecting things for a Library

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, July 22, 2012

The methods that librarians use to select books, DVDs, CDs, and other library materials hasn’t really changed over the span of my career, but the mechanics of obtaining those things have certainly changed.


Librarians use a combination of professional reviews, marketing information, and suggestions from the public to fill the shelves of a public library.


We monitor use patterns of our libraries, review the requests we receive for information, and merge that with what I call, “the observations of a librarian.”


Many years ago, I attended a collection development workshop for librarians, and the instructor/librarian said with determination, “You guys need to buy any cake decorating book you see advertised, ‘cause they always lose them, or smear ‘em up with icing!”


Yes, she was correct, cooking books are always popular from the general kind with American cooking, to specific cookbooks.


After 30 years at our library, I can almost scan a page of new books and tell immediately which ones will be popular at our library, and which ones won’t.


I am embarrassed when a book becomes extremely popular, and I didn’t buy it because I guessed wrong about its popularity.


At least now, with 80 library systems in our database, we can “cover” selection miscalculations and draw upon other collections to fill the void, and vice versa.


It used to be that we would read reviews of new books, and monthly type up an order sheet and mail to the book jobber.  (large library supply warehouse)


Today, of course, it is an online process that tells the status of the order, and sends the order online to the supplier.  The same is true for eBooks, DVDs, and CDs.


The more interesting orders involve looking for replacement copies of items that are lost, worn out, or are filling a void in the collection of the library.


Recently, we noted that all of our copies of “The Screwtape Letters” by C.S. Lewis were lost and paid for, or were simply worn out from usage.  One had been rebound to the point the paper was coming apart in the binding.


This is where computers and online searching has made this process easier than days gone by.


I was looking for hardbound copies of a particular edition for library usage.  No such copies were still In-Print in the jobber warehouses, but I was able to locate 2 new copies in a large bookstore through an intermediate service, at a discounted price.


After books and DVDs are no longer popular, they are sold in-masse to resellers for a discounted price, but finding the specific one you need, can be a struggle.


We also utilize books and DVDs that are donated to the library to swap with copies in the collection that are worn.  We also trade with other libraries for things that each other can use in our collections.


I look at the various books and materials arriving daily from other libraries to fill public requests, to see if there is a pattern of what we need to purchase.


There is not.  People’s requests for information are as varied as people themselves.


In my 42 years of working in public libraries, the only thing that seems to be standard in nonfiction reading is that people love to learn more about curiosities.


In fiction, the requests range from mysteries, romance, and inspirational, to fantasy, science fiction, and ghost stories.


Best Sellers overwhelm everything, yet diminish with time as they fade into the back shelves of the library.


Today’s reading interests are influenced by the media.  Someone can appear on a morning television talk show and demand skyrockets.  A mention on an Internet site or something on You Tube can have the same impact.


It is a long way from that manual typewriter where I entered the book titles and order numbers on the green sheet.  (I don’t know why it had to be green)


Yet, the public library continues with its mission of providing information to the public.  Today we have access to a multitude of information when compared to 42 years ago.