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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.

The Selection of Library Books Today

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, January 31, 2016


Six different people within our library system are kept busy reviewing new information sources selecting possible candidates for the library to purchase.


Yes, some of those “information sources” are traditional paperbound books, while others are eBooks, and DVDs, and books on CD, and databases and so on.


Those six people are gathering suggestions from other people, and from the general public, and from professional review sources.


If you have worked around a public library for some time, you see and hear what people are reading and discussing.


The computer system is cranking out reports of what gets downloaded and/or checked out; what people request for things we don’t own in our local collections or what isn’t contained at all within the 92 library systems in our network.


Add to that the new push by authors to email library directors across the nation (Gads!) telling us every new fabulous book that they have self-published.


And of course, my favorite, those “authors” who contact me pretending to be one of our own library users shocked that we don’t own this book or that book.  Nearly 45 years of working in a library and we can see right through that ploy!


I do feel badly for a new author who has paid to have their life-long poetry published, sure that it will be a bestseller; or someone who is absolutely sure that their life story will interest someone else.


Self-publishing is pushing the number of new books produced each year to all-time high levels, and the ability to self-publish has opened the publishing world to new authors.


But according to the President of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, there are some realities in today’s publishing world:


The number of books produced every year has exploded, while book industry sales are declining.  The average book sells fewer copies, and any book only has a 1 percent chance of being stocked in a bookstore.


It is more difficult than ever to “get a book to stand out” in the crowd of new publications.


The ease of publication in either the traditional paper format or eBook format has changed the method of self-publication.


Print-on-demand in the late 1990s has made the traditional send-your-manuscript-to-a-publisher obsolete; however it makes it harder for a title to emerge into a large sales volume.


Back to libraries, a public library is a “general” library that tries to satisfy the general public’s interests and supplement with loaning policies for finding “other books.”


Academic and college libraries are supporting the curriculum needs of their institution for research.


“The Seaweeds of the Tsitsikama Coastal National Park” by Dr. S.C. Seagrief is not likely to attract shelf space in a public library.


New authors don’t seem to know that librarians are looking at networks of libraries to determine which libraries, if any, own particular authors or book titles.  An author once asked me how I could say that there was only one library in Ohio that owned her book.


It remains great fun for me to work with the other librarians in our system to select new books to purchase, or search for replacement copies for books worn beyond continued use.


I love to see a book that is absolutely worn out, spine crumbling because of continued reading.


I also enjoy seeing its new replacement; all processed and labeled ready to begin its reading journey through many hands.


That is what makes eBooks kind of odd; they just keep being used over and over and coming back home from the cloud where they reside looking brand new.


Maybe that’s why some publishers require libraries to re-purchase an eBook after 26 uses by the public.