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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.

Change in Libraries: Book Selection

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, August 20, 2017


The world of libraries keeps changing as information technology changes, and grows, and our society changes.


Buying new books for a public library has dramatically changed over the past generation, and those of us who serve on our Selection Committee at the library were recently recounting how a library buys a book today compared to 1980.  (showing our ages)


The biggest single change is the loss of salespeople from various publishers and book vendors who used to set up appointments to visit the library and spend a day showing us new books and potential books in the library marketplace.


With a recent retirement, the last salesperson is now gone from our sales area.


Public libraries use “book jobbers” to acquire most new books.  They are wholesalers who serve as intermediaries between the publishers and the library marketplace.


They offer sizeable discounts and work well with library’s local government accounting systems.


The number of these jobbers has declined over the years, and most specialize in the type of library that they deal with --- and of course ordering is all “online” now.


In addition to the traditional paperbound books, we are also acquiring eBooks, online systems, and a variety of audio-visual products.


Selection is done by several library staff members, as well as library staff receiving suggestions from the public as they use our libraries.


The possible selections are assembled and reviewed, and we look at the holdings of other libraries in our network, as well as the worldwide network of library collections.


Adding to the selection process is the new era of self-publishing that comes in all kinds of formats and companies, few of which make it into the traditional library marketplace.


It is more work, more searching, and even then someone will inquire at the library desk why we don’t own this or that book that they “heard” about.


Actually for a librarian, the “hunt” is an exciting process; bringing back the days of the reference question and detective work that was required to find information in a library of days-gone-by.


“Publishers Weekly” journal remains the centerpiece of our selection process, and they too have added review of self-published books.


The problem now is that they often don’t review new books by the “big authors” like James Patterson as they assume the author’s name alone will sell the book.


Then there is the poor soul who wrote a book and paid to have it published, and then realized they have no promotional ability to get it into the library marketplace, and I get the phone call.


Recently, a gentleman called to tell about his book and wondered why we hadn’t purchased it as he was sure everyone using our library could want to read it.


Like a good librarian, I performed the reference interview and obtained as much information about the book in question, and said we would look at it.


He felt the need to tell me about the book, and rambled on for several minutes, and from his description I couldn’t even tell if it was fiction or nonfiction, although it seemed to be for an adult audience.


Anyway, the information went into the “selection file” but before I passed it along to other staff, I did further research and found that the book was published 10 years ago, and does not show as being in the collection of any library in the world.


I did find a site online that showed the actual text for the first chapter of the book, so I read, or tried to read, the chapter to determine the basis for the book.


It is safe to say that I can remember English teachers that I had in high school who would have tossed this book out of the window of their classroom.


This is an extreme example because many of the new marketplace books are delightful reading, the problem is identifying them and finding how to buy them.


The final issue is finding the book for purchase, and if the book jobber doesn’t have it, there is now a company specializing in library sales that scours bookstores around the nation to connect library’s requests with specific book titles for sale!


Old librarians mutter about the changes, but we are really excited to have all of these new online tools at our fingertips that we didn’t have in 1980.