Monday, September 15, 2008

How libraries order books

by Liz Rozanski

Some of the sweetest words I heard as a YA library associate were the ones the director spoke about encumbering more money. In library speak, that means order books. My experience is based on my town’s library with a collection of over 90,000 titles. The reference staff ordered books and other materials for their assigned areas. In addition to ordering new materials, staff monitored the collection’s condition. Larger libraries will often have an acquisitions department to order for the entire system and the librarians in the actual library might not have any input as to what titles are purchased.

Books land on library shelves in different ways. Some books arrive automatically to the library via a plan called a standing order. Librarians are given access to preset lists of authors through their ‘jobber.’ These lists are compiled by companies such as Baker and Taylor, Ingram or McNaughton. Typically the lists include well known authors. The librarian selects to automatically receive a set number of copies of an author’s latest release. Our library has standing orders for such writers as Janet Evanovich, John Grisham and Nora Roberts. Any time those authors released a book, the library automatically received between 5-7 copies of the title. Other standing order plans target books once they hit the NY Times best seller’s list. A few plans target authors who have received a substantial amount of marketing support from a publisher. Those lists are full of books expected to become best sellers. One list brags of a 97% accuracy rate for predicting a book’s success.

A library’s collection, however, is more than just best sellers. Midlist authors do get on the shelves and that is where catalogs and websites come in. Often publishers will take out advertisements in the catalogs the book distributors send to libraries as well as the professional journals librarians receive. In addition to advertisements, these catalogs contain book reviews. As the YA person, I read catalogs generated by our jobbers and scanned online booksellers and review sites for new books. I chose not to use a standing order plan. I liked to have funds available to purchase a broader variety of titles than what the YA standing order plans offered.

Our library also considered customer requests in ordering titles. If a customer requested a title to be added, the librarian would attempt to purchase that book. If the book wasn’t available through the regular channels, however, the book couldn’t be added. Every so often an author would donate their book to the library. As long as the book wasn’t self published, the library would add it to the collection.

When books arrived at the library, the titles were checked against the invoice. Back order is a dirty word to librarians. Nothing worse than expecting a book and being told it isn’t available now. Each book’s MARC record must be uploaded into the library’s catalog system. MARC records contain all the information that builds the book’s page in the computer catalog customers use when they search for books. The books are often stamped by hand with the date they entered the collection. Books come already processed with bar codes, collection codes and even genre stickers, but those services cost the library additional money for each book purchased.

Once the book makes it to the shelf, the condition of the book is checked as it circulates. Bestsellers and new releases often have a special place in the library and are kept in that location for a set period of time before being moved into the regular collection.

When the collection is weeded, books may be discarded as they become worn. Also, some libraries will discard the extra copies of a ‘hot’ title once it is over a certain age. The library’s circulation system is checked to determine the number of times a title circulated and the library can use this information to decide whether or not to order a replacement copy or perhaps other books by the author.

Liz Rozanski served as the Young Adult library associate from 2005-2007. Upon her retirement she joined the Friends of the Library and was asked to manage, as a volunteer, their new used book store. The store celebrates its first anniversary in October and has raised over $32,000 for the library. When she isn’t at the library, she is in the stands cheering on her kids’ soccer teams. Or, she just may be at the kitchen table working on her own books and ignoring piles of laundry and dirty dishes.


Marta Stephens said...

Hi Liz! Great to be able to put a face with a name. Thanks for this interesting insider's view on library systems.

Our local library has been one of my greatest supporters and plan to contact more libraries this year in the hope that they too will care both of my books.

Great seeing you here at MB4!

EYR said...

I would strongly encourage authors to contact their local libraries about their books. Sometimes all it takes is a donation of a title and an offer to put on a program of some sort to get the proverbial foot in the door.

Our Friends group has sponsored authors to come and read portions of their books. We've also arranged for our local Barnes and Noble to be on hand to sell the titles. Works well for everyone.

Kim Smith said...

Found this fascinating!

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Liz, welcome to MB4, and thanks for this insider's glimpse into what was a mysterious process! Great article, hope you'll come back again soon. ;o)