Ever wondered how books are ordered for a library? I was cleaning out my email today and found this lurking there. Someone in the system asked for a brief (ha) description of how we decide what to buy. This was my reply. Enjoy.
Well, I guess the first thing to say is that all fiction titles are eligible for purchase. There used to be an unwritten policy that we didn’t buy certain types of romance fiction (mostly the series romance books) but that is no longer the case. I don’t immediately reject something just because it was published by a certain company (like Harlequin) or because it is romance or whatever. If it is fiction, we consider it. But, just because everything is considered doesn’t mean everything is purchased.
Reviews are less helpful in fiction than in non-fiction because, unlike with non-fiction, there isn’t a blatant wrong answer. In NF, you can reject a book because it gives out bad information. (Like saying, for instance, that AIDS is spread by sharing water fountains.) That is just completely wrong, and we wouldn’t buy a book that gives out bad information. With fiction, reviews are just what people think about the book. They can like the story, or not. They can like the writing, or not. They can like the author, or the genre, or not. That doesn’t mean that any given reader will agree. So, it is difficult to rely strictly on reviews. Plus, there are a lot of fiction books that don’t even get reviewed and some that are, in genre specific magazines, may or may not be anything more than “I hated this book.” Not helpful. That said, I do READ reviews. Sometimes.
So, if not reviews then what? Well, the aforementioned genre magazines. Mystery News, Mystery Scene, Romantic Times, Locus, The Bulletin of the SFWA and Starlog are the main ones. Lots of web sites. Overbooked. (www.overbooked.org) Early Word (www.earlyword.com) GalleyCat (http://www.mediabistro.com/galleycat) CoaIM (http://www.sarahweinman.com/confessions/) are the best ones. Plus a handful of fiction listservs.
When I first started here, I had SS make me a list of branches with all kinds of neat demographic info. But, with floating, none of that matters. You just put a number in and that’s how many we have. They start out in certain places, but who knows where they will end up. Most things end up just fine, but there are some collections we haven’t been able to get right. African American fiction is the one that immediately comes to mind. The others are classics and science fiction/fantasy. I have found things in the Booksale, discards, that still have holds because people think that just because a SF/F book is not going at their branch, they should throw it away…..without checking Horizon. Floating is a partnership and I really rely on public service staff to make sure we are keeping things we need to have. They have to know who the big authors are, who has a high re-read rate, or a large number of new readers (Nora Roberts comes to mind) and who is just a flash in the pan. They need to know multiple genres and authors in those genres, an they need to do all of this without their own personal biases entering into it. For the most part, public service librarians do an awesome job. But, as with anything else, there are some areas that need work. Without them, though, this system won’t work. I only buy the books, and if they’re discarded, then we’re right back where we started.
Keeping up with new trends is essential. We buy erotic fiction, which is pretty much standard in the romance genre now. No more holding hands and then ending with a smooch. J We buy urban fiction. We buy books with werewolves, and were-lions, and…..no, I’m not kidding! Vamps, and ghosts, and whatever it is. We have a ratio of number of copies to holds, but that is flexible. I rely heavily on previously purchased works by the author to determine the number of copies. If their most recent books have done well, I’ll increase the number of copies. If I look on Horizon and see that the author’s last book has 5 copies, with 5 circ between all of them, then I’ll probably buy fewer. If those 5 copies all have double digit circs or a current hold list, then I’ll probably increase the number of the next title. If the author changes styles, or genres (for instance they go from historical mystery to paranormal romance) then I’ll increase if the new area is more popular, and decrease if not. I NEVER BUY ONE COPY OF ANYTHING. NEVER. There is no place in a 24 branch system for one copy of a new book. The fewest I’ve bought is 3 copies and even that makes me feel like I’m not giving it a chance to succeed. The most copies I’ll buy is 300. Anything over that requires more fortitude than I have. We rarely have anything go over 900 holds, so 300 is sufficient. For the bestsellers, I’ll start out with 200 (James Patterson, John Grisham, hardcover Nora Roberts) and then go from there. Strangely enough, paperback Nora Roberts titles don’t gather as many holds, even when they aren’t re-issues. Don’t know why, that’s just how it is.
Audiobooks: Because we are getting them at a much more reasonable price, I buy more copies and I buy more titles. More titles are coming out in audio format, and it is everything from the huge bestsellers to paperback originals. If it is available, I’ll try anything once. I’ve found that until you put it out there, you don’t know if people will like it. GraphicAudio specializes in paperback original authors and they make audiobooks that are like big budget action movies. People find them entertaining. They circ pretty well, and they’re only $19.95, so it’s a win-win situation.
Downloadable audio: the same basic rules apply. Because they have a mandatory 3 week loan period, I’m likely to buy more copies than I ordinarily would so people don’t have to wait so long.