Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Selecting Books for the Public Library in a Connected World

Relying on traditional book review sources does not cut it for us any more. It never has been a totally successful way to identify the books that the readers in our libraries want and need. Now that they are on the Internet and watching cable television, it is less than adequate. We can not limit ourselves to reading three journals and looking at publishers' catalogs. Now that our readers surf the web, listen to talk radio, and watch book programs on C-SPAN, they are requesting books that they would not have known about in the past. Their recreational interests are expanding, too. As a book selector for a medium small public library, not having the budget to buy indiscriminately, I need to identify the books with a buzz. I need to notice the books that our readers will notice, and I want to do it before they do if possible.

Here are my current sources of book news and reviews.

Publishers catalogs

We get many catalogs, but I only look at a few from publishers like Nolo Press, Human Kinetics, or Krause Publications. I know these publishers put out practical "how-to" books that are popular with our readers. Often these titles are not reviewed in the journals. I only select titles that will fit our recurring requests for legal, fitness, or collectibles information from these catalogs.

I recycle most catalogs immediately. I do keep those from major reference book publishers out of habit, but I rarely have funds to actually purchase expensive reference books any more.

Pre-publication reviews

I still select many of the books that I order from these sources because they identify books before the public becomes aware of them. In a perfect world I would read all the journals thoroughly, but I haven't the time. As a compromise, I always read Booking Ahead and Booklist and then read the other when I can.

* Booking Ahead from Baker and Taylor - I get an email alert for this each month. It links me to a web page with the reviews for upcoming books.

* Publishers Weekly

* Booklist

* Library Journal

New publication reviews

I read these to see if I did a good job of pre-publication selection. Invariably a book I skipped buying gets a great review and readers start requesting it.

* Newspaper book sections – A good review in the New York Times seems to mean more than a good review in the Chicago Tribune to my library's readers, even here in the Chicago suburbs. Both papers sometimes praise thousand page academic books that would just sit on our shelves if we bought them, so I select with care. You can follow the New York Times reviews through Bloglines.

* Powell’s Review of the Day - I read a review a day picked by the staff at through my Bloglines account. The reviews come from a mix of publications, like the Christian Science Monitor and Atlantic Monthly. They often identify literary fiction that is not hitting best seller lists but is sneaking into public conscience.


* Lists from other libraries – I get email from Downers Grove Public Library weekly. One of the features is a list with every book added to its collection that week. Downers Grove has more selectors than we do at my library, and they often seem to find useful books that I missed. Last week I ordered Countdown to Your Perfect Wedding and Fast & Fun Machine Quilting after reading my DGPL email.

* Annual best book lists from the review sources - I always find a few gems this way, but I am careful. I first check whether the books are circulating at our neighboring consortium libraries. Many books that are enjoyed by reviewers seem to be going nowhere with the reading public.

* Topical articles with book reviews - Special topical sections appear in Library Journal and Booklist fairly regularly. If 30 titles are recommended, I may buy 2 or 3.

* Book store newsletters - I am a member of Anderson's Bookshop in Downers Grove and Naperville. The book store sends me a newsletter quarterly from which I often learn of a couple of good titles.

* Independent bookseller web sites - Some of the venerable book stores are pretty savvy. The King's English in Salt Lake City and the Elliot Bay Book Company in Seattle have a good sense of what readers want.

Books in the news

* What’s on bestseller lists – If a book makes the newspaper best seller lists, I almost always buy it. If it makesthe first page of the Amazon's top 100, I consider it carefully, knowing that some flash-in-the-pan daily variations can occur in the Amazon list.

* Books in news stories - When books appear in the top news stories, we usually need to buy them. Recently books by both the husband and the parent of Terry Schiavo appear in a news story in the Chicago Tribune. I ordered both. I learned about the book concerning Barry Bonds and steroids through news stories, too.

* Blogs and Websites - The Litblog Co-op told me about Case Histories by Kate Atkinson, and I learned about the Jane Brox books from Bookslut. I am watching Likely Stories, the new blog from Booklist, to see if it helps me stay on top of books with a buzz.

Reader Requests

* "What We Did Not Have" spreadsheet – We keep a spreadsheet at our reference desk on which we note requested books and subjects that we lacked. We will consider acquiring items if we think they will used by other future readers.

* Direct patron purchase requests - If someone goes to the trouble of asking us to buy an item, we usually will, if it is reasonably priced and fits our collection.

As you can guess from reading this list of sources, selecting books for the library is not a simple "Oh, I will do it on Friday" task. Selectors have to set aside some time for reading reviews, and they also have to be always ready to jot down a title. You might find important book news anywhere.


Anonymous said...

Baker and Taylor has another great resource called Fast Facts. The National Publicity Flashes are advance notice of what books will be reviewed on what radio and TV shows. Of course, it's not comprehensive, but it gives you a sense of what your patrons will want. It's a nice selection tool and great for answering those "I heard this book being talked about on the radio..." questions. Check it out at:

ricklibrarian said...

I don't know if the previous comment was from a B&T employee or a disinterested party, but it does not really matter. I looked at the Fast Facts and there is a lot of good book news info. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I use many of the sources mentioned as well as one I started a couple of months ago. "Mentioned on TV or Radio (MOTOR)" is a daily, subscription service that provides a listing of books and music that makes the national media -- book tours, discussions, etc.

I do the adult, nonfiction selection for a two county rural system. And don't watch daytime TV.....

Hugh Fielding said...

A large percentage of the population has low level literacy skills. What strategies could you suggest for selecting library materials which would ensure more equitable access?

ricklibrarian said...

I am not a literacy expert, but I think it might help to get a good selection of shorter, less intimidating titles. This can work in fiction and nonfiction. Some books aimed at teens are quick reads that might help, too. Challenged readers will more likely try books with appealing topics. Rather vague anser, but I hope it helps.

Anonymous said...

Booklist and many other reviewers do not cover ebooks (except major reference works). Are you concerned?

ricklibrarian said...

Good question about the ebooks. It was much less an issue when I wrote this post 7 years ago. Now there are many ebook originals and print journals are struggling knowing which ones to review. Should the library dedicated journals take on everything that will be popular or only titles that libraries can acquire? Should PW and the industry-wide journals do self-published more? I am concerned and think more has to be done, but I do not know what to recommend.

By the way, I am reading an ebook right now that seems to be available only to Chicago Tribune subscribers. What should review journals do with that.