I just bought books from Amazon…

Ok, I just bought books from Amazon. “What?” you say, “You work in a library. Why are you buying yourself books?” Well, I’m going to let you in on a little bit of our buying process at the Avalon Library (specifically stated, because acquisitions policies in  libraries differ). The books that I bought are very specific to yoga and anatomy, subjects that I feel will not circulate well in the library. They are not general works on yoga, which might go out, but very specific works on a particular topic within the field of yoga.  So, I figured it was unethical for me to buy something that only I was likely to be interested in reading.

So, have you ever wondered why sometimes when you request a book from the library we purchase it, and sometimes we get it for you from another library (i.e. Interlibrary loan)?

There are a couple reasons why we buy a requested book: 1. We think it will be popular with  other patrons too. 2. It is too new to get from another library, even if we are not sure if it will be popular with other patrons. 3. It is a classic work and we think that we should have it in the collection, no matter what.

We will try to get the book from another library if: 1. The book is out of print. 2. The book is too specific to be of interest to our general population. 3. The book is expensive and does not merit acquisition, according to our criteria. Most likely, the book is out of print. Also, we will interlibrary loan books for book clubs if they are older and there is large demand for a short period of time (i.e. the month the club is reading the title). This saves precious room on our shelves.

Our library is small, and although we are fairly new (opened in November 2005), we have already had to discard a great many books (referred to in the business as “weeding”) for lack of space. Don’t worry–the books get good homes. We have learned that we are mostly a poplar reading library and not a reference or research library. We have few students, and even though we are connected to the K-8 school, the children’s non-fiction collection is sufficient to cover their research needs. When those students go to high school (and keep in mind a typical graduating 8th grade class in Avalon is between 8 and 15 students), they seem to use their school libraries or the Internet for projects rather than our library.

Essentially, we just don’t have the space to have the kind of subject depth that we would like. So, would I like to be able to have one or two books on yoga and anatomy on the shelves? Yes, absolutely. Does this seem unreasonable, it’s only 2 books, right? However, if the books will not circulate, they are not worth buying. We need to purchase what our patrons want. And while, yes, even though I work in the library, and I am a patron, I have an ethical dilemma considering I have the ability to make purchasing decisions. So, I bought the books for myself through Amazon with my own money and I will have them to keep.

But, there are a lot of books that I purchase for the library, read, put out on the shelf and market to our patrons, because I think that they are worthy of a look and that people will like them. So there’s a thought-process that goes into buying books. We carry the burden of representing the taxpayers and trying to reflect what items the taxpayers will want. With media, it’s a bit easier; we can’t seem to go wrong with DVDs and CDs. Everything we buy in these categories are popular and go out like crazy. But books are harder these days. The publishing industry overwhelms us with gems and tripe left and right. We who are charged with acquiring the books have the tools to view these items and reviews of these items in advance. This gives us the difficult task of trying to make an educated guess (and there are methods to help with this) of what will be the next best-seller, the next big hit. Often we hit the mark, and sometimes we take a chance and we bomb. But we try our best.

Hopefully you found this an interesting little slice of how we make some of our decisions in the library. I enjoy letting people in on the little secrets of the “back of the house.” Sorry, folks, no gossip, though 🙂

-contributed by staffer Shannon Wertzberger

About Avalon Free Public Library

Avalon is a bustling little shore town in southern NJ. Our small population of 1800 expands to about 30,000 at the height of summer. We like to think that we serve them all and then some! Our goal is to make our library available to our patrons wherever they may roam.

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