Friday, April 15, 2011

You're in the wrong place!

So. Genre fiction. I can't speak for you, of course, but I happen to love it. Library patrons love it too. The question comes in where to put things.

So many books cross genres. This is great for reading, but it can be really difficult when you're trying to determine what goes where. It often prompts my boss to say we're going to put them all in order by author/title and not have ANY genre sections. Welllll, I think she's joking (I think) and you can imagine the revolt there would be. In fact, patrons want MORE genre sections, not less. Right now, we don't have separate Romance, or Horror sections, they're just in the general fiction stacks. Fantasy was there until perhaps seven years ago, when we merged it with Science Fiction. A move that was long overdue, but still cause some librarian consternation. Science Fiction, of course, is about SPACE. Fantasy is not. How can you merge the two? (I'm not making that complaint up.) We can't even get into the complaint that Tolkien shouldn't be classified as Fantasy because it is a "classic."

So, with no dedicated horror section, where do vampires go? Werewolves? Where would the Kelley Armstrong books go? Or, if you're sitting with Bitten on your desk, and there are no other books in the series, where does THAT go? That's the problem we have more often. It's the first book in a series, nothing to compare it to, and a zillion subject headings that suggest we should slice the book into pieces and shelve each piece in its own section!

And how do you decide which category is dominant in a given book? We would never dream of putting a series of books featuring a private detective anywhere other than in the mystery section. Unless.....they're the Harry Dresden books. Those obviously don't belong in mystery, but why not? He solves mysteries, right? Some of the early books are very much like Noir detective novels, right down to the dames walking in the office that are nothing but trouble.

A lot of the answer depends on how the books are marketed, to whom they are marketed, and where browsing patrons expect to find them. It is more likely that a patron browsing the SF section would check out the Dresden Files than a patron browsing the MYS section. But is that necessarily true, and are we doing a disservice to patrons who might LOVE those books, but would never ordinarily browse the SF section because they think it's all spaceships and unicorns?

We discussed a little of this earlier in the week on twitter about Science Fiction Romance. Our library doesn't separate out romance, but I know many libraries do. Some not only separate out romance from gen fiction, but also separate out paranormal romance from the regular romance section. For us, when we have 22 libraries basically sharing one ginormous collection, tiny categories would be a logistical nightmare. Half Price books also has a separate paranormal romance area before their general romance in the paperback section. Yet, I haven't seen any library or bookstore separate cozy mystery from hard boiled. Or historical mysteries from modern day. No one separates out forensic pathologists from traditional PIs.

So, librarians, I'm curious how YOUR library manages its fiction collection. How do you break it up, and what categorization rules do you use?

I'm also curious what library patrons, and bookstore patrons like, don't like, would suggest, wished their library and/or bookstore did and didn't do. Have at it!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Series Ordering: Hits and Misses

How many times has a librarian responsible for ordering materials come across a good-looking review in one of the mainstream publications and put it in the cart, only to remove it when he or she realized that it was book four of an ongoing series and the library didn't own the first three books? Hopefully more times than the librarian kept in in the cart and later realized that volume four was on the shelf and the library still didn't own the first three books. Both of these scenarios are plausible; libraries end up with partial series all the time for a variety of reasons. Let's say that the first volume of a series was "disappeared" by a patron and no one realized this was the case when the time came to order volume three. Or perhaps the librarian ordered a book without realizing it wasn't a stand-alone, and therefore didn't fill the necessary holes. Is there anything sadder than a book two on the shelf with absolutely no sign of a book one?

It's All About Togetherness
I have a largely unsubstantiated theory of series acquisition based on my own reading habits and informal talks with my patrons, with whom I too frequently have this conversation:

Patron: "I heard this series was good but I wanted to start with the first book. Do you have it?"
Me: "No, but I could . . . get it for you?"
Patron: :(

It makes sense that people like to start at the beginning if they're going to get involved in reading a series. And once the library starts buying a series, I feel that it's the responsible thing to keep buying additional installments, until the series proves itself unworthy (either through extremely low circulation or because people are breaking up with it). If the first volume goes missing, I feel that it absolutely should be replaced, especially if the circulation stats are decent--definition of "decent" varies by library--to give patrons that jumping-off point they're looking for. Other volumes we can probably find through interlibrary loan, and patrons will be more patient and willing to wait for them to come in because they already have an investment in the series.

Keeping Tabs on Series
I spend more of my collection development time than I probably should trying to figure out if some book is in a series and, if so, whether we have the rest of the series. The first thing that helps is when a review source actually says "third book in an ongoing blah blah," and so forth. In my particular job, I am ordering for the central library and someone else is ordering for nine branches, so I not only have my series to keep up with, I have to consider the branches as well.

Lately I've fallen back on my old standby: the Excel spreadsheet. I have created a spreadsheet that tells me (by genre) what series books I've been ordering (what number in the series, the title of the latest book, the author, and whether any of the branches are also carrying it). When I'm discarding books, I also try to check whether they're a part of a series, and find out whether any of our other libraries carry it. If it's not the first book in a series, and a branch library also has it, I'll probably save that money and take a chance on a new author instead. This method of keeping tabs on things can be time consuming, and might not work for everyone, but I have been able to tell a patron looking for the next book in a series "I've already put that in my cart and we'll let you know when it comes in" because I'm on top of the ordering.

How do you deal with series ordering?

Monday, April 11, 2011

I'll take one of everything!

Once upon a time, in the not so distant past, book "selection" was done partially on autopilot. Whenever the new PW, Booklist, Library Journal would come in, one of the clerical staff would go through and put all the titles on a purchase order, and then librarians would assign quantities.

Now, of course, titles could be moved off the purchase orders if you decided you really didn't want to buy something, but you can imagine how often that happened, right? I mean, beyond the whole inertia factor, I think most librarians here are of the "more, not less" variety. And, after all, if it was mentioned in one of the journals it must be worthy, right? Kirkus, for some reason, was never accorded the same sort of automatic purchase respect. I wonder why......

Taking out the blockbusters, which we were going to buy regardless of what journal they showed up in, many of the books that we bought this way had very, very poor circ. I think the bigger sin for us, though, was how sure we were that we were buying all we needed to buy between those journals and publisher catalogs. When I think about how the journals often repeat titles (Nora Roberts' Chasing Fire appeared in PW and Booklist, not to mention Kirkus, B&T Advance, etc.) and how few titles they mention just because of space issues, it makes me wonder how many authors/books/genres we missed.

Is this one of the reasons for the myth that libraries are always 1 to 12 steps behind the general reading public?

I know, I know. You can't look everywhere. I get that, I do. I also get that with fewer staff and more library demand, time is an issue. With more websites to look through as well as genre specific journals, web catalogs, print catalogs, netgalley....has the tide turned now so that fewer "literary fiction" titles are being selected in favor of more popular authors and titles? Ellora's Cave, Torquere, Bold Strokes Books.....popular with patrons, definitely not "mainstream" enough to make it to the Big 3 with any regularity, if at all.

So I'm curious, do any of you have automatic order journals and/or magazines?

Click my Link -- 4/11/11

The Telegraph will make you laugh with "Not the 50 books you must read before you die"

Another year, another list of most criticized books. Here is what some of those book authors have to say.

Why the hell is having fiction in a library a sign of cultural doom? Oh nevermind.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Trendspotting: How Can You Tell When to STOP Buying Something?

During any given month, I could spend my entire paperback budget on on subcategory like paranormal romance, or urban fiction, or even my beloved science fiction and fantasy. I could definitely spend it all on series romance without having to spend more than five minutes a month building my cart. But part of my job as a selector is to consider my patrons, my existing collection, and the publishing trends for books that people are going to want to read in the near future. There's nothing I dislike more than spending some of the library's money on a book that nobody checks out, so this crystal ball element can be very nerve-wracking.

Let's take the example of paranormal romance. We see articles all the time about the incredible popularity (especially in this economic climate) of romance novels, especially in e-book format. As far as I know, paranormal romance is still going strong, but for how long? For the past few years, if I had purchased everything that claimed it was "the first installment of an exciting new paranormal series," or "a groundbreaking paranormal romance series from a talented new voice" (both quotes from Ingram's Advance), I wouldn't have had budget or shelf space for much else. Presumably, the trend will progress to the point where paranormal romances occupy a reasonable subset of romances as a whole, but don't occupy all of the top spots in terms of circulation.

Which brings us to my issue. Is it my imagination, or has the trend been slowing down recently? Vampires were in, then werewolves, then all sorts of strange were-combinations . . . The eHow article on "How to Decide What Paranormal Romance to Write" asserts that "right now Demons are big," but this is the same article that says you shouldn't "skimp on the research"? How am I going to know when I can slow down on buying paranormal romances and start buying more Amish steampunk? Yes, there are circulation statistics to look at, and the rate at which certain books are stolen from the shelves, and so forth, but somehow the knowledge of when to stop buying seems more intangible than the concept of when to start. If I have a ton of review sources and patron requests and librarians on Twitter telling me that Amish steampunk is in, then I'm going to start buying it. Right after I write the first novel in that genre . . .

What do YOU think, dear readers?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Guest Post: Twitter for Subject Specific Collection Development

This post comes to us from our good friend @shinyinfo, who originally posted this at her own blog (but is courteous enough to want to share it with our fledgling audience).
Using Twitter as a communication tool for libraries is not a particularly wild idea anymore, though many libraries are still not using it for one reason or another. However, I’m not talking about creating a general Twitter account for your library, I’m talking about Librarians using Twitter for collection development, particularly for subject specific collection development.

Speaking from personal experience as the Librarian at the Arab American National Museum, my collection development needs and strategies are slightly different than those at a Public or Academic library. The beauty of working in a Special Library like mine is that I collect fiction, YA, non-fiction, audio, visual & more but for a VERY SPECIFIC theme; any media created by or about Arab Americans. This sort of collecting can be very difficult because I’m not looking for trends in reading or using any of the other techniques that Public Librarians use, I’m looking for the needle in a haystack of publishers catalogs or following news from professional organizations like RAWI.

But what about people who are doing self-published work? Or what about when people write an article that we can put in our vertical file? Or independent artists? How on earth will I hear about these things when it won’t show up in a publishers catalog or in any organization’s news? Unlike many Public or Academic libraries, we crave self-published or independently published work because it will be a unique addition to the collection, but they are the hardest items to seek because they simply don’t have the promotional power of the big publishers. Herein lies the power of Twitter…

With more and more artists and writers skipping the traditional publication and creation methods and going about it independently, they’re turning to social media to advertise their wares. Not only are they advertising their own work but promoting the work of other independent artists that they collaborate with or share the same vision with. Wouldn’t it then make sense to put yourself in a position to hear what they’re saying?

I make a point to follow every Arab American writer, musical artist, blogger, and “person-in-the-know” that I know of on Twitter. Not only do I hear about new projects from the people I follow but I hear about projects from people I didn’t know existed. Without Twitter I could have never heard about The Narcycist’s new book or even that he wrote a book in the first place! Without Twitter I would have never known about comics artist Marguerite Dabaie and her self-published graphic novel series "The Hookah Girl". Without Twitter our library’s collection would be less unique and less representative of Arab Americans who work outside of The Industry, particularly young, new artists and authors who are telling their own stories their own way. I am not only hearing about all of these new projects but Twitter allows me to communicate directly with the authors and artists, creating new relationships and collaborations.

Even though I do collection development for a very specific theme, anyone who does subject specific collection development could take on this strategy. It’s important to become part of the world you are collecting for, for example: if you’re collecting for Mid-Eastern Studies at an Academic Library become a member of MESA. Follow the blogs, add people on Twitter and Facebook, join the conversation. It’s easy for Librarians to get wrapped up in their own worlds and rely on traditional sources or other librarians for collection development advice, which will cause you to miss out on a lot of new stuff.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


Let's talk about weeding, shall we?
I'm really interested in how YOU do it. I want to hear all the gory details. Spill it. Let me tell how it would work here, if it was a perfect world:

A librarian would gather their books together, CHECK THE DATABASE/CATALOG, take into account more than just what is happening at your particular branch, make a decision.

Gather books together: Doesn't mean you have to gather a cart full of books. It doesn't mean you have to finish one section before you start another. Do what is convenient! If FIC is tight in the V's (as if) then do that section. If the 641.5's need room RIGHT NOW, do that. MYS, SF, etc. Do what needs to be done. If you have time to go from A to Z in fiction you're lucky.

Check the database/Catalog & Take the entire system into account: These go together and we fall down here. Lately, some librarians have fallen into the habit of seeing multiple copies of books and just discarding until they get to a number they like. But we are a floating collection (oh the posts we could have about that!) and so it isn't just what it looks like at your branch, but how the overall system looks. We have 22 branches. Yes, you may have 5 copies of a title at your branch, but those are the ONLY five copies in the system. Or the others may have 90+ circ, and you have the best five copies. Or all the copies listed are missing/lost/stolen/in witness protection.....whatever. The point is, the catalog is an important tool. Now, we hear that people don't have time to check every title in the catalog if they want to get weeding done. My question is: how do you NOT have time? It would be like ordering a book we already own because I don't have time to check if we have it already. What? This, obviously, is my pet peeve. I don't have many, but this is definitely one of them.

Of course, those of you who follow me on twitter know that it is anything but a perfect world. We keep books that haven't circulated in 4 (or 14 or 22) years, and get rid of books with a pub date of 2010 and still have holds. Or get rid of copies of books that had 5 circs, while there is a copy with 91 circs still making the rounds.

And then there are damaged items. I don't know about you, but I'm not eager to check out a book that has "stains noted" written in the back. Great. You noted them. Why do you think anyone wants to check out a book with mystery stains? One of the best stories ever is when we found a CD, still circulating, that had "crack noted" on the case.

Crack. Noted.

Someone had complained because it wouldn't play, if you can imagine that.

Okay, that's us. What about you? Tell me your best stories.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Click my link: Monday, April 4th

Great Article in NYT about George RR Martin and Game of Thrones.

Schedule announced for the LA Times festival of books. Wish I was going.....

More libraries giving the finger to HarperCollins.

Are you missing the RT Book Reviews (#RT11 on twitter) con in LA this week? Me too.