Monday, June 20, 2011

Budget Snips

I work at a public library in Springfield, the third largest city in Massachusetts with a population just over 150,000. In Massachusetts, there is a state minimum for number of unique hours a library must be open to qualify for state aid, as well as a minimum percentage of the budget that must be spent on library materials. In recent years, we've undergone several budget cuts that resulted in the loss of staff and the trimming of our materials budget to the bare minimum, one of which occurred as recently as last week. Considering that approximately 50% of my library's budget (which averages a little less than $6M per year) is spent on salary expenditures for the staff at the central library and nine branches, the materials budget has been stretched incredibly thin.

Let me throw some numbers out there from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners website: In FY07, my library's total operating expenditures were $5,676,307, of which $629,391 (11.08%) was spent on the collection. In FY08, $643,088 (10.49%) went to materials; in FY09--in the midst of a devastating budget cut--the amount went down to $581,092 (9.57%). For the most recent complete fiscal year, FY10, the amount spent on the collection was $539,269 (9.54%). I understand that the additional recent budget cuts left us at the state minimum, although the formula is incredibly complicated and I'm very glad not to be in charge of figuring it out.

In addition to layoff and lack of funding for programs and facilities, this downward trend makes the task of collection development even more difficult. If this was an academic library, we could probably blow most of that budget on a few choice databases, but we have to stretch it to pay for books, databases, AV materials, and so forth across ten locations. The collection areas I manage--paperbacks, some areas of nonfiction, graphic novels, and young adult video games--represent a pretty small percentage of the overall total.

I expect that my line item budgets (paperbacks, graphic novels, and young adult video games) will be decreased significantly for the coming fiscal year. That means I will have less freedom to buy something that isn't a surefire hit. For example, once I've put the Nora Roberts, Christine Feehan, a few urban fiction titles, and continued the series that have new books out in my paperback cart, I may or may not have any room for first-time authors or new series by established authors. It also means less money for replacements. Basically I'll have to order what I can as carefully as possible and hope for donations to fill the gaps in the paperback collection.

In terms of nonfiction selection, it's not exactly clear what percentage of the budget my areas command. How do I justify the continuing purchase of low-circulating poetry collections when high-demand GED books continually walk out the door and require replacement? At what point do I decide that we have more than enough World War II books; how do I clearly identify and quantify the "need" for such items, especially with the ever-growing popularity of DVDs and urban fiction? At what point can we, as a staff, inform the public that we're sorry, we just couldn't buy something because we can't afford to do so?

My coworkers and I will do our best with the budget that is our new reality, but it's definitely not getting any easier to make these decisions.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

I'm not a prude, but....

Whenever there is an email, or a voice mail, or a paper letter that starts off this way, it is usually going to downhill. I'm sure that isn't always the case, but 9 times out of 10? Yes. What follows is usually a "Request for Reconsideration" of some item the library has purchased. We have an official form (and process) for this, but sometimes patrons and/or staff don't use the form and just contact us directly with their complaints.

Our process: When people fill out the request for reconsideration form at their local branch, they get forwarded to the Director of Collection Management (henceforth known as: my boss). She responds to them, usually after watching the offensive DVD or listening to the offensive CD. When it is a book, I'm not sure she reads the entire book cover to cover, but she always does call it in to look it over. The form asks people for basic information (title/author) and also for some detail on why they feel the book should be re-considered and what audience they feel the book should be directed towards. For instance, if a person thought a title was inappropriate for the TEEN/YA collection, maybe it would be better in the adult collection. Or Juvenile to Teen, or what have you. The person gets a personal letter/email back. Once upon a time, the collection development librarians wrote the responses to complaints, but it seems to go over better coming from the director, right? The end result is the same.

What kind of things are up for debate? Um....everything. You would be surprised (or maybe you wouldn't) about the kinds of things that people take offense to. Of course there are always the rap CDs, and the Urban fiction. DVDs are usually on top of the list as well. Tropic Thunder is one off the top of my head that I can remember. When romance books started to get more racy, there were complaints. I remember the complaint about Diane Whiteside clearly because I had no idea what they were complaining about. I mean, sometimes I get it with the complaints, even though I mostly find it silly. This one was pretty tame. I kept thinking that if they thought we shouldn't have this, then they would really be surprised by some of the other things in our collection!

One of my very favorite requests for reconsideration was from someone who thought we should remove a book about a serial killer because of one or two pages in the book that involved bestiality. Now, this was NOT a fiction book, but a true crime (364) book. I wish I could remember the title. Anyway, the fact that this person killed multiple people was not offensive. After all, the patron had checked out a book about a serial killer, so it must have been of interest to them. But what they did (or made victims do) with a dog was enough to have the book removed from the collection? I still have a hard time reconciling that. Serial killer! Not a good person! What do you expect he does with his free time?!

One of my other favorite R4R was in a similar vein (see what I did there?) There were a series of books based on the Friday the 13th movies, and someone thought they were too violent for the teens/ya audience. Now, perhaps they were. But they were in the ADULT collection. And we have the movies, which I haven't seen any complaints about. Granted, the books may have been more violent (without that pesky MPAA watching over the author's shoulder) than the movies, but it is just as likely that someone didn't think it was violent enough. It was refreshing to get a violence based R4R instead of a sex based one, though.

The boss tells me that the amount of requests for reconsideration are down for the year, and that's a good thing. One of our non-fiction selectors received an email from a staff member about a book recently purchased
It looks like it should be fiction, right? I'm not entirely sure it's as "true" as he says it is. But the complaint was that it is inappropriate, not well written, blah blah blah. Look at the title, and tell me you expect War and Peace. Mr. Dewey put it in 306 with the LC subject headings of "Allen, Jeff, 1976-" "Single men - Sexual Behavior-United States-Biography" and "Man-woman relationships-United States." Now, I'm not sure what you would expect opening a book with those subject headings, but I wouldn't think anything inside would be surprising. A 35 year old guy talking about sex. He likes sex with hot chicks, he has sex with as many hot chicks as possible, he doesn't like sex with fat chicks, but will do it if pressed. Etc. I missed the chapter on rocket science, but I'm sure it's there if you look hard enough! Just scanning through the book, a lot of it made me LOL and roll my eyes, but none of it was surprising or made me think no one in the city should read it.

And that is really the crux of request for reconsideration, isn't it? You're saying "I find something wrong with this so no one should be able to have access to it from the public library we all share." Imagine if collection development librarians bought only things they approved of. Or, worse yet, imagine if we got rid of everything someone disapproved of. I find it especially offensive when staff members, who are supposed to be all about freedom of information, make the case to deny everyone in the city a chance to make their own decisions about what they view, hear and read. Yes, limited funds (and space) means that we can't buy everything. Yes, we do have to make decisions on how best to spend our money. I'm not a prude but.... if it were up to me, I would buy 100 copies of Get Laid or Die Trying before I ever gave a dime to Ann Coulter's latest rag. The library isn't about what I want. Everyone who pays taxes to support the library should be able to go in and find something that appeals to them.

Does your library have a form/process for the reconsideration of materials? How does it work? Do you ever discard items based on public complaint? Talk to me!

Friday, June 10, 2011

NEW at my library: June 10th, 2011

Is this going to be a weekly thing? Got me. Like everything else, we'll do it until people lose interest. But there were seriously cool things on the new book shelves this week, two that I want to purchase for myself.

Legendary Rock Songs - Nathan Brackett

Not only is this book cool, it is highly addictive. If you're even remotely interested in the "why" behind some of the most popular songs to hit our airwaves, you have to take a look at this book. You may not want to own it for yourselves (hello, library....) but I intend to buy it. It starts off, appropriately, with Bill Haley & the Comets and goes forward from there. I, for instance, had no idea that MJ's Billie Jean was about a stalker who had scaled the walls of his home and was found lounging by the pool in a bikini and claimed he was the father of one of her twins. (who the hell was the father of the OTHER twin?) And I loved this quote from Sting:

"Every Breath You Take is an archetypical song. if you have a major chord followed by a relative minor you're not original."

Many of my other favorite songs are talked about in the book as well. Seriously, this is a MUST SEE if you have an interest in pop/rock music at all.

Stuff Black People Don't Like (365 days in Black Run America) - Paul Kersey

One of the things black people probably wouldn't like is this book. I need to live in this guy's America! Apparently, I'm in charge of stuff. It's based on a website that I'm not linking to (I DO control stuff!) Yes, apparently we do buy the crackpots, and that's cool. The book looks like a text book and is missing whatever "flair" you might find on the website. If you're interested in a collection of the posts, it's for you. If you're a sane person, not for you.

The American Style - Donald Albrecht & Thomas Mellins

Architecture + interior decorating book of.....The American Style! (I can't get anything past you guys.) The description says it is "richly illustrated" and I don't know that I agree with that. It did have beautiful illustrations, but not as many as I was expecting.

Secret of the Sommeliers - Rajat Parr & Jordan Mackay

This is another gorgeous book that I need to add to my hold list. I know next to nothing about wine. I mean, I'm sure there is someone out there who knows less than I do, right? I'm not sure you're going to learn much just by reading this book (I've been told it also requires experimentation.....) but it is always fun to listen to (and read about) experts talking about something they love and how they do what they do.

First Real Kitchen Cookbook - Jill & Megan Carle

You know, I see a lot of these "new" or "first" cook cookbooks, and they are mostly all the same. Each one promises tips and tricks, but most of those are all the same as well. This is another area where the library is REALLY handy. You can check out a stack of these (or a stack on any cooking sub-genre that you choose) and decide which one suits you best. This one is glossy and pretty, has tips and tricks, and recipes that are "accessible" but nothing really jumped out at me to set this book apart. It was beautifully bland.

Def Leppard: the Definitive Visual History - Ross Halfin

Are you KIDDING me?! Those were my exact words when I saw this on the shelf. I was a HUGE Def Leppard fan in my youth Teenage years Yesterday past and so I thought this would be amazing. Apparently, there are fans bigger than me. I enjoyed looking at it, but when I put it back on the shelf that was that. No desire to have it for my very own. It's a great chronicle of a band, great insider info, great pics, definitely something I'm glad my library has in its collection. I think people who see it on the shelf, who have an interest in the band, will take it out. I, personally, am disappointed I didn't love it more.

Eat Like a Man: the only cookbook a man will ever need - Ryan D'Agostino

I don't have to tell you that this cookbook is NOT for the vegetarian, right? That said, I LOVE this book and just ordered my very own copy. Now, since I'm not a man, this is obviously not the only cookbook I need. And, quite frankly, I think even dudes will get bored with meat meat meat, breakfast lunch and dinner, right? But it is a mix of cooking, quipping, magazine factoids and just overall, all around fun. I didn't want to give it back, which is a sure sign I need to have it for my very own.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Friday, June 3, 2011

NEW at my library: June 3rd, 2011

Who doesn't love looking at the new book shelf? Yes, we post new things on our webpage, and those are randomly generated and fun. But, I also can't help trolling our shelves of yet to be processed books, music and dvds to see what my colleagues have ordered. It is all so wonderfully random! Some people may still look for new books by broswing the shelves at their local library and/or bookstore, and some have taken to browsing Amazon and other websites for new and interesting things. Some people may not even know what they're looking for until they see it. Once they find something interesting, even at a bookstore, that doesn't mean they want to spend their recession dollars just to satisfy their curiosity. We hear a lot of people say they have two browser windows open, one with Amazon and one with our catalog. Patrons may learn about new items in a variety of ways, but the place where they can (risk free) try new books, movies and music remains the same.

Since I post new fiction covers on twitter with great regularity, how about some non-fiction this morning. Here are the new things that caught my eye yesterday....

Eating Well: Fast and Flavorful Meatless Meals -- I'm a carnivore, definitely, but there is nothing wrong with going meatless sometimes! This is a book with recipes that look reasonable (ie. with ingredients that seem easy enough to find) and the pictures are pretty. Some of the things, I admit, seemed like they'd be better with chicken! But, if someone wants to make that gorgeous dish on the cover and send it to me, I won't complain.

Tank Spotter's Guide So, this is one that made me giggle when I saw it. But, hey, maybe there is someone in the world looking for the Matilda Infantry tank! But guess what? Two people already have a request on it, so shows you what *I* know.

"Leaving a cell phone on the table can be interpreted as a subtle signal that the owner hopes someone smarter, faster, cuter or more interesting might call." The Etiquette Book. Etiquette moves into the 21st century. Although, I think that "subtle" signal is not so subtle....

Good Enough is the new perfect
: finding happiness and success in modern motherhood. I don't know about modern motherhood but......I kinda like this for the rest of us too!

Tropical Home -- Inspirational Design Ideas The pictures in this book are so gorgeous, you may not ever want to return it! Just looking through it, I could imagine using some of the style in a (not so) tropical home as well. It's okay to dream a little. The magic of books! (too bad they didn't pick a better cover image!)

High Strung: Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, and the untold story of Tennis's Fiercest Rivalry. I'm surprised this one hasn't gotten more press, actually. The cover made me laugh, though.

Bring the Noise: 20 years writing about hip rock and hip hop. Hip Rock? This is the first time I've ever heard that term. We don't use that here in flyover country. This is a reprint, and I'm not sure how much (if anything) has changed from the 2007 version.

The Annotated Sense and Sensibility
. You know, it's a cute little book. I was hoping for something more grand and elaborate, glossy photos and just....beautiful. A huge coffee table book. This one is probably much more useful, though, just not as pretty. Although, I do adore the cover.

Lastly, Fallout Shelter: Designing for civil defense in the Cold War. Another book that made me say "what the hell?" Yes, out loud. Yet, again, two people (sight unseen) have placed a hold on it. Is that just curiosity? Is it being advertised in certain circles? Does it matter? Either way, it seems the library is reaching people who may have thought it had nothing to offer them. #winning. (that cover is most certainly NOT winning!)

Happy Friday!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Click my Link: June 1st, 2011

BEA Survival Diaries: Ebook Soldiers and Book Buying Genius -- good stuff from our friend Heather McCormack (you are following her on twitter at @HuisceBeatha....)

Zombies! (For those of you who like that sort of thing......)

George Clinton to speak at British Library (just because I think that it's cool!)

Who to follow on twitter: Book Marketing & Publicity version

JUNE is Audiobook Month.