Saturday, July 30, 2011

Library Day in the Life: Collection Development Edition

This post is part of the larger Library Day in the Life project--I thought it would be fun for Collection Reflection to participate. Because I work with the public, I never actually get to spend an entire day doing collection development, so I'm going to describe the bits and pieces that got done over the course of this week in the midst of desk time, class preparation and teaching, and whatnot.

My library's collection budget has been cut to the state minimum requirement (as selectors, we haven't yet been told how this will play out, only that it's very bad) and has not yet been finalized. Therefore, we have been preparing carts for the last month or two without knowing when the items will be ordered. What this means is that books I have selected, some of which have subsequently appeared on bestseller lists, are not yet available to patrons. However, the selection process--like the show--must go on. I am hoping that the books I've selected will still be in demand and checked out by the time they finally make it to the shelves.

When I got to work at the beginning of this week, I realized yet again that the end of the month was coming up and I'd better get some nonfiction books ordered, even if we weren't in a position where the library could actually buy them. I had gotten my monthly paperback order done the week before, but still had a stack of 5-6 Publisher's Weekly magazines, a Booklist, and several issues of Library Journal waiting for me to peruse them and pass them on to the next lucky customer. Each of our publications come with a warning that says "please do not keep longer than three days," but I find that very difficult to do when I may not even get the chance to order any books during that brief span of time. I try to consume and pass on the ones that need to be passed on and create a stack that will enable me to get everything done in one chunk near the end of each month. Procrastination: It's an art form.

This library orders nonfiction books through Baker & Taylor's online system, which is intermittently not working, as any librarian that uses it would grumpily tell you. I alternate between searching by keyword and by ISBN; I use the Booking Ahead feature; and I execute complex searches for items in my subject areas. Ordering nonfiction items involves considering patron requests, duplicate checking, reading reviews, looking at the demand for the item, checking the publication date, seeing what else the library might have by that author or on that subject, seeing whether other libraries in the system have already ordered it and whether there are holds, and, finally, adding the item to the cart. I keep track of all of my orders in a large, possible overly complex Excel spreadsheet, so when necessary I can see everything I've ordered since I started working at this library (aside from the months that got wiped out when my flash drive crashed and burned). 

On Monday, I got through a couple of Publisher's Weeklys and passed them on to my co-workers after ordering several items for my sections. While working the night shift, I pulled a few dozen books off the "new" shelf that had been added before October 2010 and put them through the process I call "denewing." One by one, I check the book and take a look at the number of times it's circulated, remove the New sticker, and change the location to regular adult nonfiction. I then double-check that the call number in the record matches that on the book, since it's in my hand, and move on to the next one. This is something I could have someone else lower down in the library hierarchy do for me, but I use it to get a sense of what books are popular--some of which I might put back on the new shelf--and what I should be ordering. I also make the stickers into weird art, because I can.

On Tuesday, an email came from the head of collection development letting selectors know that, due to budget cuts, we needed to go back to the cart that we had created for July and re-think everything we had put in there with an eye toward what the library really needed to buy. The rest of my collection development time for that day, and the next morning, went toward trying to remember the reasoning behind ordering decisions I'd made a month ago. I was able to make some cuts, but it was a difficult process.

On Wednesday, I decided to alleviate my frustration about not being able to add new books to the collection by going through donations of mass market paperbacks and taking over the best of the lot to Technical Services to be added to the collection. This included a few dozen series romances and a mystery series that had been donated by one of my co-workers. I also got back to the Publisher's Weeklys, continuing to build my nonfiction order as well as putting a few books into my August and September paperback carts.

On Thursday, I wanted to weed (inspired by Jessica's post and Holly's post), but was scheduled to teach a class on Excel in the afternoon and had to prepare materials for that. In addition, the temperature in the nonfiction area of the library makes weeding even less appealing during the summer months. However, I am planning to run a report and pull a cart or two of books from the 790s next week in my continuing attempt to get a handle on that section. I spent a little time tinkering around in Baker & Taylor, but didn't get much ordered.

On Friday, I had the day off and did not think about collection development at all. Instead, I thought about flossing.

On Saturday, I saw that the cart was still open in Baker & Taylor, so I slipped a few more items in until I had reached the conservative amount I felt I should spend for the month. Over the course of the week, I also added any items that I would be interested in buying (in an idyllic future with more money), or reconsidering, to my ginormous Excel spreadsheet in the "possible" tabs. And then I backed everything up and started working on my next paperback order.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The black shelves are over there.......

Speaking of collection maintenance...

A question that has come up time and time again (in the real world, in the twitter world, on blogs, at conferences...) is the idea of separate shelving for African American books. If you follow me on twitter, you've heard this rant before. Why do we segregate books by skin color, blah blah blah. And, really, it isn't even the skin color of the character that matters, but the skin color of the author. You won't find the Derek Strange books (by Pelecanos...go read them now!) the AF-AM section.

I've tried to trace this back to see where it began because it wasn't always this way. Books used to be shelved by genre in fiction, and by Dewey in non-fiction. My guess (and it's only a guess) is that once upon a time there wasn't much in the way of current, popular fiction written about black people by black people. There was Terry McMillan...and there were others, but she was the big household name. Lots of people came into the library asking for her books, and when they'd read them they wanted "other books like hers." So, librarians just pulled out everything written by black people and put it on a shelf. Right? "Black" was its own new genre. It even has stickers!

Yes, there was Alice Walker, and Toni Morrison, and Richard Wright and Zora Neale Hurston before McMillan. They were shelved in regular fiction back in the day. Now, it is inconsistent whether these are pulled out of the regular collection. Sometimes, they are considered "classics" and left in with general fiction. Sometimes, they are considered "classics" and put into a separate classics section (regardless of race). Sometimes, they are shelved next to urban fiction because the authors are black.

Times have changed, but libraries and bookstores haven't changed. Someone may come in and ask for an "African American book," but there isn't just one answer to that anymore. We can't automatically reach for Waiting to Exhale and expect that to be the book a patron wants. Actually, it is more likely that a librarian or bookstore clerk would automatically reach for Teri Woods than Terry McMillan these days. That's what all the kids are looking for when they say African American fiction, right? God forbid they want something with vampires in it, or a straight up romance. The possibilities are endless. There are so many African American authors in the world now, and the only thing they have in common is the color of their skin. The color of their skin tells you absolutely nothing about what lies between the covers of their books. Yet, we'll let a fan of mystery novels see every book we have except for the ones written by people with brown skin. If you want books by those people, you have to go over to the other section, and sort through the space ships, wizards, unicorns, vampires, and romance novels by brown skinned people until you find a mystery you might want to read.

Really? In 2011?

I was even more surprised when a librarian contacted me on this subject and said that some libraries also do this with non-fiction. So, I can look at books on finance, but if that book is written by a black guy it's not in with all the other finance books?

Really? In 2011?!

This infuriates me to no end, but most of you know this already. The policy at this library is to shelve by genre not by author skin color, but some individual branches still pull out books written by African Americans "because patrons like it." I'll be honest, I've always had people wanting a certain kind of book. Urban fiction. Romance. Horror. Contemporary Fiction. Christian fiction. I've never had anyone come in for Victoria Christopher Murray and leave with Zane because they're both black. I've never had anyone come in for Jan Karon and leave with Laurell K. Hamilton because they're both white. One is just as good as the other, right? We'll just throw it all up there together, call it the white authors section, and see what happens.

So, seeing as how my own ideas are pretty fixed on this topic, I thought I would enlist an opinion from someone else. I asked author Farrah Rochon a few questions about this issue. She has a vested interest in where her books are shelved, after all, and the ease with which readers can find them.

Q: How do you classify your books?

FR: I write straight contemporary romances. Although, now that I write for the Kimani Romance line under Harlequin's imprint, I guess I would classify my most recent books as "category-length" contemporary romances.

Q: Do you feel your books are relevant across cultures or are they written for a specific audience?

FR: My stories are absolutely relevant to people across all cultures and ethnicities. I touch on themes that relate to the human experience as a whole -- family, heartache, acceptance, love. If anything, people from the South may connect more with my single-title romances that were set in New Orleans, and an upcoming series I have with Kimani that centers on a small, fictional Louisiana town, but the books are written for everyone.

Q: Do you read about one culture exclusively?

FR: I read a broad spectrum of books. From contemporary romances set in the United States, to adventure romances in the jungles of Peru, and historical romances set in China's Tang Dynasty. In this ever-shrinking global society, I'm not sure how anyone can limit themselves to reading about only one culture. I've learned so much about how others live by reading novels in different cultures and featuring different ethnicities.

Q: Do you hear from readers who have found it frustrating that your books are not with the other books in the genre?

FR: Yes, I have. Most of my readers have been reading for years, long before there were entire publishing lines dedicated to publishing African American romance. And many of those readers still read their favorite authors who are shelved with the rest of the romances. They are not happy with having to go to an entirely different section of the store to get their other romance reads.

There are some fans who read solely African American romance authors, and a few of them admit that they like having all the books sectioned together. However, in my unscientific polling over the years, I have a feeling that this number is far outweighed by those who would rather have all the books shelved together. People tend to read by genre, not based on the author's skin color.

Q: In your opinion, what aspect of the practice of segregating books causes authors the most strife?

FR: By limiting African American authors to the "black section" of the store or library, you limit their exposure to a huge swath of the reading population, especially in the romance genre. It has been a few years since I've seen numbers on this, but at one time it was estimated that African American readers only made up about 13-15% of all romance readers. I don't know about my fellow African American romance writers, but when I sit down to write a novel, it is not with the intention of reaching only 15% of my genre's reading population. I want to share my stories with all romance readers.

Q: Why do you think African American romance novels are not widely read by readers of other races and/or ethnicities?

FR: It's simple: they don't have as much access to them. I constantly hear that white readers feel a bit awkward venturing into the "black section" of the store, and honestly, they have no reason to. There is ample reading material available in the romance section. However, I have to believe that non-African American readers would give black books a try if the books were shelved by genre and not by the author's skin color. The same goes for Latino romances. As the Latino population in the U.S. grows, I've found that some bookstores and libraries are starting to treat Latino romances the same way African American romances have been treated. It is extremely unfortunate.

Over the years, I've also heard that non-African American readers feel as if they will not relate to the characters in African American romances. This is a constant head-scratcher for me. If you can relate to a vampire/shapeshifter/fey, it truly isn't hard to relate to another human being who happens to have a bit darker skin color. Readers are missing out on absolutely fabulous books because of this hesitancy to try something that they feel is different. Again, I don't believe this difference exists. African American romances, just like all romances, focus on the love between two people. That's what it all boils down to.

There you have it. Other authors have written about this as well. N.K. Jemisin, author of the fantasy novel The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms has a great post from 2010 about this very topic. And this article about L.A. Banks from 2009:

"I had about 300 people in my room for a book signing and all but maybe five of them were black. I had so many white fans complaining about how hard it was to find my books and asking me why it was in the black section. I didn't have an answer. I went back and told my publisher that they had to do something. They needed to get me into the mainstream section of the stores."
With her publisher, St. Martin's Press, Banks fought the booksellers and won. Her books were moved to the same section featuring King, Rice and Meyer. "And from that point on, my career took off," she said.

Does your library have a separate African American section? Fiction or Non-Fiction? Fiction and Non-fiction? Librarians, library patrons, authors...I wanna hear from you.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

In re: ebooks and libraries

In every "we no longer need libraries" article/editorial/letter to the editor/cave drawing in the papers recently, one of the reasons cited is that everyone will get everything on their Kindle/Nook/Cloud etc. It's ridiculous, of course, but that hardly matters when so many of the general public believe it to be true. "The Book", in its paper form, is still a pretty strong content delivery device. The million copy ebook club is still a pretty elite group, is it not? And until device costs come down (yes, MORE), and ease of access goes up, it'll stay that way. There are people who got devices for Christmas/Birthday/Mother's or Father's Day/Graduation who still have them sitting in the box because they have no idea what to do with them when they're unpacked. We have patrons calling us, not just with Overdrive questions (which is what we offer) but also with device questions....and not just how to use their device with Overdrive.

The question isn't whether or not people still need libraries. That has never been the question no matter how much people insist on asking it. Libraries have always loaned things that individuals have the option of buying for themselves. Ebooks are no different in that regard. Publishing companies have been having a grand time making up doomsday scenarios about libraries, including often repeating the lie about one copy/one MILLION simultaneous checkouts. Yet there are some publishing companies who, while they profess to be in the business of making a profit, refuse to even sell ebooks to libraries. Hey, I'm not a business person, but I always believed that a sale is a sale is a sale. If I have a product for you, and you have money for me, that was a win-win situation. Apparently, that is no longer the case. But while libraries complain about those companies, I actually don't see how we are the ones losing in that proposition. We've had Overdrive audio since 2006 and ebooks since 2009, and circ hasn't done anything but increase since we launched the collection.

Without including content from companies who would rather not have our money.

Would we buy books from those companies who refuse to sell to us? Of course we would. But, instead, we buy other titles from other publishing companies. And those titles circulate at an alarming rate. Jan-June stats just came out earlier this week and our "web branch" (read: digital collection) is up 132% over the same time period in 2010. 132%. It's hard to say how much better those stats would be if we could buy titles from Simon & Schuster, Macmillan (and if we chose to add Harpercollins titles post #hcod) but the stats look pretty damn good anyway. Patrons are finding new favorites, often from smaller indie publishers, to check out. New authors are moving from "I'll try that" list to the "auto buy" list.

Yes, I still get questions and requests from people who many want to us to buy an author published by one of those companies. Patrons then get an explanation as to why we can't buy that particular title. I don't know if they then choose to buy that title for themselves. That title was always available for them to purchase, even as they were asking the library to buy it for the collection. What I do know is that company/author did not get a sale from me. If the patron chose not to buy it either, then they missed out on two sales. That is a very strange way of making a profit.

What the newspaper letter writers (and the publishing companies) are missing is that availability isn't the same thing as access. Yes, you can buy a book reading device, and you can buy lots of books to put on that device. That doesn't mean it is accessible to everyone. Libraries are about accessibility. It isn't free, of course. A community pools its money (thank you, property taxes) and shares the fruits of that resource. The biggest sin I can think of, as a collection development librarian, is not spending every thin dime I get in my budget. So if you're not selling me your product, or only at terms that are laughable, then someone else will get my cold hard cash until the coffers are dry for the year. Even with many items unavailable for library purchase, I never get anywhere near buying every single title in publication. But of the titles that are accessible to my patrons, they are checking them out. In droves. The more people check out, the more money we devote to the service. In 2007 we spent, roughly, 50k. In 2011, our budgeted amount was 250k with an addition 250k added in, giving patrons more access to more available titles.

So, thank you to all the companies, big and small, who have gotten on this ebook ride with libraries. We are glad to help our patrons digitally meet your authors, either through ebook or downloadable audio. To libraries: we need to be better at getting the word out (to the public and the publishers) that not only are libraries not fading, we're actually growing both in content provided and patrons served.

Friday, July 8, 2011

NEW at my library: July 8th, 2011

Good Morning, lovelies. There were some interesting things on our new book shelves yesterday. But first, how about a picture of our new book shelves. This is the holding place for "first copies" of items. They are taken from here by the catalogers Then they are given to the processors to meet up with the rest of the copies and get stickered and bar coded and all that good stuff, then sent out to the branches and Central.

Summer is a notoriously slow time. In the best of times, all those shelves would be full, and there would be overflow carts as well. But, as most people know, it hasn't been the best of times for libraries for a long, long time. But, for a random Thursday in July, that's not so bad.

Living Off the Grid -- Terri Reid

Is that even your real name, Ms. Reid? This caught my eye immediately. There are books about this? It really does cover everything, including how to purchase and keep bees. But, I was a little confused when I got to the part about obtaining a license to hunt and/or fish. Isn't that going directly ON to the grid?

Wound Care Made Incredibly Visual

I have to say, when I saw this on the shelf I was reluctant to open it. Is this something we need made visual? But, the majority of the visuals are illustrations. That's not to say there aren't pictures. There are pictures. And some of them are particularly graphic, but it's probably nothing worse than what you're looking at if you need this book, right? If you're a writer who wants to write about a wound, you might want to take a look.

The Thrifty Cook -- Lucy Doncster

It doesn't look particularly thrifty, but it does look tasty. Lovely pics and, I may be mistaken, but I think there is a picture of every single recipe in the book. There are nice bits about staples for your kitchen and some sample recipes. But, it doesn't look any more thrifty than any other regular cookbook. *shrugs*

Dutch & Belgian Food and Cooking
-- Jany de Moor & Suzanne Vandyck

Yum. I have to say, though, that even though the names of the dishes are very different, the ingredients are incredibly similar. Dutch custard = milk, vanilla, cornstarch, sugar and egg yolks same as a custard made in the USA. Still, if you're interested in expanding your cuisine horizons, this is a very interesting book.

The Homeowner's Guide to Renewable Energy
-- Dan Chiras

Just looking through this book, it didn't seem immediately accessible. Maybe it needs more than a flip through, or maybe it's meant for a more serious audience. If I were thinking about trying to make my home better with renewable energy, I would need an interpreter for this book.

Spend a little, Save a lot
-- Brad Staggs

Now this is a a home improvement book even I can use! Great pictures, step by step instructions and tasks that are not beyond the novice. They're not teaching you how to take down drywall here, but changing light switches, cleaning HVAC units, re-caulking tubs and showers, fixing small roof leaks.

Constructing Green Lantern: from page to screen
-- Ozzy Inguanzo

Everything you ever wanted to know about the GL movie from a visual standpoint.

Gentle Giants: an emotional face to face with dolphins and whales
-- Isabelle Groc

My favorite book of the bunch. If you read the text there is a high probability of learning something about dolphins and whales. But, this book is worth it for the images alone. They are mesmerizing. Check it out today and see for yourself.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Friday, July 1, 2011

You must be mistaken

So, I once bought ordered 85 copies of The Sheikh's Virgin Princess. I'm going to blame my fat fingers which were meant to hit 5, but hit the 8 as well on the number pad. And, of course, I was going way too fast, and didn't even notice it until after they were already ordered.

Luckily, I caught it in time and we were able to cancel most of the copies. 23 actually shipped and were paid for, which is still considerably more than the 5 copies I intended. Of those 23, 12 are still in the system and circulating. A semi happy ending, but still.....85 copies. If you think that didn't send me into a mini panic attack, you are mistaken.

Collection Development is a sometimes a guessing game with new authors, old authors doing new things, finding yourself on the upside or downside of a trend, trying to guesstimate all sorts of things. But sometimes, even without those issues, plain old mistakes happen. Sometimes, you go to fast and hit the wrong numbers. Sometimes, you underestimate the potential popularity of a title.

In 2006, I bought an embarrasingly low number of this title. Sure, I love templars, but does everyone? We had just started a floating collection and I wanted to err on the side of caution, right? So, in December of 2005 I bought 5 copies. Adds are dictated by the hold list, so in January 2006, I bought 19 more. Why 19? I must have picked up a donation along the way, and I wanted to make 25 copies. At the beginning of Feb 2006, I bought 30 additional copies because, well, the hold would not stop growing. Up to 55 copies now, and there were well over 300 holds. It was kind of ridiculous. What the HELL was it about this particular book at this particular time? On Feb 20th, 2006, I bought my last 45 copies of this title. Who knew that book was going to be as popular as it turned out to be. Khoury's subsequent books haven't been nearly as popular. People are still reading The Last Templar.

When we completely centralized selection in 2005 and I applied for the fiction selector job, our director said something very prescient: don't waste time wringing your hands over your orders. I think that is the one piece of advice I would pass on to anyone interested in collection development. No, that isn't the same thing as "don't be thoughtful" or "just type in numbers and let God sort it out." It definitely isn't the same thing as "'s just a number." Nope, not saying that at all. But, fretting over "the number" means you're not ordering books (or audios, or digitals, or DVDs.....)

Whatever is done, can usually be undone. Or modified. Or lived with, quite frankly. If you order books that come with teeny, tiny pieces, you'll learn to check descriptions before you order. If you order books that come covered in orange fur (or astroturf) and have absolutely NO PLACE to stick a barcode or a spine label, same thing. You'll learn to check descriptions more carefully. If you order a book with a completely library inappropriate cover, you'll give ALL covers a cursory once over before you order.

Like most everything else, selection is not an exact science. It's a moving target. Tastes change, popularity of subjects and authors and genres swell and then recede. Authors that were once at the top of everyone's list (Danielle Steel, W.E.B. Griffin) are less popular than before and newer authors have taken their place. Authors jump from a patron's "must buy" list to their "maybe I'll check it out from the library this time" list which changes the library's buying pattern.

Books that are supposed to be HUGELY popular (according to the press) turn out differently. Books that should be ordinary, gather momentum. Keeping an ear tuned to not only reviews but also to how regular people are receiving and/or discussing a title can be a huge help. Ultimately, though, you need to pull the trigger on whether or not to purchase a title, and how many to get. Here is another secret: more often than not, you're going to get it right. Unless you unusually miserly, or extravagant, you're going to be just fine because most people know how to adjust. If you notice the hold lists for vampires is down but werewolves and zombies are up, you'll adjust. If you notice that military fiction is up, but historical romance is down, you'll adjust. If you notice that small town life is up, and gritty urban fantasy is up, and knitting books in fiction and non fiction are up, you'll adjust. You can't do this job and not see the increase in bonnet books and pun-tastic mysteries.

Or make the connection between VH1 reality shows and A&E reality shows and BRAVO reality shows, and the corresponding books that have a similar feel. Maybe you wouldn't have bought this series at all (or maybe just a couple) until you realize it has a Real Housewives of the Bible feel, which might up the popularity. Since April, our copies have gone out 48 times. That's pretty good.

Much more imporant than THE NUMBER is having a feel for what is going on around you, in your community and in the world at large. If you are engaged, you'll be a selection success.