Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Mix My Media (please!)

Can we talk, for a minute, about things that aren't books? Don't get me wrong, I love books. I do. I always have. And, honestly, I can't even imagine that a day will come when I will disavow them. Not even for a million dollars. Not even for ten mill.....well, let's not go quite THAT far. But, the point remains, I love books so this is not even close to an anti-book screed.

And, I understand that books and literacy are, and have been, the cornerstone of libraries. That's wonderful. Encouraging literacy, and a love of reading, is a fantastic thing to be associated with your organization/profession. I can't think of many people who would argue against these things, and it makes for wonderful, heart warming stories to share with people who hold the purse strings.

But, libraries have been circulating things OTHER than books for a long time. In fact, I don't know that I can remember a time when libraries only had books. Even the tiny library in my hometown had LPs when I was a kid. They also circulated gigantic art prints, but that's another story! LPs, cassettes, CDs, VHS, video games, DVDs, Blu-Ray DVDs, etc, etc. All things that libraries treat as loss leaders. Something they HAVE to circulate, but, hopefully, will bring people in so we can give them books.

Here's a thought, though: Maybe people don't WANT books.  I know, I can hardly conceive of such a thing either, but there's a possibility this might be true. And, you know what? It's fine. No, it's better than fine. It's great. It's great that we are serving this segment of our community in exactly the way they need (and want) to be served.

Maybe that person who never takes books is a book blogger, and has all the books they can handle. But they don't have all the movies and music they can handle, so that's why they come to the library. Maybe they're a parent, whose well-meaning in laws bought the kids an Xbox, but didn't realize the upkeep needed in terms of new games, or how expensive those games would be. Checking them out from the library is the perfect solution. Last Sunday, I helped a guy find a CD with a certain Johnny Cash song so he could learn it for performance. For some, a library success story would be that he took three Cash biographies, a database article and signed up for summer reading! All wonderful things, to be sure. But, for me, it was a success that he came to the library, got what he needed, and left feeling that this place in his community had exactly the right thing at the right time.

Another thing I've learned is that there are MANY kinds of literacy. When people come in with electronic devices (iThings, MP3 players, tablets, e-readers, etc.) and they learn how to load what we have onto what they have, that is a form of tech literacy. Sometimes, they get it right away. Sometimes, it takes them a few visits and a few tries (and some swearing...) And, honestly, sometimes they never get it. They like the convenience, but they will always need someone to help them load their device. For the most part, though, people leave knowing something they didn't know how to do before. Tech literacy badge unlocked!

And there is cultural literacy. I can use my sister as an example here because she doesn't read the blog. A few years back I got her hooked on the show Monarch of the Glen. It's a great family show, set in the highlands of Scotland. A complete cultural shift from what my solidly Midwestern sister was used to. While she was happy to watch any period BBC drama thing, she wasn't too much in to shows about modern Scottish life. Not only did she devour all the seasons, she learned about modern, everyday life in the highlands. At the beginning of episode one, the thick Scottish accent, and the quick, conversational pace, was difficult to understand. It wasn't long, however, before she'd trained herself to hear it perfectly.

It isn't always just about entertainment, even when that's all a patron may intend for it to be. Sometimes, you don't even realize you're gaining a new understanding for someone or something different than what you're used to. But, even if you don't have that same experience, satisfying the needs of the community (educational AND/OR recreational) is its own reward. I promise, it really is. 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Infrequent Ordering: Adult Graphic Novels

I covered some of this ground in Getting Started with Graphic Novels, but I wanted to revisit the topic for a more in-depth look at how I choose what adult graphic novels to purchase. As I mentioned, I use a variety of review sources and websites, including:

  • Library Journal, Booklist, Publishers Weekly
  • The A.V. Club, Graphic Novel Reporter, Paste, NPR, i09, Diamond
  • Eisner nominees and other lists curated by organizations like YALSA
  • New York Times bestseller lists (and occasionally reviews from NYT or LA Times)
Since I only order graphic novels one or two times a year, I needed a method to keep track of the items that are reviewed or listed over the course of the year. To do this--surprising to no one, I'm sure--I use a spreadsheet. When I encounter a potential purchase, I record the publication year, author, and title, as well as the review source. 

The Spreadsheet Approach in Action
On the far left, I assign stars based on how much weight I'm giving a certain title. Something like Rasl might have only been reviewed in Publishers Weekly at the time I updated this spreadsheet, but other volumes of the series have circulated well. A title gets a star if it has a starred review. If it's reviewed favorably in two sources, it gets a star. If I know it's something I MUST order, it gets a zillion stars. In the same spreadsheet, I also have a list of ongoing series to order/check for needed replacements. 

When it's time to place the order, I sort the spreadsheet by the star column in descending order. I spend a certain amount of money on series continuations and replacements. Then I begin evaluating the items with the most stars:
  • Did I already order that? This happens more often than I would like, despite the fact that I try to take titles off spreadsheet when I purchase them.
  • Did one of my colleagues already order that for the YA or juvenile collections? Or for a branch library?
  • Do other system libraries outside Springfield own that item? Do they currently have holds? What has the circulation been like?
  • Do we already have something by that author? What has the circulation been like? Is it missing?
I try to balance several things when ordering adult graphic novels. As the largest public library in this part of the state, I believe we have a responsibility to order some things that other libraries can't afford to get. On the other hand, I'm not going to buy items that my browsing patrons--and the adult graphic section gets a lot of in-house use--wouldn't be interested in. I also have to balance "highbrow" graphic novels that are critical hits (some of which have been real duds on the shelves) with long-running and sometimes enormous series and popular comic-book titles. At one of the branches, I'm slowly growing the collection of Walking Dead titles held, three or four items at a time. 

Every year, I order only a fraction of the items that I've recorded on my spreadsheet. I had almost $1,000 to spend for the Central Library this year, and barely scratched the surface with an order consisting of 85 items. My spreadsheet of potential purchases still has 1100 items on it that I haven't bought for the library. 

This year, as usual, I made careful selections, trying to balance everything as well as I could. And then I asked for more money so I could make sure I got all the possible titles off this list (shared by my friend Kristin). As you can see on that snippet of spreadsheet above, the ratio of male to female authors on the list of reviewed items is usually pretty skewed toward the male end. I do my best to keep this in mind when I'm ordering graphic novels. 

What's your approach to ordering something when it's not on a monthly basis?