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?


robin said…
Man oh man. I love this post! yes, series take up an insane amount of time, but they are beloved and deserve every second spent on them! The problem I have is that series come in all shapes and sizes now, including series not necessarily written by just ONE author. It used to be that MYS and SF/F were the huge series areas, but everything from Christian fic to Urban fic now has series. Some are easy to keep up with: with Smokin' Seventeen coming out in June, easy to go back and check the status of 1-16, right? But what about Janette Oke? With the rise in Christian Fic as a genre, so many more authors have come along to replace her as THE Christian fic author. Yet, as people discover the genre, they almost always want to read the classic or modern pioneer, right? Gilber Morris, Bodie Thoene, etc. have series after series after series....and it's hard enough to keep up with just that genre (especially if you don't have an inclination to follow it) but then you add the other genres on top of it, and series building/keeping can be a full time pursuit.

I use (heavily) fiction database to keep track of series, when I need to check titles. I wish there was something that I could use more interactively to keep track of series. The excel spreadsheet sounds good, but it would be too huge and take way too much time to create, much less update. I think, in my case, it would be easier if we had more Collection Development staff and the genres were separated.
Helgagrace said…
I do have to give a shout out to one of my favorite collection development tools for fiction, the British site Fantastic Fiction (, which is a great place to go to see the order of books in a series.

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