Inside The Librarian Brain: Ordering Mass Market Paperbacks

One of the things I would like us to feature here is accounts of how librarians actually do the work of collection development, which is why I wrote last week about how to tackle new-to-you nonfiction areas. Please contact me if you'd like to share a story about how you order materials for your library, and we will post it here.

I order books for a large public library in western Massachusetts, and one of my favorite collection areas is
adult (mass-market) paperbacks. Pending our looming budget cuts, I get to spend about $175 a month, which means we have quite a large collection for western MA--even though I only purchase 30-40 books per order. My tight budget means that I try to be very careful about what I order; a book that won't circulate is a waste of my time and the library's money.

I am licensed to buy anything with a list price under $10, and I use Ingram to do my ordering. I order for the central library and another selector orders paperbacks for our nine branches. Some of the money I spend on replacements, and I don't spend as much on romance novels as I would if we didn't get regular donations, especially of series romance titles. One of our most popular collections is the urban fiction, so I always allocate a certain percentage of my budget to buying (and replacing) books in that genre, as well as the series romances targeted toward the African-American population. Other things I consider are:

Genre: I try to buy a certain number of books in each area, romance and urban fiction getting the highest percentage of the budget, and things like westerns and nonfiction the lowest (I may order one, or none, each month). This is based largely on circulation numbers.

Series: If a book is part of an ongoing series, this usually guarantees it a spot in the cart. See my post on series ordering for specifics on how I manage/tear my hair out about this issue.

Requests: If a book was a special request by a staff member or patron, that gives it more weight. If I'm buying something that one patron has requested, then I know it will circulate at least once and I can extrapolate that other patrons might be interested as well.

Branches: As I mentioned above, we have nine branches. I
f one of them is ordering a title, I may cut it from my cart because I know it will be in the system and therefore be readily available to our patrons.

Ingram: I use a few of the tools available in their system to help narrow my choices. I look at how many copies are on order in Ingram to gauge how popular the title is predicted to be and note whether a title has been marked as "street smart," since Ingram has gone to the trouble of thinking about these things.

Authors: I often consider how many other books by that author we already have, even if not in series. For example, if a lot of books by an author are missing or billed, that means I would definitely order their new title.

Size: I actively avoid Tall Premium editions, because they don't fit on our shelves unless they are shelved sideways. They also cost more. I am looking at YOU, James Patterson.

Format: I consider whether we already have the book in hardback. I generally don't double up unless it's a super popular title like a Janet Evanovich or similar (and is not a Tall Premium!). There is little enough money in my budget that I favor the library having unique titles in paperback over having the same title across multiple formats.

Reviews: I read reviews in publications such as Publisher's Weekly, Booklist, and Library Journal. Once in a while these help me to order something that is by an author we don't have already, or tip the scales on something I am considering but haven't decided to purchase yet. I also use blog reviews or recommendations from coworkers online friends who read in genres that I don't. For example, I have a solid grip on fantasy and SF, but mystery is . . . mysterious to me.

I usually load up my cart with about twice as much as I can afford and cut from there. I'm sure this seems like a lot of work to order around forty books a month, but the paperback collection is quite popular. Approximately fifty percent of the collection (that wasn’t missing, billed, lost, or otherwise out of commission) circulated in FY10. With so little to spend, I want to make sure that my collection decisions are the best they can possibly be considering my patrons, our existing collection, and the direction I want to go (i.e., away from westerns, since they don't circulate).

I'd love to hear what other people do when they're ordering, especially where paperbacks are concerned. Please leave us a comment or send us a story with your perspective!


mb said…
Beautiful post. I don't get to order anything even if we had money which we don't (not in either of my billets), and I could say something about weeding except even just SEEING those seven characters makes me feel all stabbity). But I love the way you think and write clearly about what you are doing.

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