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.


Popular posts from this blog

Tips for Weeding Your Reference Collection

Say what now?

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