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In catching up on patron requests this week, I realized how often some of the same questions come up over and over again. The process of filling out a request is pretty easy, but you do have to log in with your card number, fill out a form, etc, so it isn't without some effort. I wish there was a way to tell a wide range of people that some requests are unable to be filled before they go through the trouble of making the request.
That said, here are some things I am frequently asked by patrons:
Why do you have some of a series but not all?
Probably the question I am asked most often. The library collection is a not a static thing. Things go missing, get damaged, and get stolen all the time. So, the odds are good that we used to have book 2 of the series, but we don't anymore. I try to discourage people from discarding a series book if the other books in the series are circulating well, or if the author is still writing the series. Yes, most J.R. Ward fans agree that Lover Enshrined is one of the weaker books in the series. It may not compare favorably to others in the series, much less other books in general, in terms of recent circulations or number of circs. But she is still writing the series. The series is still popular. How do you justify having all the books except one in the collection? The same thing could be said of jumping on board a series once it moves from paperback to hardback. Lara Adrian's popular Midnight Breeds series is about to make that jump in January with Darker After Midnight. A lot of libraries, who don't bother with paperback fiction, will see this pop up and order it. Great! But this is book 10 in the series, so you should be prepared to get a ton of patron requests, or interlibrary loan requests, for the other books. Or you can preemptively buy them, because the new release always raises interest in the other books of the series. (I'm sure I've blogged about my puzzlement over anti-paperback prejudice. No need to re-hash that here....)
Why doesn't the library purchase books published only in the UK?
The world is a lot smaller now, and library patrons have much wider tastes. This is great. I get a lot more requests for books reviewed in UK newspapers that are not available in the US. Just last week, I got a request for James Patterson's Private: London which is, apparently, only available in the UK. James Patterson, how could you? This is really more of a philosophical thing than anything else. Is it possible to buy books published only in the UK? Sometimes. The Patterson book looks to be available on Baker & Taylor. But, given the amount of copies we would have to buy, how feasible is it? First of all, I'm not sure we would be able to get the number of copies we'd need. Second, how much would it cost to get them? Is that to say we absolutely will not add books unless they are published stateside? Of course not. The library is rarely a place of absolutes. But it would have to be something extraordinary and, truly, unique and essential to the collection. Most of the books that I get asked for will, eventually, see a US release and we would certainly order it when that occurred.
Why won't the library add my one donated copy of an out of print book to the collection? Or buy a used copy from Amazon?
Buying used copies is a risky thing. The condition may or may not be acceptable. Yes, we know that you're not buying for forever, but we do like it to last more than one or two circulations. And, with interlibrary loan and now digital format, some things that are out of print in print can still be acquired. (I'm looking directly at you, Lord Valentine's Castle!) With donated copies, of course, you're able to check the condition. Even so, the question becomes one of widespread access. How long is one copy of anything going to last? What happens if the hold list explodes and you can't acquire more copies? This happened to me recently. I found a pristine copy of Girl Missing by Tess Gerritsen in our donations store. A little bit of research showed me that in the US it was called Peggy Sue Got Murdered, which we had, but the copies were old. Girl Missing ended up getting its own record (gah!) and the next time I checked it, there were 66 holds! Patron holds cancel after one year so patron #66, if everyone before them kept the book for the maximum amount of time, would be waiting 198 weeks! And we can't even talk about that one copy possibly becoming missing/damaged/etc. Peggy Sue Got Murdered is out of print in the US, so we couldn't go that route. I broke down and started searching the used book market (66 holds!) but even paperback copies were expensive. So, to Amazon.co.uk I went. They allowed us to buy 5 copies at once. Five. Hey, every little bit helps, this is true. We have them, they are circulating (of course) We're down to 52 holds, and I should probably try and get another 5 copies. But just think how much easier, and how much less angst for the patron, if I'd never added that ONE donated copy in the beginning..... Using the library should not be an angsty proposition for the patron.
Do your patrons/colleagues have similar questions? What is your collection philosophy towards out of print, non-US editions or collecting series?
If you are responsible for collection development in just about any size or kind of library, the chances are good that there's been a recent push to reduce the size of your print reference collection.* Print reference materials are, to use a regional expression, wicked expensive. They are also being used less and less as librarians turn to databases and patrons turn to the immediate gratification of the internet. As budgets decline and libraries look to use their space in new and creative ways, physical reference collections are obvious targets for heavy weeding. Here at my library, we are reducing our reference collection by 50%. At our branches, reference collections will be cut by 75% . . . this time around. So where do you start when you are lucky enough to get the assignment to chop chop chop?
Before You Begin
Get a firm idea of how much the administration wants to reduce the reference collection. Survey the collection and determine how much you're going to have to weed to…
"Denewing" is the term I invented for the process of taking books from the new shelf and changing their status to, for lack of a better word, "not-new." Sure, I could farm the work out to other people in my library, but it's never been clear to me why I would when denewing presents the perfect opportunity to see what has been circulating, how many times, and (thanks to Evergreen, our new ILS) the last library at which an item was checked out. Plus, peeling stickers = therapeutic. Denewing is something I can do on desk while I help people with their various computer issues.
Denewing also makes your new shelves look better. Because space is at such a premium in most public libraries (although regular weeding could help with that--cough), the New Shelf is the place where we have the best opportunity to showcase what we're buying and catch people's attention. The new shelf should be positioned somewhere where it will catch patrons' eyes and shout (item-…