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You thought we did WHAT? A Library Myth

December 13, 2012

Soooo, my friend posted this picture on Facebook that basically said that going to the library is exactly like media piracy. And of course my head was spinning. “What? How? At least we pay the artists!”

“Really?  I thought all your books were donations from authors and publishing companies.”


I say, WHAT.

In our county, we have something like eight system branches, SEVENTEEN member communities (where we have reciprocal agreements), and three stand-alones.  That’s twenty-eight libraries IN OUR COUNTY ALONE.  We’re not even the biggest county in the southern part of our state, let alone the state itself.  There are twenty-one counties in New Jersey.  Even with a low estimate, you’re looking at over THREE HUNDRED libraries in New Jersey alone.  Low estimate on numbers of libraries per state, you’re looking at TEN THOUSAND LIBRARIES in the country.  Our branches often order two copies of a new book, with the main branches ordering three or four copies, sometimes more.

Do you really think that publishers and authors are willing to write off tens of thousands of copies of books for libraries?  You live in a much sweeter, fluffier world than the one I inhabit.

How many of our books are donations?  I’m going to say 1 to 2%.  Donations must be in pristine order, and then they have to be sent to the department that creates records and labels them.  This department also deals with tens of thousands of dollars in orders every year, so of course we don’t want to bother them with any but the most necessary/needed/popular donations.  Usually, donated books go into our book sale.  We sell our own discarded books for anywhere between 1/4th (rare) and 1/20th (usually) the price we paid for them.  But do you think they sell well?  The ones that aren’t being read by patrons aren’t often being bought by patrons either.  The ones that are being read aren’t in great condition–although they at least have to be in GOOD condition at our branch for us to sell them.  I’ve seen libraries that sell books in poor condition, and I don’t get it.  No one buys them.  Because they’re in poor condition.  What a waste of everyone’s time and the library’s space.

So now that you know that we librarians pay for all our books, think about me as a children’s librarian.  How often do books come back with torn or written-on pages?  Pretty often.  You can only tape up a book once before it looks awful and no one wants it anymore.  You can only keep a book for so many years before it becomes irrelevent.  You can only reorder books if they’re in print.

I do a lot of weeding, and a lot of ordering.  That costs money.  Money that goes right into the publishing company’s pockets.

Despite that, we’re always running out of money in our budgets.  Is this because we’re horrible overspenders?  Absolutely not.  It’s because there are so many good books out there.  I, especially, have a high turnover, but right now the market is flooded with YA–our teen librarian would love to bring every book to the library for every kid to enjoy, but it doesn’t work like that.  She’s in charge of J (late elementary and early middle school) and Y(A) books, and she sometimes runs out of money before I do, because she doesn’t have the ability to cheap out on flimsy $4 paperbacks that can be easily replaced–like I do.  She has to shell out like $15 for a new book.  The cost is sometimes higher for our adult services libriarian/branch manager.  And do you think our manager has all the time in the world to seek out all the good new books?  No, because she ALSO has to run this place.

Did I mention the cost of audiobooks?  And DVDs, especially television series sets?  And how quickly they get scratched up and have to be replaced?

And I haven’t even talked about theft and unreturned items.  (If you even want to think of them as two separate things, which I only do sometimes.)

Okay, this is getting a little off-track, so let’s pull it back.  We do pay for almost everything here, and by “almost,” I mean probably 99%.  We get some discounts for buying in bulk but I don’t think it’s that different from what you’d pay with a good coupon.  We then have to pay people to process the books and make them searchable in our system.  We then end up with material that comes off the shelf within a few years, due to use and abuse.

But the important thing is that the publishing companies are getting their fair share.

Now ask THEM how much they give the artists and authors…

Any other library myths that need shattering?  Questions you want to ask?  Let me know in the comments.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Beth permalink
    December 13, 2012 3:54 pm

    Maybe not a sweeter, fluffier world. More like a different world. It’s good information, to know where the books come from. I’d never really given it much thought as I’m not a librarian or work with libraries. I wouldnt have made the connection to them being purchased either, but now I know.

  2. Laura permalink
    December 14, 2012 11:50 am

    I had no idea some people thought library books were all donated. Good to know for when I am advocating for the library. Thanks! Great writing too.

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