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Patron Question #1: How Does the Library Choose Which Books to Buy?

April 13, 2016

In library terms, the purchasing of materials for the library is called collection development.  Depending on the size of the library, you may have many people involved in the process, or very few. One librarian may be in charge of all the purchasing, or only one aspect of it. For example, Miss Allie takes care of almost all our children’s and teen collection development. You’ll see why it’s “almost” and not “always” below.

When it comes to what to choose, there are three major avenues for collection development:

Publications – When you’re trying to keep ahead of the game, you need to know what’s about to come out. For that, there are publications like Library Journal and School Library Journal, which review advance copies of books to help choose what to buy. Librarians rely heavily on these publications for collection development.

Popularity – Is this a popular author, title, or series? Then it will probably be bought by a library as soon as possible. Often, libraries keep lists of popular authors, publishers, and series, and set up what’s called a standing order with the company they buy materials from. When something from the standing order is released, the library gets it immediately without having to go through the usual ordering process. Standing orders free up the staff to spend their time looking for other materials to round out their collection and keep it from looking like an airport bookstore.

Recommendations – Patron and staff member recommendations make up a small but significant portion of materials purchased. Many libraries will allow you to suggest items for purchase. If the item fills a need in the collection–for example, the library once had the book but it was damaged or never returned, or a few people have requested it–it may be purchased, depending on the library’s budget. Journal reviews are sometimes not an indicator of popularity, so listening to patrons’ needs is important. And don’t forget, staff members are patrons too–staff members often request things for purchase based on their own interests and the interests of the patrons they interact with every day.

Different communities have different needs, so what’s available at one library may not be available at the next. A good library staff pays attention to what’s being checked out and tailors its collection to suit its population, but not so much it’s purchasing for only the majority.

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