Growing Collections

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Public libraries must balance a wide range of needs and constraints when considering their collection development: physical space, budget, community interest, diversity, circulation targets. The list goes on and on. In talking with collection development librarians across the country, I have found some noteworthy similarities and interesting differences in how different libraries approach book selection.

Understandably, most libraries are heavily influenced by customer requests. While some libraries purchase nearly anything that customers ask for, others apply stricter filters: only titles with positive reviews, no self-published material, all titles must conform to the collection development policy, and, perhaps, a limit on number of requests per month. Many libraries have set up a holds ratio system (for example, six holds to one copy prompts the purchase of another copy). I have heard hold ratios ranging from 4:1 all the way up to 12:1. Using ratios is an excellent way to balance you budget with customer interest while managing your outputs.

Do reviews still matter? Overwhelmingly, everyone says, “Yes!” Some librarians prefer the review journals that are targeted strictly at libraries: Booklist, Library Journal, School Library Journal, Horn Book, and VOYA, as well as other specialty publications. There are mixed responses on how many librarians use Kirkus Reviews — some librarians really appreciate the new addition of notes on ethnicity of characters and the frank reviews, while others feel they are too “mean” or review books that are a bit too obscure for the public library collection. There are also mixed opinions about using Publishers Weekly. Some librarians feel the reviews are too commercial and don't note library-important aspects like novelty features of a title, while other librarians treat their own collections more like a bookstore and appreciate the approach from a trade point of view.

Do you go to more non-traditional venues for reviews, or to discover fresh materials? More and more rich sources are available online. Most librarians have favorite blogs and reviewers they check out regularly.

Because Goodreads is crowd-sourced, it can be a great place for analyzing how readers are responding to new titles (even pre-pub or self-published titles). Goodreads reviewers often read review copies, just like librarians. As with all non-professional reviews, you'll need to be savvy when looking at Goodreads. I usually look for a title with a high number of reviews (at least 50) before deciding whether I can trust the star rating. A high readership also represents a lot of interest in a new title and can guide me in gauging whether it will be a shelf-sitter. Clearly, readers are hearing about this title somewhere, even if I might have missed the buzz.

Goodreads is also a good place to seek out genre lists and forthcoming demand. You can search for the most popular titles of a given month to see how many readers have added that title to their “to-read” list. I use this for the coming month or two when I'm deciding how many titles to order pre-pub. This is particularly useful for popular but less-reviewed genres like sci-fi, romance, and teen.

Do you seek out local authors and bestselling titles at your local bookstores? collects reviews of current titles from independent booksellers nationwide. These are the titles that customers may be looking at, but choose to borrow from the library, rather than buying. Keep up with author events at local bookstores, lecture series, and school author visits for authors that may generate demand. You'll know best whether these sorts of events significantly increase circulation at your library.

Many libraries order titles about three months before publication, while others need to conserve their budget and wait for starred reviews and awards. How does your library fit in? Do you pre-order the bulk of your titles? Just certain types, such as adult fiction and popular authors or series? Do you wait for certain times of year to refresh non-fiction or graphic novels, or work on it all year long? However you grow your library collection, Brodart's online selection tool, Bibz, has you covered. Bibz features everything from pre-pub Silver TIPS lists to featured topics lists to Dewey-based Collection Builders, from full-text journal reviews to lists of all the starred reviews.