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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

The Book Jobber

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, October 16, 2016

Last week, our book salesperson made her twice-a-year visit to our library system to show off upcoming new titles of children’s books, anticipated to be published over the next six months.

 

She drives a large van, complete with commercial book transports for the large boxes of children’s books packed by subject in each box.

 

We maneuver the boxes into a work area of the library and spend the day going through sets, series, individual titles; some brand new authors and some old familiar favorites.

 

It is a wonderful day of librarian-chatting sharing of literature, authors, and publishers and discussion of upcoming new publications.

 

The process has been done for well over a century in public libraries across America, and it is coming to an end with the retirement of this salesperson, at least in our library system.

 

There may be other book sellers that hit the highways of America to sell books to libraries, but I am sure their days are numbered as well.

 

This process has been disappearing with the changes in the publishing world, and the emergence of the Internet as the way of doing business today.

 

These salespeople used to be called “jobbers,” which meant people who traveled around a certain territory of libraries, representing no particular publishing house, but rather a company that contracts with a variety of providers of books for the public library marketplace.

 

When I started in the library world, I often would have appointments with over dozen jobbers from which to select books.

 

All were fabulous sources of information.  One in particular told about the New York meetings held in the various publishing houses which allowed the editors to share stories of new books and new authors.

 

Another jovial salesperson loved to tell endless stories of other libraries and librarians, and authors that he had met.

 

A married couple always loaded a large station wagon with their books, and then told about their Philadelphia warehouse and what books were selling, and which ones weren’t.

 

Now, it has all been replaced by endless e-mails, web sites, blogs, blasts, and other gibberish that actually takes more time than a salesperson.

 

Now that is supplemented by individual authors calling libraries to alert us to the most fabulous book every written which has been reviewed by all their aunts and uncles and children, who also assure us it is on every best sellers list in the world.

 

I remember the beginning of the change, and it has been over 30 years ago.  It was an innocent little device called a Beta-Phone, and instead of writing down our order, the jobber said that all we had to do was attach it to our phone and punch in the ISBN numbers and transmit it to N.Y.

 

Seemed innocent enough, but it gradually moved along with technology and now we simply go to online and order directly.

 

Seems like WE are doing all the work, and the providers get all the profits!

 

Guess that is technology today.  The customer does all the work so a computer someplace can produce the order to be shipped to you.

But, librarians now have to do more research and reading about upcoming books to be able to make informed decisions to match new books to public requests for information and authors.

 

Librarians quickly identify public interests and try to match new books with local library interests.  Anything James Patterson and Stephen King writes; and books about curiosities and famous people are definite a definite acquisition.

 

Computers today do assist librarians by identifying requests, holds, and trends in checkout and downloads.  Library users often tell us about authors and books they would like to read.

 

Younger librarians who never experienced the era of jobbers seem to think that the Internet is the latest and greatest way of collection development for a library, and I have adapted to change as well.

 

But, I was a bit “short” with the latest publishing house asking if I would join their Facebook page, or their Twitter feed, or an editor’s blog --- or they could just put me on their e-mail blast.

 

Gads, what happened to conversation?