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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.

Ordering books for the Library

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, March 19, 2017


The selection of new books for the library used to be a lot simpler.


Book publishing used to be done in an orderly, timely manner, and the process was fairly simple for a librarian --- and technology has made a real mess of it!


In Library School back in the “Dark Ages” of the 1970s, we were all provided with a small metal box to hold the 3 x 5 cards upon which we wrote information about new books that our sample library might like in the collection.


All very orderly, in a timely manner.


The whole process has been complicated with new forms of publication, new forms of books, and completely different means and methods of promoting and advertising new books to librarians.


In addition to the traditional paperbound book, the marketplace now was eBooks of all descriptions and formats produced by a myriad of companies.


Going back 40 years, I used to produce an order list for new books on an 8 ½ x 11 sheet of green paper (the company demanded “green paper” to keep the orders straight) which were then typed with the title first, then author, and ISBN, International Standard Book Number.


Actually, ISBN numbers remain the cornerstone of book orders for libraries.


The order was mailed to the book distributor’s office and they did all the ordering work.


That was the first change --- automated ordering placed the work of order development onto the customer, a fact that I pointed out to these companies now making more profits with the customers doing all the work.


No one listened to me.


The next change came as traditional publishers were supplemented with online publishing and the disappearance of the editor-based systems of review.


Now books are produced in paper and e-format and advertised by emails, and various other electronic formats.


Within the first hour of being in my office a day this past week, I received a phone call that I had signed up for a Blog and therefore must be interested in a certain book --- neither of which was true.


Then came an email from a man telling me I would love his wife’s new book, with a couple of pages of the book attached.  (his prediction was wrong)


That was followed by a flash telling me that no library in America could exist without multiple copies of this book (shown in color) and was shocked that we hadn’t already purchased 3 copies.


An old librarian thought back to the days of “Publisher’s Weekly” and “Library Journal” and quietly reviewing book reviews and brochures about new books.


The reality is that we aren’t returning to the days-of-old so I have adapted to a new era of information technology and ordering books for the library.


Several library staff reviews various sources for new books, including any emails received, any reviews and promos, and suggestions from library users.


Orders are then developed from these lists and ordered.


Of course, libraries receive various discounts for ordering books, and the new books are cataloged and added to the library collections.


I still enjoy telling book vendors that, like all online ordering, the customer does all the work and when an order is submitted the data simply enters their computer “all finished.”


Vendors are unimpressed with my comments, although once the library received a free flashlight from the company.