How Your Books Get on the Shelf

Librarians at the McAllen Public Library will soon be able to resume ordering books for the new fiscal year.  There is always a short period at the end of the summer when accounts are being wrapped up for the previous fiscal year, that we have to take a short break from book ordering.  In honor of the new book ordering season beginning, this post is all about how library books actually get on the shelves- there is more to it than you might think!

The entire process of selecting books, ordering books, adding books to the collection, monitoring their use, and possibly eventually removing them from the collection, is called Collection Development.  It is a cycle that is constantly in process at any library.  

The first part of the cycle (and the most fun, in my opinion) is book selection.  Each Reference Librarian is in charge of a different collection.  For example, I am in charge of general fiction, mysteries, 800’s from non-fiction, and I just began assisting with DVD’s and CD’s.  Other Reference Librarians are in charge of other parts of the adult collection, Children’s Department Librarians are in charge of selection of children’s materials, and Teen Department Librarians are in charge of selection of teens’ materials.  Popular fiction authors are on a list of authors from whom we automatically receive all new titles.  However, titles from new fiction authors and those who are not quite as famous as James Patterson or Danielle Steel are still selected individually.  Our selections are based on how interested we think our patrons will be in a book, reviews it has received, if a book needs to be replaced, if there is a particular subject we need to expand, etc.  For example, a few months ago I ordered extra copies of all titles that are on the high school summer readings list or that are frequently asked for by high school students throughout the year.

The next step in the cycle is the actual ordering of the books, which is done by our Acquisitions Department.  They are the budget gurus and keep track of hundreds of book and A/V orders, how much money we have spent, and how much we have left to spend.  A large percentage of our books are ordered from a large book vendor that is like Amazon but specifically for libraries.  Other books are ordered from smaller vendors or directly from the publishing companies.  Once the librarians have their selections ready, usually by making a saved “cart” that can be transferred, we transfer it to our Acquisitions Department and the magic of getting the books actually inside the library happens.  A complicated process that can involve purchase orders, W9 forms, contracts, etc.  

The next step is the cataloging, labeling, stamping, and RFID tagging of each item that comes into the Collection Services Department, which includes the Acquisitions Department and the Cataloging Department.  Books ordered from the larger companies come to us “shelf ready,” which means they are already cataloged and labeled when they arrive and just need the library stamping and RFID tagging.  The RFID tags are what allow your book to be recognized at the self-checkout computers and what triggers the alarm when you leave if the book did not scan properly.  Check out this howstuffworks article to learn all about RFID tags.  Books ordered from smaller vendors or direct from publishers are cataloged, labeled, and receive all processing here at the library.

At this point, the books and other materials are ready for the shelf and go to the Circulation Department, where they are sorted and shelved in the public area.  The librarians run reports and analyze the statistics of how much usage there is of certain collections, how many checkouts there are of individual titles, and how many holds certain titles have.  This data is then used in making our selection, weeding, and budget allocation decisions.  For example, collections with a higher circulation rate get more of a budget than less popular collections with a lower circulation rate.  If a certain book has many holds on it, we will try to order another copy.  If books by a certain author get a lot of checkouts, we will try to order all books by that author.  (This is why we know how popular romance novels are and order a lot of them!)  This is how our selection decisions are based on the needs of our patrons as much as possible.

As more and more books are added to the collection, shelf space is naturally going to fill up and unless the library expands or adds more shelves, some books will eventually need to be “weeded,” or removed from the collection.  Studies have shown that books in areas that have been weeded actually circulate much more than those from areas that have not been weeded.  When patrons are visually overwhelmed with books that are in poor condition or no longer of interest, it is harder to pick out the books that are of interest.  The librarians conduct the weeding and are assisted by the Circulation Department.  When a librarian is weeding, or deciding which books to remove from the collection, he or she will take a cart into the shelves and remove books that fall into certain categories, such as being in poor physical condition, no longer of interest to the community, low circulation rate, multiple copies of former bestsellers that are no longer needed, etc.  We then decide if the book should be donated or recycled, depending on its physical condition.  The Circulation Department assists by directing any books to the librarians that are returned in poor condition, or that they find on the shelves while reshelving.  Once the decision is made of what to do with a book that is being weeded, it is then sent to the Collection Services Department, where it is removed from the online catalog and receives final deaccessioning processing.  If the book is still popular but was just in poor physical condition, or if it is a classic work of literature, another copy will be reordered.
Collection Development is a cycle that is constantly in process.  Librarians are constantly selecting books and making weeding decisions.  The Collection Services Department is constantly ordering, processing new arrivals, and processing weeded books.  The Circulation Department is constantly sorting, shelving, and maintaining the collection on the shelves.  This is the complex, behind-the-scenes process that gets the library books and audiovisual materials on the shelves and ready for you to enjoy!

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