I took off for the county library on Thursday armed with the 2014 Man Booker long list, on a quest to read at least a few of these titles before the shortlist is announced on September 9. Last year when I embarked on the same exercise I managed to get hold of two titles and then went onto the very very long reserve list for what turned out to the the winner, Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries.
This year was much more disappointing. Of the 13 long listed novels, only one (History of the Rain by Niall Williams) was in stock in the whole of the county. Three more were on order but no indication of the expected delivery date. The remainder were not on the radar at all. Now that wasn’t a surprise in the case of Paul Kingsworth’s The Wake since this was a crowd funded novel. But what astonished me was that there were no plans to acquire Ali Smith’s How to Be Both despite her award-winning track record or Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves —I’m not desperately keen to read this one personally but the huge commercial success she had with The Jane Austen Book Club (it spent thirteen weeks on the New York Times bestsellers list) would surely make this a popular choice with library goers? The short story is that I left the building empty handed though at least with the knowledge that History of the Rain will be on its way to me from another branch within a couple of days.
Not a good experience clearly but I feel rather mean being critical of the library service at the moment. Firstly because I know they have seen their budgets reduced and reduced in successive years so the amount they have to spend on new acquisitions is shrinking. Secondly because they are awaiting the recommendations of a review by the local authority to be implemented which will see the service suffer even further. The staff already know that some branches will be closed and turned over to community volunteers, while others will see their opening hours cut. Even though this was decided in April, the staff still don’t know when the changes will be put into place. It’s hard to think ahead when you have no idea what shape the future will take. And finally, because despite all this uncertainty the staff remain as friendly, patient and helpful as ever. I simply couldn’t bring myself to complain or grumble that leading authors were being overlooked and not all their readers wanted the latest John Grisham or James Patterson. (no disrespect to those authors or their fans but you get my point).
What I would like to understand however is how they make decisions about which books to order and who is involved in those decisions. Would it be appropriate to contact the country librarian with my questions do you think? How does your library service decide what to get?