Ups and downs at the library

sundaysalonI 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?

About BookerTalk

What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

Posted on July 27, 2014, in Sunday Salon. Bookmark the permalink. 27 Comments.

  1. It seems like my library here in the US pretty much orders everything. I have rarely looked for a newer book they did not have (older books, 10+ years old, sometimes leave me empty handed). Should I ever want a book they don’t have I can ask them to buy it. I’ve never done this so I don’t know how responsive they actually are to requests. You should definitely contact your librarian to ask your questions though! Good luck!

  2. From what I hear on the NY Time Book Review podcast that a number of them are being released in the fall in the States and maybe that is why you are unable to get them. I am also seeing the same problem and its really hard to find decent books through my local library.

    • listening the The Readers podcast last night i learned that the publication dates for USA are much later than in UK. Since the publishers of any book on the long list are required, if their book is listed, to have 1,000 copies in stock, some of them are rushing out the first batch

  3. We’re reprising our BookerMarks collaboration again this year, however it’s a far more laid back approach to it than in previous years – but, and I’m sure owing to the inclusion of the “U.S.” (sadly no Canadians made the list this year) there are more available here than usual. I’m currently listening to Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves in audio. (I was also a bit surprised to see this make the longlist?) History of the Rain though is currently in our library too. Funny, I did take it out a few months back, but returned it early as it didn’t seem the right fit for me at that moment.

    • I just caught up with your site – I was wondering why it hadn’t been coming through on my feed but now I see that you’ve changed the domain location.

  4. I work at a small town library here in the States as a library assistant and how it works here is if a patron asks me about a book, I pass along the suggestion to the director. Nine times out of 10, she gets it…if she doesn’t, I always can request it through interlibrary loan. Of course, it might be different where you are. I’m not sure.

    • our library system does have an ability for you to suggest a book. but I discovered that if you use the on line suggestion then they have no way of knowing who made the suggestion and hence can’t get back to you to say if they will buy it or not.

  5. I think it depends on the library. I used to live in a somewhat sophisticated coastal town where the librarians always purchased the prize winners. I’m now using a rural county library — and sadly, sometimes I seem to be the only one reading some of the books I choose. However, I do have access to the library in the nearby university town though I have to drive a bit farther to use it. They have a much deeper list.

  6. The Literarium

    It’s sad, but judging from what our libraries stock here as well, people are growing less interested in thoughtful reading material that you would find on lists like the Booker Prize list and instead are gravitating more toward trash, so libraries seem to be following this trend.

    I know personally I have a hard time finding quality cultural fiction at my local libraries (I have to sweep multiple branches here to find anything), and the stacks look like they aren’t growing.

    The library has always been one of my favorite places to get books since I was a child, and like you I’ve noticed that they are in trouble. It’s scary because they are a lifesaver when you’re a reader on a budget, need internet access, or if you just want to take part in impromptu book discussion and a little local culture.

    Sad days these are.

    • It is sad to see them struggling to meet competing demands between readers who want books and people who want to get dvds and cds and to use the internet. they are becoming more like learning resource centres than libraries

  7. I’ve had an interesting experience with libraries in Edinburgh since I’ve moved here from Canada. For example, I just assume that they will have most of the authors coming to the Edinburgh Book Festival. I assume that there will be enough interest in them. But I’m wrong. I also assume that they will be stocking Scottish writers. Wrong again. It also seems to take them a very long time to get new releases. I’m not really complaining because I love my library, but it is very different from what I experienced in various cities in Canada.

    • I would have expected them to make that connection also – if you were a bookshop you would view the event as a marketing opportunity with an interested audience to capitalise on. someone could go to one of the book festival events but not have the kind of budget that enables them to buy everything – the library could fill that need really well

      • I know. Today I was looking for Nikesh Shukla. Everyone seems to be talking about him right now. Didn’t have his old book or his new one. His old one was nominated for a Costa 1st Book. To me that is reason enough to have it.

  8. I was never a public librarian, but from what I learned in library school, they try to order what the public wants (and I’ve definitely heard librarians grumble that all the public wants is John Grisham and James Patterson). I’m sure the acquisitions librarian would love to know that there’s interest in the books on the Man Booker long list.

  9. I order books for a small public library and we encourage patrons to let us what they would like to see in the collection. I usually figure that if one person is asking about a certain book or type of book, other people are probably looking for the same thing. It is harder now that libraries can’t just buy a single book, but need to provide the same book in several different formats (audio, large print, paperback, e-book, e-audio), all of which come out of the same decreasing pool of money!

    • thats a good point about the different formats now which means the budget gets stretched even more thinly. I’ve also found that some books get ordered in bulk but are held in reserve only for the library book clubs. which seems rather unfair to me

  10. Does your library not have a system whereby you can ask them to buy specific books? What automatically comes into our libraries has definitely diminished in both quantity and (to my mind) quality, but I am still able to request books I want although it can take a long time for them to arrive (ordering, receiving, cataloguing etc.). It would be worth asking.

    • Yes they do though it doesn’t seem all that streamlined. if you make the request on line then it doesn’t capture your library membership details so you never hear if they accepted your suggestion.the only way you know is to keep going to ask.

  11. I’m afraid this is a common problem in a lot of libraries all over the world. The niche for literary prize winners is getting smaller unfortunately in libraries. They really do believe that the majority of readers want Grisham and Patterson. 😕 Not me. I think libraries should keep variety in mind. The problem with the Man Booker a Prize list is there are a few that aren’t out yet and I’m not sure when they will be. While I’m here in the States I’m going to try to pick up a couple of them. I already own The Blazing World. Good luck but don’t be too stressed over it. You never know what might become available. 😀

  12. I currently use Islington Libraries because the Central Library is very near where I work and it’s easier for me to pick up books there.They have a brilliant selection and regularly have new books coming in which is fantastic. However, the catalogue does seem a little bit disorganised at times. For example, a few weeks ago, I was surprised to see there was no listing for The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith even after it had been published. It then suddenly appeared with a note saying it was on order so I reserved it. A few hours later, I got an email saying the copy was available! So hopefully it might be the case that some of the Man Booker Prize novels you want to read are on order after all…

    • I know a couple of them are definitely on order but no-one can tell me when they might be expected. last time this happened, they couldn’t even find the books when they came in. part of the problem seems to be that in addition to the regular alphabetical shelves, they also have promotional tables and shelves so the book could be on one of them.

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