When I first started working at the Pioneer Memorial Public Library in Harman, WV, I was surprised at how many sales calls we received from publishers, personalized goods, writers, and even snow removal salt companies. The majority of these sales calls come from publishers of kids fiction and nonfiction who want to mail me books to preview with return postage included if I decide not to buy. Does this business model still work in the age of the Internet?
I Don't Preview Books
Previewing books doesn't work for me in a small library. First of all, I know my audience. My kids love to read, especially the younger ones. I use a couple of great resources to choose books for my library, and I have to credit former librarian Stacy Kay with passing along her knowledge to me. (Thank you, Stacy!) I have a couple of younger, voracious readers who are about eight years old. I let them suggest titles to me to buy. When those books come in, they gobble them up and recommend them to all their friends. Not only is this a simple way to promote the library, but it also turns your patrons into active tastemakers in the community. We are all working in collaboration to create a better selection of books that inspire a love of reading and knowledge. I don't have time to preview books and then have to possibly schlep them back to the post office to mail them back. I'm also betting that these types of book companies make most of their money from customers who are just too busy to return books.
I let my teen readers choose books as well. They tell their friends who also have to read them. Read, rinse, repeat.
Main Line Books
I have worked one day a week at Main Line Books in Elkins and have gained a lot of knowledge in books that are popular with young people thanks to the excellent book selecting of store owner Vickie Roidt. From the vantage point of this independent bookstore I have followed the teen book trends of Twilight, House of Night, Vampire Diaries, and Pretty Little Liars. The adult fiction book trend has gone from Life of Pi, Three Cups of Tea, Cutting For Stone, Game of Thrones, and 50 Shades of Grey. Market trends in books are important. Just being in touch with people who like to read in a retail environment has given me a feel for what people like to read.
Researching Collection Development aka Book Buying
Other places I research books include the Young Adult Library Services Association of the American Library Association, National Public Radio's annual Top 100 list, and Amazon. At Amazon you can find the most popular books for any given age or grade, and classified into fiction and nonfiction.
There is one publisher who won me over by being able to provide nonfiction science books for my middle schoolers. Junior Library Guild doesn't call me a lot to pitch new services. The books they provide are new, nicely illustrated, and always hardbacks. My one year subscription gets me 12 books, one per month, for about $195, that's $16.25 per book and shipping. I thought that was a great deal, and as a member I can buy their backlist titles for $7 per book. I like that too. The JLG tagline is "Collection development for every library," and they mean it. If you have a weak area in your library collection that needs a little expert help, do not hesitate to seek out the help of professionals. After all, in a small rural library with two staff members sometimes you need a little assistance in figuring out the best books to buy.
Please Don't Call Me, Book Salespeople
And, I have asked most of the salespeople to take me off of their calling list permanently. They may email me promotions and pitches so I can look at them all at one time or politely hit the delete key. For most salespeople, in calling to solicit they are going through a list of all United States libraries to try to make a sale. Salesfolk -- doesn't that sound nicer than salesperson? -- have no idea whether they are calling a large metropolitan library with a huge book-buying budget, or a tiny library with an equally diminutive book-buying budget. They are casting the widest marketing net hoping to hit a sale, and I get that and appreciate that. It's just mostly not a good fit for me and my smaller-sized library. When I explain this to the phone callers, they are mostly polite about it.
Westerfeld Series The Uglies
As an aside: I find it interesting that a series of books that is very popular at Main Line Books in Elkins, West Virginia, has not been so popular in Harman, about 23 miles away. At the bookstore I have sold many copies of the four books in the The Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld. At the library I recently bought these books and catalogued them. The first book went out and has not yet been returned. End of story. But what I have learned from this is that teachers in rural areas set reading trends. At Elkins Middle School one or two of the teachers use the Westerfeld books as part of their class bringing her students and their friends into the bookstore to buy copies of these contemporary classics. I have not had that experience at the library with tweens and teens. Perhaps some of the elementary school kids are much more influenced by the their teacher's reading selection, or the older kids are not reading many books in their classroom.
If you would like to purchase the Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld you may click the links below. Or, come to the Pioneer Memorial Public Library in Harman, West Virginia.