Everything Librarian: March 2013

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Bookclubs Create Community

Recently on my morning commute to Pioneer Memorial Public Library I was in a terrible car crash. I was life flighted to Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown, WV, where I was treated for a horribly dislocated and broken ankle, severe knee lacerations, broken ribs and sternum, and a concussion with a head laceration. My faithful Subaru Legacy station wagon was totalled.

I was in intensive care for two days and then transferred to a regular bed. After four long days of pain, and relearning how to walk using a walker I came home to complete my recovery which will take months.

I live with my boyfriend and my 15 year old son. They had worked very hard to prepare a new bedroom downstairs for me as I am unable to climb stairs. My boyfriend is a great cook but most of his time is now taken up with taking care of me. This is where my bookclub comes in...

I have been a part of a local bookclub in Elkins, WV, for over 10 years. Once a month we take turns choosing books to read and then have a meeting and discussion of the book. There are always about a dozen of us in the bookclub at any given time. Members have come and gone over the years, but there is always a core group of nice ladies who like to get together to drink wine and talk about books. We all mostly live in the same neighborhood and we know each other's kids and families, sometimes peripherally, sometimes closely.

In my time of crisis, the ladies of my bookclub have made up a schedule and they are bringing food and meals to us most every single day. Earlier in the week we were treated to homemade bread and chili, split pea soup, salad, and macaroni and cheese. This expression of love, care, and nurturing has all been built upon a common love of books.

While we all might agree that books improve knowledge, which in turn creates power, books can also create community. I am truly grateful for the acts of these kind and empathetic women who over the years have become my friends. Thank you, ladies, for helping me and my family during this difficult time.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Overdue: Getting Creative

OK, as a librarian, one of my pet peeves is overdue books and especially long-term overdue books. At the Pioneer Memorial Public Library we don't have a lot of cash to spend on mailing out overdue notices, but at the same time we also only have a $2,000 per year book buying budget. That means that even a few missing books or DVDs really means a lot to a small library.

The overdue notices are generated automatically by the library circulation software that we use, but these notices are very impersonal and not particularly friendly. So this month when I sent out overdue notices I decided to try to a new tactic. After all, I spent years designing direct mail marketing, aka junk mail, in which there is a whole science to getting the all important response.

So I decided to approach the overdue notice with a little light-hearted verse in the style of Dr. Seuss. Here is the result:

Dear friends and readers,
Please lend me your ears,
We’re looking for lost books,
From over the years.

They may be in your house,
Or under the bed,
We hope that you liked them,
We hope they were read.

But other folks need them,
These wonderful tomes,
For loaning and learning,
For reading at home.

Please look for the books,
Wherever they are,
We need them back pronto
Are they in your car?

For buying new books
We don’t have lots of cash
So please search your cupboards,
And your own bookshelf stash.

Just drop them off
In our trusty drop box for books
No questions asked,
No dirty looks.

If you have returned
the books in this note
Just give us a call,
We’re sorry we wrote. :-)

I also included a note staying that we are waiving all fines until the end of June. Honestly, we just want our books or DVDs back. In direct mail, a one or two-percent response rate is considered good. But in the small library world I am hoping for a larger return of long lost books and DVDs. We shall see how successful my new approach may be.

If you have any older, overdue books from the Pioneer Memorial Public Library in Harman, WV, just bring them by until June 30, 2013, for a full fine forgiveness.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Libraries, Previewing Books, and Collection Development

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.