Tuesday, December 20, 2016

What I've learned from ordering: 100s

As you may recall from the 700s edition of this series, I have been keeping track of the first titles I ordered in my capacity as Newbie Librarian at Small Town Library. Today I took at look at the nonfiction titles in the Dewey 100s--the philosophy and psychology section.

I thought the 100s would be easier than the 700s because the topics are much closer to my own heart. I like philosophy and psychology and I read a lot of pop psychology in my free time. However, in the public library most of what falls into the 100s is self-help, and that is a genre that I've really struggled to get a grip on.


I think I made two major mistakes in my early work in the 100s: Focusing too much on a 'core collection' that we didn't really need, and putting too much trust in publishers and review sources to predict the next big thing, instead of thinking more carefully about my own community.

Since the 100s are an area I'm more familiar with, I felt like I was prepared to make sure we had a 'core collection' in that area--books covering all the major philosophers and schools of philosophy, reference books on psychological concepts, etc. We don't get a lot of people trying to treat our library like an academic library, and we are part of a consortium if we need to make requests, so I tried to avoid spending a lot of money (and a lot of shelf space!) on classics and a core collection of secondary works. But it turns out I still overdid it. Here are some of the flops I bought:

Primary Greatness: The 12 Levers of Success by Stephen Covey--This hasn't gone out since it appeared on the shelf in early May. Covey (the author of the Seven Habits books) is a big name in self-help, but I think he may be kind of passe now. I'd still keep his major works on the shelf, but I'm not going to put him in the 'automatically purchase' category for his new books anymore.

History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell--There are a ton of schools of philosophy and major philosophers that we don't have books on, and this was sort of a compromise to stop myself filling the shelves with the entire Cambridge "Very Short Introduction" series on philosophy. However, I should have understood that the lack of those titles reflected a lack of demand, not a systematic oversight on the part of my predecessors. This title has also never circulated. If someone wants a book on someone other than Plato or Aristotle, I can get it for them through interlibrary loan.

I also bought some more time-sensitive self-help books which professional review sources and our book vendor (which provides demand levels ranging from "moderate" to "hot") indicated were likely to be hits. Some of them were, but a lot of them were not. Vitamin N: The Essential Guide to a Nature-Rich Life by Richard Louv, Dinner with Edward: The Story of a Remarkable Friendship by Isabel Vincent, and Becoming Brilliant: What Science Tells Us about Raising Successful Children by Roberta Golinkoff all went out only twice in 4-6 months of ownership.

I thought that at least Vitamin N and Becoming Brilliant would be hits with our community because it is very parenting-oriented, but that wasn't the case. I'm not sure exactly why yet. It could be that being a full-time parent doesn't translate into reading parenting books, or it could be that the upper-middle-class patrons of Small Town Library, who often have more than one child, don't feel they need parenting help (perhaps parenting books are more aspirational?). However, my best guess is that the working dad, stay-at-home mom culture of Small Town means that the parents who come to the library are women who are outnumbered by children and who spend their whole library visits upstairs in the Youth department. They may snag their adult novels and cookbooks off of the hold shelf as they pass through, but they don't have the luxury of browsing the new adult books. Although parents visit our library a lot, I now realize that the drivers of *checkouts* in the adult department are older patrons who have grown children, more time on their hands, and no need for parenting books. Now that I've learned more about not just who uses our library, but *how* those groups use the library differently, I think I'll do better with this in the future.


Seeing what my best-circulating titles were gave me extra insight into my parenting book failures. Here are my top purchases, all acquired in April.
The Power of Intention: Learning to Co-Create Your World Your Way by Wane Dyer--checked out 9 times.
It's Never Too Late to Begin Again: Discovering Creativity and Meaning at Midlife and Beyond by Julia Cameron--checked out 8 times
Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living by Krista Tippett (Host of NPR's "On Being")--checked out 7 times

See a bit of a theme? The Dyer book has a pretty even appeal across ages, but the other two are definitely more likely to appeal to an older audience.

I also bought two books on mindfulness and meditation that review sources and our vendor claimed would be popular since I do know it's a big topic now. They did pretty well (circulating about once a month each) and I like to think it was at least partly because in a heavily Christian community I made sure I choose the popular titles that disconnected those practices from their non-Christian religious roots the most thoroughly.

Other Observations

Review sources and our book vendor predicted demand okay in this area, but not as well as for the 700s. I should probably make a list of places where self-help books get talked about and become famous, since the the reviews can be hit or miss. That said, filtering what they suggest through knowledge of your particular patron base can help.

Also, why Wayne Dyer has enduring popularity but Stephen Covey doesn't is a bit of a mystery to me, maybe because I've never read any of their books. Anyone with theories, let me know.


  1. You really put a lot of thought into your selections. Good work!