Tuesday, December 6, 2016

What I've learned from ordering: 700s

I've now been at Small Town Library for about 9 months. One of the things I do here that I had never done before was order materials for the collection. I keep a list of the things I ordered early on and I have been following how well (or in some cases how poorly) they circulate to try to see what I can learn from it. I'm finally at the point where I have things on my list that we've had on our shelves for more than 6 months, so I think the data is starting to be useful.

Today I looked at 40 items I had ordered for the Dewey 700s---Arts and Recreation, in a period from late April to late May. Here are some things I learned:

I had five titles that were just total flops. They have not been checked out a single time since I bought them. They are:
A field guide to American houses : the definitive guide to identifying and understanding America's domestic architecture
Soccer FAQ : all that's left to know about the clubs, the players, and the rivalries 
The smart guide to horses and riding
The baseball starter : a handbook for coaching children and teens
Experiencing Mozart : a listener's companion

Most of these titles have two things in common:
1. We are the only library in our consortium, or one of only a few, that owns them
 2. While they are new-ish titles, they are things I bought as 'replacements' for older titles on the subject that were not circulating

From that, I can draw two conclusions for future reference:
1. Trust the consortium: If no one else bought it, there is probably a good reason. I thought there might be value in having unique titles that people elsewhere in the system might want to borrow, but the lack of holdings elsewhere in the consortium instead looks like it's an indicator that the low demand for a title isn't just a fluke of our local library but instead represents a larger trend.
2. If you're having trouble finding a good title on something, consider buying nothing: Librarians want to feel like our collections are complete. I think we all dread having someone come in and having to tell them we have nothing on their topic of interest. I suspect some of the older titles that I weeded were only lingering because past people in my position had looked for newer options and seen that little was out there, so they chose to keep the older title rather than leaving a topic "empty" or replacing when choices were limited. I don't regret weeding the older titles, because they didn't get used, but I do regret replacing them just so I could feel like our library had something on the subject. Just like lack of holdings in the consortium was an indicator of patron interest, so was lack of offerings from publishers. This looks like it was especially true for some of the less-common sports, which makes sense. If 90% of people now learn sports from videos instead of books, we probably still need books on the very popular sports, but the chances of someone coming in for a book on softball or lacrosse are near zero.


I had six titles that have been checked out 5 times or more, i.e. at an average rate of about once a month. Those are:
Spooky & bright : 101 Halloween ideas
Artful Halloween : 31 frightfully elegant projects
Happy home outside : everyday magic for outdoor life
Ultimate book of home plans
Supercraft: easy projects for every weekend
Teach yourself visually: knitting

What I mainly learned from this is that people love crafts even more than I realized they did. The 700s were a daunting assignment for me because their big categories are crafts, art, home decoration, movies/tv, and sports. None of these are areas of strength or personal interest for me, but for some reason I thought it was sports that was going to be my downfall, and I think I put too much energy into working on that collection compared to how much I spent working on crafts. Fortunately, I was able to learn from this that my patrons like occasion-specific titles a lot, and also that the common crafts are still the ones in the strongest demand--the more niche books I ordered (beading, quilting, and a paper crafts title) did okay, but not as well as books that I think of as falling within the core of a craft collection: knitting titles and all-in-one mega-titles.

Like my flop choices, some of these titles were replacements for areas in which our existing materials were older and not circulating. However, these were areas where we had at least a handful of titles rather than just one or two and, when I went looking for newer items to add, there were more choices.

Interestingly, I also had to go outside our major book vendor in order to get Ultimate Home Plans. At the time it seemed like a hassle and I might not have gone to Amazon if I hadn't had a patron who specifically wanted something newer on the topic. In retrospect, I'm really glad I did it--it's easy not to even look at books that you can't get through your main supplier, but there are some topics where the best books might come from unconventional publishers that the vendors don't have relationship with--for example, I think Home Depot may have published the home plans title.

Other observations

Something I was actually surprised by is that our review sources (Booklist magazine and Library Journal) predicted demand pretty well for nonfiction, at least for the 700s. Nonfiction for the general reader gets reviewed a lot less frequently than fiction, and it seems like just the fact that someone took the time to review a nonfiction title and publish that review was a good indicator that that book was worth considering for purchase. Since I don't do a great job keeping up with which authors have gone on the morning talk shows, which celebrities have published books, etc., it was great to find out that professional reviewers seemed to be either catching or predicting those things.

Sorry for the long post, but this is just the kind of information I wish I had had nine months ago. I wanted it to be out on the internet for the next new librarian in my place.


  1. You have lots of good analysis here. But I think you should put it into an article for better visibility. MXR.

  2. I sure wish our selection librarian would take a look at circ figures for her picks. She always claims she "knows" this or that title is "very popular."

    1. Ooh, that grinds my gears! I'm sorry!

  3. we knitters like to look at knitting books as much as we like buying yarn (too much!)

    1. At least if you get your books from the library they are free!

      Hm, I'm seeing an opportunity here...perhaps we could lend out skeins of yarn that knitters could hoard and eventually return when they realized they didn't have time to knit anything out if them.