05-26-18 – Blog Queen - Sarah Raplee

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Ask The Librarian

Even in today's online world, many people consider libraries their primary source of reading material. It's also a place where I continue to find new authors I learn to love so much I buy their backlists and future novels the moment they are released. Physical books, eBooks and audio books can all be obtained from many of the hundred thousand public libraries in the United States, and around the globe. This week, I'm holding a virtual roundtable with librarians serving different types of readers as they discuss their role in getting the right material to the right patron and how they showcase new authors and books.

First - Introductions
Mary Jo  primarily deals with Senior Citizens in her role as the Senior Services supervisor for the Arlington Heights Memorial Library. The library, located in the Chicago suburbs, is one of the highest volume libraries in the country. She leads book discussion groups and deals with homebound customers who can't come into the library but are voracious readers.

Kara works in Adult Services. She received her library degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (my Alma mater!!) in 2006 and has worked in Adult Services at the Plainfield Public Library District for nine years with a special focus on readers’ services and digital books.  Her favorite types of books are anything with graphic violence and hot sex.  Because she loves to read and loves technology, she describes the day the book met the digital reader as "the happiest day in my life."  She is a self-proclaimed “download junkie.”

Debra is an Adult & Teen Services Librarian at the Downers Grove Public Library. She is enthusiastic about connecting individuals with information, and loves finding new ways to inspire patrons of all ages at the library. In her free time, she enjoys marathon training, eating gelato, and nerding out over anime and all things Doctor Who.

Erin is a Children's Librarian and School Liaison at the Downers Grove Public Library. She loves talking books and being able to connect kids of all ages with the books they love. Her formative years were spent checking out as many books from the public library as she could carry. Now she's grateful for ebooks and bigger 

Question 1: Do you introduce patrons to authors who are new to them?

Mary Jo: When customers come into the library we try to ask if we can help them find something. Instead of just saying, here’s the hot book, we probe first to get to know the customer. We create reading profiles for our homebound customers to use to provide suggestions for them based on current favorite authors and their different backgrounds. I believe libraries should focus on reader advisory, an area we can’t be matched by an algorithm. Amazon may tell what other readers think about a book and give some recommendations based on what others read.  We fine-tune recommendations to individual readers. Yes, many eBooks are inexpensive, but you can waste time and money buying books with a fantastic blurb that fails to deliver. It's nice to have a person who actually knows you to provide a more nuanced recommendation. 

Kara: Some readers are set on specific authors. Others might be more open to suggestions and recommendations. When the opportunity presents itself, staff take advantage  by offering to take readers in new directions.

Debra: Our patrons are amazing readers with their fingers on the pulse of the literary world. They stay up to date with the latest releases and popular authors. To provide recommendations they haven’t already read, suggesting new authors is a must! We do this in many ways: through displays, book talks, discussion groups, booklists, Goodreads, recommendations via our staff blog, through Book Genie (, and in person. We always have a staff member roving throughout the library, approaching patrons of all ages who are browsing in the stacks. This creates opportunities for conversations about books and authors and has become the perfect venue for suggesting new reading material. 

Erin: When the book someone wants isn’t on the shelf, or when a patron is just looking for a good read; that's the perfect time to point out something new: either a brand new author with a book released last week, a classical author who has been around for years and years, or someone in between.

Question 2: Where do you see libraries fitting in with leisure reading (fiction) versus non-fiction, research, studying, etc. 

Mary Jo: Leisure reading is not just about fiction. About 15% of my readership exclusively read non-fiction and biographies. Many more intermix non-fiction with fiction when they read for leisure, especially non-fiction that reads like fiction.

Kara: I hope the public sees the Library as their resource for all of those things. We have had access to eBooks since 2006 and it is still surprises me when patrons say "I didn't know we could get eBooks from the Library," despite the amount of marketing we do. It would be great if libraries could have the same recognition retailers have, like Amazon.

Debra: Our community sees the library as a venue for leisure reading as well as a source for academic pursuits. In addition to providing reading materials across a variety of formats (print, audio, ebooks, etc.), we promote reading for pleasure. Our Book Genie service is a fun way for us to share reading suggestions on our website and encourage patrons to reach out to us for more ideas. We are currently working on some exciting new projects to highlight and share librarians’ individual reading, watching and listening suggestions!

Erin: We fit in everywhere! If we don’t have what you’re looking for, we want patrons to tell us. Chances are we can either find what you seek, or we can suggest something that will be similar. 

Question 3: What would you like to see in books that you don't see now?

Mary Jo: As a person who serves many patrons who love mysteries, I would like to see more American mysteries that are compelling and non-formulaic. I would also like to see more popular fiction available in large print. Not everyone wants an eBook as the sole solution to vision problems. Readers often want to hold a physical book in their hands. Publishers should consider putting out large print versions of backlists, especially with a series. Customer get turned off when only some volumes in a series are available to them.

Kara: Quicker and easier accessibility, especially to eBooks. Publishers still don't sell all their content to us like they to do consumers, and patrons still have to jump through several hoops to access content (Overdrive or Adobe accounts and apps, check out length restrictions, etc.)

Debra: There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to this question, since each individual reader is looking for something different. It’s our job to get the right book into the right hands. That’s why it’s so vital that we provide variety in our collections and reflect the diversity of the population that we serve.

Erin: I want more novels, specifically young adult novels, that show girls working together to achieve something that doesn’t have anything to do with a love interest. There’s been a recent push for stronger female characters, which is awesome! Now let’s get those strong female characters some friends.

Question 4. Are library patrons embracing digital books? Any insights on why or why not?

Mary Jo: Technology levels vary. People can learn technology at almost any age if they are sufficiently motivated. But some applications need to be simpler, and that includes everything from Overdrive to the Amazon app. Yes, even Amazon confuses some users, especially once something goes wrong.
Kara: It is hard to say since I don't think kids who use our eContent are coming to the desk and asking for assistance, whereas we receive many inquiries from adult patrons on how to use our eBooks, etc. Circulation of young adult and juvenile eBooks/eAudio in our Overdrive platform has increased by 23 percent in the last fiscal year. However, there is no way to know if this is actually kids reading the kids content, or adults. There is a lot of crossover of young adult novels that appeal to adults (Hunger Games, Divergent, Twilight, etc.).

Debra: Definitely! Our partnership with the school district was rolled out recently, but already, our checkouts in 3M eBook libraries have increased dramatically over just a few months span. In April, over half of our checkouts in 3M came from school students.  I’m very excited to see this partnership being utilized.

Erin: Our kids seem to like having ebooks, but they are also very much still about the physical book.  Our school district participates with two ebook distributors, and we at the public library have an additional one outside of our consortium, so there’s a lot of opportunity for the kids to have access to ebooks. But kids like having the physical book and they ask for that first.

Question 5: What do you see as the positive and/or negative impact of digital books on reading?

Mary Jo: I like eReading. Affordable, portable, and I can make notes and highlight areas without having to ruin the book. This feature is especially helpful for book discussion groups. But I view the trend of digital only releases as a problem. A preponderance of customers still want to hold a physical book, at least some of the time. Also, eReading, especially during the evenings, can interfere with sleep. I would like to see more on-demand printing, possibly via Espresso Book Machines or some related avenue. Unfortunately, sometimes publishers/authors make a judgment call and limit the available formats. That limits readership and crossover appeal.

Kara: I don't see any negatives. Research suggests that people retain better from print material, but I don't really buy into that. The fact that patrons are reading period is what is important. The vehicle they use shouldn't matter. Personally, I prefer reading on an eReader. It is easy to hold and I like the portability component. However, when I am preparing for my monthly book discussion group, I prefer to read those titles in print, as it is easier for me to stop to take notes and reference specific pages.

Debra: I am excited for the possibilities that digital books bring. Our library has partnered with our local elementary school district to link together our 3M ebook libraries. Every child in the district will now be able to check out our ebooks through their school, even if they don’t have a public library card with us. This has removed a significant barrier to access. With the district’s adoption of a 1:1 iPad initiative, students will be able to read anywhere on their devices.

Erin: Part of my job is to connect children with the books that they want to read. If that means they’re reading a digital book and that’s the format that they prefer, that’s okay with me. I don’t think every book translates well to the digital format just yet. This isn’t a negative so much as it’s a comment. I’m thinking specifically graphic novels, picture books, really image heavy books.

Question 6. What do you see as key in creating young readers who become lifelong readers?

Mary Jo: You have to be non-judgmental about what people are reading. You can’t get someone to become an avid reader because they need to read. But if there is a story that sufficiently interests them, they will learn to push themselves, become better readers, and keep on reading.

Erin: Start early and often! Read to children, bring them to places where there are books! Make reading fun for children--if you make it a punishment that’s how they’re going to few it. Kids are so perceptive, and they need to see the adults in their lives reading. Let kids read what they’re interested in. Don’t worry so much about what they ‘should’ be reading (school assignments are a little bit different, of course) and instead, celebrate what they do want to read. Maybe this means being creative--maybe your child doesn’t take to fiction, maybe he or she prefers listening to audiobooks, maybe your child loves graphic novels. That’s okay!

Question 7. Are you concerned about making your collection more diverse in terms of character race, sexual orientation, religion, physical and/or mental disabilities and other factors? 

Debra: Having a collection that reflects all viewpoints and experiences is a priority for us. Public libraries generally have a mission to focus first on fulfilling the needs and wants of their local community. Beyond that, they also have the opportunity to widen readers’ perspectives and broaden their horizons to cultures beyond the local community.

Erin: Yes. The best thing I heard while taking a graduate class on library materials for children for my MLIS was that your collection should be both a window and a mirror. Children should be able to see themselves in the materials in your collection, and they should also be able to look out and experience something different. I’m also super inspired by the folks over at We Need Diverse Books.

Question 8. Who do you purchase material from?

Mary Jo: Primarily Baker and Taylor. For Large Print books we use Thorndike.

Kara: Print books: Baker & Taylor. They don't always seem to carry every title our patrons demand, so occasionally we turn to Amazon. Some recent examples include The Commons: Book 1: The Journeyman by Michael Alan Peck. This is a self-published book and the next winner of the Soon To Be Famous Illinois Author project. We are adding a copy to support this project. Another example is Barefoot in Lace by Roxanne St. Clair. She is a popular romance author and we have a number of her books we were able to purchase from BT, but this particular title was not available from them so we had to order from Amazon.

We obtain audiobooks directly from the publisher  (i.e. Books on Tape, Recorded Books, Blackstone, Tantor, Brilliance Audio). eBooks & eAudiobooks: Baker & Taylor TS360, Overdrive Marketplace, and Recorded Books

Debra: We purchase the bulk of our print materials through Baker and Taylor. Our audiobooks are typically purchased through Midwest Tapes. We also provide digital materials through 3M, Overdrive, Zinio and Hoopla. If items are unavailable through our main vendors, we will purchase from outside sources.

Erin: We use a combination of book vendors who come to the library and a distributor who we place orders through after we’ve read reviews on books. The vendors often have materials that the distributor doesn’t have, especially when it comes to books featuring television and movie characters, so we like to have both options.  

Question 9. How much of the book buying decision is based on patron request?

Mary Jo: Patron interest in a more generic sense, yes. We will entertain requests, and if it fits into general interest, we buy. My job includes augmenting things when Collection Management does not purchase something my audience wants. We stock the kinds of things our patrons like and ask for.

Kara: We still read reviews and make purchase decisions proactively. For anything not purchased by selectors, we have separate monies designated for purchase on demand (POD) where we will purchase patron requests that fit within our collection policy. Additionally, we use POD funds to purchase materials we are unable to obtain via InterLibrary Loan. 

Debra: We always encourage patrons to suggest titles; our goal is to provide the community with the materials they want! If we don’t have a title that someone is looking for, we’ll do our best to obtain it, whether it’s by borrowing it from another library or by purchasing the item for our own collection. Patron requests are taken seriously.

Erin: It’s hard to give a percentage! If a patron requests a certain book, or subject, we try to accommodate because it’s important to have a collection that patrons will use. But there are sometimes extenuating factors--if the book is out of print, for example, that don’t always make that feasible. Still, we try!

Sounds like you rely on reviews heavily. Could you tell us some of the review sources your library uses to determine which books to purchase?

Mary Jo: I look at Indie Next (Independent Booksellers picks), Bookpages. I also look at ARCs and preview copies. I'm constantly looking for books that are not on the bestseller lists, the gems no one has heard of. The fact that a book has not won any awards does not mean its not a fantastic book. I try to find the unknown but fantastic books for my book groups.

Kara: Our sources include Booklist, Kirkus, Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, NYT.
Debra: For print materials we primarily use Library Journal, Booklist, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Baker and Taylor Forecast, Ingram Advance. A staff member also forwards Blueink's monthly newsletter to our department. I personally also always look at other lists and sources like LibraryReads, the Indie Next List, Amazon's Best Books of the Month, NYT bestseller lists, and blogs like EarlyWord.

Erin: Here in the Children's Department we use School Library Journal, Booklist, Kirkus, and the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books.

Bonus question:
Sometimes there are challenges to having certain books on the shelves. In my library, various books, from Fifty Shades to Captain Underpants have faced requests to remove them from the library. Could you tell us if your library has a procedure for handling challenges to their material?
Kara: Procedure is as follows:
The District believes that people have the right to decide for themselves what is appropriate reading material. Responsibility for the material chosen by children rests with their parents or legal guardians. A patron finding material objectionable may request that the item be reconsidered.
A. Request for review of any material in the collection shall be made by submitting a Request for Reconsideration of Library Materials form to the Library Director.
B. The request form must be filled in completely.
C. The complainant must be a resident of the Library District.
D. The Library Director shall act upon the complaint by establishing a staff committee to review the material and render a decision. The decision shall be forwarded to the complainant in written form. A copy of the written decision together with a copy of the complaint shall be given to the Board of Trustees of the Plainfield Public Library District.


Judith Ashley said...

Wow!!! I'm so glad you accepted the Blog Queens request to write this post, B.A. It is an amazing amount of information about libraries. As a child I always entered my local libraries 'summer reading program' but as an adult I've not been as attentive to this wonderful resource. Time to get my library card and get to know my local librarians!!!

Linda Lovely said...

Great informative post. I love speaking to readers at libraries. (Always fun and intelligent questions.) I'm particularly excited about a talk I'm giving June 11 at my hometown Keokuk (Iowa) Public Library. The library staff helped me so much with my research for my suspense novel set in Keokuk in 1938. Librarians rock!

Pamela DuMond said...

Great article filled with a lot of good information.

I grew up in Downers Grove and my parents would take me to the library once a week.

I stopped in on my last trip back. It's gotten a lot bigger!

My love of reading turned into writing and I'm now an author - YA, Cozy Mysteries, and Romance. (I love all theses genres.)

Thanks for this lovely post and keep up the good work!

Sarah Raplee said...

It's fascinating to learn how libraries work and how books are chosen. Like everything else in the publishing world, libraries are morphing and facing significant challenges. They are coming up with creative solutions.

Wonderful post, B.A.!

B. A. Binns said...

Thanks for the feedback, I and the librarians appreciate your comments. I've found that contrary to some people's thought, many libraries are busier than ever. My own library really needs a bigger parking lot, even though you can access things like eBooks from home. They are big on bringing in local authors and providing lectures on a variety of subjects, and the newly renovated teen area is full every afternoon after school. The biggest shock for me was finding how little librarians rely on Amazon or their reviews. I've never met a librarian who considers them their "go-to" place. But they will support local authors, or buy when patrons request an Amazon only book. They are some of an authors, and readers, best friends.

Amber Polo said...

Thanks for a great post. Yes, the best librarians in the world graduated from UW-Madison. But since I did, I may be prejudiced. :)

Denise Jaden said...

I love this post and the deeper view it gives me, as an author and a homeschooling mom, into libraries and the librarians who keep them running and changing with the times. I particularly liked the question (and answers) about creating lifelong readers. Thanks for sharing, all!

Maggie Lynch said...

Excellent Q&A. I was surprised that all of these libraries primarily rely on 3M for ebooks. Here in the west I primarily hear about Overdrive. Fortunately, my books are with both vendors. Also, interesting info about where they get reviews. I think reviews are the hardest thing for indie authors to get. The usual resources: Kirkus, PW, Ingram Advance all cost big bucks. Even for traditional authors, their publisher frequently does not pay to purchase those review slots. I would love to see library systems implement a type of patron review.

Carmen Webster Buxton said...

Excellent post! Very balanced on ebooks, especially, which is nice.

Jessa Slade said...

Shout out to DG! I grew up there and most of my family is still in the area. The Downers Grove Public Library is probably twice as big now as when I used to go there; more to love!

Michael Alan Peck said...

Thanks very much for the shout-out. The Soon to be Famous Illinois Author Project is just the latest example of how libraries and authors can work well together, exploring new ideas for helping writers find readers and for guiding patrons to new books they might otherwise not have discovered.

I'm currently working with Baker & Taylor to have them make my print version available, but in the meantime, Createspace (Amazon) and Ingram are places for easy ordering, too.

But again, I very much appreciate the mention. I'm looking forward to many library adventures over the next year!