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Patron requests often drive library purchases


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Karen Emery, the Johnson County Public Library adult materials selector, looks through a magazine listing books that will soon be released. After Emery finds something she thinks library patrons will enjoy, she uses an online database to review and order the selections. Scott Roberson / Daily Journal
Karen Emery, the Johnson County Public Library adult materials selector, looks through a magazine listing books that will soon be released. After Emery finds something she thinks library patrons will enjoy, she uses an online database to review and order the selections. Scott Roberson / Daily Journal


If you have a hard time deciding which book to read next, imagine trying to pick about 30,000 books, CDs and DVDs each year that thousands of residents would enjoy.

That’s the job library materials selectors have. Johnson County and Greenwood libraries each have two selectors tasked with picking out all the new materials, but they get help by ordering best-sellers, reviewing checkout statistics, reading literary reviews and taking your requests.

The libraries are now working on buying more digital copies, such as e-books, and streaming music and videos for their collections.

Readers can get a title on the selector’s radar by asking librarians for a book the library doesn’t already have, Johnson County Public Library adult materials selector Karen Emery said. But checking out an author or series often can get it noticed and lead the library to target more of those titles.

“We’ve been doing this more and more where it’s more of a patron-driven acquisition and getting what patrons want, and this is the trend in all libraries across the nation,” circulation manager Melanie Johnson said.

New books from prolific, best-selling authors such as Stephen King, John Grisham or James Patterson are automatic buys. But selectors rely on reviews in literary journals and the readers themselves to help find lesser-known titles or books from up-and-coming authors.

Johnson County Public Library is revising its book selection policy to make reader requests a larger priority and also review more often how books are selected. Those changes will help to better adapt to new technology such as e-books and e-magazines and new digital-only publications that might never be put in paper form, Johnson said.

“It is kind of a complicated process. And trying to anticipate the needs and wants of the population can be difficult,” Johnson said.

Libraries divide their money available between materials for adults and children and then by categories such as books, periodicals and newspapers, and movies and music. A selector then picks what to buy.

Emery, for example, picked about 20,000 new materials purchased for the Johnson County Public Library district last year. Those purchases were about evenly divided, with $94,000 going to fiction titles, $92,000 for nonfiction and about $90,000 for CDs, audiobooks and DVDs.

The county library is considering ways to add streaming video and music services that might need to be included in the selection process. Adding those services will give residents more ways to use the library and are being considered as part of the district’s new long-term plan.

But the best way to get a new book in the library is to ask, selectors said. Rachel Jamieson, the children’s selector for Greenwood Public Library, may get two or three reader requests per month, but the county library branches may get as many as one per day, Emery said.

“We will almost always buy books that kids ask us for; so if we get any patron requests, that is usually the first thing we buy,” Jamieson said.

Nineveh-area resident Doug Adams has been making requests at Johnson County library branches for about five years and has requested nearly 50 books, movies and music titles.

He’ll jot down a title if he hears an interesting book being discussed on National Public Radio or stumbles across work by Indiana authors or musicians. After requesting one title years ago that was a lousy read, Adams now will do a bit of research himself before asking the local library to consider buying it. He wants to make sure any book he suggests is a good one, since the library is using tax money to make those purchases.

“After that, I started to vet them and review them a little bit. I started thinking about not only is this a book I should read but would other people in my community and neighbors want to read?” he said.

Libraries now also face a new challenge in selecting e-books, as readers have checked out more than twice as many e-books this year compared with last year at both Johnson County and Greenwood branches.

Not every title is available to libraries as an e-book, and titles can cost double or more compared with paper copies. The libraries then also have to balance whether to purchase digital copies of books that they already have in print or to buy books that are digital-only, Emery said.

Books that don’t often get checked out in paper form may get selected more as an e-book, Emery said.

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