Just how does a Library book find its way onto the shelf? With the recent release of the highly-anticipated Go Set a Watchman, this is a good opportunity to give you a behind the scenes look at how things work at the Kansas City Public Library.
Purchasing decisions start in the Collection Development department, run by Debbie Stoppello. The Library is always adding new titles: It could be a newly-released crime novel or a perennial favorite children’s book. High demand titles and bestsellers are almost always purchased, but the Library also tries to acquire a good selection of award-winning books, significant cultural or literary works, as well as 'in-fill' or replacement copies of books that are already in the collection.
A classic like To Kill a Mockingbird is a perfect example of a book that is consistently in print and in demand. As existing Library copies are lost or damaged beyond use, they are replaced with newer editions. The Library also has to keep up to date on so-called 'serial' releases, such as travel books, software manuals, and other items that need to be updated regularly to keep the information correct and current.
Each location in the Kansas City Public Library system is also different in its reading habits, so you may notice different types of books available at the branches. You might find more children’s books at a branch frequented by more families with young children, or perhaps more books in languages besides English at branches near larger immigrant populations, but patrons can always request items from any location in the Library system for pick up at their preferred branch. (And books not available at the Kansas City Public Library may be borrowed from libraries throughout the country through Inter-Library Loan.)
Ordering new releases pose an interesting challenge. How does the Library know how many copies they’ll need to order for the different branches? It's demand that drives the ordering, according to Stoppello. Even before the book has been delivered, it is listed in the Library’s online catalog allowing users to ‘place a hold’ on the item, putting them in line to check it out once it is available. We've found that for most titles, ordering additional copies at a ratio of one copy per every five holds gives the Library enough copies to fill holds in a timely manner and meet demand over time. So if a book has 20 holds in the system when it comes time to finalize the order, four additional copies will be purchased on top of the quantity the Library had planned to purchase.
For blockbuster books such as Go Set a Watchman, Stoppello has the book added to the Library's catalog as soon as possible, in this case a full six months in advance, giving users plenty of time to place their holds.
Once the order is placed with the distributor, it's a matter of waiting for the release date. Publishers strictly enforce releases on new and popular books at both bookstores and libraries. With Go Set a Watchman, the boxes from the distributor arrived in the morning on the release date, Tuesday, July 14.
At this point, they're ready to be processed and put into circulation. Delivery Service staffers like Hannah inspect the new book shipments and add the items to the Library's computer system, so their locations can be tracked at all times.
From here, books are ready to go to their destination (out to the branches to go on the shelf, or to the hold shelves to fill individual users' hold requests.) They are marked accordingly and put into totes awaiting delivery drivers to take the books to their destination branches.
By mid-afternoon, all the books had arrived at the appropriate locations, ready to be picked up by readers.
With so many holds placed on a popular book, it can be a long time before you might actually see a copy sitting on the shelf. To address this, the Library created the Browsing Collection, also called "New & Notable." These are additional copies of books set aside in displays at our Central, Waldo, Trails West, and Plaza locations.
Browsing collection books can be checked out, but only for two weeks at a time, and they cannot be renewed. Items in the browsing collection also cannot be placed on hold, in order to make sure that as many copies as possible of new titles are available for patrons to check out when they visit the Library.
If you need longer to finish reading a book, these titles are still available through the regular catalog system, with standard check out times (21 days) and the possibility of renewal.
About the Author
Liesl Christman is the digital content specialist for The Kansas City Public Library, managing content for the Library's blogs and social media accounts. She is an unabashed enthusiast of comic books, roller derby, and all things food.