Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Those Pesky Assumptions

It's not exactly a huge secret that libraries receive donated books. It's also not a huge secret that some of these donated books can end up in the library's circulating collection. This is how a lot of libraries supply their paperback collection, which I am vehemently opposed to. Yes, put some donated paperbacks in your collection, but for the love of all that is holy, don't make donated paperbacks 100% of your collection. You'll have a really shitty collection. Just sayin'.

As the adult fiction buyer for a large library system, I do actively purchase paperbacks. Not as many as I should, but probably more than some of the librarians want me to. Hey, circulation numbers don't lie. That's all I'm saying. Ahem, anyway.....

We do still supplement our collection with donations. I don't think this is a bad thing. I do my best to take care of all the "big" stuff with central funds, and donations are there to sort of round it out. Frankly, I don't have the money to buy every single romance published every month. Nor would I want to, since we'd run out of shelving space (and money) rather quickly. So yes, donations are good.

We tend to do paperback donations on the fly. The branch gets together a stack of what they'd like to add, then they send the information (author, title, ISBN) directly to cataloging, who then throws up a brief record so the title is searchable in our catalog. That's about it. Piece of cake. Even though I'm in charge of buying the adult fiction, I never saw these donations. They were out of my hands. Which was fine, in theory...until I got control issues.

So I asked my boss to put me on the distribution list for when these titles were sent straight to cataloging. I'm not micro-managing. I'm not vetoing any of them and I don't slow down the work flow. No, I just wanted to see what was being added. Mostly out of curiosity, mostly to make sure I hadn't fudged up. Oh, like the time I forgot to buy a Lorraine Heath book, a donated copy got added to the collection, and the waiting list immediately shot up. (For the record, I think it was In Bed With The Devil, and yes, I immediately banged my head against my desk and ordered copies).

I don't like being surprised. That, and I'm a freak. So now I'm seeing all the donated paperbacks coming in through cataloging. And I have to say, it's been surprising.

I assumed that most of what I would be seeing were Harlequin Presents. Or as I like to call them, Those Books With The White Covers And Dreadful Titles. So imagine my shock that after a month of seeing the incoming donations that the HP line has been seriously dwarfed by....

Harlequin SuperRomance and Harlequin Historical.

Well I'll be dipped.

Certainly this is hardly a scientific study, but I'd always heard that the HP line was Harlequin's best seller. Maybe HP readers are keeping all those books about billionaires, mistresses and tycoons? Maybe HSR readers skew "older," those readers have more disposable income and are therefore more likely to donate their unwanted books to libraries instead of, say, trading them on sites like Paperback Swap or taking them to the used bookstore?

Although that doesn't sound right, because I love the HSR line and I'm not that "old." Not yet anyway.

Who the heck knows?

I'm finding it very interesting though, and more than a little enlightening. But I'm a geek like that, and tomorrow I'll work on getting a life.


Samanthadelayed said...

I can only speak from my own experience running a bookstore, but the HP line isn't big in my neck of the woods. I have one customer who brings them in, and she must subscribe because she brings in a couple of months worth at a time. They occasionally sell in store, but I usually end up putting them up on ebay.

Liza said...

I give my library most of my Blazes each year. I don't have enough space on my bookshelves for all my books, so I give as many books as possible to the library.

CindyS said...

Hey if you don't have a life then neither do I because I do find it interesting what people donate.

Do you think anyone would be embarrassed by the HPs but not Super romances? And maybe people see how at book sales you can buy 10 for a buck and thus perceive them as unwanted. Even if free.


Wendy said...

Samantha: I'd be curious if Harlequin is seeing an increase in HP ebook sales and a decrease in HP print sales. I'm not one to easily be embarrassed by titles and covers - but if I were an HP fan? Yeah, I might stick with getting my fix in electronic format.

Liza: I don't think I've seen any Blazes come through yet. It's really weird. It's been a total bonanza of HSR and HH so far.

Cindy: Maybe. Also another thing to consider is condition. Maybe HPs are getting donated, they're just not in good enough shape to add to the collection?

Tracy said...

I get most of my Harlequins via ebook so I don't donate those too often. But it is surprising that the HSR's are there more than the others. Although I have to say...if they didn't have such hokie titles I'd probably buy more of them. I'm sure not all are as lame as they sound! lol

joykenn said...

Wendy--I don't agree with you about this. My library subscribes to the various Harlequin series for our paperback collection. They are VERY popular. They fly off the shelves. In fact, our sorting area is open and often they fly out of the sorting area--no need to reshelve.

We buy other paperbacks, have two spinner racks full of new romances as well as the Harlequins, have 4 other popular paperback spinners. Very very popular. We only keep about a year or so of the Harlequins, weeding them generally when the racks get too full. When we evaluate them Harlequins get about 15 circulations each, more for some. I think the public in our community has really gotten its money's worth out of them and we sell the weeded ones at our book sales which are immensely popular. We get lots and lots of Harlequins donated for that and people walk out of the book sales with several shopping bags full. Often we get them donated back to the library for another round of sales. Amazing.

I must say that people in our community feel that the library's role as a popular materials center gives them their tax dollars worth. They've been supportive of the library over the years and it shows in the busy building and booming circulation.

As a romance reader I REALLY appreciate being able to pick up a handful of romances every week and save my pocketbook.

Wendy said...

Tracy: One of the reasons I was so happy to get my Sony Reader was because it meant I could move to ebooks to feed my Harlequin addiction. Those books may be smaller, but dang they take up a bunch of room!

Joy: Oh no, I don't doubt that Harlequins are popular. They're popular for us too, although they tend to be more of a browsing collection for us (that I've noticed anyway). No, I've just been surprised by the make-up of our Harlequin donations. I really expected more HP and some SDs. I think because I've always "heard" that HP is such a big seller. Nope, it's mostly been HH and HSR for us. Which is fine by me, since those are my two favorite lines.

Lenore said...

I read HH when I was a teen. But I've never read any others.