Thursday, January 14, 2010

Shelf Life?

I have a colleague who lives in Boston but works for 10 days a month in Ireland and we regularly swap books. Yesterday he gave me a hardback copy of Elmore Leonard's 'Up in Honey's Room', first published May 2007, that he'd picked up for 50 cent at a sale in his local library. It's in very good condition and is a long way from it's last legs. I know libraries have fixed space and they need to sell on old books to create space for new ones, but I'm wondering as to how they make decisions about which stock to push off out into the wider world? I would have thought that a recently published Elmore Leonard book would have merited more than an 18 month shelf life? Or is this the standard library shelf life of a novel these days, with only the most popular books having a protracted period of lending? Or would this have been sold on because the library has a policy of replacing popular fiction books every 18 months regardless of wear and tear? I'm just curious as to what a typical library shelf life is and how libraries make decisions about which books to sell on? Can anyone enlighten me?

8 comments:

Dorte H said...

I don´t know with regard to libraries in other countries, of course, but Danish libraries buy several copies of popular books (Stieg Larsson, Stephen King, Dan Brown), and when the fuss dies out and there is no waiting list any more, they sell out most of those extras. They keep at least one, perhaps two for books of some quality.

Deb said...

I suspect your friend's book was the victim of what I refer to as "over-purchase syndrome." Whenever a popular author releases a new book, libraries tend to purchase multiple copies of said book because they know it will be checked out multiple times within the first few months. Generally after the first year of publication, circulation rates for these books slow way down and to make more room on the shelves, a few of the extra copies are sold at the Friends of the Library book sale. I think Patti mentioned a little while ago on her blog that it was disheartening to see how many extra copies of certain authors a library purchases only to see the same books being sold for pennies on the dollar just a year or so later.

Richard Robinson said...

Both those comments are spot on, I think, but there is an even more depressing possibility, which I see in my hometown library.

A new library was completed just six months ago. It has twice the square footage as the old one, but about the same amount of space for books, some of it empty. The remainder is taken up by spaces for "teen activities", community meeting spaces, special event rooms and a lot more computer stations for internet access. That's what libraries have become, community centers with books.

But here's the nut: when someone takes an almost new, lightly read, hardcover book in excellent condition, which is not in the collection though it has been requested by patrons and is a popular seller, the library puts it directly into the library sale room. Seems there is a policy that only books authorized by the purchasing librarian for the county and purchased by them can be put on the shelves of any library..

So though it would be of very little administrative cost to add the book to the collection, they will not do so. Naturally, these books sell for cheap.

pattinase (abbott) said...

At my library, they buy multiple copies of books like this one--to meet the demand. And within a very short time, sometimes only a few months, they sell the excess for a dollar. Each branch will have only one copy or even share a copy. Not enough shelf space.

Rob Kitchin said...

Well this all makes sense. I guess where I have a problem is selling the thing off for just 50 cent or a dollar. Certainly a charity shop here would sell a hardback book for c.5 euro (7 dollars) and for a relatively new book like this for a popular author it would sell. 50 cent just seems like a huge under-sell when collectively the books could be making the library a lot more money which it could spend on products and services. For 50 cent/a dollar a book they might as well have given the book to a charity who could have leveraged more from them.

Martin Edwards said...

I've been told that this regrettable tendency is driven by library users, who don't like books that are not fairly pristine. This is a great contrast to what used to happen - the library I used as a teenager regularly rebound books that that had been borrowed many times. Wouldn't happen now. One of several drawbacks of the present situation is that early books in series disappaar and are hard to find if readers come to a series late.

Bernadette in Australia said...

I agree with you Rob that it's the pricing that's astonishing. Our library here has a similar policy and a couple of years ago I spoke to them about it and said they could be charging much more for their second hand books (based on what the equivalents were selling for elsewhere). Our local residents group even offered to do the selling for them and give all the profits back to them as we have an infrastructure for handling that kind of thing but they were not interested. Yet they are always screaming that they don't have enough funds!.

Rob Kitchin said...

Martin, you get to read a book for free and you expect it to be pristine? Like yourself, I regularly used to borrow books that were in tatters. And its a great shame that early books in a series disappear. I still don't understanding selling them off below second-hand market value.