What do librarians really want?

 How do librarians decide which books to buy? How much can authors influence their decisions? My local Sisters in Crime chapter learned the answers to these questions and more at yesterday’s meeting with Eileen Williams, reference and outreach librarian for the Guilderland Public Library.

I confess I’ve tended to take libraries for granted, and what goes on behind the scenes has remained uncharted territory for me, but I came away much better informed. Eileen spoke primarily of her own library and the others in the Upper Hudson Library System, but her comments probably apply to others. In deciding what books to buy, they rely primarily on four major sources: Kirkus, Library Journal, Publishers Weekly and Book List. Books by bestselling authors like Danielle Steele are ordered automatically and in multiple copies through a service called Automatically Yours. Newspaper reviews are important too, especially those in our local papers – which unfortunately review pathetically few books these days.

So what’s a little-known local author to do? Fortunately, there’s hope. She and her colleagues are receptive to personal phone calls and drop-in visits. She’s less fond of e-mails, and frequently deletes them unread. The library’s definitely interested in local authors, but they’re more apt to purchase books for which they receive a lot of reader requests. So get your friends to come in, talk up your work and fill out purchase requests. They’ll order from Amazon. It’s okay to donate your own books, but with the understanding that they may be donated to book sales if they don’t meet the library’s standards.

I asked if she’s noticed a decline in readership due to online technology and other distractions. On the contrary, she says – circulation is definitely up. She attributes this in part to the economy (fewer buyers, more borrowers) and to the growing number of retirees, who have more time to read.

This particular library offers a lot of community programming, including several book clubs, one of them targeted to mystery readers. She was intrigued by our group, which she hadn’t known about before, and we’ll probably be on their calendar for a program in the near future.

I’d welcome your comments. Any experiences or advice to share about building good collegial relationships with your local libraries?


8 thoughts on “What do librarians really want?

  1. This is an excellent and helpful post, Julie. Since my publisher targets libraries in its business plan, we get a bit of help in that area. But it’s good to know personal phone calls and drop-in visits are appreciated. E-mails didn’t seem like a good idea to me, but I’ve been wondering if a personal note on a postcard showing cover art would be effective (for the out-of-town libraries we can’t visit in person). Of course, if we don’t receive one of those coveted reviews, it may be a waste of money.


    • Glad you found the post useful, Patricia. One tidbit I neglected to include – Eileen was surprised to find out she knew the owner of the Orchard Tavern where we meet. Seems they’d met two nights before at the sold-out Bruce Springsteen concert in Albany! Guess you never can tell about those librarians . . .

  2. Thanks for sharing this — It’s good to know. I wondered how librarians made their buying decisions! When my book comes out, I’ll go to my library and talk to the buyers in person 🙂

    • “A review by a major reviewer” – ah, there’s the rub. I wish I could get me some of those!

      I’ve never tried writing creatively in a library – maybe too many associations with my academic years and the hundreds of hours of old-fasioned research and taking notes on index cards. Anyone remember those days? It might be different with a laptop, though – one of these days I’ll treat myself to one.

  3. Libraries are often overlooked by authors hellbent on looking for big venues, but these venerable institutions are bigtime purchasers. They also are great places for creating “events” that showcase your book. It’s all about the personal touch.

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