People often ask me what books librarians buy and how they choose titles. This is not a coincidence, since I represent the Reed Business Information magazines Library Journal (LJ), School Library Journal (SLJ), CRÍTICAS, and their assorted Web sites and newsletters in the western United States and Canada. This article answers those questions in terms of our magazines, but you can apply a lot of what I say to other magazines for libraries.
A bit of background:
Library Journal serves librarians in public, college, university, corporate, medical, and other special-interest libraries. It is published 20 times a year, includes news, features, and reviews, and has a circulation of about 20,000, but every issue is passed around to an additional readership conservatively estimated at 60,000. LJ is in its 137th year of continuous publication
School Library Journal is written for children’s and young adult librarians in public libraries, and librarians and media center specialists in K-12 schools. This monthly publication has about 40,000 subscribers, with another 50,000 readers receiving it from colleagues. It was spun out of LJ in 1954.
For the past three years CRÍTICAS, the bimonthly “English Speakers Guide to the Latest Spanish Language Titles,” has been reviewing and delivering news about this emerging market. It will soon be reformatted as a semiannual supplement to LJ, SLJ, and Publishers Weekly and an e-newsletter.
While every library or media center holds all manner of media, I’m going to focus on book-length fiction, nonfiction, and reference books circulated and used in the almost 9,000 central libraries, the roughly 7,400 branch public libraries, and the over 40,000 K-12 school libraries and media centers in the U.S.
Who Buys What
According to Library Journal’s “Book Buying Survey 2005” published in the February 1, 2005, issue, library book budgets have not evaporated in these difficult economic times even though they are lagging behind the general economy. Public library book budgets were between $17,000 (for libraries serving fewer than 10,000 people) and $4 million (for libraries serving a more than a million). And 78 percent of libraries surveyed reported either that their adult book budgets grew or stayed the same in 2005, which indicates a healthy market in terms of size and durability. Circulation at public libraries, while not as strong as in the past, is still up 1 percent.
Although librarians want top-quality titles first and foremost, they build their collections to meet the needs of their patrons. In other words, they buy what their clientele wants to read, which, generally speaking, mirrors bestseller lists across the country. In a sense, this means that they don’t “buy books.”
“How’s that?” you may be asking yourself. “Of course they buy books!”
Well, it’s not that simple. Librarians’ purchases are always designed to support the “collection” of titles in specific subject areas. An acquisition must supply value that titles they have don’t already supply.
While patrons using a library in rural Kansas may need books on crop rotation and livestock management, the holdings of a suburban library on New York’s Long Island might include many gardening, cooking and yoga titles.
Certain nonfiction subjects–notably medicine and health, how-to, biography, history, and cookery arts/crafts/collectibles–enjoy perennially high circulation. More than 33 percent of respondents to LJ’s “Book Buying Survey 2004” included all of these in their five highest-circulation areas.
Fiction tends to reflect bestseller lists more closely, but libraries often buy regional fiction, and our survey shows that 40 percent of all adult fiction budgets goes to buy genre fiction, including romance, suspense, and sci-fi titles, and almost 25 percent of the total fiction budget goes to buy mysteries.
Several factors may stimulate purchases. For instance:
- Circulation trends are monitored and can reveal hot topics.
- Collections are periodically weeded, which can make room for more current material.
- Funds may be donated specifically for titles in a certain subject area.
- Patrons may request more titles about certain subjects.
- Changing demographics may create needs for different sorts of books.
For Noteworthy Niche and Backlist Titles
LJ and SLJ each have sections that include coverage of niche books and backlist. LJ runs a monthly “Collection Development” column designed to help libraries either create or refresh a specific subject area, such as Auto Repair, Business Reference, or Herb Gardening. [See 2005 LJ “Collection Development” Topics below.]
Also, LJ briefly notes seminal works of fiction or nonfiction that have been repackaged or updated in “Classic Returns.”
Like LJ’s “Collection Development” column, SLJ’s “Focus On” highlights the essential and current titles in specific subject areas; this year, they include History in Verse, Codes/Ciphers in History, Community, and Hispanic Heritage. [See 2005 SLJ“Focus On” Topics below.]
Librarians use these columns and the pages of reviews to sort through the tens of thousands of new titles published annually and select the books that best meet the needs of their patrons.
LJ reviews about 6,000 books every year, discussing titles in the context of similar works and grouping reviews by subject area and media type. For books, reviews are divided into fiction–with subcategories for romance, Christian fiction, graphic novels, and mysteries–and nonfiction. Nonfiction is further divided into Arts & Humanities, Social Sciences, Science & Technology, and Reference. Audiobooks on cassettes and CDs, and videos, including DVDs, are reviewed separately, as are Web sites and online databases.
SLJ’s reviews are arranged by age group: Preschool to Grade 4, Grades 5 and Up, and Adult Books for High School Students. Within these groups, fiction and nonfiction are separated. Multimedia, Web sites, and reference are reviewed in their own sections.
SLJ’s award-winning supplement, Curriculum Connections, published twice a year, takes reviews of the best materials in all media and arranges them by subject.
CRÍTICAS’s reviews of Spanish-language titles in English are grouped by grade level for juvenile and young adult titles and grouped as fiction and nonfiction for adult titles.
Advice About Submissions
LJ, SLJ, and CRÍTICAS all require review copies before publication so that reviews can appear on or around pub date. Instructions about how to submit books for review appear on our Web sites:
Here’s a brief summary of what you should do:
- Make your covering letter compelling.
- Say which category or categories your book fits into.
- Explain how and why your title stands apart from others.
- Remember that our book review editors need to keep our national reach in mind when making selections, so if yours is a regional title, offer evidence to show that readers outside the region will also be interested.
- For a new edition, make sure to note that at least 33 percent of the content is new; otherwise the book won’t be considered.
- Say so if your book is part of a series.
- Send complete galleys or F&Gs including all pertinent information and representations of any interior charts, graphs, tables, or art. LJ receives more than 30,000 books every year for review, and if a review copy comes without critical information, such as the book’s ISBN, it may be set aside quickly. Sending a finished book instead of galleys–unless it has been requested by a reviewer or is a republication of a classic–makes the chances that it will be reviewed slim to none.
- Make sure the material gets to the reviewers three to four months before publication date so editors can select the title, have the review completed, and edit it and get it into print by the time the book becomes available to librarians. There are exceptions to this rule, as to any other, but it is generally crucial to obey it.
- Follow up with a finished book.
With nonfiction, the currency of the information is critical–a biography of Jennifer Aniston that does not include her breakup with Brad Pitt would not be considered. However, titles that cover otherwise ignored niches or unique subject areas can be of interest, and a well-researched title designed with libraries in mind will rise to the top. This means a book with a table of contents, index, glossary, bibliography, and appendix, when appropriate.
Duplication of currently available materials or sloppy research will remove a reference book from consideration.
For best results, send books for review not just to our publications but to others as well, including Booklist, Choice, and The Horn Book, if they’re appropriate for your titles. Virtually every state library association has a publication that includes reviews, and many public libraries run reviews in monthly newsletters.
Chris Kahn represents Library Journal, School Library Journal, and CRÍTICAS for Reed Business Information. This is his second stint with the magazines; he left in 1998 to represent PW before leaving to help start the e-book company NuvoMedia, Inc., producer of the Rocket eBook reading device and content distribution system.
2005 LJ “Collection Development” Topics
January: Sleep Disorders
February: Backyard Projects
March: Cruise Ship Travel
April: Gay & Lesbian Studies
May: Hobbies: Model Trains
July: Chick Lit
August: Bridge & Poker
September: Child Reading: Parenting & Divorce
October: Business: Advertising/PR/Marketing
November: African American Art
December: Regional Gardening (Pacific Northwest)
Titles for the full year are listed to give you an idea of the range. To submit new and/or backlist titles that will be published during the second half of this year, contact Wilda Williams four to six months in advance of the issue dates listed above at 646/746-6472; email firstname.lastname@example.org; or Library Journal, 360 Park Ave. South, New York, NY 10010. For detailed information and updates, check the Editorial Calendar at www.libraryjournal.com periodically.
2005 SLJ “Focus On” Topics
January 2005: The Islamic World (all levels)
February 2005: Kids in the Kitchen
March: Cross Cultural Understanding (all levels)
April: History in Verse
May: Bullying (all grades)
June: Keep Them Laughing (elementary, middle)
July: Body Image (middle, high school)
August: Codes/Ciphers in History (elementary, middle)
September: Community (elementary)
October: Scientists in the Field (all levels)
November: Hispanic Heritage (all levels)
December: Heavens Above: Astronomy (elementary, middle)
For submission information and the Editorial Calendar for the year, visit www.schoollibraryjournal.com.