How Do Libraries Choose Books? Stack Secrets From A Library Worker

how to libraries choose books to add to their collection? 

A woman in a polka dot shirt holding a stack of books inside of a library

As a library worker, one of the questions I hear the most is…how do libraries choose books to add to the collection? There’s a lot that goes into the process and not all libraries are the same, but librarians work hard to cultivate a collection that they feel local patrons will love.

The public library I work at is located in a small, touristy town and it was built in 1889. Because it is an older library, we don’t have much space to expand, and we certainly don’t have any extra room beyond what’s on our shelves. That means that we have to pay extra attention to what books are on our shelves, what patrons are reading, and what books are currently trending before we decide what stays.

So, here’s a few ways that we determine our library collection at my local library.

#1: Staff Does Research On Trending Books

One of the ways we decide which books to purchase is by doing what librarians do best…we research! Most of my co-workers enjoy different genres of literature, which certainly helps, and we all keep track of books we want to read, which is what we often recommend adding to our collection. If we want to read it, usually, our patrons do too.

My job, as the social media person, also means that I’m on Booktok and Pinterest alot. As part of sharing different articles to our Facebook and Instagram pages, I often come across articles that promote different books that are coming on the market. The more I see of a certain book, the more likely I am to add it to the list.

Our library also offers copies of Bookpage magazine, which is a resource for book recommendations. I often get ideas for new suggestions for our collection there, as well. All of these suggestions get logged in a spreadsheet with the publication date, author information, and identifying characteristics.

#2: Patrons Request Books They Want

How do libraries choose books to add to our new and high demand shelf? More often than not, our patrons ask for them!

As a library worker, I see some of the same patrons over and over each week. They utilize the library as a resource (very smartly, I might add!) and they’ll tell us when a new book is coming out that they want. We keep a record of these requests, and we’ll order the book if we’re able. Patron requests are usually popular authors from Colleen Hoover to Danielle Steel to James Patterson, so these books always end up circulating well for us (which means they usually get ordered).

#3: Our Library Director Pays Attention to Collection Development

As one of her many jobs, our Library Director has the final say in ordering new books to add to the collection at our library. Though there are a lot of books we WANT, that doesn’t always mean that we can order them all. It’s important for us to also pay attention to the American Library Association (ALA) guidelines for collection development, too. While I won’t get too much into specifics in this post, basically, this means that we have to pick diverse books that appeal to many different types of readers—we can’t just buy a bunch of Danielle Steel books because that’s what our patrons are reading right now.

There’s a lot more that goes into collection development, but our Library Director does a great job vetting all of the titles we recommend and adding her own suggestions and ideas, as well.

#4: We Have Rules About What We Can Buy

This probably goes without saying, but the number one answer to how do libraries choose books? We make an active effort to choose books that don’t have misinformation, racism, or really offensive content. That being said, we don’t censor books, but we do have to choose books that are up to date and have the correct information. We work hard to choose materials that are fair and balanced, no matter what our opinions as librarians are. Our job isn’t to provide an opinion, but instead to provide different viewpoints on topics so that our community has the ability to research to their own ability and form their own ideas.

This means that we also don’t buy books that are older than a few years (usually no more than five years, at most!). A majority of the books that get added to the collection were published within the last year. We also can’t buy used books and we’ll usually pick a hardback over a paperback if the option is available (even though it’s more expensive) because it will hold up better over time.

#5: Books Have To Come Off The Shelf To Make Room For New Materials

As sad as it is, libraries only have so much room–this means that we often have to do something called culling, which is when we take a book out of the collection to make room for a new book. These books are often too old or have misinformation, meaning that they aren’t useful anymore. Sometimes we also cull books that haven’t been checked out in a while or haven’t circulated well. Library workers can make suggestions (our cataloguer usually does this) and our Library Director makes the final decision. Then, these materials are either recycled or they are placed in our library book sales to be sold, where the money goes back into the library to purchase new materials!

#6: We Add Local Authors To Our Collection

Our patrons absolutely love seeing books by local authors on the shelf—and, coming from a small tourist town, we get our fair share of local authors visiting the library.

Most of the time, the authors will reach out to us and then the library will purchase an edition of their book to add to our collection. However, we also sometimes get a copy of the book donated to us, as well. Either way, we love supporting locals and we’ll even keep some of their books for sale at the circulation desk for a small donation to the library.

#7: Donated Books Don’t Usually End Up On The Shelf

As a public library, we always get so excited about donated books! However, these books often don’t fit the parameters of our library collection. More often than not, books that are donated to us are clearly used and a few years old. They’re still good, but not new enough that we can add them to our collection. So, what do we do with them?

Donated books usually end up in our library book sales. Book sales happen on weekends, often during town events, and all the profits from our book sales go back to the library. The money from our book sales helps us to add new materials from books to DVDS to audiobooks, and even crafts for programming! Though, if we do find a gem in our book donation boxes, we will add it to our collection if we can.

So, if you’ve ever wondered, How do libraries choose books to add to their collection, this is how we do it! While not all public libraries have the same process, many of us use similar parameters to decide which books stay on the shelves and which books get weeded out.

If you’re interested in reading more about what it’s like to be a library worker, check out this blog where I share what I do in a day as a library worker!

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One comment

  1. Very interesting. We used to cull regularly at the university library I worked at, but they would send round a spreadsheet where you could either make the case for a book to be kept or ask to be given it rather than it being pulped. And THAT’s how I have half a shelf of (unread) books on bibliography in my house, having left that job in 2012 …

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