Selecting Books on the Side
Column Editor: Glenda Alvin (Associate Professor, Assistant Director for Collection Management and Administration, Head, Acquisitions and Serials, Brown-Daniel Library, Tennessee State University, 3500 John A. Merritt Blvd., Nashville, TN 37209; Phone: 615-963-5230; Fax: 615-963-1368)
I recently had to explain to two colleagues all of the responsibilities that fall under my job description, and when I finished they both responded: “You do a lot!” When I got promoted to Assistant Director for Collection Management, which included supervision of the Cataloging Department, I had to keep my former title and responsibilities as Head of Acquisitions and Serials, two departments that merged after I was hired as the acquisitions and collection development department head in 1997. Along the way, database selection and procurement, the open URL linking product (WebBridge), and ERM were added to my duties. I also worked with the systems librarian to launch our discovery tool, troubleshoot database and ejournal access, run collection analysis reports, coordinate the liaison program, etc. The department also handles payroll, supply orders, book repair, binding, and government document processing.
Managing e-serials and databases can dominate my day and diminish some of the time I use to devote to book selection. I sometimes feel like I am doing book selection and collection development in my spare time or on the side. Our faculty is allocated 80% of the book budget, and the liaisons have 15% of the academic department’s allocation. We have many departments and some library liaisons that never spend their allocations. At one time or another, I have investigated the feasibility of maintaining an approval program, but I fear that I will get the same or less participation from the faculty. I have also considered patron-driven acquisitions (PDA), but I like having control over what specifically is added to the collection. In March I start selecting books for departments that have been dormant, so that the collection is kept current and balanced. When accreditation time rolls around and the department heads request reports on library holdings, we can always show that our collection provides the current scholarship in the field in print and electronic format.
If I have a department that has a significant budget, but a history of not ordering books or even responding to emails and telephone calls, I go to Midwest Library’s Interacq system and create a profile of books published in the LC classification area for that department. Then I open the acquisition module in Sierra and check for duplicates as I do my selection. I signed up for their STM slip service, and I occasionally will have my heart made glad when faculty members come to my office with a whole stack that wipes out their budget for the fiscal year. Aside from Interacq, I can compile lists from Books In Print or CHOICE.
In the case of CHOICE, I also subscribe to the cards, which I distribute to departments and library liaisons; however, I set aside and order the ones I think are essential for the library. I seldom need to create a list of titles in the online version, because the titles I need have already been ordered from the card selection. CHOICE Reviews Online provides Outstanding Academic Titles (OAT) as well as subject-specific Forthcoming Lists. The featured Bibliography Essay comes with a ”Works Cited” list at the end, which can be useful for new purchases as well as filling gaps.
Having little time to leisurely peruse print copies of publishers’ catalogs and Library Journal (Oh! Those were the days!), I have become fond of what I call “ready to go” subject lists. I usually start with Baker and Taylor/YBP Academia (http://www.ybp.com/acad/index.html) and go through all of the lists, but I especially like the Academic Essentials and “Spotlight on….” I can export the titles to Excel spreadsheets and delete the ones I don’t want or we already own, before I give them to the library assistant for processing. When really pressed for time, I can download the spreadsheet, cross off the ones I recognize as already ordered, and hand it to her to check the status. I also print the lists and send them to the library liaisons and departmental library representatives to see if I can get a response. This year, I got a wonderful and thorough selection from a comprehensive list I sent the Women’s Studies Coordinator. Midwest Library Services, Baker & Taylor/YBP, and other vendor Websites have complete lists of the latest award-winning books, which can be useful.
My favorite “go to” selection Website is Amazon, which I grew to love one year when our Books In Print Online subscription lapsed. It may be because I shop Amazon for my own personal books, as well as for my church bookstore, and the familiar ease of use carries over. For newer titles, I like being able to read the snippets of remarks from reviewers from a cross section of library periodicals and scholarly journals, but most of all from the readers themselves. For older books that I am trying to replace because they are worn beyond repair, it helps to know that the book is out of print and the cheapest used book dealer is selling it for $250. That makes me want to put the book back on the shelf to see if it has a few more years of circulation left in it. Best of all, I enjoy scrolling through the “Customer Who Bought This Item Also Bought…,” because I can find really interesting books on related subjects, that I never came across any other place.
Listening to National Public Radio (NPR) is a major addiction for me. If I don’t like what’s playing on Nashville’s FM station, I move over to the AM station. I go online to listen to the programs that my local stations do not carry. I even listen to it at my desk while I am working on spreadsheet lists. Consequently, I hear a lot of author interviews and book reviews. I started going to the book page to find the title that I heard discussed on the drive home, but could not remember the author or the title. There are several fiction and non-fiction lists for adults and juveniles on the NPR’s book page (http://www.npr.org/books/). What is unique about some of their lists is the crowdsourcing method they use to compile them. They will request readers’ recommendations for their favorite books in a genre and compile a list of the ones that get the most votes. I am not a science fiction reader, so I know very little about the popular authors in that field. I used NPR’s Best Science Fiction books list to update our collection.
Doing book selection on the side does not have to be labor-intensive or time-consuming when you have a few trusted places that you can turn to for quality reviews. The key is to not let too many months go by and have a backlog of lists, so I try to check my sources on a monthly basis.