Over 9,000 libraries exist in the United States, and they are the home of over 700 million different books.
Today’s question is: How do libraries get books, and where do libraries get their books from?
Libraries work with the communities they serve to determine which books to keep on the shelves, and they obtain those books most often directly from book distributors. Libraries often get multiple copies of books to meet demand, and to replace books when they are enough worn down through the years.
Direct From Distributors
The truth is that in general libraries get most of their books from the same place that bookstores do – book distribution companies.
Most publishers don’t handle getting books to stores themselves; they let a specialized distribution company handle that work. These distributors charge a percentage of a book’s sales as the fee for getting the physical books out into the world.
The world’s largest book distribution company is Ingram Content Group. Ingram has more than 14 million titles that it distributes worldwide. That’s a lot of paper and ink.
Because of the vast resources book distributors have, they are the easiest way for libraries to get the books they need. Of course, book distributors, in general, only offer physical books.
Libraries don’t just stock hard copy books. They also store thousands and thousands of e-books. Unlike physical books, e-books don’t come from a distributor.
Instead, publishers (and other third parties) sell libraries a “license” for a copy of an e-book. The license means that libraries don’t own the book, they just have the right to let people read it.
Even though in theory there’s no limit to how many people can read a copy of an e-book at one time, libraries have to limit how many copies are in use because of e-book licenses.
This is actually standard practice for individual e-book purchases, too. Any time you get a book on your Kindle, you are really just buying a license to read the book from Amazon.
Even though licenses aren’t as valuable to libraries as physical books, libraries still need to stock them. Demand for e-books is growing every year, and libraries need to have materials that people want to use in order for them to keep operating.
Another great resource for libraries is donation. Many people and organizations donate books, magazines, newspapers, comics, and more to libraries every single year.
Libraries can’t operate entirely off of donations because they need to keep up with demand and purchase new books. Still, donations are incredibly valuable for libraries because it lets them receive materials they wouldn’t otherwise have access to, and all without a cost.
The best thing to do if you want to donate books to your local library is to speak with a librarian. They will know whether or not the library is taking donations (the library only has so many shelves, after all), and they’ll be able to walk you through the donation process.
Aside from books, people also donate money to library. Cash donation is actually great for a library, as it lets them buy whatever books they know they need to stock.
Even though libraries are funded by tax dollars, they usual struggle with a small budget. Donations are a great way to support your local library.
How much do libraries pay for books?
Believe it or not, libraries actually pay more for their books than bookstores and individuals. Book distributors often give retailers a discount of up to 40% when they buy in bulk; on the other hand, libraries typically are given a 10% discount.
Distributors believe that discounting to retailers will encourage them to buy so many books, they’ll make extra money despite the discount. They see libraries as a one-time transaction and want to squeeze them as much as possible when they place an order.
It’s actually a bad idea for distributors to charge libraries higher prices. Countless studies have proven that strong library circulation of a book actually increases its sales. As more people get to experience the book in a risk-free way, they feel encouraged to buy it if they enjoy it.
Not to mention, libraries also increase public exposure of books, series, and authors. Distributors are charging libraries higher prices, even though libraries are giving them millions of dollars worth of free marketing every year.
Do libraries get new books?
Simply put, yes, libraries get new books. Remember, where do libraries get their books from?
Book distributors, and those companies want to make sure that libraries can stock books as early as possible, so they can make as much money as possible.
Libraries have the option to buy books at the same time that book stores do. So, as long as a library knows there is demand for a particular book, they’re likely to get it upon release.
Libraries actually tend to buy many, many new books. They might order 50 or 100 copies of a best-selling novel to meet demand and have extras for when copies get damaged.
Even though distributors have difficulty understanding the real value of libraries, some publishers and many authors do. Because of that they are always getting information to libraries about upcoming releases, and will sometimes even donate copies to a library.
Authors want to take advantage of as much free marketing as they possibly can.
How do libraries decide which books to buy?
Libraries dedicate a huge amount of their resources to sourcing and obtaining as many books as possible. Most libraries have a department dedicated to researching which books they should buy and include in their collection.
The “collection development staff”, as they are called, have many different methods for selecting books. There are always standing orders for materials that need to be brought in on a regular basis, like magazines and encyclopedias.
Aside from that, the collection development staff also monitors book reviewers and best selling lists. They want to make sure to order multiple copies of popular books, so they can keep up with demand.
Reviewers have a big role to play in how libraries select their books. Staff members can’t possibly be experts in every single genre or type of media, so they rely on reviewers to tell them which materials outside of their own expertise people might be interested in.
Likewise, collection development staffers will keep a close eye on what’s popular in their community. If there’s a booming music culture in a city, its library is going to have more books on music history.
Of course, people and organizations also make requests of libraries. Schools, for example, will communicate with libraries about what books and materials their students would like to have access to.
Finally, libraries also closely monitor how people interact with their collection. If they see lots of orders for specific titles from other libraries, or a growing interest in a particular subject matter, they’ll shift which books they order.
Libraries try to be as adaptive and responsive as possible in their collection development. It’s a tough job trying to satisfy every reader in a community, but libraries do it swimmingly.
Do libraries have every book?
In a word, no, libraries don’t have every book. The size of a library’s collection will depend on the resources given to it.
Small town libraries have a hard time keeping stocked with the newest books, while big city libraries can have half a dozen branches with tens of thousands of books.
The good news is that where libraries have blank spots, they also have resources to help you find the book you’re looking for. Inter-library loans are a popular way for smaller libraries to borrow books from the collection of larger libraries.
Libraries also, thankfully, have librarians who are experts on books. They can always help source hard-to-find books or give good direction for finding useful reference material.
Support your local library!
The best way to help your library stay well-stocked is to use it frequently. Libraries are funded by tax dollars, and the more use they get, the more a city will increase the library’s budget.
Libraries are an invaluable resource for their communities. They offer people knowledge and experiences that they wouldn’t otherwise have access to.
Not only that, libraries are also community hubs. They host events that bring people together like classes, workshops, and even polling locations during elections.
Libraries distribute community information about upcoming events, recent news, and elections. They hold after-school and summer programs to care for and educate children.
Libraries, when they have the support they need, can be the absolute lifeblood of a community, and they’re open to everyone of all ages.
So, get out to your local library, get a library card, and get to reading. There’s nothing you can do to help your community that’s easier or more enjoyable than supporting your local library.