How the library chooses books

Published 4:14 pm Tuesday, January 12, 2010

In ailing financial times, the public library is alive and well. The recession has people flocking to their libraries to find free reading materials, computers and Wi-Fi. It’s a place to search for jobs and seek out inexpensive entertainment options – such as a good read.

With reading more popular than ever right now, let’s take a look at how the Greenville-Butler County Public Library determines book selections along with the effects the recession has had on the facility and its services.

“Book selection is governed by a very detailed policy we’ve had in place since this library opened in 1992, one that’s required by all public libraries,” said head librarian Burke McFerrin. “The training I received through my Master of Library Degree at the University of Alabama and the guidelines established and approved by the board govern how I select materials for our library.”

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A great emphasis for a small-town library, McFerrin said, is selecting materials you know people in your area will use.

“After years of doing this, I can tell you things like short story collections and books translated from other languages will not be greatly read here,” the librarian said.

“On the other hand, subjects like pond-building and livestock care in the non-fiction realm are popular here, but wouldn’t have much of an audience in some place like Mountainbrook.

Buy what will be read in your community. You don’t want to heat and cool books that are just gathering dust,” she said.

Input from library patrons and print and online book review resources also factor into the choices made by McFerrin..

The recession has taken a toll on the local library as it has almost everywhere else.

“We’ve tried to make cuts that would least affect our collections and use money in the places patrons most want it spent. We still offer all our newspapers, but we have greatly reduced our periodicals – weekly and monthly magazines – so we can afford to buy the books and audio materials we otherwise cannot afford,” she said.

The loss of the state’s interlibrary loan service, a victim of the recession, has been a blow, McFerrin said. “While it was operating, I knew I could get pretty much any book for a patron from some other library. It turned our small library into one with much greater resources.”

She said she hoped to see the loan service up and running again later this year.

“Thankfully, we still have access to the wonderful Alabama Virtual Library. This helps put us on equal footing for magazines and journals with much, much larger libraries across the state,” she said.

And will the library add new portable e-book devices like Kindle and Sony Reader to its collection?

“We are looking at the new technologies. But right now we don’t have the funds. And we feel a few more years down the road they will be more uniform and less expensive,” McFerrin said.