How Our Libraries Buy Books

27 June 2011

A lot goes into choosing the 95,000 new books, CDs, DVDs and other materials that end up on the shelves of Wellington City's libraries each year.

Central Library Team Leader John Stears with some of the latest arrivals

Central Library Team Leader John Stears with some of the latest arrivals

When it comes to the 55,000 books, Central Library Team Leader John Stears says a team of librarians, with acquisition qualifications, review a variety of specialist and other journals and the web to check what's available.

"But lots of other factors trigger book-buying too. It could be that we need to provide more up-to-date information about a certain topic - especially in medical or technological fields," he says. "Authors visiting Wellington are another trigger - we tend to order in more copies of their work around that time. Or it could simply be that popular titles are too worn to loan out anymore, and we need to replace them."

People wanting a new book can reserve it (you can do this online) and go on the waiting list for a free copy or check to see if it is on the bestseller shelf, where popular titles are available for a week for $5.

Suggestions to Buy - Wellington City Libraries website

So what constitutes a bestseller?

"Sometimes it's easy to predict which books will go on our bestseller shelf based on previous experience with a particular author or international trends. Other times, we elevate a book to bestseller status because a large number of people are reserving it before it's published," John says.

To keep costs down, our books normally come from the country of origin, and we have regular suppliers in the US, UK and Australia. We arrange to have them pre-processed, labelled, and sometimes strengthened before they arrive, so they're ready to be catalogued and placed on the shelves as soon as they get here. Unity Books is also a major supplier.

The Council also buys slightly more titles online nowadays, as the demand for books in different languages - particularly Arabic, Chinese and Indian languages - steadily grows.

CDs are bought both online and through local retailers, often on a customer recommendation. As for DVDs, there's often a bit of a wait between a film's release and when you'll find them on the library shelves. We have to wait for the DVD to be rated by New Zealand censors.

And if we don't have something you want?

"Just ask us. We usually buy about 90 percent of the things people suggest - so the chances of us getting what you want are high."

John says a lot of care and attention goes into buying items for the library.

"For starters, we only have so much physical space in our libraries. Theoretically, we need to make room for every book we buy by getting rid of another. This involves withdrawing books that are a bit worse for wear, have out-of-date information (often the sciences) or by reducing the number of copies of a particular book when demand for it falls.

"We spend about $1.8 million a year on acquisitions. While that may sound a lot - think of all the books that are published every year, add that to the classics that we need to keep replacing, and the hype. When a new Harry Potter book came out, we had to buy at least 50 copies to help cope with the huge demand."

For more information on anything to do with our libraries, phone (04) 499 4444.

Wellington Libraries