Anybody who's worked around libraries knows that people love to give us books. The problem is that by the time we get those books they are usually too old, too passe, or too tattered and worn to be added to the library collection, so they just end up in the book sale. Even the few we do take for the collection often require special handing and processing and may cost us more than they are worth.
There's nothing wrong with book sales--many libraries make a good deal of money from them. However, some of us felt that if we could find a way to take advantage of the public's natural inclination to give us books--but encourage them to donate just the titles we really need, when we need them, and in a manner that was compatible with our acquisitions and cataloging processes--we just might have the makings for a great new donation program that would prove very attractive to both libraries and their patrons. So, in early 2005 a few of us--including several librarians from the Riverside County (Calif.) Library, members of the LSSI management team, and me--sat down together at a nice shady table at the Mission Inn in Riverside and came up with the "1stReads" program over a very long lunch and several bottles of wine. All product development should be like that.
At this time, 1stReads is an entirely Web-based donation program. There are two pilot sites: Finney County (Kan.) Library (http://fcpl.homestead.com, click on the 1stReads link in the left-hand navigation bar) and Riverside County Library System (http://www.riverside.lib.ca.us/riverside, click on the 1stReads logo). Here's how it works.
How to Set Up 1stReads, Technically and Financially
First, the participating library creates a "wish list" specifying the exact titles and quantities of the books it would like to have donated through 1stReads. (Branches are each making their own wish lists.) Librarians may either create these lists from scratch or they may take advantage of standardized wish lists including Forthcoming Fiction and Non-Fiction, and Books On the Air, which list popular titles that most librarians will want to acquire.
To create the selection lists, a librarian simply supplies 1stReads staff with the ISBNs and quantities of the books that he or she wants, then the 1stReads program provides all the rest, including cover art and annotations. Librarians can select from any titles listed in any of the major book jobbers' databases; and even if a book is not listed in any of those catalogs, librarians can still create custom catalog entries for their special items like a rare book, a map, or any other item that has a price.
The librarian can price 1stReads selections at any value he or she wants. So far, we have chosen to offer 1stReads selections at pretty significant discounts off the retail price--normally 30 percent to 40 percent (about the price the library is actually paying for the books when you include processing costs) on the theory that the prospect of saving money and helping the library at the same time will make 1stReads attractive to patrons. However, some of the 1stReads staff believe that people need very little incentive to donate to the library, and that libraries could list their 1stReads selections at or near full retail price with little effect on donations. In that case, the recipient would have enough to pay for the book, the processing and keep some extra money besides.
Of course, libraries may also choose to price certain titles well below their retail value as a way of attracting attention to the program and perhaps encouraging people to donate. And since the library specifies how many copies it makes available at this price, it controls the total number of books it purchases.
The 1stReads program handles all of the credit card clearing and other e-commerce functions on behalf of the library. People can also fax in orders. Pilot libraries are also planning to accept phone and walk-in orders at their circulation desks. …