What You Want in Books a Real Art How Naperville Libraries Build Their Collections

Article excerpt

Byline: Beth Sneller Daily Herald Staff Writer

From the mid-1980s to the late 1990s, "Sweet Valley High" books were all the rage. Millions of pre-teen and teenage girls flocked to their libraries to read another entry in the series about a group of California high school students.

They had plenty to choose from because author Francine Pascal churned a book out every month until there were more than 100.

But these days, 12-year-old girls wanting a taste of Sweet Valley will find most of the copies have been weeded off the shelves at Naperville's libraries.

It's not that there's anything wrong with the books, librarians say. It's just that there isn't enough room.

The space crunch is such at Naperville's Nichols and Naper Boulevard libraries - and those in many other towns - that librarians spend almost as much time weeding books out of the collection as they do adding new ones.

"It's not something we do by policy, we do it by necessity," said Mark West, deputy director of the Naperville libraries.

With their collections just about at capacity, both libraries generally must remove one item for every new book, video or DVD that comes in.

That raises several key questions for both librarians and patrons:

How do you decide what stays on the shelves and what doesn't?

And how can the Naperville libraries, which own roughly 500,000 items and circulate 2.5 million annually, possibly decide which new materials to put on their shelves?

Book-buying business

In Naperville, there is such a large turnover of books each month that librarians have the process down to a virtual science.

The libraries have three people assigned to select materials. They spend much of their time hunched over a computer, plugging statistics about Naperville's community profile into book vendors' databases and ordering entire collections designed to fit patrons' needs.

The libraries use outside groups to process new materials and, by the time most items arrive at either Nichols or Naper Boulevard, they're almost ready to go on the shelves.

"As an organization, we try to use technology to its fullest," Library Director Donna Dziedzic said.

The libraries automatically order every book on bestseller lists. And if there are more than three "holds" on a book, the libraries order another copy.

This year, the libraries will spend roughly $1.28 million on materials, ranging from children's books to electronic databases (and two subscriptions to this newspaper).

"We operate very much like a mass-market retailer," West said.

When it's time to remove books from the collection, outdated materials, multiple copies and books that are falling apart go first.

Then librarians print a list of how often books have been checked out. …