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Bestsellers, Best Borrowed, Most Collected

I spent the day on Friday at OLITA’s excellent Digital Odyssey Forum for the Ontario Library Association. It was great to get to listen for a day and not speak!
Anyway, Beth Jefferson from Bibliocommons gave a great talk on her research with library end-users and how they choose books to read. There was a great deal of interesting data and insights.
She made an interesting point. Many libraries have lists of bestsellers on their homepage or upfront. She went through dozens of library sites and showed how libraries were promoting bestsellers. She then showed the real end-user experience. This was of course finding out that most, maybe all, bestsellers in the library inventory have hundreds of holds on them and the wait is months long. Now, is this a great user experience? Clearly not.
My brother and I have drawers full of ‘rain checks’ from a local department store chain. This store regularly advertises great specials which seem to never, ever be in stock – even on the day the sale flyer comes out. The merchandise is usually also special orders for the sale so the rain check is pointless because the goods will never come back in stock. Ths store is in the top five stores for regularly being fined by the various authorities for advertising fraud and bait & switch. It’s a national chain and I am sure they just treat the fines as business expenses. You can get people in Canada ranting around the summer BBQ about this store’s practices but they stay in business!
Why am I mentioning poor retail practices? Are we doing the same thing? Is it bait and switch to advertise bestseller and have few really available? Should we be promoting more end-user reviews and pushing non-bestseller reviews? Beth showed one chart that showed end-users saw the book return cart as a key recommender of good read in the library”
Are we really understanding the long tail? Should we be promoting the cool books in our collection that are available? When we promote staff picks, maybe we should push the books not getting the force of newspapers’ and publishers’ attention. Do bestsellers need more promotion from us?
Combine some of this with research I am told shows that patron selected books circulate more than books selected by libraries; the research on ciriculation and the long tail; comparison of best sellers and best borrowed books; comparison’s of OCLC’s best collected books and what actually circulates; the NDP data… and it’d be a great debate about what libraries should collect, promote and empower for recreational circulation!
Anyway, I found Beth’s challenges a good point to start a conversation.

Posted on: May 16, 2006, 5:58 pm Category: Uncategorized