Show Pile

I don't talk a lot about my work on this blog but I thought I'd discuss one of my favourite activities that I do – approving the purchase of books that patrons have requested – to celebrate my three month anniversary in this position which is tomorrow. 

In my library system, this is known as the “show pile” although this is a term I never heard before – at library school or elsewhere.  (I asked my boss who's been there for fifteen years but he said he doesn't know the history of the term either and that it predates him.)

So anyhow, it's a fairly standard service in most public libraries.  Patrons want to read a book that we don't have in the system so they can request that we buy it.  I get print-outs of these requests added to a folder on my desk on a regular basis.  (“Don't fall behind on show pile!” was a piece of advice more than one co-worker gave me when I started.) 

Whenever I have time, I grab the folder and work through a few of the requests.  According to the librarian I replaced, they should take about five minutes each, give or take, with some taking much longer (some obscure book you have to do a lot of research on) or some taking much shorter (should we buy the diet book that was featured on Oprah yesterday?) 

I can either ask that the book be purchased, request that we bring it in as an inter-library loan or send it back to the branch of the patron that requested it and ask that they buy it out of their own budget. 

Making the actual decision involves working through all of that 503 Bopp & Smith stuff we used to laugh at – currency, price, format, relevance, etc. – plus more!  Not only do you look at the book individually, you have to look at the rest of the collection too.  (Er, that might have been in Bopp & Smith but I don't remember that chapter.  image)  Do we already have a lot of books for this subject/call number (non-fiction) or by this author (fiction)?  How well do they circulate?  Is there going to be demand for this book or will it enhance our collection to buy it?  Or is it more cost-effective to bring it in as an ILL? 

I am in a very fortunate position that the number of requests we get isn't so high that I end up having to reject a lot of requests and the majority do get approved.  The ones that get rejected are usually because we already have the book on order and the paperwork simply crossed in the office between when the request was made and when the book was ordered (and that's usually a clue that I'm falling behind with the show pile!) 

Something that hit me while doing this, especially working with small branches in many communities that I lived in or am otherwise connected to, is the importance of privacy.  I used to think of Shea's job as an RN as one that required a high level of discretion but never thought of librarianship at quite that same level. 

Now I see that they're closer than I realized.  I get to see (these are made up examples) which former teacher of mine is ordering a book on dealing with depression.  Or the mayor of a rival town may want to read about tax dodges.  Or a kindly old grandma in a small town requests raunchy Danielle Steele novels.  And so on…

It reminds me of when I announced at library school that Shea and I were pregnant and Lindsey H. who worked at LPL goes “Jason, I've known for months.”  “I knew you looked at my account!” I blurted.  “I didn't have to.  Who do you think processes the holds at Central?  You've been reading a lot of pregnancy books lately!”

There's also that related issue of unintentional censorship and/or favouritism that happens when you do have a limited book budget and a seemingly unlimited number of books out there.  Librarians (should) strive to be fair and equitable but there are times when I'm sure some collections librarians either reject books that they don't have an interest in or that they disagree with just as there are probably librarians who inordinately collect books in their own areas of interest or knowledge.  This is almost sub-conscious but I try to be aware of that bias.  Still, I admit that I do get a bit more excited when I see a book on say, American politics or rock music, then when I see a chicklit novel or a military history in the pile.  But as I said, I'm really lucky in that, at least so far, I don't find myself having to reject any of these requests very often.

Anyhow, that's a bit of insight (hopefully) into one of the more enjoyable, library-specific activities in my new job.  Here quickly are the names of the books I approved the purchase of during an hour or so of researching this afternoon (in which time I also rejected maybe five or six requests.) 

Second Chance: Three Presidents and the Crisis of the
American Superpower – Zbigniew Brzezinski

Untwisted – Serge LeClerc

The New Golden Age: The Coming Revolution Against Political
Corruption and Economic Chaos –
Ravi Batra

Diana Chronicles – Tina Brown

2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl – Daniel Pinchbeck

Greywalker – Kat Richardson

People of the Weeping Eye – W. Michael Gear

Girl At Sea – Maureen Johnson

Average American Male – Chad Kultgen

Family Tree – Barbara Delinsky

Possibility of Fireflies – Dominique Paul

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