Libraries house far more books than our own homes ever would, but just where do those books come from? Who chooses and buys library books?
Most libraries buy their books from specialist suppliers - companies whose job is to source both new and existing titles on behalf of libraries. It’s a collaborative effort which starts with specific information provided by librarians, and acted upon by the suppliers, many of whom are librarians themselves. There are two particular methods used: standing orders and profiles. This is what helps get books on library shelves as soon as possible when they are released.
When a standing order is created, the supplier is given a list of authors and series which the library wants to buy as a matter of course. That way, whenever a new title by an author or series on the standing order list is released, a copy is automatically ordered and sent to the library. The number of copies will depend on what the library has decided for each name on their list - depending on the size of the library and its budget, and the popularity of the author or series, multiple copies may be requested. Many of Australia’s most popular children’s authors, people like Jackie French and Andy Griffiths, for example, would usually be purchased in multiple quantities. Something similar can be set up for awards so that shortlisted and winning titles are also provided to the library automatically.
Profiles are a little bit different and most often used for ordering non-fiction, although you can also find some non-fiction authors and series on standing order lists. To identify titles which best fit what the library needs for its non-fiction collection, libraries create profiles which are linked to subjects. They may for example request five copies of any new release about Australian explorers suitable for primary students, or three copies of new titles in the Horrible Histories series. Suppliers will then use pre-publication information provided by publishers to order titles that match the profile.
Sometimes libraries will also add books that are donated, or at the suggestion of library members. If you’re curious about how your local library chooses its books, ask them about their collection development policy or statement - every library will have one.
Sarah Steed is our Consultant Librarian and reviewer. A former Children's and Young Adult Librarian, she has more than 18 years' experience working in public libraries. Sarah comes from a family of readers and has shelves full to bursting with books.