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Book? Book? Do You Know Where This Book Is?

by on October 14, 2016

There are many collectors who seek out books, recordings, demitasse spoons; the best of just about anything representing any activity humans have devised including million dollar autos. With more than one million books now being “published” per year, will we ever be able to preserve and maintain even a hint of that number in the near future?

Some libraries have automatic approval orders. Those are the kind of orders in which the publishers, jobbers, or distributors send everything, and someone at the library decides whether or not an item is kept or sent back to the publisher or distributor. Many of these returned books end up at bookstores and elsewhere as ‘remainders’ at a very low price.

Recent information from the book world tells us it is currently likely that only 250 copies of a given nonfiction title will ever be sold, and only a 1 percent chance it will show up at a bookstore. Yet, with around 119,500 libraries throughout the U.S., if libraries are really in the business of preserving and giving access to what has been written, it seems strange there wouldn’t be more sales. With 725,000 self-published books available each year, and around 300,000 books published by the big 5 houses, it becomes a gargantuan task. Should libraries try?

Contemporary composers’ alliances and groups are now trying to organize and preserve new music, scores, and recordings of productions. Some collectors are still trying to collect all of the output of some artists’ works and recordings. One has to wonder what the library world is doing to preserve the printed published word. Yes, libraries do have options and opportunities to preserve some things, manage what’s best for their particular audience or customers, and within constraints of budgets, get to preserve some things. And yes there are digitization preservation programs going on to format such printed material in order to have space for it all.

We don’t know what happens to all those returned remainders when no one buys them. Although I know bookstores dump the returns in the dumpsters (after tearing off the covers for returning and getting credit) when they might have been preserved elsewhere. At one point a prison library was able to get a bookstore to donate its unreturnable books, with the library realizing full retail price tax deductions. While the prison was not in the business of preservation, it did in a way, keep the books available if only through Interlibrary Loan. One inmate at the prison wrote to the Detroit Public Library seeking a book, thinking it wouldn’t be in his small prison library; DPL did not have it, the prison library did.

Libraries are doing what they can, but discoverability is becoming increasingly difficult with OP books and OBP (out of business publishers) and M&A (mergers and acquisitions publishers). At a forum of the 66th Frankfurt Book Fair, deputy editor of The Bookseller’s Futurebook, summed it up nicely when he said: “It’s a great thing that everybody can publish a book today, and it’s a bad thing that everybody can publish a book today.”

Mostly, it falls to our national libraries such as the Library of Congress to collect all the books. This works if everyone registers for copyright, as a book or books are to be placed in the LC as part of the copyright process. This kind of preservation won’t work any longer now with eBooks and the cost of changing an address for single book authors. It will be up to consortia to figure out who collects what. Some years ago, the libraries of Wales, United Kingdom had developed a cooperative program to collect all recordings from all labels produced in the country. Different libraries would collect everything in a specified genre, then share (interlibrary loans) when the need required. There are some consortia for cooperative collection development such as ALA’s Transforming Libraries goal and objectives strategic plan of 2010 and the book “Shared Collections: Collaborative Stewardship”. Each group has some documentation of progress in their respective groups, but will there be a central organization to tell us who has what?

We have had Gap Analysis projects for training, diversity, and electronic resources, but in my very short bit of research, I see no Gap Analysis project which tells us what books,genres, and resources libraries don’t have. R. R. Bowker, The Library of Congress, OCLC, Hathi-Trust, WorldCat, and FirstSearch databases are helping, but finding a library with the work one wants and actually has available, is pretty daunting. Will we find a way, both of discovery and retrieval, and for preserving contemporary works? We may need very large initiatives of state-wide and national projects to even come close.

There are of course arguments for and against preserving all information in any of the formats. Is leaving it to the collectors a good plan?

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