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Ever wonder how a library decides what to carry? We spoke with Sno-Isle to find out

SNOHOMISH COUNTYSno-Isle Libraries has a vast collection of over 1.4 million items for residents to check out as they see fit but what goes into the decision-making process when determining which books to carry, or not to carry?

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The Lynnwood Times spoke with Jessica Russell, Assistant Director of Collections at Sno-Isle Libraries, to find out.

Russell leads the team who selects materials for the library system, maintains the collection catalog, and orders and provides interlibrary loan support for all Sno-Isle Library’s customers.

The library is guided by its collection development board policy as well as a collection development selection guideline, an administrative policy which establishes the parameters and criteria the library uses when selecting material.

Additionally, customers can submit a request for materials by using a tool called suggest-a-purchase which was first introduced in 2021 and has been widely used since. Materials suggested by customers are evaluated using the same guidelines as any other materials.

“I would say that the number one reason why items get denied is they’re just not available for us to purchase,” said Russell. “Book venders and publishers are not keeping as much stock on hand as they used to so just the inability to purchase is the number one reason, we can’t fulfill a customer’s request.”

If a customer makes a request for an item that cannot be fulfilled, there is a back-up option, where Sno-Isle borrows books from other libraries to try and get the customer’s requested item in their hand within one to three weeks from the time of request.

When beginning a library collection, the “must haves” or “staples” of that collection change all of the time, Russell said, but the classics (referred to as “evergreen” or “long tale” by librarians because) are continual pieces of interest. Ultimately which books the library decides to carry falls on which books the community expresses interest in.

“The must haves for us might not be the must haves for another library system because we really value that local input and curation,” said Russell.

Sno-Isle Libraries constantly receives feedback on its collection from community members because it serves such a diverse community, both positive and negative. The library’s approach to negative feedback has always been that the book must not have been the right fit for the customer, rather than remove the book from its collection.

“Because we serve such a diverse community, we have books that serve the needs of a wide range of people so not every book is going to be for every reader,” said Russell. “Whenever we encounter that mismatch between book and reader that’s really the opportunity for our library staff to step in and say hey, we have books that we think you’ll enjoy because we collect for everyone – what do you enjoy reading, how can we help you connect to a book that’s going to meet your needs?”

Sno-Isle Libraries’ Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) Department constantly continuously engages with those it serves and through frequent demographics reports, ensure its collection remains current. Community library staff also communicate with the collection team which items are frequently requested by customers.

The library also carefully considers usage patterns, what kinds of formats and materials resonate with customers while taking topical deep dives to discover what people are most interested in.

“What [customers] check out and use is really a sign of their interest,” said Russell.

Sno-Isle’s collection is in both print and digital. For their printed works a weekly report is generated to gauge usages patterns and is also used to predict order volume. For its digital collection, holds are managed through a tiered approach where the holds are managed in relation to the cost of the item, to be more conscious of taxpayer’s money.

The library uses Overdrive for its eBook collection, a parent company of Libby. What’s unique to Sno-Isle is its use of demand-driven acquisition which is basically a fancy way of saying the library can load a lot of items to its catalog without paying for them until a customer checks it out.

“If you were to open up Libby and look at our collection, you would see tons of stuff that we don’t own yet and if you were to check it out it would then be added to our collection,” said Russell. “It adds an additional element of letting our purchasing be driven by our customers interests, preference, needs.”

For those interested in picking up a book but not knowing where to start, Sno-Isle also offers a personalized reading list where customers can input their individual interests, and their preferred format, and the library will customize recommendations they feel best suited, leveraging the library’s staff’s talents surrounding their knowledge of books.

“A lot of our staff are here because they love books, they love stories, they love information. They read a lot,” said Russell.

Given Sno-Isle’s massive collection, staff levels, and budget, it’s simply unrealistic that staff can review every item requested by customers but there are still several overlapping layers used to figure out if the library will purchase an item or not, including professional reviews, and staff recommendations based on engagement with community members.

Sno-Isle loves its local authors, Russell added, allowing local authors to submit their works to be considered in the library’s collection. The library frequently holds “writer talk” events featuring many local authors who write a variety of different works and genres from children’s books to poetry.

Sno-Isle puts on thousands of events such as its upcoming Sno-Isle Reads Together which will feature author Kira Jane Buxton reading her debut novel Hollow Kingdom. Buxton will be making appearances at various libraries throughout Snohomish and Island counties.

For a full list of upcoming Sno-Isle events visit: https://www.sno-isle.org/reads-together/.

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