Top 12 Ways to be a BAD Selector - Part 1

Most of us love the collection development parts of our job.  But sometimes it can also get overwhelming and we make decisions that seem to work in the short-run but have implications in the long-run. The rabbit hole of poor selection decisions can get pretty deep.

We all have areas that we need to improve on in our work as selectors, de-selectors and collection strengtheners.  Are these some of your problem areas or models that management or co-workers expect for your department?

1. Only buy new material; don't bother with replacements or building or strengthening weak areas of the collection. The easiest thing in the world is to get excited and order all the new goodies published and buzzed about. It's sloggy work to go back to fill in holes in the collection and seek out areas that need a boost. But it is this work that the development in collection development is all about. Building a collection is more than the new - it's also creating depth and breadth - which often means researching and buying slightly older titles, buying duplicates for heavily used items, and filling in series and collections where titles have been lost or damaged.

2. Make sure to ignore books with diverse characters and cultures since "no one like that lives here." Quit it. We live in a global society with a rainbow of faces, cultures and creeds. Having books that represent this diversity is a non-negotiable essential. Every book doesn't have to fly off the shelf but it needs to be there so children can not just find themselves but also know there are many people in our world that have lives different - yet similar- to their own.

3. Never buy non-fiction paperbacks or any paperbacks for that matter- those skinny spines are hard to label and they won't last. The great majority of children's books published are not classics. Oops! Sorry. I said it. How long do you need a book on a popular but ephemeral character to last? If you need as many dog or dinosaur books as humanly possibly, why not add additional paperback copies to stretch your budget? If you can buy three books for the price of one (or for some series non-fiction five-seven books), and you only need that character/subject concentration for three-five years, what's the hold-up? Paperbacks can strengthen your collection - for all ages, fiction and non-fiction - and provide needed materials. And I have a secret to share: non-fiction books in general circ far more slowly than other parts of your collection. Non-fiction paperbacks in areas that get only occasional use can stand up and last as long as a hardcover in terms of currency and use by kids.

4. Don't read, skim or listen to the new material to get more familiar with it. Buy it and be done with it. Or try a better idea: get to know the material beyond the review. Page through it quickly before it goes out to familiarize yourself with it. Listen to it on your work commute. Read it at home. Join or establish a youth book club to discuss books. Librarians who actually know the material are those reader advisors that all the kids seek out. Actually knowing books and non-print means passion, knowledge and the ability to truly connect the right kid with the right book.

5. Buy lots of pre-bound and library binding books - kids are so hard on books. Perhaps, but in every age collection? Picture book as well as chapter books as well as non-fiction? Pre-bounds are simply paperbacks with a armor-plated covers. Almost all chapter books are printed on the most acidy-barely-above-newsprint paper known to publishers. The pages disintegrate decades before the covers go. Picture books and wildly popular non-fiction books do take a beating. You might justify the added expense since, because of their illustrations, they are printed on higher quality paper. But how long do you need that book to last given the ever-changing needs of readers. Pre-bounds and library bindings add expense. Can your budget really stand it?

6. Accept "preview packs" or pre-selected books. The job of most cold call salespeople on these things is to get you to accept the whole package of often marginal or remaindered stock. Most of what you see won't be worth it. And the pressure to accept all the contents (better discount!) rather than re-package and send back the unwanted selections is high. We all have better selection skills than this no matter how busy we are.

The next post will continue along this sorry path of poor selection ideas. Stay tuned!

Graphic courtesy of Pixabay


  1. I know this is probably not what you meant, but I love to get preview boxes when I have some time, b/c I get to peruse the books, and I often see books that I would not normally!

  2. We're lucky to have the CCBC, a book examination center on the UW-Madison campus, filled with newly published children's books. I like to take a day or half day once or twice a year and head down there. I get to see the books and get hands-on plus I find a ton I haven't seen reviewed. And no pressure to buy!

  3. I have "tub books". I bought $2 dish tubs from Walmart, put labels on them, and I buy cheap 8x8 paperbacks (Disney, Thomas, Clifford, etc.). When they fall apart I staple and tape them back together. I can get 30+ circulations in a year or two and the books cost about $2.5. High literary quality? Heck no. But people love them, they boost our circulation numbers, and there are a lot of other great benefits (which I have a blog post about coming soon (-:)

    YES on the nonfiction paperbacks. I have had a lot of arguments with my director and circulation staff on this. Yes, I understand they are skinny and they don't hold up - but they're going to be outdated in five years, why would I spend an extra $15 on making sure they're in good condition for...the book sale?

    I'm kind of torn about the diversity aspect. On the one hand, I do want a diverse collection, I think kids should see all the different cultures and colors. At my library we love EllRay Jakes, Lulu, Sugar Plum Ballerinas, etc. I think adults are more worried about the "kids won't check this out if they see a poc on the cover" than the kids. I would LOVE to see more books with Hispanic characters, especially if they aren't set in urban areas, which would speak more to the experience of my patrons. However, I can't justify buying yet another book about MLK and Civil Rights or non-mainstream holiday books that never circulate. I get really frustrated wondering why we don't have more books like Karen Williams' Beach Tail or why authors don't start branching out into new aspects of history like Steve Sheinkin's upcoming book Port Chicago 50. Oooh, or more books like Diana Lopez' Confetti Girl or Ask my mood ring how I feel.

  4. Oh, and something I find helps me is my slideshows - I load all my new titles on picasa albums slideshows. I can look back at it and say "oops, I haven't bought any historical fiction in, like, forever!" or "I need more easy readers". Also helps when I'm booktalking new stuff for school visits to job my memory. http://www.elkhorn.lib.wi.us/wordpress/youth/