There are a few things in this article that I disagree with, but it’s these three paragraphs that are at the crux of it. There’s an abrupt segue here where collection development is suddenly equated to readers’ advisory, and I am not okay with that, because that assumption forms the basis for much of the rest of the article. Buying a lot of copies of something can be a way to suggest a book—but that does not mean that it does.
I’d argue that, when it comes to the finite book budgets of libraries across the nation, good collection development is occasionally at loggerheads with good readers’ advisory, and this is one of those times. Good collection development involves being responsive to the requests of the community, whatever you or any other interested observer thinks of the legitimacy of those requests. Good readers’ advisory involves being well-read, keeping recommended books in the library, and, incidentally, answering the question “what should I read next?” not just with a book handed across the counter, but with a conversation and a list of titles that very probably are not related to the librarian’s personal reading habits.
When a situation like this leads to a tie, in the sense that you’ve got X dollars and you have to figure out the best way to spend it, my feeling is that the tie should go to the patron. It’s not our money. It’s their money, and we are the stewards of it. When I see people say, “Well, I wouldn’t spend $23k that way,” I feel they’re missing the point. Personally, if I had $23k to spend on books, I’d buy 23,000 copies of Stoner by John Williams and use them to construct a small hut in the middle of the Library, where I would take power naps throughout the day, and occasionally throw a dance party. But I don’t have that money; the Library does, and it was given to us by our patrons, who as a result ought to have some say in how it is spent.
We are trusted to spend that money on books that we have professionally evaluated and decided should be in the collection, but we are also trusted to provide items that people are asking for. If demand is high enough for a book that in a system of over half a million cardholders, 300 ebooks are needed to meet it, then that’s where the rubber meets the road in the library business, as my boss would say.
I appreciate that this attitude resonates with Greenfield, but it does more than resonate with me—it is my attitude, and it is how I do my job. (Not just because I actually believe it, by the way, though I do—but also because the collection development policy of my workplace requires it.) Ebooks being accessible in public libraries is a complex issue. There are many ways to improve it, and I agree that libraries will need to change a few things in the process, but it’s beyond the reach of very simple advice.