By Ernie Williamson
Have you ever wondered how a book ends up on a shelf at your neighborhood library?
With a nationwide surge in complaints about book collections at both public and school libraries, I thought it was a good time to ask Lisa Loranc, Brazoria County Library director, how book selections are made here.
It is a big job picking books for 12 branches.
According to Loranc, the library budgets about $640,000 a year for new books, not including digital books. That allows for about 4,500 new print titles and 200,000 books a year.
When you count titles from all formats, including digital, the number of new titles swells to about 75,000 a year.
The library system has two teams of specialists. One team selects books for children and one team selects books for adults.
Obviously, the teams can’t read every book that becomes available, so the teams rely on trade publications, reviews and word of mouth to help make selections.
The name recognition of the author also helps.
“You know, for instance, that there will be demand for a new book by John Grisham or Nora Roberts,” says Loranc.
For the most part, the library does not individually select digital titles. Digital books are acquired as part of a catalog of offerings from various vendors.
All books - whether for adults or children - must meet selection guidelines that reflect the library system’s core values.
“One of the most important is that the book be relevant to the community and that the book appeals to the diversity of the entire community,” says Loranc.
Because shelf space is limited, the library must make way for new additions. The library keeps statistics on how often a book is checked out. New books may replace books not circulating much.
Books can be taken out of circulation for other reasons.
” Library books aren’t like books at home,” says Loranc. “The pages get torn, and they wear out faster.”
She also says books can become obsolete. “An outdated medical book may even have dangerous information after a while.” she says.
On the same morning I interviewed Loranc, the American Library Association reported in the New York Times that attempts to ban books in this country surged in 2021 to the highest level since the organization began tracking book challenges 20 years ago.
The association said it counted 729 challenges last year to library, school and university materials as well as research databases and e-book platforms.
Each challenge can contain multiple titles, and the association tracked 1,597 individual books that were either challenged or removed.
Challenges to certain titles have been embraced by some politicians and cast as an issue of parental choice and parental rights. Those who oppose these efforts, however, say that prohibiting the books violates the rights of parents and children who want those titles available.
Loranc’s book selection teams must be doing a good job because the Brazoria County Library System has managed to avoid the surge in complaints.
“At most, on an average year, we get about six complaints throughout the system,” she says.”
We haven’t noticed any recent increase.”
Loranc attributes the lack of complaints to county residents.
“They know that nobody is putting a gun to their head to make them take out a book. And we encourage parents to get involved and know what their children are reading.”
(Please contact Ernie at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or, send letters in care of The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton, TX. 77516)