Do Science Fiction Fans Hate Libraries?

OK that might be a little extreme, but hear me out. My friend Megan is a librarian at a major metropolitan library. She recently asked me “why don’t sci-fi and fantasy readers use libraries?” I was taken aback – I figured that genre fans everywhere used libraries and that would include readers of science fiction. But no, apparently they don’t.

Her library’s reports regularly show that sci-fi/fantasy is the least circulated genre in the library’s collection. Non-fiction books are even circulated more than sci-fi. Yikes. I wondered if many readers were also collectors; they want to own these books and thus the library holds little appeal. Or maybe the disappointment at not finding a book you wanted turned you off to libraries?

The library has a limited budget to spend and realistically they need to spend that on the books that will be used the most. Sure, the library should be well-rounded, but why invest in a book like (the excellent) Fitzpatrick’s War that 2 people will ever check out when she could buy another copy of the latest James Patterson novel that will spend the better part of a year outside the library in the homes of happy readers.

So I thought it would be good to ask you, the readers here, what can she do? What would coax those of you who haven’t stepped foot in your local library in the last year to take another look and actually utilize its services? Let us know in the comments, and thanks!

47 thoughts on “Do Science Fiction Fans Hate Libraries?”

  1. Most public libraries I’ve lived near (and that comes close to 15, as I’ve moved around a lot and sampled several branches when living in big cities) have had *terrible* collections of SF.  By this I mean they carried the big bestsellers that I rarely read — R.A. Salvatore, Frank Herbert and all his descendants, that sort of thing — and none of the strange, off center stuff that I love (e.g., Holly Phillips, Brian Francis Slattery, Steph Swainston, etc.)

    I am fortunate, however, in that I now live close to the public library in Burlingame, California.  It has an *excellent* SF collection, and I have been using it extensively.  Last time I was there, I made a point of stopping by the circulation desk to comment on how wonderful their collection was.  I currently have checked out Kelly Link’s Pretty Monsters, Caitlin Kiernan’s Tales of Pain and Wonder, Jack O’Connell’s The Resurrectionist, Alexandra Sokoloff’s The Price, Ramsey Campbell’s The Grin of the Dark, Nancy Kress’s Nano Comes to Clifford Falls (yes, they even have Golden Gryphon Press books!), Richard Parks’ The Long Look, Joe Lansdale’s God of the Razor, Daryl Gregory’s Pandemonium, Gene Wolfe’s An Evil Guest, and Peter Straub’s Poe’s Children.  I dare any other suburban public library to be able to say they have all those books available.  Me, I hardly know where to start reading.

    It’s not like my shelves aren’t full of things to read.  But I like finding the newest and the shiniest at all times.  It’s either a flaw or a gift, I don’t know, but I do know I never run out of wonderful things to read.

  2. The problem is that libraries don’t have very good SF/F collections, and few people request SF/F (probably because of the crappy collections). I am a librarian, and work at a library with another SF fan, but our collection is still lacking. It’s hard to convince the boss to get a SF book if there’s no requests for it (unless its a big name).

  3. OK, speaking as a former UK public library employee – there’s no simple answer. The major contributor, however, is economics. Libraries have a limited (and ever-shrinking) budget for new books; genre fiction is, like it or not, a small niche outside of the big names and media tie-ins; library performance is statisticized (that’s the word that gets used, too) to within an inch of its life, and budgets are reset accordingly.

    So expansive genre collections are rare, because unless you have a staff member who a) knows their stuff and b) has the ear of the accessions department, they’re going to go with the recommended bestseller lists from their suppliers. Sometimes they’ll break the mold, but genre titles don’t get the same bulk discounts as straight bestsellers, and so an aversion loop is set up: why risk buying an obscure and pricey hardback that might get borrowed four times when you could get ten copies of the latest Sophie Kinsella that will hardly touch the shelves for the same price?

    Because believe me, those figures get watched closely… which, here in the UK, is a large part of why libraries are dying on their arses. In handing the control and management of libraries to the same sort of suits who control, say, the road maintenance directorate, you end up with a bean counter who has no concept of the fact that the profit a library produces cannot be measured in money; libraries produce social capital, but you can’t balance that on a spreadsheet.

    And so the book collections have their budgets cut and rediverted to buying more internet terminals; the collections become more limited and quotidian as a result, and the library fills up with loud and aggressive people with nothing better to do than message each other between the floors of the building on Facebook and intimidate the regular library clientele (the elderly; young families; people who want to better themselves rather than suck on the teat of an easily-gamed benefits system); the borrowing figures go down; the budgets get cut again and staff are laid off in favour of hiring in management consultants and more bean-counter suits; and so on.

    Use ‘em or lose ‘em, folks. Hassle your local government, make polite requests to your library staff for the books you’d like to see (and make sure you borrow them when they turn up), and maybe we can reverse the trend before it’s too late.

    Rant over.

  4. To me, librarians are heroes, but I rarely step inside my local branch.  I think I’m like a lot of SFF readers:  I like to own my books.  But at the same time, I’m always talking up public libraries as vital institutions in any truly civilized country.  And the librarians themselves?  Those kind curators of culture, literacy and ideas who encourage the young to read and are always ready to suggest new books?  Heroes.  So what about some kind of poll measuring both our use of libraries and our support (political and otherwise) for them?

  5. I love our local library system here in San Diego.  There are many branches, it’s free to have books transferred from one branch to the other, and they send an email whenever a book arrives at my local branch.  They will also order many books when requested.  So, with some patience, you can get lots of SF&F through them.  I also often donate some of my review copies to help them out

  6. To be honest, I don’t go to the public library because I prefer to own my own books.  I may be in a majority or a minority of people who feel the same way (I don’t know).  I just don’t like going to the library and borrowing books unless it’s a book I’m not willing to fork out money for on the off chance it sucks (such as reference non-fiction stuff, because those books tend to be quite pricey even for small books–300 page trade paperback at $75 is not cheap).

    I’ve used my University’s library before, but only for reference books.  They have a huge collection though, so I can’t really complain (plus inter-library loans for the other unis in the system).

    I wonder if people feel the same as I do…

  7. Have to agree with those who say that most libraries have horrible selection of SF and Fantasy. Most books are best sellers such as Brooks, Star Wars, Star Trek etc. 

    I make the drive to the next county over because their library has a fantastic selection of SF and Fantasy. In this economy the gas is worth the trip because I don’t have to buy the books.

    Seems like a Catch 22 won’t get better selection cause there no demand, there is no demand cause the selection stinks.

  8. I’m with the readers who say, “It’s the poor selection.”  And I’ve noticed that to be true for most libraries over decades.  An outdated selection didn’t matter so much when I was a child who hadn’t read a lot of the older work.  But now I’m ready to try the newer work, something within the last decade that isn’t a Piers Anthony novel, and mostly it’s not there.

    Where the new SF sometimes does show up is in the New Books section (as opposed to the SF section), and I’m right on top of that.

    Thanks to Terry Wayna for mentioning the Burlingame library! That’s in easy driving distance.

  9. Certainly in my case as a Science Fiction reader I am also a collector (<a href=”http://www.scifiguy.ca/2008/10/my-sf-library.html”>my presonal library</a>). If its worth reading its worth owning. I havent used the library for my genre fiction needs since I was a kid. Perhaps librarians should concentrate on building YA science fiction collections and catering to younger readers whio do have the capacity to build their own library collections.

  10. For me, the library is essential. I’ve got access to two excellent county systems, and their collections are superior to the big box bookstores. I can find 90% of the books I’m interested in at the library. But I have to be willing to wait for them, because there’s always a waiting list of patrons for new releases of the most popular titles.

    Popularity has its downsides, of course. I’m not interested in the tenth installment of Ye Olde Sword & Sorcercy Epic, but an inordinate amount of shelf space is occupied with those potboilers. The trickiest thing for any library to manage is a balance between popular works and important/classic works. It’s not necessarily a zero-sum game, and perhaps some important/classic works with limited appeal can piggyback on the larger stream of more popular scifi.

    I’ve worked in a library so I know that shelf space is limited, and how ruthless one has to be getting rid of books that haven’t checked out for several years — yet, the classics are vital to the depth of a collection. Without classics, you’ve got little other than the current fads and novelties.

    Education is so important. A good library starts with an educated patron base. I read SF Signal and other online sources to keep track of what’s new, what my favorite authors are doing, and promising new authors who are appearing in print. I make lists and those are the books I request. If your patrons don’t know or care about science fiction, naturally they’ll seek their reading pleasure in mysteries, romances or pop nonfiction. Libraries have to be a resource for education, but they can’t do it all alone.

  11. I am blessed now to live in one of the best library systems in the country, Multnomah County in Oregon.  And, I know this because I am the son and brother of librarians.

    The Multnomah County Library has an outstanding collection of Science Fiction and Fantasy.  I’m not sure who does the ordering, but I’m willing to bet that he or she reads the same blogs and websites I do.

    There are some books that I buy. Books by Neal Stephenson, Kim Stanley Robinson, Peter Hamilton, Neal Asher and John Scalzia are a few.  But, I’m retired and read a LOT.  And, I couldn’t support my habit without the library.  My flat is already overrun with books of all kinds.

    One of the problems with libraries and SF/F is a chicken and egg one.  If more useres requested mure SF/F, libraries would order more.  If you are a science fiction fan with some money, you might think of starting a fund to purchase sf for you library.  Perhaps you could put in some seed money and talk to other fans.

    The point is to put books in the library for others to read.  This is all part of encouraging kids and young peope to read.

    Use your local library, and encourage others to do so.  Libraries are the repositories of much cultural wisdom.

    Support your local library!!

    Rick York

  12. When I was in high school my small town library didn’t have a strong SFF section, but it got me through the basics of epic fantasy with some SF thrown in. 

    Now, years later, the Hennpen County library system in the Minneapolis suburbs has an outstanding SFF section.  Granted, each individual library might be missing some, but typically hundreds and hundreds of books of SFF per library and the bigger ones have more.  If you use the online catalog then you’re pretty well set getting most everything you might want…though the newest books might come six months later than you want if from a smaller press…but even with presses like Small Beer, Pyr, Night Shade, Golden Gryphon, and Subterranean…my library stocks those titles.  Including SubPress limited editions (not all, but more than you’d think). 

    I love my library.  I more than use it for my SFF.  Now that it is merging with the large Minneapolis system my SFF options are only increasing.

  13. Yeah; it’s the selection. I have fond memories of reading the SF at the public library when I was younger, but nowadays I rarely see the books I’m looking for.  Of course, small towns and small budgets don’t help; worse is selection by non-fans, who just get media tie-ins and the big series like Battlefield Earth because they don’t really know the genre.

    @Rick – If Multnomah County Library is half as good as their famed website, they rock! You are so lucky!

  14. Over the last several years, the public library system in my county has undergone a great deal of work.  Most of the older branches has closed for 6mos to 2yrs for remodeling.  One of the challenges to creating diverse collections is of course the cost.  Some of this has been assumed by patrons and ‘Friend of the (community) Library’ with donations.  We must surely have some SF/F Fans in these communities because the collections are continually growing, as is evident from the online catalog.  I routinely make use of the inter-library loan program to get the latest SF/F titles.

    I couldn’t help but notice the number of librarians that responded to this post.  What is your feeling on the inclusion of graphic novels in the collections at public libraries?  My library has a large collection and its not just youth that are borrowing them.

  15. Totally the poor selection. I used to work at the library closest to me, and my mother is now on the board there, and I still know almost everyone there – but I go to the other libraries.  (It does have a very good mystery selection – but two towns over has the best SF/F. They’re all in the same regional system, so the cards work almost everywhere.) I’m lucky in that we have many libraries in the area (boomer suburbs) and a good variety overall, even with budget cuts, so I’ll go to different libraries looking for specific books.

  16. I suspect it is the demographics of SF readers, coupled with the miserably poor collections.

    Teenage boys don’t use libraries as much as other groups yet they are the biggest segment of the SF readership. Older males are a large SF segment too and use libraries more, but they are thwarted by the collections – or lack of collections.

    When I was a boy, I read tonnes of SF but hardly ever went to the library. Now I’m an old crumbly, I still read tonnes of SF but, even though I go to libraries regularly, they never have anything interesting.

  17. I haven’t gone to the library lately because I’ve got so much to read right here in my living room.  I’m an avid used bookstore fan, and I often stagger home under an immense weight of under-five-bucks books.  The result is that an increasingly large portion of my “to read” list has found itself incarnated upon my shelves.  I’ve honestly only read about a third of the books I own.  I’ve got to plow through those before I hit the library, unless I’m possessed of a powerful desire for some specific book I don’t have.  Also, it’s hard for me to get to the library, as I am a suburban bus-traveller.  Sometimes I go to the Seattle Public Library to sit and read, or wander and peruse, but I rarely check out stacks of books there, because God knows when I’ll be back again.

    If I lived in a more library accessable place, I’m sure I’d do it more, though.  The library was my favorite place in town, as a kid.

  18. When it comes to SF and Fantasy, libraries always seem to have ‘Book three in the nine-part series’ and ‘the satisfying conclusion to ..’ but never the first book. That’s why I didn’t bother getting my SF & Fantasy from libraries. By the time I got hold of book one they’d got rid of book three.

  19. I get all my books from the North Richland Hills TX library. They have to have someone reading the blogs I do, because they get all the good SF and fantasy. There is a list to request books for the library to purchase, as well as a nation wide shared library request list. I have read a book 1 from Utah in a series that my library had book 2-5. If you can wait, then you can get any book you want. I read too fast to buy books, and the days of me finishing a crappy fantasy book are over. I love the library!

  20. Of course, one way to try to rectify the selection problem is to request that the library buy authors or books you are interested in, and then check them out. Requests for purchase from the public carry weight with librarians.

  21. I use my library regularly, especially when I want to check out an author that’s new to me. However, I almost always use the library website to check what they have and either request or reserve a copy of the book I want; that way I never leave disapointed b/c I didn’t find something to read. My current library SF/F selection is mediocre, but I still use it.

    I recently realized that I haven’t read many classic SF books, so I’m curretly reading Farenheit 451 right now thanks to my local library. I’ll be getting more classics once I’m done with that. Thanks to some of the comments, I’m going to request some of the newer books I want to read (like Brasyl) and help show there is interest in getting new books.

    Thanks to Terry for the Burlingame tip; that’s not far away from me either, and I will definitely be checking it out.

  22. Guys? I use the library all the time.

    The Minuteman Library Network (outside of Boston) has an excellent online catalog system. I find a book I want to read (often via an online review) and paste in the title or the author. A few clicks later, I have an automatic reservation for the book. Inter-library if necessary, no additional hassle. Once a week or so we go to the library to exchange old books for new; once a month or so I actually go in to browse for a bit.

  23. I’m a big Sci-Fi fan.  My local library card is good in about 15 libraries near me.  You can go to them or they will trade books. 

    When I moved here 15 years ago my local library had a great sci-fi collection, all the old classics and they were buying the current stuff.  Now they have sold off, or in most cases given away all the great old books and if they buy new books they like to start with book #2 in a series.  Drives me nuts.  And that goes for all the shared libraries.  My library now seems to spend more money on computers and DVD movies and TV then books, especially Sci-Fi.  The only current books I can think of off the top of my head are all the John Scalzi books.  They have all of his stuff.

    Another problem, they rarely buy the enitre series of books.  I can get 5 or 6 Pern books, 3 or 4 LKHamilton, ect.  

  24. I find it interesting that Scott posted this since I have found that the library by us in North Houston is quite good for Science Fiction and Fantasy.  Furthermore, while my local branch may not have the biggest selection – they do have the ability to call on a very large number of other branches to find the books I am looking for.  I can say that without my public library then my son would not be the reader he is today.

  25. I enjoyed the local libraries when I was a kid, but it’s been a long time since I’ve used any them. Once in a blue moon I’ll look in, but their SF sections aren’t very good – usually just a single spinning rack with the lame fare many others have mentioned. That being said, I have to admit I’m not terribly motivated to request better stock from the librarians because I like to have my own collection. Sure the piles of books take up a lot of room and the stack in my in-box is growing faster than I can keep up with, but there’s a deep and greedy satisfaction with knowing that pile of books is mine. There’s also the convenience factor – if I want to find one at 2 in the morning to start reading, I can.

     

  26. Maybe libraries have poor SF/F collections because SF/F readers also tend to be buyers, collectors and overall packrats when it comes to books?

     

    I know our town library would have a better SF/F collection if they would take books older than two years old since publication. Heck, I’d happily donate all the books I am culling at the moment. But they aren’t interested even though I take care of my books and even the least-loved are in pristine condition.

     

    The SF/F titles they do have are well-read, so they do circulate. I have noticed that they only tend towards the really popular and have culled out a lot of classics (none of RAH’s YA novels are on the shelves, for example).

  27. I think my library has an uncommonly good selection of sci-fi, but there is still the tendency for the series fiction to have a lot of gaps. Nonetheless, I take home a lot of library books from the sci-fi section. I guess I’m the only one though…

  28. I think one problem with the libraries not having the scifi selection is due, in part, to the fact that there’s so many scifi authors from the beginning up to the contemporary, classic or otherwise. That said, it’s hard to cover what might be checked out besides the classics or the popular ones. Come to think of it, I’ve never found the ones by C.J. Cherryh that I was looking for at my local library. Although it might be beyond the means of what is necessary or practical for a library, I don’t think it would hurt to consider getting some kind of “general” concensus as to what the patrons of the prefer, or rather what people would like to see there. Like a survey or something…

  29. I should mention that I’m also a collector and a reviewer, and so have a huge collection of science fiction, fantasy and horror (nearly 4000 books, according to LibraryThing; it was the first collection I started inputting, so it’s up to date).  But I can’t afford and don’t receive everything new, and I’m insatiable, and so I patronize the library.  If there’s *anyone* out there who can afford and/or receives everything, you have my sincere envy.  If you don’t, USE THE LIBRARY!

    Libraries are very special to the United States, and it would be a terrible, terrible shame to see them become nothing but computer repositories.  I’m not for a return to a pre-computer utopia, but there’s nothing in the world like a true paper book; it’s a technology that I’m convinced cannot be beat by anything with batteries or that requires an external power source other than the sun itself.  Libraries offer so much to those who can’t afford to buy books, and they can win converts to our own type of literature.  Get active!  Praise the good collections, and talk to librarians about the bad ones!  Serve on the library board!  Donate books!  Donate money and limit its use to good science fiction/fantasy/horror!  There are ways to solve this problem besides shrugging and walking away.

    Someday I’ll write something important about libraries, so please forgive this short rant.  For more ranting, you can always try this:  http://www.readingtheleaves.com/inpraiseoflibraries.&nbsp; And for you librarians out there:  keep up the good work.  Please.

  30. My local library is small, and has a teeny tiny SFF collection. I’ve checked out the books that interested me, and I check back again every couple of months for new additions, but really there isn’t much for me to check out. I have lived in towns that had great public libraries, but they also seemed to have great used book stores (coincidence?), and I’d usually prefer to purchase an inexpensive used paperback than a library hardcover that has to be kept nice and returned. The net result is that I have rarely ever checked out SFF library books.

  31. Whenever I move to or visit a new locale for an extended period, I make two pilgrammiges – one to the local libraries and another to the local used book stores.

    While I have found used bookstores that rival or exceed my own collection, I can not say the same for libraries.

    I collect (both to ‘collect’ and for reference purposes and re-reads) and I’ve found that about the only thing libraries are really good for are their book sales: notable finds were a 1st ed hard cover of Fred Brown’s Martians Go Home and a 1904 series of the collected works of Poe.  Both for a dollar.

    With services like ABE and the various specialty collector/sellers, cost, ease of use and selection are ten million time better on the web than they are at the library.

  32. Personally, I like to own my science fiction and fantasy books—I’m a rereader.

    And when my library raises money by selling donated books at 10 cents for paperbacks and 50 cents for hardcovers as well as being able to get them for similar prices at thrift stores and yard sales I just have no motivation for checking books out at the library.  I do it occasionally but not much.  At any given time I have 50 or more SF books that I’ve been able to buy for next to nothing in my “to read” pile.

  33. My local branch library does not have a very good SF selection.  It’s basically 1 shelf of old paperbacks.  The main public library has a much better selection, but again it’s mostly SF classics not what’s currently being published.  And what little is often in constant circulation, which means I can’t always get it when I need it (e.g. for when my book club is reading it).  I also have a card for the system in the next county over.  They have a much better selection of SF/F in general, and of current SF/F.  However, the road trip subway ride to that library costs about as much as it would cost to buy a new mass market paperback.  And they cut back their Friday hours.  I used to get books while on the way to a standing meeting at the beginning of the month and then return them the following month and check out new books.  Can’t do that anymore.  The trip to the library has to be made on its own, and given the cost, buying the book often makes sense.

  34. Don’t give up on your libraries-speak up!  Most library systems have periodic customer service surveys where you can voice your opinion and request more materials.  At the branch library where I work, we recently finished our survey week and almost every material request we received I am acting on to fulfill.  There are a few requests outside of my power at the branch level (more computers) or just not feasible if we want to maintain a balanced collection (even more blockbuster DVDs).

    Or, don’t wait for a customer service survey, develop a rapport with your librarian, and let them know what you would like to see in the library.  Also, see if your library system has a patron request to purchase system.  In our library system, barring prohibitive costs or availability issues, all patron requests are purchased, and the patron who requested the item is the first to check it out.

    Every library faces the dilemma of the need to meet circulation goals and the desire to satisfy everyone’s information and recreational reading needs.  We can add interesting and varied SFF titles to our collections but if they don’t circulate, we then must make the decision on whether to withdraw those items and replace them with something that is in demand and will circulate.  Speak up, get the books you want into the library system, then check them out!

  35. Important question, great responses. Trying to avoid repeating what others have said so well -

    1) Defining SF is a problem. I like a little fantasy, but only a little. L. Sprague de Camp and Jack Vance are okay with me, but most modern stuff, Donaldson included, seems another genre entirely. Tolkein was sui generis and knock-offs are distasteful. The first couple of Ann McCaffreys were okay, way back then, but no more dragons, please.

    2) Though I once was an avid browser (and I recall with awe Powell’s wall of SF in the 1970s – probably better now, but I’m too many thousands of miles away and their international shipping charges are scandalous), I don’t browse either libraries or bookstores anymore, because the cost/benefit is too poor. Sword and magical dragon dilution. But here’s a concrete suggestion for libraries: Don’t do what mine did and scatter SF among all the other fiction, marked only with little spine decals. Have a separate section. Reverse the dilution and re-concentrate so that browsing is at least possible.

    3) Given the problems within this changing genre, and the problems of libraries generally, there may be no good solution that takes us back to where we once were.

    I’m a longtime SF fan with a collection of Astounding/Analog going back to 1946 and several shelf-yards of other SF that I keep pruned so they don’t overwhelm the house. Only the largest library could have a collection this size, and even if it did many aficionados would complain about what is missing, what is overrepresented.

    So I like what my local (think ‘county’) library system has done with an online searchable ‘card’ catalogue and online ordering. This gives me access to the shelves of branch libraries I’d never visit physically, but which will send a title to my local library for pickup. 

    It’s a shame that so many readers will remember Frank Herbert only as the originator of the endlessly decaying Dune series, and never be exposed to Soul Catcher, The Santaroga Barrier or Hellstrom’s Hive. Similar examples abound.

    But the same suits who have calculated and enforced the optimum degree of misery to maximize the profits of battery hen operations and CDO trading have brought about the conditions in the SF market and libraries that are so well lamented in earlier comments. They rule our lives everywhere.

    The only remedy is to go forwards, not back to the library shelves we fondly remember.

    It should be made easy to browse online, so we can run our eyes over book cover thumbnails (large enough to read). The search software needs to go beyond alphabetically finding an author or title one has seen recommended, and send whole virtual shelves of related books for inspection.

    Amazon is almost there, with its list of ‘customers who bought this also bought’ recommendations. SF readers can identify themselves well to each other by listing favorite (and least favorite) authors. Libraries could take the next step.

  36. I love SF&F… But I’m a cheapskate. If it weren’t for libraries and Paperbackswap.com – I wouldn’t have nearly as much to read as I do.  My local library system is great too – if they don’t have it – they’ll almost always be able to get it and add it their collection; they even have a special page on their website just for that: suggestions for the library to acquire. And if you include your name and library card number, they’ll automatically put in on hold for you if they do get it.

     

     

  37. My local library (Christchurch, New Zealand) has a good SciFi section. My problem is the pressure to read a book in the allotted time.

    I like to take my time reading. I like to soak up a rich story. Sometimes I can take months to read a book, considering my time contraints and the size of a book. A few weeks to read a Peter F Hamilton is just not enough.

    I’m not a “slow” reader, I just like to absorb.

     

  38. Agreed on the selection. Our library has an amazing selection, so we go there all the time – yes, I’m a collector, but I draw the line at $50 Subterranean novellas, and thankfully my library doesn’t! They also have great events – they had a Jane Yolen reading on Talk Like a Pirate Day.

     

    It’s not the fans, it’s the libraries….

  39. I am a librarian and an enormous SFF fan.  I agree that the selection is often a little sparse for SFF readers, but I think there are things your friend can do to draw in these readers.  I started a SciFi book club.  It took three months of meeting with one or two people and then on the fourth meeting we filled the little study room where I was hosting the club.  Admittedly several people brought their own copies, but with a little discussion we were able to come up with good titles to cover the next year that were in the system and I got an idea of what things they would like to see me buying.  It was a fabulous experience for me and for them.  Hopefully your friend or someone she knows is a fan of the genre and willing to start a book club.  My cautionary note is to be patient.  It won’t necessarily be a huge hit from the first meeting.  It’s worth the effort, though.

    Best of luck!

  40. libraries are a must have resource no matter where i live. currently, i have cards/privileges to our public library as well as to 3 of the university libraries. but i think your question applies more to public libraries than to university libraries (which are another whole beast, so to speak).

    my experience with the public library here in denver is that i’m not the kind of customer they’re looking for. how do i know that? i’ve participated in library focus groups since moving to town, only to be told (to my face), that i’m not the client the library is targeting. well, there you go. their ideal customer is barely literate, interested only in whatever the most recent bestseller is, even more so if it’s one of those “christian inspiration” bestsellers, most interested in DVDs and computer books.

    since i moved to town almost 8 years ago, the library has consistently removed interesting items from its collection (the most recent being rose macaulay’s “the towers of trebizond”) to make room for multiple copies of books such as those forementioned bestsellers, conservative political screeds, and one more soppy memoir. when i noticed that the collection was being culled, i brought it up with some of the librarians, who couldn’t have cared less.

    obviously, one of the best ways to keep books on the shelf is, paradoxically, to take them out. and gods know i try. but no luck. a book i took out not 6 months ago (by a writer with some relation to genre literature) is now gone, and not simply gone, but all the other books by that writer are gone. someone stole them? i doubt it since the record shows nothing, and the records for stolen books seem to stay around for years.

    the SF/fantasy collection is, at least at first glance, fairly decent. but since the library orders only 1 or 2 copies of each new book (budget restrictions, of course — the money is better spent on whatever the latest fake memoir is), the wait for new books can be quite long.

    so what’s my point? the library has less and less of what i want to read, whether genre or non-genre. it’s not a source i can rely on for books, and this particular library system is trying harder and harder to distance itself from patrons who do rely on libraries for books. i no longer have the patience to deal with it. luckily, the university libraries are pretty decent sources of non-genre books; and genre books? well, i buy them.

  41. I don’t hate libraries, but I never use them. 

    I would say I’m a collector. 

    I hate to read a book and not have it in my Science Fiction and Fantasy collection.  I like keeping a database of my books, so that I can track the growth in my personal library (currently 915 books and over 330,000 pages).  And I can lookup comments on a particular book and the grade I gave it or when I first or last read it.  It helps me keep track of which books I’ve read by an prolific author and which I haven’t.  It is great to go back and re-read an older volume, long out of print.  Another advantage of having a good collection is that it aids in placing a new novel in its historical context and the evolution of the genre.  I would estimate that at least a quarter of my reading enjoyment comes from the collection aspects.

  42. Yes, a lot of SFF readers are buyers, who trade what they find they don’t want, and yes, a lot of librarians don’t know much about SFF, except for children’s/YA, but the big problem for SFF and libraries has always been that about 70% of the genre is in mass market paperback. Libraries don’t stock a lot of mass market paperbacks. They are hard to shelve, hard to keep track of, easily stolen, easily damaged, and not considered worth much, so they’re not given much of a budget for buying them. I’ve only had one library that had an extensive mass market paperback collection, in Virginia. Even libraries with fairly good SFF collections just don’t stock paperbacks much.

    SFF publishers have tried to rectify this with trade sized paperbacks and hardcover editions, and this has worked a great deal. But SFF is filled with series. And the libraries tend to buy the newest title, either because someone asked for it or because the author has gotten a larger audience by that point. That means that someone coming into the library looking for the first book in a series to try it out is sunk, having to chose to start the series in the middle, or not trying it from the library at all. Or, if the library is lucky enough to have the first book in the series, they often only have sporadic other books in the series — they’ll have books 3 and 5, but not 2 and 4.  In contrast, libraries often have the entire run of mystery series. So SFF readers frequently buy because they haven’t any choice if they want to try a book.

    A third problem is that there are a lot of non-category SFF titles that do get wide circulation, but aren’t counted as SFF. I had to get on a waiting list for McCarthy’s The Road, and Stephen King’s books are hugely popular, but libraries don’t count them as regular SFF because they think SFF fans only read a narrow range of types of stories, when actually the average SFF fan reads very broadly in SFFH. So SFF fans are using libraries much more than libraries are counting. The SFF fans are the regular patrons and not necessarily young males. In fact, the fastest growing group of SFFH readers are young and middle-aged women.

    For me, bookstores and libraries are my temples and I use the libraries more than the bookstores, but it’s hunt and peck. If your friend wants to draw more SFF readers in, they need to invest in more mass market paperbacks (which are cheaper at least,) try to get the first one or two books in a series, try to find local SFF authors to come in for readings, count any SFF title as a SFF lend, promote SFF in the library with decorations and displays, try to make sure that patrons know they can request any book and the library might then buy it, and include SFF in book fairs and events. If they treat SFF like any other type of fiction and promote awareness of it, and if they can manage the mass market paperback problem, they’ll have more patrons checking it out and more SFFH fans borrowing books. Granted, it’s hard to do when local governments always first cut funding for libraries, schools, arts programs, etc.

     

     

  43. Chicken and egg, really. As long as I can remember, science fiction selections in libraries where I’m from have always been tiny, and if you take away the Star Wars/Star Trek tie-ins (no criticism implied, just not my personal cuppa), they are even smaller, there is even less to choose from. Wonder if the tastes of the library officers are a factor? I can understand if the genre as a whole is not exhaustively represented, but there are at least Hugo and Nebula lists to work on and keep in stock but don’t seem to be. Once nice thing about the library here is that they do listen and try to keep books in stock, especially if you write in. It’s worth the effort.

  44. I have very fond memories of the public library where I grew up – in Placentia, California. At the time when I “discovered” science fiction – the early 1970’s – their collection of science fiction was substantial (two full bookcases if I remember right), and heavy with Asimov, Clarke, Bradbury, Burroughs(?), Heinlein, Herbert, Zelanzy – as well compilations of stories by then-contemporary authors. (Come to think of it – now I wonder why their collection was as good as it was.) At that time I could not afford to buy books, so the library was a tremendous resource.

    Though I have a fondness for libraries, the fact is I seldom go to libraries anymore. In part because when I do borrow books, I never seem to return them in time, and in part because I can afford to buy all the books I read. Also the local library keeps shorter hours and is open fewer days.

    Have to admit I have no idea about the quality or quantity of the science fiction at the local library (Foothill Ranch, California). Feel a bit remiss as I do not know how a kid would fare here and now, who is as dependent on the libraries as I was then.

    So … no, I do not “hate” the local public library, but I very seldom visit.

    Maybe part of the explanation is that readers of science fiction are more likely to be gainfully employed, and can generally afford to buy their own books?

  45. A big part of it for me is that it is so hard to browse for SF and Fantasy novels at my local libraries. I don’t usualy go in knowing what I want to read, unless I am working my way through a series. Most libraries don’t seperate thier fiction according to genre, meaning I have to wade through  mysteries, romance, and real-world stories to have any hope of finding what I like, which, as previous posters have said, is few and far between anyway. It is much easier for me to browse through my local bookstore, which DOES seperated things according to genre, and doesn’t force me to rely on a computer catalogue that requires me to know exactly what I want before I can find anything.

  46. I’m a librarian and a part of my duties is the collection development of the sci-fi section.  One problem I encounter regularly is how quickly these books go out of print.  Our copies may go out 100 times which, by that point, it’s several years old and destroyed by wear and tear.  I often cannot replace these books but can’t keep them because they are falling apart so, if you see titles are missing from your favorite series, that may be what has happened at your library as well.  Also, you might want to recommend your library get titles that you want to read that they don’t have.  They’ll never promise to get what you want but they always consider it.  I almost always get patrons’ recommendations for the library.  Usually the only time I don’t is when I simply cannot get that title.

Comments are closed.