Friday, February 17, 2012

How the New York Public Library works

Like bookstores, libraries need to anticipate literary appetites. Unlike bookstores, libraries do not have a financial incentive to feed those appetites immediately.

...They have to balance civic missions and budget concerns with the imperative to put books in people’s hands. Sometimes, patrons have to wait. While bookstore best-seller lists monitor only what goes out, lists of the library’s most-circulated and most-requested books reveal not only which books readers want right now, but which they’re willing to wait for.

In January, four out of the [NYPL’s] five most circulated works—the closest thing the library has to a best-sellers list—came from well-known authors of genre fiction:

Kill Alex Cross by James Patterson
Explosive Eighteen by Janet Evanovich
Hotel Vendôme by Danielle Steel
The Drop by Michael Connelly

The outlier on this list is The Help, which was the second-most circulated title in the system last month, although the book first came out in 2009 and the movie based on it was released last August. When it was first released, The New York Times’ Janet Maslin called it a “button-pushing, soon to be wildly popular novel.” It has lingered on the Times’ best-seller list, too, in the wake of the movie’s release.

Not just in its predilection for 1960s homespun civil-rights nostalgia, the list of the library’s most circulated books has more in common with the Times’ bestseller list than those at indie bookstores. It reflects popular, rather than literary, tastes. But the list of the library’s most requested books has a different aura to it. It’s a bit celebrity-obsessed. Not in the manner of Perez Hilton: these are smart celebrities—Steve Jobs, and Diane Keaton, and Mindy Kaling.

Read more at Capital New York.

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