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Community-Driven Collection Development

how-to-be-an-antiracist-book-coverI can breathe. How terrible to think that my being able to say those three words, to describe the most basic of life’s functions, come from a place of privilege. A privilege not shared by everyone in our country, a privilege not shared by my neighbors. The recent violent murder of George Floyd by a former police officer in Minneapolis has shown that racial prejudice is still very much alive in our country, and has pushed many to a breaking point – enough is enough.

Mr. Floyd was an African American man and the officer restraining him was white. By all accounts, Mr. Floyd was not violent, was not resisting arrest, and was doing everything he could to remain calm, yet he was killed slowly and without intervention in front of a crowd of people. I am by no means an expert on police conduct, but Norwood’s own Chief Brooks put out a clear statement last week describing how the actions of all the officers involved was so wrong and how the situation could have so easily been avoided if any of them had acted as keepers of the peace and officers of the law, rather than as complicit bystanders. The Town of Norwood Facebook page reposted his statement on May 30, 2020 and I encourage you to go read it to learn more.

Many people are now taking part in protests across the country demanding justice for George Floyd, accountability for corrupt departments who have for years sheltered biased and racist officers, and an end to racism in this country. There are also many others who are confused about why this case has become the flashpoint for protests, and who simply are not aware of the racial bias and prejudice experienced everyday by other American citizens and residents.

I do not share George Floyd’s lived experience. I am protected by privilege and have not been the victim of racist acts, systemic racism, or frequent microaggressions. So this is not my time to talk. This is my time to listen. For most of us, this is our time to listen – and to hear, and to learn, and to support. As a librarian my way to help and support is to connect people with the information they want and need.

In the past week, several patrons have reached out to the Morrill Memorial Library to request materials so they can learn more about the issues dominating the headlines. They’ve offered insightful suggestions, such as additional copies of books that we already own so that groups can read and discuss the material, new titles to purchase, and lists of titles they can share with others. We’re proud to serve a community so engaged with important and difficult topics, and especially at a time when we’ve all been so preoccupied with the strain and restrictions of COVID-19. This has led to great conversations about how the library purchases materials and what we decide to purchase, and if a few people were wondering then there’s a good chance other people in our community would want to know, too.

Our library is part of the Minuteman Library Network consortium of libraries. Among many benefits, our patrons are typically able to request an item from any library in the network, and if it’s on the shelf our patron will have it in hand within a few days. Since mid-March though, all delivery between libraries has been suspended. In addition, our own library’s physical books, movies, etc. have only very recently been available through curbside hold pickup as we’ve been able to resume limited services. Any books or other materials in the Norwood library can now be reserved through the online catalog or over the phone for curbside pickup, and while this is an improvement over having no physical books at all, it is a slow trickle of information in comparison to our normal operations. We’ve been lucky that our resourceful Technical Services staff found a way to keep ordering and processing new releases even while the library was closed, but many publication dates have been delayed. Please do take advantage of the curbside service, but know that is running a little more slowly than our usual procedures.

The fastest way for us to connect our patrons with library materials at this time is through our digital resources. While physical deliveries and processing have been delayed, electronic purchase and delivery is near instantaneous. Digital collections also have the benefit of not taking up shelf space the same way that physical collections do, so the question of buying enough copies to meet demand ultimately becomes a question of budget, not of space. Please visit our website to learn more about our digital resources, but there are a couple that deserve highlighting here.

Hoopla, which I know our readers have heard about before, has ebooks, audiobooks, movies, music, and TV shows that are all completely simultaneous use with no waiting. Hoopla is a great option for book groups because every title included has unlimited copies. A quick search shows that Hoopla has several works by Dr. Martin Luther King, including an audio recording of his “I Have a Dream” speech, as well as many other works for different age groups about racism. The Norwood library does not purchase specific titles in Hoopla, but instead our patrons have access to all the content on the platform. Hoopla adds content every week, but sometimes Hoopla’s contracts with different publishers and production companies expire, so you may see some titles cycle out.

The other platform I’d like to point out is Overdrive, which you may know by their flagship app, Libby. If you’ve visited the Overdrive website recently, you’ll have noticed the banner at the top of the page promoting a curated collection of ebooks and audiobooks, Race & Racism in America. This collection has been extremely popular, and as of my writing many of the copies are checked out. Overdrive works more like a traditional library in that we purchase a certain number of copies for each title, and once those are checked out a patron can place a hold to go on the waiting list. Seeing “Waiting List” over a title and seeing long estimated wait times may be daunting, but I urge you to take the step of placing a hold. This is the most direct way to communicate to us that we should buy more copies of a title. Patron demand, i.e. holds, are the most important factor driving purchasing decisions on Overdrive.

We build our Overdrive collection through two methods: network purchases and Norwood-specific purchases. The Minuteman Library Network purchases the bulk of the Overdrive collection (Kate Tigue, Head of Youth Services, and myself are both members of this network group), and this is the collection you see when you first open the Overdrive catalog, before you’ve signed in. A very simplified explanation of how this group purchases to meet demand is that for every 10 holds placed in Minuteman, one copy is bought until a cap is reached. After that, more targeted purchases are made of the most popular titles.

Then, on behalf of the Norwood library I purchase additional copies of popular titles for our patrons. Generally speaking, and as budget allows, we purchase an additional copy for every 3-4 holds placed on a title, and these copies are only available to our patrons. After our patrons are done using the copies they go into the pool of network copies, but our patrons still get priority in the future if they place a hold. Placing holds is the best way to put a title on our radar for purchasing additional copies. Plus, if you ever come across a title that we don’t have, but should, you can “Recommend to Purchase.” Make sure you sign in as soon as you open the Overdrive website in order to see Norwood’s extra copies in addition to the Minuteman collection.

There are occasionally reasons we don’t add copies of a title, such as a publisher no longer making that title available for us to purchase, or exorbitant prices – ebooks and audiobooks sometimes cost upwards of $100 per copy – but we take title suggestions very seriously. We are your library and this is your collection. Please reach out to us with comments, questions, and suggestions by using the Contact Us form on our website, and you can even click Collection Management on that page to send suggestions for the library’s physical collection as well.

Our community inspires us to do better and to be better. Please talk to us, we’re listening.

Liz Reed is the Adult Services Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, MA. Look for her article in the June 11, 2020 issue of the Transcript and Bulletin.


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