SALT LAKE CITY — Recent apps like OverDrive, Libby, Google Play, Kindle and Audible, among others, have affected the way readers participate in the library and reading experience. Readers can now navigate shelves and shelves of books from their phones. However, long library lines still exist.
Just maybe not at the physical library.
At the Salt Lake City Public Library, Tara Westover's best-seller, "Educated: A Memoir," had a waitlist of 271 people on Jan. 15 for the physical book, the library's longest waitlist at the time. "Becoming" by Michelle Obama was close behind with a waitlist of 237 people.
Salt Lake City isn't the only library in the state with a hefty waitlist for "Educated," something Salt Lake City's circulation manager Frances Brummett credits to the book's "Utah connection," she said.
Brigham Young University's Harold B. Lee Library has a waitlist of 79 for the book as of Jan. 22, and Utah's Online Library has a waitlist of 867 people with 73 library copies of the book available. The Salt Lake County Library has 339 holds for "Educated: A Memoir" with 160 copies of the book.
Gauging and anticipating what books Utah readers are going to want is all part of local librarians' day-to-day work — but there's more that goes into it than most library card-holders realize.
Knowing their readers
Behind the scenes, Salt Lake City Public Library Non-Fiction Selector Josh Hanagarne is reading newsletters, watching trends and keeping up with the news to anticipate which books will bring increased interest from the library's patrons.
Subscribing to publishing houses' and academic presses' newsletters and anticipating increases in trending book topics (such as self-help, cooking and diet books during the period of New Year's resolutions), Hanagarne said anticipating reader interest isn't "as exact of a science" as he wishes, but he can still measure which books have the most buzz and publicity backing them.
"We know that those books are going to be on people's radar," he said.
The type of book is another way to predict interest. Brummett said fiction books, while overall less popular nationwide, can be easier to predict reader interest in than nonfiction books because popular authors' books are usually high-request items.
Take John Grisham. Nanette Alderman, acting senior manager of collections at the Salt Lake County Library, said knowing Grisham is a best-selling author will affect how many copies of his next book the library will purchase. Another way of predicting a book's popularity is by looking at previous books from the same author and seeing how they performed, according to Alderman.
The County Library determines its initial purchase by using industry numbers and internal numbers. Then, using the holds numbers, reports will help the library maintain its goal of having a four-to-one holds-to-copy ratio — no more than four people waiting for a book copy.
Additionally, local events can also create increased interest for certain books. When "The Scarlet Pimpernel" played at the Hale Center Theatre, Alderman said the holds went up for the Baroness Orczy novel and DVD of the Anthony Andrews and Jane Seymour movie.
On the same note, Hanagarne said location also affects each of the Salt Lake City Public Library branches. He will run reports of the different branches of the Salt Lake City Public Library to see which types of books circulate well at those branches.
"If you can imagine a world where the new book of slam poetry is super popular, I would buy three copies for Glendale because it seems to do really well there. And I might not buy one for anything else," Hanagarne said. "There are also locations where people just don't check out as many books, but they go there and they read."
Keeping up with demand
Some libraries have an automated system in place where new copies of books will automatically be ordered when waitlists reach a certain number, but at the Salt Lake City Public Library, Brummett said selectors monitor these influxes.
For example, the Salt Lake City Public Library has 56 physical copies of "Educated" and 44 copies of its e-book counterpart. Brummett said each will have different waitlists. Originally, Brummett said the library ordered three copies of the book in February 2018. The library ordered eight more copies in March 2018 and 16 more copies in April 2018.
Wait times on "Educated" have been about 12 weeks — a decent amount of time to wait for a best-seller. But for a few lucky Salt Lake City Public Library patrons, that wait time can disappear.
"We have 25 'Lucky Day' copies," wrote Brummett in an email. "These are copies that don't fill holds. When they are returned we put them on a display. The concept is that it is your lucky day — you just scored a bestselling book without waiting. These don't show in the catalog and we don't hold them for anyone. You just have to get lucky. (Staff aren't allowed to check them out.)"
In addition to keeping up with the demand for physical books, the rise of e-books and audiobooks means libraries have had to stay on top of digital forms as well. Whether waitlists for digital requests are higher or lower than physical books "waxes and wanes," according to Hanagarne, but the digital collection continues to grow, even as audiobooks are much more expensive than e-books.
"We are constantly adding stuff to the digital collection, but there simply isn't as much of it," Hanagarne said. "But I can tell you that every time we have a budget conversation, what I want more money for in my budget is the digital budget."
According to a recent OverDrive press release, Salt Lake County Library Services reached 1 million digital book checkouts in 2018, among 65 other libraries worldwide to have reached the 1 million mark.
Alderman said in digital platforms and at the County Library's 18 branch locations (two of which are currently closed), 2018 saw over 13 million items in circulation.
"If we can buy more, we try to buy more," Alderman said.
When the rush dies down
When the hype of a certain book dies down, a library may be left with more copies than it would like.
"It's great in the moment, because people can get what they want," Hanagarne said. "But once the initial burst wears off, and we've got 50 copies of something sitting around — nobody's reading it any more — that is not as fun."
Brummett said some copies will fall apart with so many circulations of the book, some will get lost or won't be returned, some will be used for book club sets and some will be sold.
Even after buying additional copies, sometimes tracking trends and reading newsletters won't cut it — waitlists may still get backed up.
In situations when books that are not on the Salt Lake City Public Library's radar spike in interest, Hanagarne said, "We try to order a bunch real fast. And sometimes we can put rush orders, but honestly, sometimes it is day-by-day, you actually can't stay on top of it."
Salt Lake County Library Services' top e-books borrowed in 2018:
1. "Me Before You" by Jojo Moyes4 comments on this story
2. "The Girl on the Train" by Paula Hawkins
3. "The Martian" by Andy Weir
4. "Inferno" by Dan Brown
5. "Origin" by Dan Brown
Salt Lake County Library Services' top five audiobook titles borrowed in 2018:
1. "Ready Player One" by Ernest Cline
2. "All the Light We Cannot See" by Anthony Doerr
3. "The Girl on the Train" by Paula Hawkins
4. "A Wrinkle in Time" by Madeleine L’Engle
5. "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone" by J.K. Rowling