Marjorie Hall — Director of Ludington Library in Bryn Mawr, PA
Hannah Schwartz — Owner of Children’s Book World in Haverford, PA
How do you make your decision when buying books?
HS: Being close to NYC, salespeople from publishers will come to the store so employees can read through them and look at pictures. They used to be more catalog-driven, but today’s catalogs are not as colorful and detailed, and are often online — it is better to hold and read the books before purchasing them. The buy two seasons in advance.
MH: Libraries focus heavily on reviews from Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, Booklist, and Library Journal. She and the other librarians also need to pay attention to appearances on talk shows and radio stations. Purchasing books requires knowing what is popular, what is rare, what the community demographic enjoys, and what will become available in four-months’ time. They also make sure to buy non-reviewed series titles (the next book in a sequence), new and revised editions of older books, and ‘no-brainer’ authors (James Patterson, Stephen King, etc.). The opinions in reviews matter for fiction,the language matters most in non-fiction (would the average person understand?), and good translations are important across all genres.
Is there a certain amount of subjectivity to the decisions you make?
Both: Even when purchasing books for sale or lending, Hannah and Margery agreed that they will attain books they personally do not like because there will be at least one person out there who might like it.
Hannah always gets the input of her employees so that more than just her own opinion is going into it. Marjorie, has a panel of librarians and community members who all review the review journals and catalogs and make recommendations. Both make sure to compile suggestions and requests.
How would you define success for your work?
HS: For a bookstore, success is generally based on sales. Beyond that, listening to customers’ wants and needs. Success can be finding an obscure book that fits perfectly to the customer and what they may be searching for, or listening to a demand for a certain book to be sold in the store.
MH: Libraries are somewhat different in terms of success, since there aren’t really sales. Instead, one must pay attention to circulation as well as the number of reserves on a book. If a book is constantly moving in and out of the library instead of sitting on the shelf and gathering dust, or if there are suddenly dozens of holds on the same book, it is successful. These are usually signs to Marjorie that she should purchase another copy.
Do you have any advice for current and future publishers?
HS: Publish more picture books to encourage reading in children. Pay attention and edit properly. And remember that independent bookstores (and really all brick-and-mortar bookstores) are important, so they shouldn’t be forgotten, even with the boom of e-publishing.
MH: Editors and publishers need to remember their audience and the fact that they have varying interests. When something becomes a hit — like vampires, 50 Shades, dystopian — she wishes publishers would not jump the bandwagon and only publish similar titles. Like Hannah, she wants publishers to remember the libraries and their role in the book world.