Selecting Titles for the Library

By Toni Massari McPherson

Ever wondered who picks books for Anchorage Public Library?

With more than a half million books on the APL shelves, keeping up with what’s there, what’s new, what should be added or discarded is a complicated process, to say the least!

APL deals with the complexity by spreading the work among 15 librarians. Each has oversight of one or more subject areas; individual budgets vary depending which subjects they oversee. Since the selectors buy for the entire system, they work with branch librarians to find the interests of individual communities. For example, Muldoon and Mountain View have a lot more foreign language books, because of the local populations.

Photo courtesy of Anchorage Public Library

Jane Baird, the science librarian, selects for computer science, physical science, math, technology, engineering and technology, medicine, history and world languages. Because she is a passionate reader of speculative fiction (also known as science fiction and fantasy), she chooses books for that genre too. Emily Reeve, the APL youth services collection specialist, is in charge of ordering picture books, beginning readers, and the juvenile fiction and nonfiction collections. There are many similarities and some striking differences between ordering for the adult and youth collections.

Both women regularly read professional library journals to keep up with recent and upcoming titles that might appeal to their readers. Baker and Taylor, the company APL orders the majority of its books through, regularly posts reviews of upcoming releases that also help. Jane regularly skims science journals, paying particular attention to suggestions of other titles to read listed at the end of the articles. They check Interlibrary Loan requests to help pinpoint possible holes in their collections. One of the most important tools for all the selectors is the “suggest a purchase” option on the library website.

“My primary goal in creating a great collection is to have relevant, up-to-date, well-used titles that are in good condition,” Jane said. “Books occasionally have to be discarding because of condition and obsolescence. Part of maintaining a great collection is the ability to be a bit ruthless. If a book is damaged or no longer being checked out, it will be weeded from the collection.” Many of these discarded books find their way into the semi-annual book sales.

Photo courtesy of Anchorage Public Library

Books on technology, engineering and medicine have a shorter shelf life than her SF selections, she explained. “I can have a SF book circulate 100 times before it needs to be replaced. A science book might be obsolete in a year and only have circed (been checked out) four times.”

Working on the reference desks is another great way for selectors pick up information. “Being on the reference desk is a good tool to see what holes need to be filled,” said Emily. “Listening to people’s requests or comments can be really helpful.” She recently ordered some genealogy books, after talking with a homeschooling parent.

Emily orders new titles by popular authors, books that have been well reviewed and those with popular themes and new books in a popular series. “Big picture books with photos of weird animals and a little bit of information – those books are always popular, especially with the boys.” In general, she notes, kids check out nonfiction to use for schoolwork and fiction for enjoyment.

Multiple copies of books by authors like Dr. Seuss, popular for generations, are re-ordered regularly. Nancy Drew books, reissued with updated format and covers, are still on the shelves. Emily has found that kids love fantasy series like the Magic Tree House series which has about 50 books so far. When titles from the Battle of the Books are part of a series, she orders the rest of the series too. Books based on movies and TV shows are also very popular.

“When kids get invested in a series, they like to stay with it even when the books are too young for them,” she said. “It’s a great way to keep them reading.”

The process of building the collections is ongoing. Selectors keep a running list of books to include in orders that go out every month. Regular weeding of shelves gets rid of older items that no one checks out making room for new titles with appeal for today’s readers. However, no amount of research can make up for feedback from our public. Please don’t hesitate to talk to the librarian at the reference desk or click “suggest a purchase” on the website.

Toni Massari McPherson is the APL Community Relations Coordinator. For more information about the library and its programs go to or

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Anchorage Public Library provides resources to enrich the lives and empower the future of our diverse community, while preserving the past for generations to come.