Anyone who knows me or spends even a little time with me will quickly come to understand my passion for books. It should be no surprise then, that over drinks with friends the topic of books came up and somewhere along the way I lamented my inability to find the books I wanted at my local library. My little town being what it is, one of my friends was soon AirDropping contact information to me for Friends of the Library people. One thing led to another and before long, I was in contact with Robin Stauber, Adult Services Librarian at the Patrick Heath Public Library in Boerne, TX. Gratefully, rather than be offended at my criticisms, Robin agreed to meet for an interview for The Deckle Edge. I cannot thank Robin and the Boerne Public Library enough for her generosity with her time. I loved and learned so much in this discussion. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Matt: Talk me through your process. How does a library get books?
Robin: We have a budget that every year comes down through the City of Boerne. We’re funded by the city and the county. We look at circulation rates and all the other priorities we have. We receive a certain amount of book budget every year and that is allocated among the three departments. We have a Youth Department, an Adult Services Department, and a Teen Department. From that stand point, it’s allocated based upon circ rates so whoever has the highest circulation generally receives the most budget.
Matt: Because circulation is an indication of usage and demand?
Robin: Yes, and that’s always the Youth Department because you can check out 25 kids books at a time. (laughter) I don’t begrudge Constance that at all because she also has a lot of replacements to do every year with kids books. The other part of that is I have what’s called a “standing order program” that I work through Ingram Publishing which publishes the popular authors; the people that we know every time they have a new book out we’ll have a lot of people that want that book. It’s the David Baldacci’s, James Patterson, Lee Child, Danielle Steele, Nora Roberts, all of those. And so we have a standing order program with them so that the day the books are released they come to us already pre-packaged. All we have to do is put on a label and get them out the door which is great, but I also have to order multiple copies of those because, for instance, with Lee Childs there are 67 people on our list that are like, “we want to be in line to get the next book.” Then we also have a lottery system where the catalog system randomly pulls a lottery of those 67. You might be number one the first time and number 35 the next. We have a policy of how many books to reserve ratios we fulfill and we try as much as possible to maintain that. For instance, for Lee Childs, we get 10 copies of that book every time it comes out. He’s not really the killer, the killer is James Patterson, because James Patterson puts out 3 books a month.
Matt: That’s crazy. How does he do that?
Robin: Well, he’s his own publishing house now, really, and he works with a lot of authors. I think he tries to introduce new writers to his audience by finding story ideas and working with the writers on those and he’s started to dabble into other genres. He’s not just doing thrillers anymore, but he’s doing sci-fi and he’s doing teen books.
Matt: Is he doing them well?
Robin: For James Patterson, yeah. I like James Patterson, he’s imminently readable but that’s also my frustration sometimes with James Patterson, because he’s so formulaic.
Matt: When I was growing up I read a lot of Louis Lamour books and as much as I like them, once you’ve read one…
Robin: You’ve read them all. Nothing kind of irritates me more than three months after we’ve got the Patterson books out there’s eight copies of the book on the shelves and then I have to pull seven of those copies, weed them, and they go downstairs for the Book Shop. But our duty as a public library is to meet our customer demand. First and foremost, what does the community want?
Matt: You’ve talked a lot about fiction books, how do you think about non-fiction?
Robin: We try to go through a process that starts with weeding non-fiction. We weed all books annually. We have a system in place, say January we weed Mystery, February it’s Automotive…
Matt: And so weeding is, these books haven’t been checked out in the last year?
Robin: Yes, but again I’d have to go back and look at our policy. I think we say if they haven’t circ’d in 3 years, but the Texas State Library has a system they call the CREW method. We try to follow that and I think they say two years, so yeah, if a book hasn’t circulated in two years, we weed it. I do better with that sometimes than others and I can’t say I’m totally merciless, but I do try to be fairly merciless because we get a lot of new books in too.
Matt: And you only have so much space…
Robin: Right, we only have so much space. If it’s a classic then we have another database called the Public Library Core Collection, which is going to be different from an academic library. The Public Library Core Collection is where you can go and they’ll tell you, “you should really have this in your collection,” and that will be something like, Jane Austen’s Emma.
Matt: Sure, you should always be able to find that book in the library.
Robin: Right, you should always be able to find Jane Austen’s Emma. We’ll follow that and then we follow the same system for non-fiction. With non-fiction we’ll kind of go through the 000s to the 300s at a time. I tend to weed more there that hasn’t circ’d by how relevant is the information, still. Especially when it comes to medical, legal, politics, travel. Travel is a big one for us. I try to make sure we’ve gone through Travel by March of every year because people start traveling in April and we need to make sure we have as current books as we can have in the collection.
Matt: How much of the library’s collection is in circulation at any point in time?
Robin: Today it’s 12.5%. So that would be 6,000 items are out today.
Matt: So that means there’s roughly 50,000 books?
Robin: Yes. 50,000 items, but I think books are around 41,000. That counts DVDs and CDs and all that but does not count e-books and audio-books.
Matt: Talk to me about e-books. How has that changed the library?
Robin: E-books are just one more format. We’re never going to get rid of physical books. People are always going to want physical books. Our e-book growth was really strong and though it’s starting to slow down, it continues to climb every year. People get newer smartphones, newer tablets, they get more comfortable with the technology and once they get to that point and pivot, they never look back. And then what happens is almost what I call “the silent library user” and we don’t know who they are.
Matt: Because they don’t have to come in anymore.
Robin: They don’t have to come in and we don’t know who they are and don’t get to talk to them about what they like or don’t like. We do have a library management system, we use a company called Biblionix, where I can pull stats so I know exactly how much is circ’ing. For example, our largest circulating library would be Suspense and Mysteries are a fairly close second, but I don’t have that as much for e-books because it’s just a little harder to go in there are figure that out. Those two e-book systems are part of consortiums, so with Cloud Library we’re in a consortium with a lot of bigger dogs in the library world, Bibliotech, Plano, some of those larger library systems. In OverDrive or Libby, we’re probably the biggest library in that system, maybe other than Bulverde/Spring Branch. That just means more purchasing power, so in Cloud Library there’s 100,000 items that you could conceivably tap and check out. OverDrive I think is around 12,000-15,000. So that’s the main difference, I would say. I don’t get eyeball contact with people who use that. They’re the quieter people like the ones that make reserves and then self-checkout and leave.
Matt: That’s what I do (laughs).
Robin: Exactly! And now we’ve met and I know about your library interests! It’s takes more staff time to collect that data from the e-book systems. If we were a larger library system like New York Public or Dallas we would be able to afford a larger library content system that would be integrated but we’re not. We’re in kind of a weird level of growth right now at the library.
Matt: Is that something that the library grows into as the Boerne population grows?
Robin: I assume it would. I think the cost difference is pretty astronomical right now between the two [library systems], but I don’t know exactly. I think the company we work with is great, Biblionix, they’re a great company. They’re Austin, TX based and we’re almost too big for them. They focus more on smaller library systems.
Matt: Tell me about your role as a librarian. What is really your job? What do you do?
Robin: We wear a lot of hats. Everyone in the library does. My specific job is, I’m in charge of the Adult Services Department which also includes Archives. On a daily basis we develop and manage and execute programs. Sometimes we’re in programs or developing programs. For example, “Live at the Library” is a program under Adult Services so I’ll be here on Thursday nights and make sure things go smoothly and keep the money flowing in and out and make sure we’re getting the bands.
Matt: That’s something I assume you didn’t expect to be doing as a librarian?
Robin: Everyone always thinks you’re just among the bookstacks and I’d love to just be among the bookstacks but there’s a lot more. You’re dealing with computer issues and technology; some people have really great computer skills and other people do not and so the work you do a lot on a daily basis is kind of individual. Some people will come in and they just need to know how to fill out an online application so you try to point them to the right resources and get them going on that. I also work in the Archives with a few volunteers to direct the work going on there.
Matt: When you say “Archives”, what do you mean by that?
Robin: We have a local historical archive. I don’t know how many items it is because we don’t have the whole thing fully cataloged because we never have the time to do it. There’s about 2,200 if you looked them up in the catalog and that would be Family files, Building files, and sometimes just general information about important things in Boerne like the Cibolo Nature Center or the Episcopal Church and we’ll keep a file with old records.
Matt: That’s really cool.
Robin: It is cool. We get anywhere between 16 and 24 archive requests a month from people asking, “can you pull this file for me” or, “I’m a researcher and I need to find out about this car.” This is one I’m working on right now where I physically have to go down to the Boerne Star because we don’t have it here, but this is for a person who was in a car wreck in 1968 and he’s using it for background for a novel he’s writing and he can’t find anything online. Another example, I’m working on Sach’s Garage to try to find information on the interior and exterior of the building because the new owner would like to try to restore it as much as possible.
Matt: So, you’re looking through pictures and old files?
Robin: Yes. Sometimes those are hard to find, sometimes they’re really easy to find. We don’t have a full-time archivist. We have some of it digitized but the vast majority isn’t, although it is a priority to get it digitized over the next 3 to 5 years.
Matt: Is that archive unique to the Boerne library or is an archive like that common for public libraries?
Robin: I think in general all public libraries carry some form of archive, but I think ours is pretty good for a library our size. It was worked on from the 70s through around 2010 with the Boerne Area Historical Preservation Society and the Genealogy Society of Kendall County. They had volunteers here that worked a lot on it. The archives are one part of it, collection development, weeding, responding to phone calls, working on technology, reader’s advisory, like when someone comes up and says, “I’m stuck in a rut, what can I read?” That’s my favorite part of the job. Absolutely.
Matt: I bet it is.
Robin: It is. And programming.
Matt: What is the best way for a reader like me to get the most of out their library and their librarian? How would we best interact?
Robin: If you’re looking for books that we don’t have, you can always put them in the purchase request line item in your catalog account system. That’s the one area where I will look a lot or people will email and say, “You don’t have this book, will you consider ordering it?” and sometimes we will. A large part of the Adult Services book budget goes to standing orders but we do have discretionary funding every month and the first place we look is the purchase requests. We try to order what people are asking for and if there is budget left over, then we’ll go to the New York Times Best Selling list but we rarely have that much budget left over. If the book is fairly new and has good reviews then we’ll typically buy it. If it’s a couple years old we might have to say, “You might be the only person in this community that’s going to check out this book.” And then we might talk about the second thing you would use at this library which is inter-library loan.
Inter-library loan is great and we do about 1,000 a year. Actually, more than that. We intake about 1,500 books a year and outtake about 1,000, where if you’re looking for a copy of Jane Austen’s Lady Susan and we didn’t have it (we do), but I might say, we’re probably not going to buy that book because everyone reads Pride and Prejudice and Emma, I can go look for Lady Jane for you at another library and we will bring it to this library. You have a month to read it and the cost to you is return postage. I would say that inter-library loan and maybe just liking our Facebook page and signing up for our newsletters so you can stay abreast of everything that we have going on each month is a good way to get started of taking full advantage of the library.
Matt: What is the biggest challenge or challenges that the library faces?
Robin: I think a challenge a lot of libraries are facing right now is e-publishing and the vendors. You can go to Amazon.com and buy a copy of an audiobook for $25. They’re going to charge us $85 because we’re a library and that makes it tough to keep things fresh and makes it harder on the budget.
Matt: When you buy physical books is it the same sort of mark up?
Robin: No. In fact, we can get pretty good discounts on physical books. Digital publishing is still a bit of a wild west and I get that people have to make money. I understand business models, but it’s a challenge, especially when the libraries pride themselves on making sure they can provide access to as many different materials and formats as they can get, and that’s hard. Then some people will want an audiobook and we can’t even get the audiobook because the publisher has an exclusive with Audible.com for the next 24 months.
Matt: Can I buy a book and donate it to the library?
Robin: It depends on the book. We tend to not want to do that because we can’t always guarantee that we’ll catalog something. It’s about space issues and our judgment system on whether or not we think a book will circulate. Yes, people will come in and give us $25 and say, “Use it to spend in the Mystery section” and we’ll do that and if you wanted to say, “Here are these books that I really love and if I bought them would you accept them for the collection?” We would probably say, “Yes, yes, yes, maybe not, yes, yes” so that’s kind of hard to say yes or no. We tend to prefer that people provide dollars and general genres.
Matt: Do you have a wish list? Do you keep a running list of books you’d like to have but for whatever reason don’t have budget for?
Robin: We do!
Matt: Is that something you share with people or is that private?
Robin: I can share it with you.
Matt: It might be fun to go through your wish list and say, “there’s a book I love…I’m buying that for you.”
Robin: Part of the reason we have a wish list is we use it for the Friends’ Shop. They get so many donations of books all the time. I try and go down two or three times a week and flip through the cart and say, “We need that and that and that.” Or if it’s a really popular book like Where the Crawdad’s Sing and if I can find one of those where we need more copies, I grab that and we’ll get it in the stacks but we can’t catch them all so sometimes we’ll do wish lists. For example, we may have a good book that is damaged, missing pages, or moldy and it’s Book One of a series and we really want to ensure we have Book One in case someone wants to start the series, but we’re not going to spend my money on that and so we’ll let the Book Shop know to keep an eye out for that and they do a great job with that.
The other reason we have a wish list is because we did a pretty serious weed of the collection this year, especially in the Fiction area, and we had a lot of really gross books in the library that we need copies of. I’m hoping I have additional funding in this next fiscal year so I can go back and repurchase those. Others would be an updated cover of Emma for example, because nobody wants to pull a book off the shelf and think, “this is the rattiest thing I’ve ever seen, I don’t want to read this at home.” So, we do try to go through when we have discretionary funds and get fresh covers so that when you’re a college kid or a high school kid and you’ve been assigned that reading you at least have a fresh cover so it doesn’t feel so daunting.
Matt: Is the library full? Do you have shelf capacity?
Robin: Not really. We’re pretty full. You can see in many of the shelves we can go all the way down to the bottom, but I don’t like to.
Matt: Nobody wants to crawl around on the floor.
Robin: And nothing scares us more than seeing an 85 year old down there on their knees trying to get a large print book. Other than that, we’re pretty full and in fact, it will be interesting because we’ll have to figure out how we’ll manage growth going forward.
Matt: You mentioned your favorite thing what reader advisory. What’s your least favorite thing?
Robin: Absolutely having to deal with disruptive patrons and they don’t always understand they’re being disruptive. You have to have difficult conversations about things and that’s not fun. Most of the time those are people with cell phones at the study tables and they get into a conversation and forget themselves. You just go over and remind them gently where they are and they’re usually very apologetic. Sometimes they get a little upset and you have to be as straightforward as you can. We’re not a super quiet library but people are always studying and working over at the tables and there’s an expectation they can come here for that and we saw that a lot in the strategic plan; that people were looking for the library to be a safe, quiet spot to come.
Matt: There aren’t a lot of those types of places anymore.
Robin: There aren’t. If I could have redone it from where we were 8 years ago, I would love to have just put up windows and walls and made a whole quieter space upstairs. But 8 years ago that wasn’t where library services were at.
Matt: What’s the weirdest or lamest excuse you’ve heard for a lost library book?
Robin: It fell out of a plane. He just said, “It fell out of the plane.” I guess he was piloting the plane or was in a small plane and the door had opened and the book flew out and “It’s just gone. Gone!” I think he was telling the truth. We get lots of “dogs ate our books” or it dropped in the toilet. You hear that a lot. For losing the book it was “it fell out of the plane and I need to buy you a new one.”
Matt: What are one or two things people can do to get more out of their library experience?
Robin: Utilizing the mobile app and inter-library loan. Engaging with the librarians; I hear a lot of people saying, “We didn’t know. We didn’t know this program was going on.” In the age of really fragmented marketing it’s tough to get information out for people to pay attention to. We do Facebook events and we boost Facebook events but that’s really where you get most of your coverage from. I think it’s really engaging with the staff and reading our newsletters.
Matt: What book or books have had the biggest impact on you?
Robin: That is so hard because I’ve read so many. This is a book, for whatever reason, I still have the ratty copy that I got when I was a kid and both covers are torn, it’s in terrible shape but I still have it in my library. It was this book called Bread and Butter Journey and I think it had the most impact on me because I read it when I was probably six or seven. It was the first “big girl” book that I ever read. It was this great, sweet story about these two families that had to cross the Allegheny Mountains to go meet the fathers that had gone ahead to find work and establish a new settlement. It was just this story of friendship and hardship and a journey along the way. I loved the book and I’ve never forgotten it and it’s still very vivid to me. I loved The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt. He talks about the history of the book and information and how it influenced western civilization. How to Live: or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer was great too.
Matt: That’s quite a title.
Robin: I think because I’m always constantly searching for that balance, I thought that was a book that helped provide some grounding for me in that area. Empire of the Summer Moon by Sam Gwynne was an important book for me because I think when I first started this job it was one of the first books I read after I started getting to know the archives and getting more involved in local history and his description of what this part of the world was like in the 1870s and 1880s. It really helped me get a better sense of how much this landscape has changed and how much we have changed it.
Matt: Tell me about the last book you read.
Robin: There’s two, Young Men and Fire, a non-fiction book by Norman Maclean who wrote A River Runs Through It. This was a book he could never finish. It was unfinished when he died and his kids had to find a publisher and editor they trusted to finish it. I think part of the reason that he couldn’t finish it is because he was very much a sensitive soul in terms of the world and his brother’s death and the impact that had on him. I think he was still wrangling with all of that with this book and couldn’t quite pull it all together. Someone else finished it and that was in the 1990s. It’s a non-fiction book about the Mann Gulch Fire in 1949 and 15 smoke jumpers lost their lives in a matter of moments trying to run up a hill escaping a fire. He was trying to piece it together, what makes a person do something like that, were mistakes made? It’s a really compelling story. That was the last book I read and then I tried to start Fates and Furies and I just can’t get into it.
Matt: Some books are like that.
Robin: Some book are like that. We did something fun this year…we self-published a book (Through Layered Limestone). It’s a poetry/prose anthology specific to the Texas Hill Country and we did an all-call to poets and writers in February and they had until May 1 to submit their work. The only thing we asked is that it be related to the Texas Hill Country and we were giving special attention to Boerne and Kendall County. We got 140-150 submissions. We had a blind review committee, where they came into the library, I took out all the identifying information and coded them. Then we sent them out in batches to these poets and writers and they said yes, no, maybe, yes, no, maybe. Then we went back a second time to the maybes and said, now you have to say yes or no. We put it together and it’s going to be ready or the Book & Arts Festival in October. It turned out to be about 163 pages, I couldn’t believe it. I learned how to do the self-publishing thing and I just know there’s going to be a typo in it.
Matt: It’s a rare book that doesn’t have a typo!
Robin: I’ve gone through three rounds and I always find something new but we have to publish. The Friends of the Boerne Public Library paid for that and it will retail for $12 and whatever money we make will go to a budget line item to do digitization in the Archives. I don’t know how much money we’ll make off it but it was a fun project to try and a learning experience.
Matt: This has been really insightful. There’s a bunch of library stuff that I didn’t think about and I didn’t know. I really appreciate your generosity with your time.
Like what you read here? Click the “Subscribe” button on the right side of the page and get each new blog post delivered to your inbox.
As always, please leave your comments below, both good and bad. We love to hear from you.
Please note that there are Amazon Affiliate links in this post. We will earn a modest commission from qualifying purchases made through those links. It is very much appreciated. Thank you.