Three books, birch and Vuoksi.

Blog: Book tips about those forgotten on the shelf

1.6.2023 11:04
Not all books find their borrowers.

Our customer wanted tips on zero loans, i.e. books that have not been borrowed for many years or ever. For this blog entry, in honor of summer, I have selected a few examples of books published in this decade that have never been borrowed from Imatra's main library. I emphasize that it is not about bad books. It's about books that, for one reason or another, have been overshadowed by other books.

The legendary Edgar Rice Burroughs' fantasy adventure "People Forgotten by Time" is completely forgotten by people. No one has borrowed it, even though it has been on our shelf for two years. Maybe the book is in the wrong section, maybe it should be with the Tarzans in the children's section. However, nowadays only adults who bleed their childhood memories know how to quote Tarzans. 

The comic album "Humala" by Petteri Tikkanen, known as a musician called Black Peider, has also been sitting unread on our shelves for almost another year. Tikkanen's drawing style is clear, which means it is also suitable for a representative of the Asterix and Donald Duck generation like me. I wonder why I haven't borrowed this book myself. I'll do it now.  

A large part of zero-interest loans are poems. Poetry books are often a few tens of pages long, so it's hard to find them on the shelf. I picked Tapani Kinnusen's 2020 poetry collection "Maitoa ja alkoholia" from the list thanks to the name borrowed from Dr. Feelgood, and the book turned out to be downright brilliant. Just to my liking, written with the primitive and understanding approach of a middle-aged music digger, almost plain language contemporary poetry. It's sad and embarrassing that I only found out about this now.

Why are these books not borrowed? Is the librarian making the acquisitions unprofessional, doesn't he know what the people of Imatra want to read? Is there a problem with the marketing skills of the librarians or the publisher? There are certainly many reasons, sometimes the reason is of course also in the book itself. 

The life cycle of books is short these days. There will be a huge number of instant hits - they will have queues of hundreds of reservations, and after two years no one will read them anymore. A book that has received hundreds of citations is about to be found on the zero loan list, and a desperate librarian has to figure out what to do with it.

A huge number of books are published, but only a small part of them get media coverage and, to that extent, sales and citations. In particular, too many local newspapers think that culture doesn't sell: a news story about a toboggan stolen from Virasoja gets more clicks than book reviews. It has come to this because we consumers have been taught or forced to accept click journalism.  

The acquisition of books for libraries is currently done directly through the database. We do not see the books ourselves, but rely on the information provided by the publisher. The situation would be different if we could, in the old fashion, make purchases directly from local booksellers, based on the books we see and browse. Buying poems in particular is difficult for me, so it would be easier to see a physical book.

Some of the works that remain on zero loans have been acquired with the purchase support given to libraries by the Ministry of Education and Culture. Its purpose is to support low-circulation domestic quality literature. Low circulation also means low loan volumes. Still, purchase support is a great way of working for authors, publishers, and some libraries. Sometimes, while browsing the purchase support lists, you have to keep in mind that the definition of quality literature is rather vague. 

Of course, I will take some of the zero-rated loans on my own. Although I try to be fair when buying books, my own interests are sometimes visible in the choices, mostly in the case of small and self-published books. If the subject of a book published by a small publisher with no commercial potential is, for example, a tired middle-aged man and collecting audio records, I will very likely waste twenty Imatra taxpayers' money on it. The library must also offer material for tired middle-aged men. 

Burroughs' "People Forgotten by Time", Tikkanen's "Humala" and Kinnusen's poetry collection "Maitoa ja alkoholia" are not bad books. Customers just haven't found them, and we librarians can partially blame ourselves for that. In next week's development discussion, I promise to my supervisor that in the future I will better highlight such obscure quality books in our exhibitions and tips. I think I promised that in our previous development discussion...

mika. kahkonenatimatra.fi (mika[dot]kahkonen[at]imatra[dot]fi)
Tel: 020 617 6602