Buying Series Books

Everyone loves a good series.  I remember managing the kids department at a Borders and parents trying to steer their kids away from Animorphs and Goosebumps and toward “classics” or stand alone-well reviewed titles.  I have no problem with those but I’d remind the parents to have a look at the adult best seller shelves before being too hard on the kids.  Why should the kids have to read what they probably consider “broccoli books” when there’s all that fun stuff and it’s not like their parents are passing over Harlan Coban and James Patterson for Proust?  And yes, I know they can all read both the good and the popular, but there’s got to be a little bit of give and take on this stuff.  I know we read out loud some things, like the Percy Jackson series, but other things my daughter is into we say, “Yeah, feel free to read those on your own.”

But as a school librarian it can become a bear to decide what to buy and what not to buy.  If you only buy lots of copies of the big series books (Wimpy Kid, etc.) then what will they read next?  And what about that smaller, but devoted fan base to not as big, but still enthusiastic series readers of things like The Sisters Grimm and The Shadow Children series?  And when you decide to get a series that’s been out for a while but you just haven’t gotten it at your library for one reason or another, is it better to get multiple copies of the first few titles and build from there, or one copy of every title?

These are tougher questions than you might realize and I’ve been experimenting with different ways of handling it.  One thing that helps is our district has a “not over five” guideline meaning you really don’t need to be buying more than five copies of any one title.  So I do have five copies of all the Wimpy Kid books and while that’s never enough, request-wise, it’s good that I don’t devote any more purchasing dollars to that series so I can get other things.

I also stay away from series that have a million titles that either need to be read in order or only come in paperback.  Some 5th grade boys tried to talk me into getting Naruto, but that’s a paperback-only comic series that seems to be never ending.  They have those at the public library down the street.

One thing I use is Follett’s Titlewave to sort lists of books.  There’s a feature where you can sort a list by “popularity.”  This basically means the books other librarians are buying from them.  But when you make a list, like I have, of all the series books kids ask me about and sort it by popularity it spreads them out so I can do one order based on that list and I’ll end up with a couple of Babymouse, Big Nate, Fly Guy, Amulet, Captain Underpants, Bone, etc. without favoring any one series over the other and I can continue to build them up that way without thinking too hard about it.  Sure, if someone says, “Why don’t we have number four in the blah blah blah series, I’ll make a special note of something like that but otherwise I can spread them out and keep the series books freshened up without going crazy making detailed lists.

It also keeps me from building up series I might like over ones that the kids might like.  I’ve taken over school libraries with full sets of old Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books.  Some of the Nancy Drew books still check out.  Not so much the Hardy boys.  I think other librarians bought those out of sentimentality.  I do give preference to teacher requests, especially if I think they’ll be talking it up to their students or reading it out loud every year.  One class went crazy for Boxcar Children because a teacher kept turning them on to it.  At this school I’ve only had one request for them (and don’t have many copies) so won’t add that series to my buy list unless there’s more interest.

It’s hard, man.  Especially when there’s just so much out there.

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One thought on “Buying Series Books

  1. I face this on a much smaller scale with my classroom book groups. I usually don’t buy the super hits, Harry Potter and Hunger Games, since the kids will all buy these on their own, read them on their own, so there’s no need for me to push them.

    I will buy the first book in a newish series, Divergent, Maze Runner, Matched, thenn wait and see if they are a hit. With enough demand, I sometimes buy the next book but almost never all of them.

    I’d rather spend my time seeking out the really good, organic, broccoli. But my job i very different from that of librarian.

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