Archived Story

The life cycle of a library book

Published 7:29am Friday, July 13, 2012 Updated 11:31am Friday, July 13, 2012

This week I would like to take you behind the scenes at the Fergus Falls Public Library.

Last month, library customers checked out 25,450 items. Perhaps you’ve wondered what it takes to get all of those items onto the library shelves?

Let’s take a look at what we’ll call the “Life Cycle of a Library Book.”

The first step in getting books onto the shelf involves selection. For example, Katelyn Edds, our Adult Services Librarian, uses a variety of sources when she chooses books for the library’s Adult Fiction collection. She will take a look at professional review sources, such as Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly, check bestseller lists and read customer reviews on websites such as Amazon, Barnes and Noble and, peruse critic reviews published in newspapers or newsletters from independent book sellers, etc.

Katelyn chooses books based on reviews, popularity and community interest. Once she has created a list for purchase, she sends in the order.

We purchase library materials from a variety of vendors based on best price and also on durability of the item.

Some vendors cater their materials to libraries and offer reinforced bindings and/or sturdy containers designed for heavy use. Soon after the order is placed, the record for the item is entered into our online catalog so library customers are able to put the book on hold.

Upon arrival, ordered items are checked for holds. We “process” (get items completely entered into the online cataloged, barcoded, stickered and ready to check out) popular items and items with holds first.

Once items are processed, if they don’t have holds on them, they go out on the shelf to be checked-out.

The Fergus Falls Public Library is part of the Viking Library System, which means that we share our materials with the other libraries in the system.

Our materials can be requested and checked out by the other libraries in the system and vice versa. In addition, many libraries in Minnesota participate in an “inter-library loan”, i.e. sharing, system called MNLink (

This sharing system allows a Fergus Falls Public Library customer to request and get books that aren’t available at Viking Library System libraries from another library in Minnesota that has the book they want. This also means that a Fergus Falls Public Library book can be checked out not just by a Fergus Falls Public Library or Viking Library System customer, but also by library customers throughout the state.

A wonderful example of shared resource use.

So, how many times can a library book be checked out before it is declared “worn out”? Well, it varies considerably on the binding (hardcovers generally last longer than paperbacks, for example), but the books often last longer than you might think.

For example, a hardcover copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone purchased five years ago has been checked out more than 50 times and is still in fair condition.

Once a book is declared “worn out,” we “weed” or take it out of the collection. Because we don’t have space to hold all of the library books we purchase indefinitely, we also weed books that no longer check out frequently.

Indeed, for most collections, we need to weed a book to make room for a new book.

Books that are weeded from the collection, and are in saleable condition, often end up in the Friends of the Fergus Falls Public Library’s annual used book sale.

Mark your calendars. This year’s book sale will be held September 12-15. All proceeds from the book sale go to the Friends and benefit library programs and services.

Now you know. The next time you checkout a library book, consider how many other people have enjoyed reading that book before you. See you at the Library.


Erin Smith is the Library Director of the Fergus Falls Public Library

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