Nonfiction Matters

January 21, 2010 at 12:54 pm 2 comments

[I’m such a geek when it comes to words with multiple meanings.]

After paying probably way too much attention to the changes to some of YALSA’s book lists, I’ve been thinking a lot about fiction and nonfiction. Am I marginalizing nonfiction in my library?

The evidence on both sides:

Yes. I buy far more fiction than nonfiction. I also display much more fiction than nonfiction–even if you count biographies, I often have upwards of three different tables of fiction to maybe one of nonfiction. Even the covers I choose for my “Hey, we have new books!” posts on the library blogs are overwhelmingly from fiction titles.

No. Overall, my collection has much more nonfiction than fiction titles, and I’ve been weeding more aggressively in nonfiction (meaning there’s a lot of outdated or odd stuff in fiction, and I won’t get around to tossing it for a while) in an effort to fill the shelves with Good Stuff. While my casual displays may be skewed toward fiction, the bigger New Books shelf gives roughly equal display space to fiction, non-fiction, and graphic format titles.

I also have a really solid display of magazines and journals, which I’d classify as nonfiction–I think The New Yorker is the only magazine I could really call fiction, and even that has nonfiction in it as well.

The Verdict: Dunno.

It’s tricky. I feel a lot of pressure when I buy nonfiction for a title to tie into the curriculum, which is part of the reason I haven’t bought that much yet this year–I’m new, still getting a feel for assignments and curriculum, and I just don’t know what we need.

When I’m making purchasing decisions, a nonfiction title has to seem very high-interest (like The Skateboarding Field Manual) or fill a specific request from teachers (like some literary criticism I’m adding). When I’m buying fiction, on the other hand, I’m hoping that someone will like it, but I don’t necessarily feel compelled to make sure it would work for a whole class the way I do with nonfiction.

What’s your collection development policy when it comes to fiction and nonfiction?


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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. laura  |  January 21, 2010 at 1:35 pm

    I’m in a school/public library, and when it comes to buying juvenile and YA books, I follow your same instincts — nonfiction has to be either super-high interest or related in some way to the curriculum (or what I can guess of the curriculum), or it has to fill what I perceive to be a gap in the collection For grown-ups, I’m a bit more on the “well, perhaps someone will check it out” side for nonfiction.

  • 2. LaurieA-B  |  January 24, 2010 at 11:03 am

    Mine (public middle school) is basically the same as yours: nonfiction is either directly curricular or very high-interest. I also buy nonfiction that’s “adult books for young adults”–popular stuff, like Gladwell and Michael Pollan, that intrigues the kids reading at higher level.

    One problem, with our limited school library budgets, is that nonfiction is more expensive (per title) than fiction. And my circulation stats lean so heavily toward fiction, and my student requests are almost all fiction, so my limited dollars tend to go that way.

    I’m trying Junior Library Guild for the first time this year and getting some good nonfiction that way.

    Most requested nonfiction in my library: sports and art/drawing books (how-to, esp. drawing and origami). And the kids really like good cookbooks (like Sam Stern and the Carle sisters).


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