The Life of a Library Book


Ever wondered what it's like to be a book at the Library? So have I—and here's what I discovered.

Getting Ready for Reading

Books are shipped to the Library from our many suppliers nearly every day—but although many arrive with barcodes, call numbers, and plastic covers included, they're not quite ready to hit the shelves yet. Security tags (and sometimes a few other labels) need to be added before a book is set for checkout. Once a book is completely processed, it's loaded on a cart and shelved in the New Arrivals section for browsing and enjoying.

High-Traffic Titles

book cartsA Library book's life is not one of leisure. Over 2,000 books (out of a total collection of over 330,000) are checked out on a typical day, and another 1,700 checked back in. A given copy of a book averages about 50 checkouts; by that time, it's likely to be too worn to be suitable for lending. So we keep multiple copies of our most popular titles—which is good, considering that a favorite like The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss has been through many copies and checked out over 2,500 times (the only one of the top five children's titles that isn't a Seuss classic? Frog and Toad All Year, by Arnold Lobel). 

Besides children's books (which are the most often borrowed), the book most often checked out is a teen favorite: The Giver, by Lois Lowry. The highest-circulating adult fiction title is The Catcher in the Rye, by J. D. Salinger.

Library books are read in so many locations—at home, on the bus, in tents, fancy hotels, or on beaches in exotic (or not so exotic) places. But most Library books are handled with care by many people that check them out: miraculously, they usually come back in just as good a condition as they left. 

So I have to make some guesses about what happens to books once they leave the Library. From personal experience, I know they're usually carried proudly out of the library, to be pored over immediately by the family at home. But sometimes library books do take "detours" to, from, or even during those enjoyable reads. Notes left by Staff—Binding re-glued, Light pencil marks, Page crinkled— tell stories about the occasional misfortune of some of our books in just a few words.

Welcome Home

book returnOnce returned to the Library, a book slides down a chute and onto a sorting machine that automatically checks it back in, and then sends it to a bin.  From there, Library Staff sort books onto carts, then roll them back out to the shelves. Then they're found again by readers of all kinds—and the process begins again.