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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments

Book money

How cool would it be to have this much money to spend on books every year?

Selecting which books will make it onto the shelves at the Allen County Public Library is more of an art than a science, says bibliographer Kathy Witwer. Following trends in television, popular magazines, publishing companies and literary awards, Witwer finds the beat of current literature.

“Do we need to have this book in our system? Is it going to fill a need? And are people going to request it?” she asks herself before placing orders.

With an annual operating budget of almost $750,000, Witwer selects adult fiction and nonfiction books for the downtown library and its 13 branches. In a sense, she decides what the people of Fort Wayne read.

“Taking this job gives me the feeling that I'm helping people, more than just checking a book out to somebody,” she said. “I'm trying to get books into people's hands they may never have seen at a bookstore or known was out there.”

Actually, she doesn't have that much power. She merely decides what people can get from the public library to read. Let's do the math that my rudimentary skills will allow. If we stay on track, Americans will have purchased about 3 billion books in 2997; that's roughly 10 per capita. If Fort Wayne residents buy at about the same rate, that means 2 million books. With a budget of $750,000, the library can buy what, 40,000 or 50,000 books depending on what type and how much of a bulk-buying discount there is? The far greater determinant of "what Fort Wayne reads" are the market forces of supply and demand in the private sector.

Which raises the question of how that $750,000 should be spent. I like Witwer's emphsasis on getting books into people's hands they might not find at the bookstore. There have been a few librariains in my inner circle over the years, and I know from them that libraries have to do a certain amount of best-seller stocking to get people in the doors who can then take advantage of the other offerings. But there has to be more to a public library that enabling poor people to enjoy potboilers.

If it were my money to spend, I'd concentrate heavily on state and local history and lore. That's the one area I find it's hard to get everything I need anywhere else.

Posted in: Our town


Bob G.
Tue, 09/04/2007 - 10:46am

I've always looked upon libraries as vast repositories of KNOWLEDGE....novels and literature were icing on the cake.

But that's just me...and that was then.

I'd like to believe it's still that way.