Cedar Rapids Public Library builds new collection

Staff of seven took two years to pick out new library's nearly 200,000 books

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Building a library collection is a book-lovers dream.

But for those charged with building a new collection for the new Cedar Rapids Public Library, it's also a public service.

Though the books--nearly 200,000 of them--won't arrive by the truckload until July 18, a staff of seven people have been deciding what books will sit on the new library's shelves for two years.

The collection that was lost in the flood of 2008 had been curated by many people over a period of more than 100 years. Though roughly 100,000 of those books were saved, they are currently in circulation out of the Ladd Library and only a few of them will be moved to the new downtown location. That means the downtown location will be comprised, almost completely, of a brand new collection.

Karen Johnson, adult services manager for the library, said what goes into the library is largely determined by what areas are most popular in the community and what books are most popular across the board.

For the last two years, a handful of staff has been sifting through huge lists of books, DVDs and CDs looking for the 200,000 items they plan to have on the shelves when the library opens at the end of August.

Gerry Hopkins, audiovisual technical specialist at the library, said Baker and Taylor, the vendor the library has contracted, sends the staff digital shopping carts -- much like the ones you can build on Amazon -- containing thousands of titles.

From those digital carts, the collections staff works to select items they feel will be of most interest to patrons. 

"It's like trying to buy everyone in your family a Christmas gift for the next 50 years," Hopkins said. "It's fun, but daunting."

Hopkins said staff determines what to include based on what's being checked out at the Ladd Library, the number of copies the vendor is buying, and what titles patrons suggest, paired with local demographics and information gathered from trade journals on what items are of good quality and likely to be popular among certain audiences.

"Ultimately it boils down to what we think people will want to check out," Hopkins said. "Popularity is kind of common across the board -- what's popular at movie theaters, what's popular at bookstores and elsewhere -- those things we'll pay close attention to, but then we also know the local patrons and what they want and we use that as a guideline."

The staff also makes sure to include work by classic authors they know will be expected of the library, like Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and Tolstoy.

Erin Horst, collection and reference librarian, said she's enjoyed the process.

"It really is a book-lovers dream, having this kind of selection you just kind of get to build your ideal library, but I'm also trying to keep in mind what the people here are going to want, so you really try to be objective about things and really try to do what's best for the community," Horst said. "It is a really huge responsibility, beyond being fun and exciting for me personally, this is the government's money and it's the community's money and so we want to make sure we're spending it the right way."

Once the books are chosen, they're delivered to the library and the vendor will begin shelving them around that time. Johnson said she expects that process to take about two and a half weeks.

Johnson said library staff is currently in the process of working to figure out where sections should go, so things won't have to be moved around once the books are already shelved.

The grand opening of the new Cedar Rapids Public Library is on Aug. 24.

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