Library Page Beatrice Riendeau (left) re-shelves the best sellers on Friday afternoon at the Santa Monica Main Branch Library on Santa Monica Boulevard. (photo by Brandon Wise)

MAIN LIBRARY — With the economy on its back, want for public services is at a high, and as residents continue to trim discretionary spending, community assets, including library collections, have become more essential than ever.

A recent Internet search of Santa Monica Public Library’s electronic catalog found that an overwhelming majority of the best-selling titles are unavailable due to demand.

The library’s selection of paperback non-fiction best sellers, for example, includes a collective total of 23 volumes for the top three books in that category. Of them, one is available to be checked out (not including alternative versions of the texts including children’s versions and Spanish language copies).

Between its four locations in Santa Monica, the public library keeps copies of national best sellers of every category, but the number of copies kept has little to do with the popularity or release date of any given title.

This is because librarians target such materials for purchase and insertion into the library’s system before the titles have a chance to become popular, said Wright Rix, principal librarian of reference services at the Santa Monica Public Library.

“Having bestsellers in a timely manner is a high priority for us,” Rix said. “Here at the Santa Monica Public Library our primary focus is to function as a popular materials collection, as opposed to a research collection like one would find at UCLA.”

Rix explained that the library staff uses a number of methods to stay abreast of which titles receive, or are expected to receive, a strong response from consumers. Media distributors including Baker and Taylor, Inc., with whom the library consults before purchasing, provide reviews and popularity estimations for many books prior to their release date, or “street date,” Rix said.

“We also follow library media publications such as Library Journal which provide news about what’s happening in libraries, including reviews. From these we try to get a sense for what the demand will be, and we pay attention to pre-publication alerts,” he said. “When we come across anything we think will be a best seller we are liberal about how many copies to order and how quickly we get a hold of them; it is our responsibility to get these titles to the consumer in as expeditious a way as we can.”

Rix also said that some titles are of great interest to the library even if they will not or do not become best sellers.

“Authors who publish in large quantity that normally are well-received, we take interest in,” he said. “Any time Danielle Steel publishes a new title, for instance, it’s understood that we want X number of copies.”

But despite efforts to keep the shelves filled, community demand seems to be depleting the supply at nearly the same speed.

Of the best sellers in the library’s catalog, an overwhelming majority are on loan. A varied number of copies of each title reside at any of the four library locations, but in almost all cases these copies are either checked out, on hold (some with several compounding holds), or on order.

The library staff also makes an effort to plug the holes. Rix explained that a list of titles with the most holds is generated weekly, and his staff orders additional copies accordingly.

“I’ve heard and read that library visits are up,” said John Evans, co-owner of Diesel, A Bookstore, an independent book seller on 26th Street. “I find it encouraging. I don’t see libraries as competitors; if people don’t go to them, libraries don’t get funding and have to close, and that’s bad for democracy.”

But high demand or no, Santa Monica residents remain satisfied by the services and resources provided by the library.

“It’s a great library. The fiction is good, the nonfiction is good, and they have a great [Charles] Bukowski section here.” said William D. Woodcock. “I lived in Venice for 13 years. Now I live in Downtown L.A., but I still come all the way down here to go to the library.”

Some library-goers said they have personally been inconvenienced by a high demand for books and other resources, but were anything but discouraged in consequence.

“A couple of times,” said Justin Lemons when asked if he had trouble getting a hold of a book he wanted at the library. “But I’ve come to expect that. I think it’s a good sign because it means people are using the resources here.”

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