Ingram Blog

Library Collection Development: Let’s Talk About Hold to Copy Ratio

Written by Tricia Bengel, Library Sales and Services Manager
As I sat down to write an article about holds to copy ratios, I felt compelled to note early on that this blog post has more questions than answers. I have always worked with libraries that had limited budgets and really intelligent people who are very conscientious and want to spend those limited dollars in the smartest ways possible. Therefore, the holds to copy ratio on books was always an issue that I never felt I had a good solution for, or even that I was thinking about it correctly. For all of my friends with great library budgets who have 2:1 holds to copy ratios, you can stop reading and count yourself lucky! For the rest of you in my situation, I would welcome your feedback.

Usually, most of the libraries I have worked for and with, have a ratio of 3:1 or 5:1 – sometimes as much as 15:1 with items that have a high turnover rate such as DVDs. Making that way more complicated is the e-world, where you also have to take into account pricing, leases, etc. Sometimes it was hard to keep that ratio when it was a 7-day wonder book that cost many more times than the print. Compiling on top of that, we had a software issue at one point that floated Large Print to the top of the lists when you searched a title, so our holds on Large Prints were out-of-wack. And finally, all of this talk of holds queues totally leaves out the patrons, who don’t place reserves on books and instead, wonder why they never see new bestsellers on the New shelves. I remember one library I worked with, where the lamented Guernsey Literary Pie (sic) book was not on the shelf for the first two years of its life. I also remember the Madonna book that came out when I was in college working for my local public library – it didn’t survive the holds queue before falling apart and becoming unavailable for purchase! It never did end up on a shelf at the library where I worked, which in retrospect is okay, as I am sure it would have been immediately stolen.

Most libraries I know allow titles to show in their PAC pre-publication date, so patrons can build up the holds queue and they know what to purchase. This method works great for predictable titles with authors who are writing in their known genre. Knowing how many copies to order of the new Stephanie Plum book is not usually an angst-inducing job. However, who would have ever predicted that those runaways, first-time bestsellers and sleeper hits would build holds as fast as they would? I don’t think any of us predicted the success of Hillbelly Elegy and definitely, no one predicted the craziness of Fire and Fury. And then, just as difficult, when a known writer goes completely outside of the genre s/he usually writes in. For example, when Janet Evanovich writes that future Vampire Amish book, all bets will be off on how well it will do.

So, what happens so many times, we don’t trust ourselves and over-buy with the chance that the title will tank or we under-buy and then rebuy and rebuy as we chase the holds queue. This oftentimes then sums up the works for patrons, watching their number on the reserve list stay in the hundreds and public services staff fielding constant questions and affirming that the book will eventually get to the person standing before them. Not to mention, the collection development person, acquisitions, receiving person and possibly the catalogers and processors in the library, have to touch the additional copies again and again.

I have never done the analysis, but I think under-buying on the initial purchase, or even the second, ends up costing the library a lot more in time, frustration and money. Salaries, patron and staff frustrations, and shipping and handling are legitimate costs that need to be factored in when chasing that holds queue multiple times.

So, even though none of us have crystal balls or magic wands to accurately predict just how many copies we should buy, I think we should continue to work on tools to do better predictive analysis and be ready to overspend a bit, in hopes of not repurchasing a title multiple times.

And then, it begs the question about floating collections and if I buy the right amounts, do I really need that “lucky day” collection or are new books getting to the new shelves in time?

So, for those of you who do have a crystal ball or, even better yet, a good tool for predictive analysis, send me your secrets for sharing amongst us friends.

When I am not on the road visiting library customers on Ingram’s behalf, I am answering email. Let me know what you are thinking and all advice is much appreciated. 



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