Creating Teen Book Bundles to Increase Circulation, an Experiment
By day, I work at the Fort Worth Public Library system in the Collection Development department (important note: this is my private and personal blog, they just let me talk about the cool stuff we do there sometimes). FWPL is a 17 branch system and like all large systems, we have branches of varying sizes. This means that for some of the smaller branches as we get new books in, older titles with less circulation are moved into a type of storage at our largest branch. Patrons can place holds on the titles and still get them sent out, but most of the titles end up “dead” in a few years, which is the nature of the beast. However, I wanted to do an experiment and see if I could utilize the concept of book bundles to increase our overall teen fiction circulation. And using these so called “dead” titles (really, storage titles), was the best starting place for my experiment.
Pulling and Organizing Books for the Books Bundles
To create the book bundles, I cruised the shelves and looked for any title that had 2 or more titles in storage. For my experiment, I ended up pulling roughly 163 titles. Many of the titles I knew, but there were some that I didn’t . So now I needed to figure out how to bundle them in a time effective way.
What I ended up doing was using our Polaris system and then scanning them into an Item Record Set. This proved helpful in several ways. For one, I could create a special location code for the items so that anyone looking at the record would know they were in a Teen Book Bundle. Thus, when staff or patrons searched the catalog they would see that the book was in a Teen Book Bundle.
The second benefit to this approach is that I could then use Simply Reports to run a report on the record set and get the ISBN numbers quickly. I love to do this for lists because with access to Brodart Bibz, our main vendor, I can bulk load the ISBN numbers, make a quick cart, and use their export feature to create a ready made spreadsheet that has both the annotation AND BISAC headings. I could then sort by subject headings to help get a quick start on how I wanted to organize the bundles.
Without these two tools, I would have had to create a spreadsheet from scratch, which is totally doable, this way was just quicker. This spreadsheet became my working spreadsheet for the project. It had author, title, annotation, and BISAC subject headings. I would add categories for the name of the bundle and the branch that it was assigned. Later, I copied and pasted in circulation data for each title.
Please note, I have worked at systems without access to the tools mentioned above and you can still do this, you would just have to input titles into a spreadsheet by hand.
Assigning the Teen Book Bundle Topics
I knew there were some book bundle topics I wanted to create, like books that take place in 24 hours, foodie fiction, weird towns, revenge fantasies and feminist fiction. I was open to seeing where the title would take me in creating other bundle categories. In the end, I ended up creating a lot of contemporary romance and thriller categories – which would be the most popular, but more on that in a moment – and some other categories like younger YA, classic YA, sports, etc.
Once I figured the bundle categories out, I added a note in the spreadsheet by each title indicating which bundle they were in. This was primarily important for analyzing the data at the end, which was interesting because it gave me an idea of what our teen patrons are reading.
Final book bunle categories: 24 Hours, Altered Time, Classic YA, Contemporary Romance, Deadly Games, End of the World, Fairytales Retold, Family, Fantasy Romance, Feminist Fiction, Foodie Fiction, Grief, Historical YA, YA Horror, Mental Health, Monster Hunters, Music, Mythical Monsters, Paranormal Thriller, Real Life, Revenge, Road Trips, Schemes and Schemers, Sherlock Holmes, Short Stories, Social Media, Space Opera, Sports, Survivng the Wild, Thrillers, Weird Towns and Younger YA.
Packaging the Teen Book Bundles
The next big question was: how do we put the teen book bundles together in a way that makes it easy for patrons and staff alike to circulate? We ended up using these larger H shaped rubberbands. I recommend buying the 9 inch size. I also created tags for each bundle explaining what they were and what the topic of the book bundle was. Yes, I often matched the rubber bands with the covers, I make no apologies and have zero regrets.
I also made signage for staff to put out near the book bundles to help explain the concept. Signage is always important.
Giving Branch Staff a Heads Up
Before sending out anything, ever, it’s always important to give any staff that may be impacted a heads up. I put together a document explaining what we were doing, why we were doing it, what we were sending and when to all branch staff and gave them time to ask questions, give input, etc. Communicating with your coworkers is so important. It had detailed instructions to help alleviate any additional stress on staff. Then on the day I sent the book bundles out I resent the information and let them know that the book bundles were on their way.
On June 1, Teen Book Bundles were sent out to all of the branches and it was a go. We gave an end date of August 1 for our experiment. That gave us 2 months to collect data and get an idea of what we thought about the project. Due to branch size and circulation statistics, we only sent bundles out to 9 branches. The other branches just didn’t have the shelf space or circulation to warrant their inclusion in this experiment.
Analyzing the Data
Before going live, I ran circulation data for the titles in the teen book bundles. The previous year, they had collectively circulated 25 times. In the 8 weeks of the Teen Book Bundles circulation, they circulated 183 times. This was a 660% increase. Over half of the titles circulated at least once. In all, 58 bundles circulated, with several bundles circulating more than once. There were only 2 branches in which the book bundles did not circulate at all.
In addition, we looked at what bundle categories had circulated and what hadn’t. Contemporary romance and thrillers were hands down the best circulating categories. Other categories that circulated included 24 hours, Classic YA, Deadly Games, End of the World, Fairytales Retold, Revenge, Serial Killers, and Younger YA. Sadly, Altered Time, Foodie Fiction, Grief, Music, Mythical Monsters, Real Life, Road Trips, Senior Year, Space Opera. Short Stories, Social Media, Sports and Weird Towns had zero circulations.
So we sent 163 teen fiction titles that were sitting in storage in 50 Teen Book Bundles to 9 branch locations. At the end of 2 months they had circulated 183 times and slightly over 50% of the titles had circulated. We went from the titles having circulated 25 times total the year before to circulating 183 times in just 2 months.
Some Final Thoughts
I have been thinking a lot about how teens use the library and find new books to read, so I was pretty excited to do this experiment. Overall, I am excited about the outcome. Our current plan is to repeat this again next summer when teens have more free time for reading.
I also want to note that I have worked in a single branch system in the past and this would work there as well. Just run a report of books that aren’t circulating well and put them in book bundles to give them a circulation boost.
I was personally heartbroken that some of the categories that I love – see Weird Towns – that I worked hard to put together didn’t circulate, but it’s interesting to note what did and didn’t circulate. That’s useful information and also something to ponder.
In the end, putting the book bundles together really only took me 3 full time days, so about 24 hours. I had some false starts trying to figure out my process, but once I did it went quickly. I wrote a detailed outline with screenshots on the process in case I want to repeat it in the future or for my future replacement. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to put together detailed process outlines with screen shots for tasks for training future replacements.
I highly recommend doing some variation of this that works best for you and your library if you want to get some additional circs out of low circulating titles.
Shoutout to my imeddiate supervisor and admin for being super cool and allowing me to do this, answering questions, and cheering me on.
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About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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