Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Oversized Books

Many of my posts start off with a strong opinion. Here is today's: I HATE OVERSIZE BOOKS! Coffee table books belong on coffee tables. There, I've said it. Well...I don't hate oversize books themselves. They're gorgeous. What I hate is the problems they cause when casually interspersed in regular non-fiction collections in public libraries.

As I was weeding the 500s, I found a lot of oversize books: huge books with color photos of the animals of the African safari, enormous tomes of pictures of ocean life, ginormous volumes of rainforest photography, and a gigundus atlas of the constellations in the night sky. Really beautiful books. Really, really, really in the way. My library doesn't have a separate section for oversize books, so they get piled on the bottom shelf closest to where they would have fit numerically. In trying to get the books off the top shelves of the section, I needed to use those bottom shelves. I couldn't forfeit an entire shelf, or even half a shelf, for one large book that didn't fit anywhere else.

Here's the other thing: I checked the circulation statistics on most of them, and they don't circulate very well. People may browse them in-house, but they aren't lugging them home.

Not to mention the cost. Oversize books are expensive! Worth every penny, for what they are, but when given the choice between an oversize book and one that fits nicely on the shelf with the same information in it, I'll take the small one 9 times out of 10.

There are a few exceptions where oversize books are ok in public libraries:

1. Art books. They don't come any other way, so you don't really have a choice. The whole point of art books is to see the art in all its glorious details.

2. Atlases. Again, they just come in huge sizes. Atlas stands are a thing of beauty because you can keep atlases separate from regular-sized books.

3. Where there is a section devoted to oversized books where they don't get in the way of all the other, regular-sized books. That comes with its own set of issues. Patrons have to know to go to that section or risk missing out on the glorious books it holds, for one thing.

Here are some ideas I have on what to do with these oversize books.

1. They aren't circulating, so taking them away from their current location probably won't hurt the statistics any. How about scattering them around the library on end tables, displays, and coffee tables? They're more likely to be browsed that way, at least.

2. Loan them to nursing homes and waiting rooms around the community. The library where I used to work had an outreach program called "Read While You Wait." They took donated paperbacks to waiting rooms and put stickers on them with the library name. People could start reading them while waiting, and then just take the book home to finish. If they wanted to return the book to the library - great. If not, they could just keep it. The library replenished the pile every now and then. Since oversize books are not likely to be carried home (too big!!), they would make great "Read While You Wait" books. Nursing home residents, senior center members, coffee shop loiterers - anywhere people hang out - are good places for an outreach collection of oversize books.

3. If you had space, you could put those tall, skinny carts at the ends of some of the non-fiction rows and fill the carts with oversize books. This is sort of an impromptu, mobile solution to a separate oversize section. It would get the oversize books out of the regular non-fiction section (where they stick out into the aisles, tripping people) and make them more noticeable by being at the forefront of several rows.

That's it. That's all I've got. Oversize books are beautiful, but they just don't work well when interfiled with regular-sized books. I avoid buying them unless they are so special, so irreplaceable, and so unique that we simply must have them. In other words, rarely.


  1. I understand your feelings on the subject Holly. In our libraries in Miami, we have Overzized Books shelves. That has worked well for us.

  2. I have a rant about Tall Premium editions in the works, so I know exactly what you're talking about. My library has a separate section, which luckily is located near the teen lounging area. They often pull them down to browse on different topics.

  3. At least you put them on the bottom. When I began as a shelver in Santa Fe Public Library in 1985, we pulled the oversize books out of sequence and put them on the TOP shelf in each panel of shelves.

    I'm short.

  4. Agreed! We actually have ours in the first arrangement you listed - they're out in the manner coffee table books normally would be, and they do get browsed regularly. It's working well for us.