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Harry Potter and the Pre-Pub Alert

As a Library Trustee in the town of Brookline, I like to check on the status of the new books that are coming into the system. Fortunately, the Public Library of Brookline maintains a Pre-Publication Alert, that allows patrons not only to see what books have been ordered for the library, but to request holds on those copies when the books are finally processed. That way, savvy library patrons can ensure quicker access to the books they want.

A few months ago, I asked our library director if we were making sure to order enough copies of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. It's going to be an expensive book, even at a discount, and a main role of libraries is to ensure books for patrons who might not be able to afford them on their own. Given the evident popularity of the Harry Potter series, I want to make sure that Brookline residents (especially our children) have as quick access to the book as possible. Frankly, the library is here to serve them, and I want them to appreciate that fact when paying their real estate taxes each year.

Our library director assured me that we would have plenty of copies on hand, and I can see from the book's record page (which can currently be found by clicking this link) that Brookline has ordered 32 copies of the book, and there may be more to come. But there's that other statistic at the top of the screen that I find even more interesting.

As of this morning, the Minuteman library network, which encompasses 41 member libraries, has 1048 holds on the first copy returned. And we're a month away from the release date. I wouldn't place money on it, but I wouldn't be surprised to see that number increase by an order of magnitude before the book is finally made available.

Comments

I think it peaked out in the vicinity of 1200 for the last book, so I wouldn't expect that hold count to go up by an order of magnitude or anything like that. I expect that most of the people who know about book requests also knew about this book's impending publication some time ago. (Besides, anyone who doesn't? Their cave probably doesn't have Internet access.)
Yeah, but it's now up to 1049 requests. I get the feeling that the rate of requests will increase at least geometrically the closer we get to the date of publication.
It is, indeed, an incredible phenomenon.

My semi-daughter Crystal and I were discussing the idea that so many of these copies may end up on a library sale cart at some point in the future. She projected the possibility within five years; I was less conservative and postulated that it might be within two.

I hope that the series as a whole continues to "have legs" and readability decades into the future, but I have to wonder whether audiences will grow over time, once the series concludes.
Whether it's got legs or not, there's no way any library will be able to justify keeping more than 4 or 5 copies more than a year or two. By that time, those who want to read it will no longer be part of the "I have to read it now and I have to read it first" crowd.

Of course, this is all just speculation. Any way, Michael, to get the stats on the demand for the older books when their respective movies came out?
My thinking exactly.

I'm curious about those stats, too.
I'm not sure if we can get all those stats; but looking up Order of the Phoenix on the Brookline library website shows about 16-20 copies, and many of them are out...
Children's classics, like "Peter Pan" or "Wizard of Oz" stay alive because the children who love them grow up to read these stories to their children, who grow up to read it to theirs. And their grandchildren. Not to mention that they are very likely to re-read their favorites throughout their lives.

I don't know if the Harry Potter series will gain that kind of critical stature over time (though I think it's worthy,) but I'm willing to bet that all those children standing in line at midnight on release day will make sure their kids are exposed in their turn.

It's one of the wonderful things about books!
The best parallel I can think of to the Harry Potter phenomenon was the Oz phenomenon at the start of the twentieth century. The Oz books were incredibly popular, and at least one movie version was made of the first book before the 1939 spectacle.

Today, the books are more in the background of our culture...but they are still there, being read anew by children and adults alike. And with the existence of adaptations like the book and musical Wicked, it's clear that the Oz stories maintain a level of staying power.
I'm pretty sure copies of the previous Harry Potter books have already made their way onto the library sale carts. I would guess that within less than a year, the circulation figures for the books drop, and at that point there is no reason for the library to hold so many. If you look up Half-Blood Prince at the Public Library of Brookline, for example, you'll find that there are only ten copies available for borrowing. I know for a fact that the library purchased more than ten copies when that book first came out.
To paraphrase a line from JAWS, "I think you're going to need more copies . . . "
That's a lot of holds. I don't know how large a population the Brookline library serves, but the Seattle system has 1150 holds as of right now (on 190 copies). 1048 is crazy busy.

And that Pre-Publication Alert is a great idea. If we don't have that here, I'm going to suggest they institute one.
The Brookline town population is roughly 60,000 people, but the holds come from all over the Minuteman library network, which includes 41 member libraries. I'm not sure of the population served by the whole network.

And of course, the whole network has many more copies than the ones Brookline has on order.
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