The Life of a Book

Education / Featured Sliders / Stories / January 16, 2018

Books in the MRRL collection have a shelf life lived to the fullest.

A copy of bestselling author James Patterson’s latest book “Murder Games” sits on a shelf at the Missouri River Regional Library.

Five days before Christmas, it is awaiting check out, but that wait won’t be for long. Three of the five total print copies of the novel available at the main branch are currently in the hands of patrons. With the popularity of the novel, recently published in June 2017, Patterson’s fourth installment of a five-part murder mystery series may have a long life at the library.

Books can certainly withstand the test of time, preserved and circulated through generations of readers and living for hundreds, sometimes thousands, of years. But do books in Missouri River Regional Library’s collection live forever?
Each book is treated with specialized care from the time it is selected, ordered and delivered to the library until it is retired from its collection. It is given assignments and categorization. It holds a record that allows the library’s employees to monitor its progress, popularity and current status. It receives rejuvenation and repairs, extending its shelf life for thousands of future patrons.

Most are retired from the collection with honor. About 10,000 are resold in the library’s annual book sale held March 14-17 this year at St. Martin’s Knights of Columbus Hall and others are donated, renewed or re-circulated to other outlets for more future readers’ enjoyment.

Every book can have a longer life than most living things on Earth. Yet, the Missouri River Regional Library staff makes sure the time each book is spent with them is lived to the fullest.

Delivering to the library 

(Photo by Julie Smith) Kathy Morehouse inspects some of the recent acquisitions for MRRL.

Whether it is Patterson’s “Murder Games,” a children’s favorite “My First Book of Football,” or the latest season of “Game of Thrones” on DVD, new and replaced items come to the library through the advisement of about 14 selectors.

These library employees have expertise on specific categories, such as reference, children’s or nonfiction. They also gather patron requested books or media for the library. Most importantly, they suggest what titles should be purchased for the Missouri River Regional Library collection. Selectors do take into account those requests, according to Kathy Morehouse.

Among many other jobs at the library, Morehouse is a selector for adult fiction and nonfiction books, media and other items. She said often a requested book is already on the cart, going through the process before it reaches the shelf for check out. However, there are books that remain popular and others that gain traction due to current trends and events.

“People always want to know about technology, and it changes so quickly. We do make an effort to get new technology books and items in. The gender issue has seen a jump in interest,” she said. “When President Obama was elected, we had a lot of books on him, and the same happened when President Trump was elected. Whatever is happening in the news often will reflect itself back in the collection.”

Morehouse said the same bestselling authors provide regular fiction content in many categories. However, the staff also looks for new authors and series patrons may not know about. Marketing Coordinator Natalie Newville said the selectors will often bring books to her and she helps publicize them on the library’s social media.

“We’ll highlight it saying, ‘The book you missed,’ or, ‘If you liked this book, you would really like this book.’ It seems to have had a positive impact so far,” she said. “Our selectors are really good at that, sharing those ideas about new books or new authors or movies; they love to talk about it. It is fun to have those conversations with them, and we have six book clubs for all ages. They get to see great titles that people wouldn’t have picked up before.”

The library’s collection does have a healthy budget of more than $250,000, a flow of financial resources made possible through the hard work of former collection management coordinator and now library director, Claudia Cook. Also serving as the library’s current collection management coordinator, Morehouse gathers the purchase orders from the selectors, making sure everything is included like location, code, quantity, etc.

“Once I get all that together and put it in a certain format, I send it to our acquisitions person. She formats them, puts them in the order she needs them in and sends them off to the various vendors,” Morehouse explained, noting there are multiple vendors the library uses to order books and other items for its collection.

A confirmation, or ISBN, is sent to the acquisitions employee. This tells the library if something is wrong, missing, in the wrong format or has been canceled by the publisher. After errors are corrected, the books are delivered to the library and the book’s life at the library begins.

(Photo by Julie Smith)
Tiffany Dixon wraps a protective mylar film around a book cover to extend it’s life. That is just one of the tasks Dixon performs in her duties at Missouri River Regional Library.

Tracking a book’s life

Boxes carry multiple orders, delivered to the library five days a week. The books are taken out, each going through a careful process so it can be easily categorized, tracked and recorded during its time in the Missouri River Regional Library district. They are first alphabetized by author, with the clerk making sure each is correctly received. Then they are invoiced and the book’s location code and price are written on the inside. Three catalogers – Morehouse for adult pieces, one for children’s and another for Missouri, reference and Spanish – start their leg of the process: classification.

“Cataloging is an art; it’s not a science. Local rules take precedence over other rules. … Your library could put sports biographies in the sports section and another could put them in a true biography section,” Morehouse said. “We will use various tools to classify the book – blurbs inside, table of contents, notes from the author. Each gives you a clue to where it should go in the collection.”

Once the book is classified, it is goes through the copy cataloging process. Morehouse said a catalog listing an item, for example the seventh season of “Game of Thrones,” has a bibliographic record that is edited and verified by the cataloger and entered into the library’s master system, Sierra. This computer software program keeps track of every book, media or item in the library, with both a public side and an internal side. It shows its records from when it arrived until the day it leaves the collection, and everything in between including if a book is checked in, checked out, how many copies are available, etc.

Books also have different colored flags, including ones that may be on hold for a patron and others that are specialty items or relate to an upcoming program. Light blue for example is for a copy of an item in the system that is lost or needs to be replaced, and green is for reference.

“Others suggest a sticker is put on the book and alerts the maintenance person so she knows to put that sticker on it. Flags are information for all of us as the book moves through the process,” Morehouse said. “I make sure to put the call number on the first page after cataloging, and then it goes to a cart.”

Morehouse and her fellow catalogers process 30-40 items daily, sometimes going through 70 or, on rare occasion, more than 100. Even though the average may not seem like a lot, it is often doubled or more as one bibliographic record can have multiple items attached to it.

“If you have James Patterson and eight copies of one of his latest books, that adds up. And I just handle the one record,” she said.

Tiffany Dixon, item processing assistant, will handle all eight copies of that book. For the last two years, her main job is to create a record for each book, media or item record in Sierra. The information she fills in is almost like a medical record, letting every employee know all about the item that is residing in its collection.

“Each item has a bigger (bibliographic record), like the DVD of the movie ‘Wonder Woman.’ When I get them I have to process all six of them,” she said. “One may go to Linn (the library’s Osage County branch), some are here to check out and others may go to the bookmobile.”

Each item will list key things such as the title, author, index term or keyword. It also includes other information such as how much it costs, if there is a map attached to it or a DVD included in the item.

“They will have a barcode on it. I will make a new item for each book in Sierra, filling out all the catalog information needed,” Dixon said, noting sticker labels are often used for specific categorization within departments and each item has a bar code and location code. “This way, if we are looking for the book, it goes by the number at our library (still using the Dewey Decimal system) instead of the standard VIN number you would find at the store. It makes it personal to us.”

At the end of the day, an employee double checks each item’s records in the system and clerks deliver the books to their designated library locations. The items begin the height of their life in the collection: being read, used and loved by thousands.

(Photo by Julie Smith) These are a few of the books waiting on repair at Missouri River Regional Library.

Keeping a book alive 

For 18 years, Dixon used the books at the fullest part of their life – reading them to attentive kids during story time, discussing them as part of interactive programs and ordering them for the library collection as a selector. In her current position, she has seen the complete cycle of each item in the collection.

“I learned a lot about the library, because before I just worked in children’s. Here I get to see when items are released,” she said. “Every Tuesday, I understand how many books are ordered for every section and things that happen annually, when we change out world books or encyclopedias. I get to see the whole picture of how things circulate.”

Often those books circulate back to Dixon in need of repair. Another part of Dixon’s immense job is to fix those items. Sometimes a book just needs a simple “band-aid” and other times a more attentive “surgery” is in store.

Dixon has many tools at her disposable, including tape, plastic to create extra protected books covers and a specialized glue machine for more challenging repairs.

“The glue machine is like an iron. … It oozes out, is set to dry and hardens much like a hardened plastic that reinforces the book,” she said.

Dixon allots time for the steady amount of repairs that land at her desk. It could require redoing a homemade repair to a children’s pop-up book or deciding if the book is fixable.

“If we don’t think it is repairable, sometimes we buy a replacement. Sometimes there are other items on the shelf that are already up to date. A book about repairing carburetors, for example, will probably have something similar to it on the shelf in good health. … Selectors are very good about being realistic in what can be replaced and what cannot.”

Many books are irreplaceable, including books in the library’s Missouri section like James E. Ford’s “History of Jefferson City, Missouri’s State Capital and Cole County,” which is more than 100 years old. Some books are not considered for purchase at all, such as ones that are self-published.

“When you put a nonfiction book on the shelf, you are telling the public we have checked this out and we think this is a valid resource,” Morehouse said.

Medical and religion books stay in the collection longer, while technology items do not. Most fiction books have an average shelf life of five to six years, such as fiction novels and series.

“Space is our problem. There is always an exception. If you have a series of mysteries, you try to keep the entire series, but sometimes you can’t. You keep the most current,” Morehouse said, noting the children’s department recently had new shiny covers put on many of their classics to freshen and preserve them for patrons. “We recently went through a process of looking up items that had been checked out more than 100 times, pulling those for replacement. They are classic and worth something. … Our purpose is to provide the newest resource.”

Dixon knows her work doesn’t make it a new book in the collection, but it encourages the patrons to treat it with care and respect it just like she and her co-workers do.

“My goal is to have it look new. It doesn’t make it a new book, but it does extend the life of a book,” she said.

A book’s second life 

(Photo by Julie Smith) While Bob Gumm, at right, tapes boxes, his wife Roberta places used books into the appropriate box as they sort books and fill boxes for next spring’s annual Missouri River Regional Library Used Book Sale to benefit ABLE.

After years of use, some books are completely unsalvageable, some are donated and others are put into the annual book sale.

“If they can’t fix it, we determine if we will replace or withdraw it from our collection. Another part of the process is weeding,” Newville said. “Everyone that is a selector is part of the weeding process. They go through and they look at books. If they have not been circulated for a long time, we determine if we keep it in the collection or put in the book sale.”

Assistant Director Betty Hagenhoff leads organization of the annual book sale, starting the second Wednesday in March and running through Sunday. More than 200,000 books are included in the event, however, a small percentage comes from the library’s collection. The community donates the majority of the books year-round, and volunteers also sort, categorize and prepare the books for the popular event throughout the year.

The volunteers are from the Friends of the Missouri River Regional Library group and from ABLE (Adult Basic Literacy Education), a nonprofit organization with volunteer tutors that help individuals 16 and older upgrade their English reading skills.

“They started out as a grant within our library back in the ‘80s, then they went out on their own and have continued ever since,” Hagenhoff said. “The book sale is their primary fundraiser.”

Additional volunteers assist with the book sale, including Rotarians, Boy Scouts, students looking for volunteer hours and the Helias girls soccer team. In addition, prison work release crews come out on the Tuesday before the sale starts to help haul the boxes of prepared books to the sale location at the St. Martin’s Knights of Columbus Hall.

Library volunteers Roberta and Robert Gumm enjoy sorting through the donated books, which is quite a weeding process in itself. Books have the same detailed care going into sections of westerns, teens, children’s, reference and many other categories just like at the library. They love looking at the antique and collectible books, in which many collectors come to seek out at the annual book sale.

“The really old books with history are fun to see,” Roberta said. “We have seen first edition and autographed books come in for the sale.”

If the books are really soiled or beat up,
they are discarded or recycled. The Gumms said the library also donates books, taking books leftover from the sale to Gateway Industries sheltered workshop in Eldon for additional repair.

This year the library has been blessed with ample donations. The library is planning a few pop-up book sales to sell books in a few genres that they have more than what can be placed and sold at the annual book sale. The first pop-up book sale will feature adult hardback and paperback fiction, mystery and romance, and is scheduled from noon-6 p.m. Jan. 26, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Jan. 27 and 1-5 p.m. Jan. 28 at the Missouri River Regional Library’s art gallery.

Books that live a part of their life at the Missouri River Regional Library may not stay there indefinitely. However, while they are there and even when they leave, these books live a life full of attentive treatment, respect and enjoyment from those reading and caring for them.

“We value our collection and want our patrons to value it, too. Cole County and Jefferson City have entrusted us with these funds, and we want to protect what we have bought for them,” Morehouse added.

For more information, call the Missouri River Regional Library at 573-634-2464 or visit

Story by Samantha Pogue  •  Photos by Julie Smith

Bring books home from upcoming sales

Pop-Up Book Sale 

Dates: Jan. 26-28

Times: Noon-6 p.m. (Jan. 26), 9 a.m.-5 p.m. (Jan. 27), 1-5 p.m. (Jan. 28)

Location: Missouri River Regional Library art gallery, 214 Adams St., Jefferson City

What you’ll find: Hardback and paperback adult fiction, suspense and romance books.

Missouri River Regional Library/ABLE Annual Book Sale 

Dates: March 14-17

Times: 4-8 p.m. (March 14), 9 a.m.-8 p.m. (March 15-16), 9 a.m.-1 p.m. (March 17)

Location: St. Martin’s Knights of Columbus Hall, 537 State Route T, Jefferson City

What you’ll find: More than 200,000 books spanning all genres including collectible, first edition, adult fiction and nonfiction, children’s media and more.

Extending a Book’s Life

Broken bindings are a common book malady, but fortunately, they can be quickly and easily repaired in a few simple steps. Tiffany Dixon demonstrates the process, which she performs many times a day to keep the library’s collection in good condition and ready for all patrons.

Repairing a book's broken binding
(Photo by Julie Smith) Tiffany Dixon cuts a glue strip to repair a book's binding.
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