Stephen Sposato: Curating for 1.7 million patrons at Chicago Public Libraries

Anyone who works in the book industry is, in a sense, a content curator. But a curatorial eye looks different for different segments of the industry: for agents, marketing departments, booksellers, critics, and influencers. 


Chicago Public Library – Harold Washington Library Center

Stephen Sposato, Manager of Content Curation at Chicago Public Libraries told NetGalley Insights how he and his team think about their roles as curators for their community, and which resources they use to make sure that they are best meeting their patrons’ needs. 

Unlike an independent bookstore, which caters to the current interests of a neighborhood, librarians need to consider a wider demographic and a different set of needs. With 80 locations, over 2.6 million books in circulation, and 1.7 million patrons, Sposato and his team are curating for a massive and diverse community.  

Sposato told Insights, “We’re expected to provide access to books for a lot longer (sometimes even after they’re out of print). We also tend to offer materials people need for short term help but don’t particularly want to own, such as resume books, SAT prep books, or books on dieting and fitness. The public expects us to offer access to all books in perpetuity, but the reality is we have limited resources and must make choices every day about the collection, and so librarians are curators in this sense.”

Here are the resources that Sposato and his team use to curate the offerings for Chicago Public Libraries.

Data

“We actually order most new mainstream books because we serve a large city and we can count on wide demand. For us the trick is to correctly anticipate the level of demand and to order the right number of copies. We check the previous track record of the authors of new books and look at the performance of similar books. We are committed to stocking a collection that is “current, diverse and responsive,” as it states in our library’s most recent strategic plan, and at the same time we need to be fiscally responsible with our funding.”

Industry recommendations

“We stay on top of the coverage of forthcoming and new books pretty well. Aside from the opportunities I just mentioned, publishers work with library distributors like Ingram and Baker & Taylor who helpfully create lists of forthcoming titles each month. And librarians across the country also discuss forthcoming titles on social media and contribute to the monthly LibraryReads list of the top 10 titles recommended for readers each month.”

*Librarians from NetGalley can nominate books for LibraryReads directly within their account!

Library Marketing teams 

“We don’t have as much direct contact as we could ideally, but the bigger publishing houses and some of the mid-size publishers have staff devoted to library marketing, and we receive regular email newsletters from them, as well as notices about forthcoming books, including some access to advance copies. When we can attend professional conferences, there are often opportunities to see them present forthcoming books in person and meet with them in exhibitor booths. We also receive some catalogs by mail. Our publisher reps also tend to be extremely helpful when we contact them with requests by email.

We’ve had great success with publishers sponsoring author visits, and we’ve even started experimenting with “book buzz” events for the public as when Penguin Random House came and pitched new books directly to our patrons or we invited smaller local publishers to showcase their newest titles. We also had the opportunity to partner with Macmillan recently who worked with a mystery book club at one of our branches to promote some new mystery titles.”

Sposato hopes to expand his collaborations with publishers. “With the demise of some big [bookstore] chains over the last couple decades, there are fewer physical places for people to discover new books, movies and music.  We see libraries playing an increasing role in discovery, and we think that’s of long-term benefit to publishers, so more dialogue would be great. I’d also like to see more proactive inclusion of libraries when launching books of local appeal: we need to know about big Chicago books before anyone else. And while book stores tend to be found in the wealthiest neighborhoods in order to have the best chance of survival, we have a presence in more diverse neighborhoods. We love it when publishers are open to discussing the needs we see throughout our entire society.”


How do you or your marketing team work with regional librarians? Email us at insights@netgalley.com. We’d love to feature your strategies!

Stephen Sposato is the manager of Content Curation at Chicago Public Library, overseeing selection and readers’ advisory. He has over fifteen years of experience in collection development and readers’ advisory. He has written for Library Journal as a reviewer and as a contributor to the Reader’s Shelf column. He has provided extensive RA training, given presentations at BookExpo, the Illinois Library Association and the American Library Association, and currently serves as a member of the Board of Directors for LibraryReads. You can find him on Twitter at @stephensposato.

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