Life Cycle of a Book

Written by: 
GCLD Staff

Have you ever wondered how libraries get all those books, DVDs, audio-books, and even magazines on the shelves? While you probably know how to find something on our shelves, you may have never even thought about the process libraries use to get them there for you. As an individual, you can go to a bookstore, buy a bestseller and have it on your own bookshelf the same day. Getting a library book on the shelf so that everyone can easily find it is a lot more complicated.

Part 1 Materials Selection

When you come to the library or go to a bookstore it is pretty easy to browse the shelves for something of interest. Unfortunately, we don’t have that luxury in the library world. Most books, DVDs, audio books, etc. are ordered sight unseen from distributors and publishers. Sometimes we are surprised when we actually receive them – pleasantly or otherwise. We recently received a children’s board book about elephants that was actually in the shape of an elephant! This was a pleasant surprise and certainly added to the child appeal of the book – however, this was never mentioned in the review. Likewise, we are occasionally disappointed in the physical item as well. DVD cases and book bindings are sometimes flimsy, and we know it won’t be long before we have to replace the case or the book entirely.

There are hundreds and hundreds of book published every month, and deciding what to actually order with limited funds is not always easy. For popular fiction authors like James Patterson or Mary Higgins Clark, we use what distributors call “standing orders.” We currently have 214 authors on our Grand County Library District standing order list for adult fiction, and are alerted every month when one of these authors has published a new book. We also know which authors are popular in which branches so that we can order accordingly – sometimes we order multiple copies of the same title and sometimes we may order only one copy.

For all other purchases we rely on reviews in respected sources like Library Journal, Booklist, Publishers Weekly, The New York Times, The Denver Post and other similar publications. We also follow media reviews, book tours, and often receive requests or recommendations from our patrons. You can make a purchase suggestion right on our GCLD website under the “Books & More” tab – click on “Suggest a Title for Purchase.” Library staff carefully assesses all sources for quality, popularity, need and potential demand in Grand County. Selection is a time consuming but necessary process in ensuring we get the materials on the shelf that you want to read, listen to and view.

Part 2 Ordering

Putting in an order, it’s simple right? Don’t you just make a list and say this is what we want and it’s done? Unfortunately it’s not as easy as that to order items for the libraries.

To order for five libraries there are many things to take into consideration:

  • We need to order all types of books for different ages. Just for kids we have board books for babies, picture books for preschoolers, beginning readers and so on. Then there are all of the DVDs and audio books for different ages.
  • Since we have five libraries we like the items to all be delivered directly to each library and we want them to come fully processed and cataloged, ready to go on the shelf.

What does fully processed mean?

  • For a hardcover book with a book jacket, to be fully processed means: there is a barcode on the front of the book jacket, there is a spine label on the spine of the book jacket, there is a Mylar cover to protect the book jacket and it is taped to the book. A paperback book has a barcode on the front of the book with a label protector covering it, a spine label on the spine of the book and the book’s spine is taped. Audio books are put into plastic cases with CD pages and the barcode and spine label are put in place on the plastic case. This is what full processing includes, and it takes a lot of time.

What is cataloging?

  • Basically cataloging is attaching an item to a bibliographic record. A bibliographic record generally includes: author, title, ISBN, publisher, description, subjects and keywords. There are bibliographic records for all types of books, audio books, DVDs, music CDs, magazines, downloadable audio and e-books, etc. Having a good bibliographic record means you have a better chance of finding what you are looking for when you search the library’s online catalog.

    So when we put all of this information together for our supplier, we can finally make our orders. Only then can you find all of the new books, DVDs, audio books, magazines, music in your local library.

Part 3 Cataloging and Processing

Earlier in this series, we described how easy it is for someone to buy a bestseller and have it ready-to-read on the bookshelf all in the same day. As you will see in this article, the process of getting a book, audio book or DVD on the shelf in the library, so that everyone can easily find it, is a lot more complicated.

The first step in getting library materials to the shelf is cataloging.  Cataloging involves a description of the item: i.e. author, title, publisher, copyright date, number of pages, size, ISBN, etc. Most of our materials are also owned by other Colorado libraries and available through Marmot or Prospector.  For them to be searchable, we need to make sure that our items are listed under the correct cataloging record.  You may have noticed that there are sometimes multiple listings for the same title in the Online Public Access Catalog (OPAC); this is because books and other media have different ISBN numbers depending on format, edition, and publication date.  The unique ISBN (International Standard Bibliographic Number) is the key to identification of all forms of published media and key to correct cataloging.

Cataloging also involves providing local information about a given item.  This includes a unique barcode number, location information, and a call number. All of this cataloging information makes it easier for you to locate the materials you want via the OPAC or on the shelf.  At you can see if an item is on order, checked out, on the shelf in your local branch, or available by request from libraries outside of Grand County via Marmot or Prospector.  In the end, cataloging provides our customers with a wealth of information regarding availability of our library materials.

After an item is cataloged there is still one step left before library materials can actually be put on the shelves.  In the library world we call this step “processing.”  This involves adding a unique branch barcode number to the item, applying call number labels, taping spines of paperbacks, covering hardback dustcovers with a Mylar jacket, placing audio books in plastic cases with individual sleeves for each disc, and applying a property stamp or genre and “new” stickers where applicable.  All of these processing steps serve to both protect library materials and help you actually find them on our shelves.

Whether you visit your local library to browse the shelves and leave with a book in hand, or visit our virtual library at to request items outside of Grand County, the cataloging and processing procedures that go on behind the scenes are crucial to delivery of materials to our customers.

Part 4 Circulation

If you have been following this series on the “Life Cycle of a Book” you will know that we have covered materials selection, ordering, and processing and cataloging.  Circulation, or the borrowing and returning of library materials, cannot occur until all those processes have been completed.  Circulation is a huge part of what happens every day in a library, and it involves both library users and library staff.

The books, DVDs, audio books, etc. that are available on your library’s shelf can be checked out immediately.  Once you have made your choice, the barcodes are scanned at the self-check or circulation desk, a receipt is printed and you are on your way.  Loan periods can vary depending on the library and the item type.  In Grand County DVDs, magazines and music are loaned for only 1 week; all other materials are loaned for 3 weeks.  New materials may not be renewed due to popular demand.

If you find that something you want is already checked out, it can be placed on hold through our Online Public Access Catalog (OPAC).  This can be done in the library or at home via our website at  Holds are a common occurrence with new and popular items.  The OPAC will tell you how many holds already exist on an item so you can easily decide whether you want to wait. Once your hold is ready for pick up your will be notified.  Materials are re-shelved or put back into circulation if holds are not picked up within a specified number of days.

As part of the Marmot Library Western Slope Consortium and the Colorado Prospector interlibrary loan system, our Grand County Library District (GCLD) users have access to over 30 million items from all over the state.  These items can be placed on hold via our OPAC and are sent to your specified pickup location via a statewide library courier service.  If the items are on the shelf, they will usually be delivered within one week.  Loan periods for lending libraries vary and the respective due dates will be printed on the circulation receipt. 

When you return materials to a local branch or book drop, the barcode is scanned again during the check-in process by staff and your library card account is cleared. Items belonging to the return location can be shelved immediately.  Other items must be put in transit back to the owning location whether that is another GCLD branch or a library outside Grand County.  Between January and July of 2011 we checked out over 125,000 items for Grand County Library District, many sent to us by other libraries.  Make sure you take advantage of the many ways you can borrow with your GCLD library card.  Grand County Library District is bigger than you think.