November 19, 2017

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The Love of Reading Writ Large: Curating and Promoting Large Print Collections

How savvy librarians are curating and promoting their large print collections, and boosting reading among those with print challenges and frustrations

By John Parsons

Serving the public good has long been the mandate of all libraries. Providing everyone with access to information, without regard to income or demographic differences, is perhaps a library’s most noble aspiration. For patrons with visual challenges, this has meant providing books in multiple formats, including large print.

Large print books are not a mystery; changing things like font size, leading, and pagination are routine tasks for book publishers. However, this does entail higher costs. A typical large print book will cost $32-$35, compared to $22-$25 for its regular equivalent, according to Deborah George, Division Director, Materials Management, at the Gwinnett County (Georgia) Library. This is due to many factors, including shorter press runs and binding requirements. Some of these costs are being driven down by Print On Demand (POD), but prices are likely to remain higher, especially for front list titles.

The Selection Process

Given the price differential and budget realities, libraries must be highly selective when ordering large print for their collections. George described her process, which was similar to that of other librarians we interviewed. Bestsellers and other popular titles are prominent. Because seniors represent a high percentage of large print readers, certain types of nonfiction books also stand out, including financial planning and healthcare. Biography and history are also prominent.

Just because large print readers tend to be seniors, however, doesn’t mean that certain fixed topics are the only criteria. George also relies on holds and specific requests from patrons. Feedback from the website typically includes 350-400 book requests per month, she noted, about 5% of which specify large print.

Large print selection also benefits from a multitude of general online sources, including LibraryReads and EarlyWord, according to Lisa Marie Joyce, Outreach Librarian at the Portland (Maine) Public Library. These and other sources include format options like large print. Joyce and her colleagues typically discuss recommend new titles to one another, based on their history with patron preferences.

One of the most reliable predictors of large print title desirability is a “high demand holds” report, generated in Sierra or other Integrated Library Systems (ILS), according to Wendy Bartlett, Collection Development and Acquisitions Manager, Cuyahoga County (Ohio) Public Library.

Readers of large print are not all that different from other readers. They typically read for pleasure, prefer bestsellers, and are likely to read books that are part of a series. Tamara Faulkner, Outreach Coordinator at the Hickory (North Carolina) Public Library noted that large print readers tend to like mysteries, “sweet and spicy” romances, clean and/or Christian fiction, as well as literature, biography, general nonfiction, and so-called “man books”—thrillers, chillers, and shooters. “They may be older,” she said, “but they’re not dead.”

Obstacles and Opportunities

Almost everyone we interviewed remarked that simultaneous release (or at least predictable, and closer release) of large print titles with their regular counterparts ranked high on their wish list. For popular titles and authors, this is less of a problem, but with other titles they often had to manage patron expectations.

Many publishers are increasingly open to large print requests and curation data from librarians. Bartlett described the ongoing relationship with large print publisher Thorndike Press, as an example. During regular meetings with sales reps, her lists of requested titles (and presumably other librarians’ lists) are increasingly being used for planning purposes—potentially reducing the gap between the main release and the large print version.

Large Print Promotion

As librarians and publishers increasingly share their data, the opportunities for promotion are increasing. Bartlett uses publisher data on upcoming books in her regular communications with patrons. As that data become more detailed and transparent, it will be possible to communicate the availability of large print versions, or provide automatic updates as the release date approaches.

The Cuyahoga Library’s “best sellers” handout is a case in point. Upcoming titles are accompanied by icons indicating the availability of alternate formats, including large print.

LJ_03212016_WritLarge

Currently the handout is print-only, but Bartlett agreed that electronic versions with links to an ILS hold request would be a logical next step.

All the librarians we interviewed promoted their large print collections effectively. Some of the techniques included:

  • Better spine labels, with larger type and prominent genre indicators
  • More prominent book display and signage, including placement next to the front entrance or checkout area and adjacent to comfortable seating
  • Bookstore-like display, including out facing front covers, more space, and not using the upper or lower shelf (respecting patrons’ mobility issues)
  • Placement near a staffed information or checkout desk, to encourage questions and requests

The library website is also a prime promotion opportunity. In addition to the online catalog and specific bestseller and book series pages, library websites also feature book discussions where large print is a vital component. Some libraries also use social media as an adjunct to their large print promotions. Hickory Library’s Faulkner uses both Facebook and Twitter to promote newly released books and format availability.

The large print book reader can also be a younger person who just can’t wait for the regular version. Regardless, a well-curated large print collection makes the library a more valuable community resource, providing much-needed material regardless of age or the acuity of one’s vision.

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Comments

  1. I have found it increasingly difficult to find large print for children/teens at a reasonable (less than 40) price point. I find that most conversations around large print don’t address that people under 18 also need these books, and those books are hardest to find.