Publishers catalogues are one of the ways that publishing houses advertise their merchandise, and "have as their purpose to make it easier for potential purchasers to buy the books" (Gorman 1989,260). They come in many different forms, including microform, print, and many are now available online, with most offering user-friendly websites that allow searching by subject, author, title, and ISBN. Publishing houses issue catalogues on both annual and seasonal basis. In addition, they employ a series of advertising blurbs or flyers to showcase particular items that offer details on upcoming materials, along with the price. The citations also include an author's full name, complete title information, ISBN, date of publication, physical description, including whether it is a hardbound or paperback, and edition. Publishers catalogues are invaluable tools because many provide individualized summaries of available books, giving good overviews of content and style. One librarian has said that:
We realize, of course, that these are promotional materials, but in many instances they summarize contents very succinctly, and through this summary we get a pretty good idea of whether or not we wish to pursue our interest in the book (Katz 1980,147).
They have been likened to mini trade bibliographies that provide a great way for finding new titles to add to a collection (Chapman 1989,24-25). Primarily they are used to alert librarians of material that is currently available on the market for them to buy, but cannot be used as an evaluative tool since they are simply a means to sell a variety of a company's inventory (Gorman 1989,261). They should be used with reviews if they are available (Katz 1980,148). Many librarians will scan publishers catalogues for particular authors they know and will select on that basis alone, since waiting for reviews is often impossible (Katz 1980,147). Due to the numbers of books released each year, many never undergo the review process, while many evaluations do not appear for a long time (Katz 1989,148). This can be problematic for librarians because waiting for a review that may never come could mean missing out on a book. As Liz Chapman points out:
The commissioning, editing, printing, and storing of books is an increasingly expensive business. Because of this publishers do not plan to hold large stocks of books in their warehouses. They may well expect a print-run to last as short a time as two years and to sell the bulk of the stock in the first year. This has obvious repercussions for book-buying for libraries (Chapman 1989,25).
That is the great merit of publishers catalogues -- they let librarians know that a book has been published, or that one will be, in the future.
It is really enjoyable to browse through the advertisements and to read some of the lengthy book summaries. It is easy to see why librarians use them for selection. There are some other advantages as well. For example, collection development tools such as Books in Print may not have all the preorder publishing information needed, so librarians can consult catalogues for additional details such as the verification of ISBNs (Grieder 1978,69). It is also a quick method for selecting material, is the "first glimpse at books to come", and offers a chance to order materials before stocks run out (Katz 1980,147).
Of course, there are many inherent difficulties with using these catalogues for collection development. For instance, sometimes the prices will change without notification; titles will be sold out even if librarians act quickly; and since no authority control is used in listing authors' names, librarians cannot rely on title page information (Carter 1974,229-230). In addition, there is a problem with the colossal amount of information that publishers send librarians. If they feel bombarded and overwhelmed, it is likely that catalogues will simply be thrown away, and good books overlooked.
One of the most problematic realities of using publishing information is in relation to the practice of releasing information on items that are not yet available, or may not even be written. Sometimes, an item that a librarian is really interested in getting may never be published, or may end up appearing with another company. Finally, although newer materials are headlined, publishers have a variety of definitions for 'new' which librarians need to be aware of. The following has been compiled by Liz Chapman (p.28):
Librarians must be cautious not to duplicate any of the books already in their collections.
Publishers catalogues can be important for collection development if used with caution, keeping in mind they are simply alerting tools and can provide no legitimate evaluative information. They are not comprehensive lists of books available in any given subject area, but what they lack in extensiveness, they make up for in currentness. Overall, publishers catalogues should be used to find out about new titles, and for details needed by librarians.
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