Frequently Asked Questions About Books and Reading

Answers to the questions that we receive most often about books and reading.

If your question does not appear below, or on the ALA Library Fact Sheets or on the Ask the ALA Librarian Blog or the American Library Association FAQs (Frequently Answered Questions), check with your own local public library or neighborhood community college library, or contact the ALA Library directly at (800) 545-2433, extension 2153, or via e-mail to library@ala.org.

If you're looking to get a book you wrote into all the libraries across the country, please see Frequently Asked Questions from Authors and Publishers.

Q. I have some books I no longer want. How can I donate them to libraries?

A. ALA does not accept or distribute donations of books or any other materials. We do have information on book donation programs. You can view this information online on ALA Library Fact Sheet 12, Sending Books to Needy Libraries: Book Donation Programs.

Q. I have a rather old, rare book and I'd like to find out how much it's worth.

A. Please see the online version of the ALA brochure, "Your Old Books," for further assistance. Also see the Frequently Asked Questions page on the web site of the Antiquarian Booksellers' Association of America (ABAA), which includes the question, How much is my book worth? And see the Appraisals page of the ALA Professional Tips Wiki for additional resources, including links to the websites of professional appraiser organizations which let you conduct "Find an Appraiser" online directory searches.

Q. How many books were read last year?

A. There is no reliable way to obtain this information. The closest reliable statistic is the figure for the "Reading books" leisure activity which appears in the Statistical Abstract of the United States published annually by the U.S. Census Bureau (until 2011). The Statistical Abstract series is available online and the tables reporting statistics appear as Adobe Reader PDF documents. See the Arts, Recreation, & Travel: Recreation and Leisure Activities section of the 2012 edition of the publication, to find Table 1240. Adult Participation in Selected Leisure Activities by Frequency: 2010 (PDF), which reported that 37.9% of the American population, approximately 87 million adults, participated in the leisure activity, "reading books," in the previous 12 months -- and 2.4% of the American population, approximately 6 million adults, participated in the leisure activity, "reading comic books," in the previous 12 months--! Of the lengthy list of leisure activities in the table, "Reading books" came in third highest, behind "Dining out" (49.3%) and "Entertain friends or relatives at home" (38.3%), and just ahead of "Barbecuing" (34.7%) and "Go to beach" (25.7%) -- and "Baking" (25.3%).

Q. What are the most popular books checked out of libraries?

A. Up until 2004, there was no way to obtain this information. Library circulation statistics are collected at the dry numerical level with no accompanying details, such as the title of the book or whether it's fiction or nonfiction. However, starting with the June 1, 2004 issue, the non-ALA library trade magazine, Library Journal (LJ), introduced LJ's Bestsellers: The Books Most Borrowed in U.S. Libraries, for both fiction and nonfiction book titles. Editor Francine Fialkoff explained in her 6/1/2004 editorial, "128 Years Young," that the bestseller list is "based on aggregated statistics for circulation and holds from public libraries of all sizes around the country. We want to thank the vendors (GIS Information Systems, TLC, and Sirsi) as well as all the individual institutions (which will remain anonymous) whose statistics make this list possible." Regular updates to the Library Journal's Best Sellers Lists - Fiction and Library Journal's Best Sellers Lists - Non-Fiction ceased with the week of October 15, 2009.

After a noted absence, the LJ Best Sellers list has returned but is published less often. At present: "Library Journal’s Best Sellers is compiled from data on books borrowed and requested (placed on hold) at public libraries throughout the United States. It includes statistics from urban, suburban, and rural libraries. We thank the many contributing libraries as well as The Library Corporation (TLC), Polaris Library Systems, and SirsiDynix. (c) Copyright 2012 Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc." The latest edition was posted May 18, 2012, LJ Best Sellers, May 15, 2012 | The books most borrowed in U.S. libraries.

Q. I'm looking for the Books That Shaped America List.

A. Actually, it was the Library of Congress, not the American Library Association, that created the Books That Shaped America List, which is actually the 88 titles selected to be part of their "Books That Shaped America" exhibition, running June 25 - September 29, 2012. The exhibition marked the beginning of a multiyear "Celebration of the Book," a series of programs, symposia and other events that explore the important and varied ways that books influence our lives. You can find the list and additional resources on the Library of Congress website:

Books That Shaped America
http://www.loc.gov/bookfest/books-that-shaped-america

Q. I'm looking for the 100 Best Novels List.

A. Actually, it was the Modern Library, which is part of the Random House Publishing Group, which put together this list, not the American Library Association. You can find the list, as well as its nonfiction accompaniment, on the following web pages:

Modern Library: 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century
http://www.modernlibrary.com/top-100

Modern Library: 100 Best Nonfiction of the 20th Century
http://www.modernlibrary.com/top-100/100-best-nonfiction

 

Q. I read a news story back in August 2004 about ALA having a list of the most frequently re-read books in libraries.

A. In 2004, an Associated Press reporter asked the American Library Association what were the 10 most frequently re-read books in America's libraries. We responded that there was no data available on this question, but we offered to put the question to a panel, an ad hoc group of librarians and library book review editors with decades of experience working with books in libraries and with public library users coast-to-coast. This work was coordinated by Neal Wyatt, a past chair of the Collection Development and Evaluation Section of the Reference and User Services Association (RUSA, a division of ALA).

The books on the list were not ranked and were based on the panelists' professional judgment and knowledge of reading and publishing habits and trends. Further, the panelists acknowledged that religious texts were likely re-read all the time, but decided not to include them on the list, as doing so would be deemed more of a religious than literary judgment. The intent of the list was to select the 10 most re-read novels, plays, poetry, and short stories.

Listed below is the Top 10 Most Re-Read Books List created in July 2004 by the panel:

  • J.R.R. Tolkien - The Lord of the Rings

  • Charles Dickens - A Christmas Carol

  • Harper Lee - To Kill a Mockingbird

  • Shakespeare's collected works

  • F. Scott Fitzgerald - The Great Gatsby

  • Jane Austen - Pride and Prejudice

  • J.K. Rowling - Harry Potter series

  • Laura Ingalls Wilder - Little House on the Prairie series

  • A.A. Milne - Winnie the Pooh

  • Alice Walker - The Color Purple


Top 10 Most Re-Read Books List Panel:

  • Neal Wyatt, librarian (Chesterfield County Public Library in Virginia) and past chair of the ALA's Collection Development and Evaluation Section (CODES)

  • Nancy Pearl, librarian (Seattle Public Library) and author of Book Lust: Recommended Reading for Every Mood, Moment, and Reason

  • Joyce Saricks, librarian (Downers Grove Public Library in Illinois) and author of The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction

  • Ginger Armstrong, librarian (Chesterfield County Public Library in Virginia) and member of the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA, a division of ALA)

  • Book review editors from library trade magazine, Booklist, published by the American Library Association

  • Book review editors from non-ALA library trade magazine, Library Journal

 

ALA committee members do regularly compile a variety of book lists and reading lists for library patrons of all ages, including children, teens, and adults, which can be found on ALA Library Fact Sheet 23: Recommended Reading, at:
http://www.ala.org/readinglists

Also see the collection of reading lists from various online library, news, and reading sources that the ALA Library has bookmarked at Delicious.com.

 

Last updated: July 2012