A question came up on a library listserv I lurk at, asking about library policies and procedures on cataloging and circulating ARCs, and whether there were prohibitions. It’s a question I see asked every now and then, on listservs, blogs, or casual conversation.
I wonder — is there any other area that is so clear cut, yet so often ignored? Information about an ARC is on the ARC itself.
An “ARC”, often called a “Galley”, is an “advance review copy”. Briefly, it’s a bound paperback advance version of a book, printed by publishers to distribute to booksellers, librarians, and reviewers, to create buzz, reviews, and sales. It is not the final version of the book.
(Anyone wanting even more detailed information on ARCs, including publishers and authors weighing in on the issue, can read a two part posting I did at The Shelf Space Blog for ForeWord Magazine last spring.) EDITED 1/28/10 to add updated links to those two posts, which are now archived at my blog: ARCs Part 1, ARCs Part 2.
An ARC from Random House has the following on its cover: “Advance Reader’s Copy — Not For Sale.” The first page adds: “Attention, Reader: These are uncorrected advance proofs bound for review purposes,” and goes on to say size, page count, publication date, prices, and quotation are all subject to change. Little Brown’s ARC also has the “Not For Sale” on the cover and an interior note about quotes, dates, prices and other details being subject to change.
When I hear about libraries adding ARCs to their collections (or seriously raising that question) I wonder what they think an ARC is and what this language means?
Now, if you work at a research library and it’s important to your customers to see the various formats of a published book? I can see the reason to add an ARC to your research collection, so a researcher can see the ARC cover for Justine Larbalestier’s Liar and compare it to the final cover.
What I’m talking about is public libraries who add the ARC as if it is the final version. The reason given for this? “We don’t have a big budget.”
What messages does this send to your community?
First, you’re telling your customers that they don’t deserve the actual book. A book with grammar errors, misspellings, and different language from the final book is “good enough.” Imagine the student who goes to participate in a class discussion using your cataloged ARC and hinges a point on a chapter that was removed from the final product. Changes can be so substantial that most awards and selection lists explicitly say that the final version of the book must be read.
Second, you’re saying ethics are fluid and for other people. Oh yes, the books say Advance Reading Copy and “Not for Sale,” but wink, wink, we’re not selling it, are we? The reason the book was provided by the publisher to your library or to your librarian was for them to determine whether to purchase it to add to your collection; it was not provided as a donation to your library collection.
What can you do with ARCs? Assuming they are still in good condition — the binding on ARCs is poor, and I’ve had pages fall out as I’ve read them — they can be passed along to other librarians who, like you, will use them to assist in collection development or review; or, can be passed along to teenagers. If you do give ARCs to teens, just be clear that they know what it is — and isn’t; and ask for their feedback. It’s a great way for readers to undestand a bit more about the publishing industry that creates the books they read. Teens who love, like, or hate an ARC can help you decide how many copies to buy or whether to wait for the paperback edition.