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.

About Liz Burns

Liz is the Youth Services Consultant for the New Jersey State Library's Library for the Blind and Handicapped. Liz is active in YALSA and in the YA Services Section of the New Jersey Library Association. She was a member of the 2009 Michael L. Printz Award Committee. Along with co-author Sophie Brookover, she wrote Pop Goes the Library: Using Pop Culture To Connect With Your Whole Community, published in 2008 by Information Today. Liz blogs at Pop Goes the Library (www.popgoesthelibrary.com) and Tea Cozy (yzocaet.blogspot.com). She holds an MLIS from Rutgers University, SCILS, and a JD from Villanova Law School, Villanova University. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is her favorite television show. Ever. Her favorite book is... well, it's impossible to pick just one. Or two. Or ten.

7 Thoughts on “But Can I Catalog It?

  1. Thanks for posting about this! As a librarian, I find it VERY frustrating that people in my field are misusing ARCs. I went to BEA in May and got about 30 YA ARCs, and I was discouraged that SO many people, upon finding out that I am a librarian, said ‘you know you can’t put that in your library, right?’ Yes, I do know that, I do read the front cover of the ARC! I use them to help with collection development, I pass them onto to my teens, who find it absolutely thrilling to have an advance copy! I have been reading/sharing my ARCs and it’s such a rewarding experience to be able to do this.

    I hope in the future, librarians will realize what a privilege it is to receive ARCs, and they will use them in the right ways.

  2. The only questionable thing I’ve done with ARCs is to put them out on the sale table. I decided it’s ok to do that because indie bookstores do.

  3. Putting an ARC in your library collection or selling it is stealing from the publisher. Then you complain that book prices are too high?

  4. Scholastic’s started putting a lovely notice in their ARCs: “…If you wish to thoughtfully dispose of this bound galley after your review has run and the published book has gone on sale, please consider donating it to deserving children or a charitable organization of your choice where it can reach those in need.” I’ve started contacting local youth shelters and offering them ARCs for in-shelter collections — both the residents and administrators are thrilled to have them, and I make sure they know that they are not to be sold under any circumstances.

  5. Heather Booth on September 4, 2009 at 12:18 pm said:

    Nice to know about Scholastic’s notice! I frequently donate ARCs to a dialysis unit. The patients have really gotten into it, some bringing in their own books to share around. So, they have helped to create a sense of community in a bleak situation. There are dialysis units everywhere – another option to think about when you look at your stack of old ARCs.

  6. Catherine Lemmer on November 20, 2009 at 9:42 am said:

    Seeking current like to your two part article on cataloging ARC items
    Thank you

  7. ForeWord has removed that part of its website (ah, Internet!) I will be reposting them at my personal blog later this year, but if anyone wants them in the meanwhile, you can email me at lizzy.burns at gmail

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