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2017 adult fiction stock quality health check for NSW public libraries


In 2011 the adult fiction Stock Quality Health Check was done to explore depth and breadth in NSW public libraries.  It comprised five hundred titles, within genre clusters. These were representative across designated areas of reading interest which indicate the breadth and depth of an adult fiction collection in New South Wales. They were indicative titles rather than prescriptive, and not a list for purchase.  Each author had only one title in the list.  This was done to increase the diversity being investigated.  The novels had to be written targeting adults, not, for example young adult titles which are read by adults as these would be addressed in another way.

When the adult fiction stock quality health check was available in 2011, 32 libraries across NSW participated.  Thirteen of these were libraries from the metropolitan area, while the other nineteen were from country areas, including five regional libraries.


It was decided to revisit this methodology to help libraries explore their collections. In September 2016 an expression of interest was sent to NSW public library email lists encouraging NSW public library staff to participate in a working group to plan an adult fiction stock quality health check.  Collections and readers’ advisory staff were sought from libraries of different sizes. 17 people volunteered, and because of the range of skills all were accepted.  This brought involvement from libraries in a range of sizes and locations.

Thanks to:  Martin Mantle, Armidale Regional Council Library,  Svetlana (Lana) Aksenova, Big Sky Libraries,  Kerry-Ann Prideaux, Burwood Library,  Tracey Craig, Central Coast Libraries,  Gabriele Winter, City of Canada Bay Library Service,  Martyn Williams, Clarence Regional Library,  Jessie Kane, Coffs Harbour City Library,  Jennifer Moss, Ku-ring-gai Library,  Anne Moten, Lake Macquarie City Library,  Scotia Tracey, Lithgow Library Learning Centre,  Jennifer Blume, Maitland City Library,  Patricia Annetts, Newcastle Region Library,  Wendy Ford, Northern Beaches Libraries,  Nicole Lonesborough, Shoalhaven Libraries,  Kaye Johnson, Sutherland Shire Libraries and Information Services,  Cheryl Woodward, Willoughby City Library,  Laurie Popple, Wollongong City Libraries  for their enthusiasm for this work.  Thanks also to the public libraries these staff are from as this enabled their participation.

For the 2017 project the previous list and size of each genre was not consulted as it was felt better to look at things without being influenced by the earlier stock quality check.  This was a suggestion from the project steering committee.

The group met together on 15 February 2017 to discuss likely genres to include in the 500 titles, and then started suggesting authors and titles. After this meeting the information was placed on the NSW public library readers’ advisory wiki with a page per possible genre.  This way library staff across NSW could add their suggestions to the lists as well as suggest other genres or names for some general topic areas.  It also showed if there were suggested genres which were a better fit combined with another topic.

At the meeting in February there was discussion about the kind of authors and titles to include. This list is to help libraries check the depth and breadth of their adult fiction, so it was important that a wide range of writers was included.  It needed to include new as well as established writers as public libraries should have a mix of styles in their collection. It was decided by the group that generally publications should be newer, and ideally still in print. This last point took a lot of checking by a small number of the steering group, especially Lana Aksenova, Anne Moten and Gabrielle Winter.

On 2 May there was a meeting to decide on which 500 titles would be indicative for adult fiction health. The size of the genres varied based on proportions which public library staff felt were representative of their collections.

These divisions were to make it simpler for libraries to explore their collection strengths. The steering group acknowledged that the genres such as Indigenous were totally artificial as the writing within this fits in many genres.  The separate genre was done to make sure that public libraries were including fiction by Aboriginal and Torres Strait writers.  If these writers were scattered through other genres, this would be harder to track.  As well as the Aboriginal and Torres Strait writers included in the Indigenous section, others were included elsewhere.  Similarly, with fiction by or about Lesbian Gay Bisexual Queer Transgender Intersex (LGBQTI) people it was thought important for these works not to be lost or buried.  This is also true for short stories as their content is across many genres, but it was important that this format was included.  Graphic novels, because they are a format rather than a genre, were included in several genres. It was decided to try and have near even numbers of female and male writers on the list.

There were discussions about criteria for particular genres, for example romance had to have a happy ending (happy ever after or happy for now).  Novels which included elements of romance but did not have happy endings was placed in other genres.  The aim was to include novels with different appeal characteristics and styles. This is an indicative list not a shopping list, so if a library had a lower rating in a particular genre they were encouraged to have a look at that part of their collection in more depth and see if they need to do more work in that area.  It was also decided that each author should only have one title on the list.  If the author uses pseudonyms it was still one title for all of the output of an author.


Sixty three libraries from all over NSW provided their results. No library held all 500 titles.  One library held 499 titles, just missing one of the horror ones, see table 1 on spreadsheet for a detailed coverage. The data is available for each council, but has been coded for anonymity.  The Australian Classification of Local Governments (see Appendix 3) was used, except for Regional libraries (libraries which are formed because of a formal agreement between two or more councils) which were given a separate classification of RL

The genres which were strongest in public libraries were action/adventure, Australian, classics, crime and sagas. The genres more libraries struggled with were LGBQTI, gentle reads, horror, Indigenous, science fiction, short stories and Westerns.

spreadsheet showing top holdings for adult stock quality health check

Top holdings for adult stock quality health check

What happens now?

While this short report looks at the state wide view, there is work for individual libraries to do.  Each library should be looking at how they scored, and in genres where their scores were lower, do a more detailed exploration looking at what they hold and where are their gaps.  To help this work, talks by genre specialists will be organized to assist all libraries with their genre understanding.  These will be by videoconference and be recorded, so that they are available to as many library staff as possible.  This will be taking a collection focus to help all libraries, regardless of their size and budget improve their collections.

The libraries with the highest total percentage of holdings have been contacted to discuss their acquisition methods.  From early discussions, the libraries with the highest percentage of holdings use a combination of standing orders (reviewed each year) and direct selection.  These were the consistent variables. You can have a look at the results by downloading the spreadsheet, below.  It also shows the complete list of titles. 

Contact Ellen Forsyth with any questions about this.