A Sudden Burst in Popularity: Unexpected Requests for Old Titles

April 24, 2019

When news breaks, the library is sometimes the first place people go. Take, for example, the recent fire at the Cathedral of Notre Dame. The day it occurred the library created a display of all its books about or set at the Cathedral. Some of these were architectural in nature (and, admittedly, are probably now all outdated thanks to the conflagration). Others were works of fiction with titles like The Madonna of Notre Dame or The House on Quai Notre Dame. Yet the book that went out the most, without question was Victor Hugo’s classic The Hunchback of NotreDame. It got me to thinking about how the national news affects a library’s circulation. Our job is to have the information you need when you need it at the moment you need it. When does the library do this most? I’ve identified some key indicators:

Whenever Anybody Dies

Sort of a given. Nobody’s checking out Jules Feiffer’s memoir Backing Into Forward at the moment, for example, but if he were to die tomorrow I have no doubt it would suddenly find itself on the high holds list. In 2019 alone we’ve seen an increase in requests for the books of or about Donald Hall, Mary Oliver, and Karl Lagerfeld, amongst others.

Unexpected Movie/TV Adaptations

Every day I receive a newsletter that alerts me to every single literary property being adapted to the big and little screen. Even so, it’s difficult to tell which of these will turn out to be massively popular, as when the television adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle turned into a cultural phenomenon. Documentaries can be even more difficult. When HBO released The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley about Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes, suddenly the book Bad Blood : Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup, by John Carreyrou, which had waned in popularity in the last month or so, was back on the high holds list. 


Finally, there are the scandals that just can’t be beat. The recent college admissions scandal certainly led to an increase in checkouts of books about the fraught world of high-end universities. But it was the A.J. Finn piece in The New Yorker (called A Suspense Novelist’s Trail of Deceptions) that ironically caused a resurgence in interest in Dan Mallory’s The Woman in the Window.

All we need is a scandalous death turned into an unexpectedly successful moving or TV adaptation and we’ll hit the triumvirate for sure!


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