The Life of a Library Book

Julia Rittenberg

Senior Contributor

Julia is a professional nerd who can be spotted in the wild lounging with books in the park in Brooklyn, NY. She has a BA in International Studies from the University of Chicago and an MA in Media Studies from Pratt Institute. She loves fandom, theater, cheese, and Edith Piaf. Find her at

Nightfire, publisher of Sundial

All Rob wanted was a normal life. She almost got it, too. But when her oldest daughter, Callie, exhibits the same darkness Rob remembers from the childhood she left behind at Sundial, the mother and daughter embark on a dark, desert journey to the past in the hopes of redeeming their future.

Before a book becomes a library book, it must first become a book. An idea germinates in an author. If they’re going into traditional publishing, the author queries agents for a certain length of time (it varies), and then their agent shops the book around the publishers. Once the book is selected by publishers, it goes through the painstaking editing process.

It returns to the author to make the edits, then returns to the publisher to dust off the final misspelled words and misplaced commas. Before publication in the United States, the book also has to be catalogued in the Library of Congress’s Cataloging in Publication Program.  

When the inner text of the book is suitable to the author and the editorial team, it goes to the production editor for typesetting and formatting. When we’re talking about a traditional prose book, it’s pretty simple, but once we get into the realm of poetry and graphic novels and cookbooks and travelogues, it gets more complicated.

Either way, when it’s ready to be manufactured, the paper and ink are chosen and put to work printing. The pages are printed on large paper, the size of newspapers, then cut and assembled, and glued to the book’s spine. You now have a finished book! The book is getting closer to its desired shelf.

The Lifecycle of a Library Book

Off To the Library

The book goes to the library through a number of conversations. Large publishers have special sales departments, with specific people handling library accounts. Imagine a book that has been just manufactured that is projected to do very well. It’s from an author whose books have done very well, or it’s already been added to a prestigious celebrity book club.

The libraries will order however many copies of the book they think they will need. Assuming this is a highly-anticipated release, they’ll take a larger number of copies to accommodate demand. Some libraries offer book club sets (like the Brooklyn Public Library) for readers’ favorite socializing activity.

Additionally, the library may decide to order a large quantity of a certain title because it has received a bunch of requests for it. Requesting a book from your local library is a great, free way to support authors.

Before publication day, the books go to the library to get prepared for library living. It needs to be processed for the library, which means adding a protective cover, a stamp proclaiming the name of the library, and a check-out card if the library still chooses to use the handwritten system.

The many copies of a hotly anticipated title all have to go through processing to get prepared to sit on library shelves. The book has its bar code added as well so it can be scanned and tracked through all of the hands it goes through.

Meeting Hands Of Library-Goers

Next in the lifecycle of a library book, the book takes its place on the shelf, ready to greet new readers. The book is categorized according to the library’s tracking system, usually the Dewey Decimal System. The librarian is the keeper of the knowledge and will be able to help you, the book-seeker, find the perfect book.

If you are looking to check out the recently published book that was projected to sell very well, you might be on a waitlist for a little bit. The library book eagerly awaits you. As soon as you get your turn, the librarians will have library holds ready for all of the attendees that day.  

When the book is borrowed, it goes into the borrower’s car, or on the train with them, or however they make their journey back home. It might be read immediately, or it might end up in a pile on the borrower’s nightstand while they work their way through their to-be-read pile. The book waits patiently for you to engage with its story.

The popular new library book will change hands every two to three weeks, or as long as people are keeping it to read. More and more libraries are getting rid of fines because they’ve found the lack of fines allows customers to feel less stress about returning their library books.

The library book makes its way through so many hands, through so many book clubs, and a variety of homes. The story makes its way into people’s hearts and minds, causing any number of emotions among readers.

Like the Velveteen Rabbit, the more the book changes hands, the more it becomes real: “Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

The End of the Library Book

We’ve come to the end of the lifecycle of a library book. When the library book is ready to retire, it has hopefully had a long and full life. It may be covered in stains from many readers, coffee rings and spills and other unknown spots. The library book finally leaves the shelves when it can’t hold together in book form anymore. There are a variety of other reasons that the book might leave the shelves, especially in making space for more books. When a library book leaves before it falls apart, it might end up at a new home of someone happy to welcome it and dive into the story.

Libraries are crucial for maintaining free and consistent access to knowledge for all age groups. You can keep up with news about libraries here at Book Riot, and you should definitely visit your local library to see what’s available.