Why Does the Library Buy Some Older Books but Not Others?

Ever wonder what out-of-print really means? Or why some books are available for the library to buy after they are first published while others aren’t? Selection Librarian Brenna helped us demystify the answers to these frequently asked questions!

Publishers and movie studios decide what stays in print. Books and movies are typically assigned a “print run” by their publishers. Once those print runs sell out, the publisher may or may not decide to release another print. They typically base their decisions upon sales and demand data. Basically, popularity determines if something stays in print. Sometimes a publisher may reprint or issue a new edition of a title if there's enough demand for it.

A change in the circumstances of the author or the topic can also prompt a reprint, and rights play a part. Publishers and authors must agree to terms. They may prevent each other from reprinting items. They can also limit how they make a title available. It depends on their contracts.
When items are old enough (like Shakespeare), they go “out of copyright” and become the public domain. That’s why we see so many versions of classics. That timeframe keeps changing. That's due to companies and estates who don’t want their material to ever go “out of copyright.” The general rule now is:

  • 70 years after the death of the author and
  • 95 to 120 years after creation/publication for works of corporate authorship.

Out-of-print, for our purposes, means no longer available new on the retail market. Many out-of-print items remain available in the used or secondhand market. Item quality varies greatly and our ability to fulfill more demand is limited. This is why our practice is to only buy new materials. Print-on-demand has become a new option in recent years. It's still an expensive process and is most often used for vanity or self-published items. A few movie studios print-on-demand classics, sometimes on a cheaper DVD-R format. We'll likely see changes in printing and copyright in the coming years.

In the meantime, we’ll continue to do our best by our patrons and replace popular titles when possible!

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Physical items such as books, audiobook CDs, and DVDs

    Only library cardholders with full privileges may suggest a purchase of physical items.

    Cardholders who have cards in the following statuses may not suggest purchases of physical items:

    • Accounts with balances of more than $75 in fees
    • Online registration
    • Student cards
    • eCards

    Digital items such as eBooks and downloadable audiobooks

    Library cardholders in these statuses may suggest a purchase of digital items:

    • All-access cards
    • Student cards
    • eCards
  • No. Limitations on the BiblioCommons software do not allow for cancellations or removal of old suggestions at this time.

  • Yes.  Patrons are limited to 15 Suggest a Purchase submissions per month.

  • Yes. If the item is scheduled to be published within 3 months of the purchase suggestion.

  • You can use Notify Me to share suggestions for digital titles.