Rare Book Monthly

Articles - May - 2007 Issue

What are the Top 10 Most Common Books in Libraries?

Oclc10

The OCLC reports the most commonly held books in libraries.


By Michael Stillman

We have presented several Top 10 (and more) lists over the past few months -- Abebooks' bestsellers, BookFinder's most popular searches, even our own AE Top 500 sales at auction. This month we have the Top 1,000 from the OCLC (Online Computer Library Center). This is a list of the 1,000 most frequently held books in libraries. This list was compiled from 2005 listings, but don't worry, it isn't out of date. Titles held in libraries don't change like the top songs or movies. Hits in libraries hang around for a very long time.

What distinguishes the library Top 10 from Abe's most popular titles, or even more so, the New York Times bestsellers list, is that this list is top heavy with classics. This shouldn't be surprising. It may take awhile for libraries all across the nation to obtain a book, but once they do, and that book becomes a classic, they probably never get rid of it. Perhaps it gets replaced with a newer edition, but the title itself remains. So over the years, the title appears in more and more libraries.

However, that is not the whole story. The OCLC list includes all copies in libraries. Therefore, if a title is popular enough, a library may order multiple copies. Also, if popular, they may pick up new editions while retaining the old. In fact, some books are more common than libraries, number one averaging an astonishing 14 copies per library. Still, this is a great exception. Only four books average more than one per library across OCLC's membership of 57,000.

Number 1 on Abe's bestsellers list was the ubiquitous Da Vinci Code. It is not as ubiquitous in libraries, showing up as number 469. None of BookFinder's top titles in any of their ten categories appears in the OCLC 1,000. The top priced book at auction from the AE 500, a Shakespeare first folio, did not make the OCLC list per se, but many of the plays in that folio did. The highest ranked of those was Hamlet at number 9, followed by MacBeth at 19, Romeo and Juliet at 22, King Lear at 27, Julius Caeser at 35, Midsummer Night's Dream at 36, Othello at 37, Merchant of Venice at 38, and so on. As we said, this list is top heavy with classics.

Now, for the ten most widely held titles in libraries:

1. Number one is the all-time classic book, and it proves that in America, there is no separation of church and library. Yes, it is the Bible, three thousand years in the making, and probably in almost as many editions. There are 796,882 copies on library shelves, fourteen per library.

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