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Be patient about Potter

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix isn't coming out until June, but bay area libraries have already started waiting lists for book borrowers.

By THERESA LINNERT, Times X-Team
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 10, 2003


When Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix lands in bookstores June 21, many Tampa Bay area public libraries will have copies available for young fans to read.

But with waiting lists to read the books already into three digits and climbing in some local libraries, the young readers will need to be patient.

Although it might not sound like it, that is a bit of good news for local readers. At public libraries nationwide, budget cuts are forcing officials to buy fewer copies of Order of the Phoenix than previous Harry Potter books.

Susan Oliver, principal librarian in the Material Services Department at the Hillsborough County Cooperative, said that Hillsborough public libraries will not be affected by a budget crunch. The cooperative's 22 libraries have 88 copies of the fourth Harry Potter book, The Goblet of Fire. The Hillsborough libraries are planning to both buy and lease copies of the newest book. The cooperative also plans to buy one audio book for each library.

But there are 200 library patrons on a waiting list for this highly anticipated novel. So Oliver suggests that patrons be patient while they wait their turn for the book.

These books are so important to the libraries, Oliver said, that if necessary, fewer copies of other titles would be purchased so that more Harry Potter books could be on the shelves.

Some libraries nationwide can't afford to buy as many of the Potter books, by J.K. Rowling, as they once did. In New York City, the number of ordered copies has dropped from 956 for Goblet of Fire to 560 for the new one.

"I wish this book had come out two years ago, when we had more money," said Margaret Tice, the New York City library system's coordinator for children's services.

In Clinton, Wis., population about 2,000, the public library expects up to 100 requests for the new book. Meanwhile, the library's budget has been cut by double digits.

"Getting the Potter book means not getting something else," said Clinton library director Michelle Dennis, who added that she won't be buying any children's nonfiction this year, including a set of encyclopedias she had hoped to order.

When budgets are tight, all decisions are hard. But Harry Potter stands out. Worldwide sales of the four previous books top 190-million copies, and no other fiction book is as popular with library patrons.

At the Clinton library, where the policy is to order just one copy of any fiction book, Dennis hopes to buy three copies of Order of the Phoenix. Seattle's library system expects to have at least 150 copies, much higher than for the next most popular author, John Grisham; about 100 copies of his novels are usually ordered.

"From what we're hearing, libraries are going to satisfy the demand for the Potter book and then figure out how much money is left for other things," said Neal Goff, president of Scholastic Library Publishing, a division of Scholastic Inc., the U.S. publisher of the Potter books.

Even in the bay area, not every library has escaped the budget crunch. Lois Eannel, assistant director and head of youth services at the Palm Harbor Public Library, said there is some concern about the budget this year. But the library has a solution to the problem.

It will lease some Potter books in addition to purchasing some. Although there is a fee to lease, the library has the option to return the books if the excitement should die down. The children's department has about 15 copies of each Harry Potter title. In the past, it has bought about 12 of each book, exceeding the number of books purchased for any other children's title. The plan for the new book is to purchase a dozen copies and lease a few others.

If there is more demand for the book, the library will increase the number of copies it leases. "Based on my experiences, I want to meet the demands of patrons. That is my top priority," Eannel said. "Anything that gets the kids to read is well worth the effort. If they get frustrated, they won't want to come back (to the library)."

Many librarians agree that patience will be a key factor in obtaining the new book. Chad Mairn, reference/systems librarian at the Gulfport Library, said it is just not practical to order a large quantity of new titles. For instance, there are about 80 patrons waiting for a copy of John Grisham's newest book. The library will not be ordering enough for everyone to get one right away.

Although the Gulfport Library is not undergoing budget cuts this year, it does not plan to order more than three to five copies of Order of the Phoenix. That is about how many of each of the previous Harry Potter books the library has purchased. The library already has a waiting list of about 35 for the new book, and that will increase as the release date approaches, Mairn said.

He says the adventure novels are great. "I think it's a great story," he said. "I'm glad it's giving both children and adults an opportunity to read something they're interested in."

Theresa Linnert, 13, is in seventh grade at Westlake Christian School in Palm Harbor. Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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