Bibliaff: The company with the perfect niche within Small and Special Libraries

I got a real treat today. I got to meet Ghislain Grenier, one the creators and directors – along with his wife, Danielle Sauvageau – of the lending library service company, Bibliaff.

Bibliaff lends – as their website says — “business books” to libraries for libraries to lend out to their clients. But their collection is so much more then business books, with titles like Nudge and Freakonomics and authors like Oprah and Thomas King, it is essentially is a collection of popular and recent non-fiction titles.

Bibliaff

Special and Small Libraries (SSL) have a great need for popular non-fiction titles. Most SSL’s have a restricted topic non-fiction collection, that is usually extremely (and to be honest, boringly) focused on the field that the organization they support works in. Supporting information and reference in thier respective field is what SSL’s are designed to do and is their purpose but having such a restricted collection doesn’t encourage new users to become familiar with the library, encourage friendly relationships between library staff and clients (You can’t do the quintessential librarian “I highly recommend this book! I loved it” with dense technical manuals, but you can with Bibliaff books), or encourage professional development.

I’ve seen first-hand how Bibliaff can get clients into the library and lead them to learning about and using other library services. Bibliaff provides “book trees” for their books to be used in SSL. Most SSSLs display these book trees (full of Bibliaff books) right at the front door of the library which makes for a wonderful view of interesting books when one walks in but also helps draw in people walking past the library.

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Bibliaff Display

So if having popular non-fiction titles works so great for SSL, then why outsource this to Bibliaff? Why do SSL not just develop their own popular non-fiction collection? They don’t do it because it is a lot of work: Deciding on books and then acquiring them and processing them to be a part of the system takes a long time. But the biggest reason most SSL don’t build their own popular non-fiction collection is that popular non-fiction circulation rates drop hugely once it is no longer a recent book. With Bibliaff, SSL get recent popular nonfiction titles and don’t have to worry about constantly having to weed and watch their non-fiction collection.

So how does Bibliaff work? Each SSL pays a set fee and gets a certain amount of books for the year. They also get options to switch out specific books and acquire new ones if some books are circulating or a particular book is in demand. After the year is over, you sent the books back to Bibliaff and get a new batch.

Some SSL join together to subscribe to Bibliaff (like Environment Canada Libraries) so that they can rotate their yearly batch a books between themselves every month. This means that there will be a fresh batch of books at the library every month and the titles will not have the year to go stale. And believe me, a monthly email to clients with a list of new Bibliaff titles gets clients very excited and the books fly off the shelves quickly.

I’ve worked with Bibliaff for about a year now and always assumed it was a massive company because of the breadth of its reach across the country. I was incredibly surprised to learn that it is essentially just run from home in Montreal by Ghislain Grenier and Danielle Sauvageau. They have been doing it for 15 years now and by golly if it isn’t one the smartest company ideas I have ever heard of. SSL had a need for popular nonfiction books in order to spur use of their libraries and Bibliaff filled that need.


 

                                                    

Some Bibliaff books


I got the chance to fire a few questions at Ghislain Grenier, who seemed completely overwhelmed by my enthusiasm but answered them all graciously. This blog is by no means supposed to be an official interview and maybe I will be able to procure one at a later date. But I just want to discuss a few more interesting things that I learned about Bibliaff from him and from talking to other Librarians.

One of my immediate questions for Grenier was if he had to obtain any special legal rights in order to allow these books to circulate in libraries. The answer was no. That shouldn’t be shocking, libraries don’t need to obtain any special legal rights to circulate their books, but it was shocking. It was shocking because of all the stories you hear now about lending fees and digital locks that publishers put on library e-books. Grenier actually physically stepped back when I asked if he ever thought about doing Bibliaff ebooks and said he has looked at it a few times but he isn’t going anywhere near it. I agree. E-book loans are scary stuff, and with Bibliaff’s wide reach and presence he would probably have some publishers chasing after him with lawyers if he tried.

Another question I asked was about how he decides which books to buy. He told me his best book acquisition tool is the recommendations and requests he gets from the libraries he serves. A good answer. What I really should have asked is where he gets his books from. How does he buy them?

Also I should have asked if he was hiring, what a great company to work for. He goes around personally to as many libraries as he can before their upcoming yearly switch in order to talk about which new titles they want and which books he should obtain for the Bibliaff collection. This has allowed him to develop a very good rapport and friendship with his customers. He was an extremely nice man. Also Bibliaff is extremely relaxed about libraries losing their books. They don’t press to hard or charge fines. They probably do this for the same reason most SSL don’t charge fines for missing books to their clients. Because usually the loser of the book has looked everywhere for it, and already feels especially bad about it (especially if they are Librarians), and a little bit of forgiveness goes a long way in creating respect and loyalty to the lender.

Ok. So this was a pretty fluff Blog piece. No real critique of Bibliaff. Which isn’t like me. I am pushing myself right now to at least say one bad thing about this company. Everybody has to work on something right? I thought maybe I could critique the scope of their collection and say they need more of a specific type of book…but I looked through their collection and nope. So diverse and interesting. Can’t find anything to critique there. My one critique would actually just be their lack of online presence. They have very little used Social Media accounts and almost no online articles or reports about them (Seriously. Try and find a piece of writing that mentions them. There is Nada).

If I thought up and ran a company like Bibliaff I would be a very happy man.

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About Ryan Regier

Doing Library Stuff. Follow me on twitter at: @ryregier
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