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Idea Store Collection Policy


We aim to provide a collection of books, CDs and DVDs, e-books, newspapers and magazines to meet the information, educational, recreational and cultural needs of all members of the community. We operate within the law to provide free access to a diversity of information, opinion and ideas in a neutral and hospitable environment; and we recognise the rights of individual citizens to access published material.

Our collection

We have around 320,000 items in stock across our 7 sites. About a quarter of these are aimed at children. In addition to this we have several thousand more books that can be read online. These can be accessed on a variety of devices: including a tablet or a pc including Idea Store computers .Our online reference collection includes all standard reference works and definitive non-fiction titles from UK publishers. We have current editions of daily and weekly newspapers and of – mainly general interest – magazines; and we have available online back editions of an extensive range of newspapers and periodicals.

The publishing environment is changing very rapidly and our collection reflects this. We lend e-books, including audio books, which are downloadable free of charge to Idea Store members and we have a growing collection of downloadable magazines. The Idea Store app means that all these web-based resources can be accessed on multiple devices by Idea Store members. We also have free downloadable music available to Idea Store members. In the future we will be considering replacing some formats – e.g. CDs - with electronic versions.


We are a public library – not an academic, specialist or copyright library – and our collection reflects this. Most of our printed stock consists of general (or ‘trade’) titles that can be found in good bookshops. We do not stock professional, vocational, very specialist or academic texts; there are other libraries locally and in London that fulfil this function, including the British Library.. We do not provide multiple copies of school textbooks. Our online reference collection does include academic and specialist texts and these can be accessed both in Idea Stores and distantly.

With these exceptions we aim to offer as wide a range of titles as possible. We try to provide a balanced stock with representative views across the collection – although our books will, of necessity, reflect what is published. Stock is selected from all published material in print. Material is not rejected because it is controversial and inclusion in our collection does not imply endorsement of a work.

We provide a wide choice of the latest fiction and non-fiction, matching what’s on offer in bookshops. New books are added on a weekly basis as they are published. We also maintain a backlist of key titles: this is our ‘core collection’. Books, CDs and DVDs in this collection are automatically replaced when they reach the end of their life. The ‘core collection’ list is reviewed regularly.

We also have range of materials not easily available to the public. This includes material in alternative formats such as large print and audio books; material supporting skills for life initiatives, for example ‘quick reads’; and books in languages spoken by Tower Hamlets residents (where that language is spoken by a significant proportion of the population). Of these Bengali is the largest collection; and we have smaller collections of books in Urdu, Somali and Chinese.

What the stock fund pays for

All public libraries are organic institutions continually renewing and replenishing their book stock. On average we acquire around 40,000 new items every year – and these replace the same number that are withdrawn. This is how the materials fund, provided by the council, is spent:

  • Replacement copies of old and worn out books. The limited life of books means that stock needs replacing continually – just to maintain the size of the collection. Adult books last 20-30 loans or issues only before they have to be replaced with another copy. Very popular titles can be issued 20 times in a year. Bengali language books have a life of 10 issues, because of paper quality. Children’s picture books look unattractive after 10 issues; and board books for very young children have an even shorter life.
  • Replacements for books that have become out of date. This is either books with a limited shelf life, e.g. tax guides, travel books; or books where developments in knowledge research and technology means that the content has become out of date.
  • Replacements for lost or damaged books
  • Newly published books for adults.
  • Newly published books for children,
  • Books to improve coverage in particular areas. This is in response to user suggestions or based on our own assessment.
  • Books to support participation in national book events and initiatives, e.g. the Summer Reading Challenge for children and Reading Ahead, which is an incentive scheme for adults who are emergent readers
  • CDs and DVDs. As more people are downloading this material now less will be spent on this area of stock
  • Subscriptions to enable legal downloading of music.
  • Subscriptions to online reference books and encyclopaedias. These are available on our website
  • Online courses, also available on our website: these include language courses, UK Citizenship Test, the official Driving Test Theory etc.
  • Subscriptions to online information services: community information, employment information, business information, legal information, health information
  • Subscriptions to e-books and e-audio books
  • Subscriptions to newspapers and magazines
  • Subscriptions to e-newspapers and e-magazines
  • Processing of books, CDs and DVDs to make them ready to loan (this includes protection to prolong shelf life and RFID programming, which gives us data on loans history as well as enabling for self service in stores)

How we choose what to buy

We have a systematic approach to stock selection. All of the following factors influence what we buy:-

  • We have comprehensive information on UK book sales. This includes all sales data broken down into subject not just the top 50 bestsellers. We match bookshops, but at the same time have a strong local slant
  • We have pre-publication data about upcoming books; and our suppliers are contracted to supply us with selection support.
  • We maintain current awareness of book reviews, winners of book prizes, TV and film adaptations etc – all of which will influence demand for particular titles or authors
  • We have specialist software (provided by Collection HQ) which provides extensive data on the loans record of all titles and authors in our collection. This tells us which books are in high demand – and where we have too few (or too many) copies.
  • We buy multiple copies of some titles to match demand
  • Our library management system has a record of all reservations placed, prompting us, if necessary, to buy more copies to meet demand
  • We have demographic and stock profiles of all our sites and match local collections to the community
  • We buy all publications where there is a strong local interest – e.g. Tower Hamlets history; Bangladeshi history; Bengali fiction.
  • We buy stock to support our annual Writeidea reading festival and reading events throughout the year.
  • We encourage suggestions and consider all recommendations to purchase from members of the public and Idea Store staff, including tutors
  • We automatically replace titles in our core collection and continually review our list of core titles.

How we purchase stock

We are members of the The Libraries Consortium (TLC) which comprises about half of all London library authorities. Shared TLC procurement for book supply, e-books and online reference services has enabled us to obtain high levels of discount – so we can buy more books per £ spent – and book processing services (‘servicing’)

The vast majority of our books are supplied in a shelf-ready format and delivered directly to our stores. Shelf ready means:

  • Protective jackets are fitted and reinforcements made to prolong shelf life
  • Books are classified to agreed standards
  • Books are provided with catalogue records to agreed standards
  • All items have RFID tags – which are fitted and programmed by our suppliers. RFID tagging enables self service operation; it gives us data on loans; it allows us to do accurate and speedy stock takes; it enables operation of a stock security system and cuts down on theft.

By getting our stock ‘shelf ready’ we no longer have to maintain a separate bibliographic services department which has saved money on premises and staffing costs. This has allowed us to redeploy staff from back offices to work directly with customers in Idea Stores and libraries. Because of this we are able to open 69 hours a week in all our Idea Stores.

In addition a number of smaller suppliers are contracted to sell us material in these areas:

  • Community languages (i.e. books in languages other than English)
  • Audio Books
  • Large print books
  • Material supporting Skills for Life
  • Material to support marketing and promotions

We do not buy books directly from publishers or authors and we do not accept donations. This is because of the added costs (premises, storage, transport, cataloguing, security, staff) involved in making a book fit for library use. We appreciate that some of our members like to make donations of books and we’d recommend that they donate instead to charity shops, which can accept stock that is not catalogued, classified, fitted with a programmed RFID security tag.”

When stock in not on our shelves

  • About a third of our stock is out on loan at any given time. Any item in Tower Hamlets can be reserved free of charge, and customers are automatically informed by email when the item they have reserved is ready for collection.
  • Because we are members of the The Libraries Consortium (TLC) our customers are entitled to borrow from any of our partner authorities – either in person or by reserving from our shared catalogue. There are over 6 million items available in the TLC, which comprises about half of London public libraries. Idea Store members can reserve any book free of charge and pick it up at their nearest Idea Store. There is a charge for borrowing other boroughs’ CDs or DVDs.
  • Many reference works are available to read on our website either in Idea Stores or from home using an Idea Store membership card or on a tablet using the Idea Store app Our online collection contains several thousand reference works including general encyclopaedias, such as Encyclopaedia Britannica and specialist books on a wide range of subjects up to undergraduate level. In addition there is an online collection of more 200,000 documents including articles from specialist journals.
  • Many books are available in eBook or eAudio format easily to download on any smartphone or tablet.
  • Our Local History Library and Archives in Bancroft Road has a specialist reference collection of books about the history of Tower Hamlets.
  • All schools in Tower Hamlets provide books for their students; and most schools subscribe to the Schools Library Service which provides bulk loans to teachers including materials supporting particular projects.
  • Students at university or college are expected to use their own library to support their studies. London University students are able to use the resources of both their own college library and the University of London Library in Senate House.
  • People following a particular area of research are able to use the resources of the British Library at St Pancras: anyone over 16 can apply for a pass.
  • Idea Store members are also, by prior arrangement, able to consult the collections of some academic, national and specialist libraries.u

Withdrawal and disposal of stock

All stock has a limited shelf life and about 40,000 items are withdrawn every year. The principal reasons for stock withdrawal are:

  • Physical condition. We expect all our stock to be in good physical condition. The presence of old, torn and grubby books on the shelves reduces the attractiveness of the whole collection. Even with protective jackets books will remain in reasonable condition for only 20-30 loans. Some areas of stock have a shorter life: Bengali language books for example have a life of about 10 issues, because of paper quality. Children’s picture books look unattractive after 10 issues; and board books for very young children have an even shorter life. Our stock management software, SmartSM, alerts us when books have achieved a certain number of loans and they are then assessed for possible withdrawal. Books that are in our ‘core collection’ are automatically replaced with a new edition.
  • Currency. We will not retain in stock material that has become out of date or contains information that is no longer accurate. Some non-fiction subjects become out of date relatively soon after publication, e.g. law, computing. Some titles – e.g. tax guides – need replacing annually. Some other sections, e.g. travel guides, are replaced every three years.
  • Levels of demand. Some books issue very poorly; more often the demand for some books declines with age (as bestseller lists from only five years ago will show). Books that are not being borrowed will be considered for withdrawal – however the process is far from automatic. Books in some areas, e.g. poetry, are kept even though they are rarely heavily borrowed. Some books will gain extra life by being moved to a different Idea Store or library. In order to help with decisions about usage we use Collection HQ software which provides borrowing data on all items and alerts us if stock has not been borrowed for a certain period. Having a ‘core collection’ is designed to ensure that we have a strong back list of titles as well as currently popular books.


Idea Store has a contract with the social business Better World Books, which arranges for the collection of withdrawn and unwanted books. Better World Books sells these surplus items across multiple online marketplaces generating funds for Idea Stores and for their literacy charity partners, Read International and the National Literacy Trust. Any books they can’t sell are donated to a charity that can use them or recycled.