Keeping Your Collection Fresh | Music Matters, February 1, 2017

Obviously, not all musicians are created equal in quality or in popularity. The goal is to create a representative collection that will be used—and this is where patron requests enter the picture. What are people asking for most often?
There were enough musician deaths in 2016 to spark the world’s notice and reconsider old favorites. Let’s begin with an obvious one.


Beware of greatest hits CDs

When buying a “Best Hits of 1967” or a “Best of the 1970s,” make sure that the songs on the CD are performed by the original artists. It is possible that companies aren’t deliberately trying to fool people with CDs featuring songs “covered” by artists you’ve never heard of, but let’s just say that it pays to read the fine print or you might get the best hits of Prince performed by the Moonlight and Sunbeam Singers. They may be very fine entertainers, but they are not whom I want to hear singing “Little Red Corvette.”

Also, consider how easy or difficult these discs may be to replace. A set being advertised on TV (usually on late night infomercials) may be the set for which you get the most patron requests. However, if you are able to purchase outside of that “special limited time offer,” those works tend to go out of print quickly. Usually, more commercially available discs are easily replaced. Compilation discs seem to go out of print faster than discs that feature individual artists, so this solution isn’t foolproof, but it is a bit more reliable.

Why invest in new CDs?

Do you buy the greatest hits of an artist with only one recognizable song? How about two? Chances are you’re going to be able to find those songs on compilations, and money is better spent in other places. You want to get the most bang for your buck and purchase something that collects a majority of the songs for which your patrons are looking. However, there was a time when labels filled out a greatest hits CD with remixes and extended versions of songs. If you’re choosing among Mariah Carey’s Greatest Hits, The Essential Mariah Carey, #1s, Playlist: The Very Best of Mariah Carey, and #1s to Infinity, compare the track listings to see which set is best going to meet your needs.

There are many artists whose greatest hits disc and some (or all) of their studio discs will be in demand. These are perennially popular artists and iconic discs. Most libraries would be fine having a Wham! greatest hits CD that collects their top 40 hits and can take a pass on the individual records.

On the other hand, libraries would likely carry both a Michael Jackson greatest hits compilation and also Thriller, Off the Wall, and a couple of his other CDs. It’s the same with the Rolling Stones and Bon Jovi, among many others. Obviously, not all musicians are created equal in quality or in popularity. In addition, the popularity of the general world may or may not reflect an artist’s popularity in your community. The goal is to create a representative collection that will be used—and this is where patron requests enter the picture. What are people asking for most often?

Band recording or solo?

Another question that comes up is how much to invest in an artist’s solo effort versus his/her group work. As always, the answer is a mixture of the relative popularity of both and local tastes. Journey is about to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2017, and their music has been featured on the TV show Glee. Steve Perry, the iconic voice of Journey, had less success as a solo artist. His two most recognized songs—“Oh, Sherrie” and “Foolish Heart”—can most likely be found on 1980s compilation discs.

However, a Journey greatest hits CD will probably see a lot of circulation. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have artists such as Lionel Richie and Sting who had multiple hits both in bands and as solo performers. Unless a greatest hits CD contains hits from both eras, having discs that cover both the solo and band work is warranted. The same thing applies to bands that may have switched lead singers. It is to be hoped that the hits stay with the band and you can get all of Chicago’s greatest hits, with and without Peter ­Cetera on vocals. Bands can combine both eras, such as Van Halen did with the Best of Both Worlds discs, featuring hits made during both the David Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar eras.

As libraries have adopted the twin trends of no subject specialists and “do more with less,” there are people who may be handling media collections who know very little about this area. In addition, they know who and what they like but are now buying outside that circle of knowledge. It is all right not to know that the band Cameo is not a one-hit-wonder with “Word Up,” that they have a long history and many hits. It is equally fine not to be able to name a single Merle Haggard tune. The point is that you understand the gaps in your own knowledge and look for help. That can come from the resident country music fan on staff, or in your community, or it can be from something like the All Music Guide (, an extremely valuable resource for researching artists and albums, past and present, in areas with which you are unfamiliar. It is great for finding new music but even better for tracking the history of careers. Here’s to a musical new year.

Robin Bradford is a Collection Development Librarian at Timberland Regional Library, WA, where she orders adult fiction, feature films (and TV!), and music CDs. She was chosen the Romance Writers of America 2016 Librarian of the Year

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