Last week, Tommi, Ellie and I travelled up to Blackwell’s headquarters in Oxford. We started the day with a visit to the library services offices and a tour of their warehouse and then we spent the afternoon visiting Blackwell’s flagship shop in Oxford city centre.
Those of you who regularly read our blog may have read my post about Tommi and my trip to YBP last spring (you can read it here if you missed it!). Like YBP (who supply our North American customers), one of Blackwell’s main jobs is to supply university libraries around the world with the books they want as seamlessly as possible. First we met with Anne Davies and Sarah Saunders. Anne is our main contact at Blackwell’s and she makes sure that everything is running smoothly between us and them (which thankfully it is!), while Sarah is the buyer for all our titles. Sarah receives title information from us and decides which and how many of our books she thinks libraries will order from Blackwell’s.
Once the books have been ordered and published, they then arrive in their warehouse where Blackwell’s team of 4 profilers are busy at work. They use exactly the same system as YBP (which I described in the post mentioned earlier) and between the 4 of them they catalogue 20,000 titles a year – that works out at approximately 20 minutes per book. This demonstrates just how important it is that the blurbs, the contents page and introduction etc set out clearly what the book is about and who might be interested in it, as not long is spent cataloguing each book. The categorisation of the book by the profilers then determines which libraries automatically purchase the book, and which receive a slip informing them that they might be interested in buying it.
After the introduction to the work of the profilers we then moved into the main warehouse, from which books are shipped all around the world. One of Blackwell’s main aims is to ensure that the processing of orders is done as quickly as possible and they have several processes which help them to achieve this. Firstly, the system is fully automated and so books are scanned and checked at many steps along the way. This minimises errors and means that they know exactly where every book is at any given time. Last year they processed over 1 million books, and only 13 went missing, which is quite an achievement! Secondly, they have a good relationship with the bookshop in Oxford, and a van whizzes between the shop and warehouse 4 times a day. As the bookshop is so well-stocked the likelihood is that either the warehouse or bookshop will have a copy of the books that a library wants, so they can get hold of the book quicker than the warehouse alone would manage.
One of the really interesting areas of the warehouse was the section in which books are packed and processed according to each individual library’s specification. So, for example, a library might ask for the books to be covered, stamped with their logo, stickered on the spine, or any number of usual or unusual requests be carried out. The team of workers have a folder in which each university library has given its specifications and they must ensure that all books are adapted to the precise requirements demanded by the university, as once the books are stamped they are, of course, only suitable for that one library.
Once we’d finished our tour and enjoyed lunch at Blackwell’s canteen we headed into Oxford city centre to the bookshop. Blackwell’s boasts one of the largest collections of books available for purchase in the UK and so the bookshop is quite impressive, and is one of a very few shops where you can walk in and find many of our titles on the shelves. Here’s a photo of the bilingualism and language teaching section, I wonder how many of our books you can spot (there are quite a few!).
We met with the buyers of the linguistics and tourism departments and discussed how they choose which of our titles to stock and how best to send them information about our forthcoming titles. It was lovely to see the wide array of titles on their shelves and it was really quite difficult to tear ourselves away!
As you’ll gather from the length of this post, we really enjoyed our day and found many aspects of the way in which Blackwell’s work fascinating.