“What is the most circulated item in the Evanston Public Library that is still in circulation today?”

That question was posed to me recently. Had such a query been posed to librarians of the past they probably would have had to locate the material that had the most frequently stamped “Due Date Slip” attached.

Today, thanks to the wonders of modern technology, our job is a bit easier. 

Due Date card.

I asked one of the library’s many helpful tech folks to pull up a list of the numbers. Then, as I waited, I started to consider the various options. What would the answer be? From experience I know that there are just some classics people check out continually, again and again, returning to them long after their original publication date.

That said, we’ve an amazing crew of clerks here at the library, each one specially trained to spot any items that look damaged in the least. One has to assume that the “most circulated item” would have to be in fairly dire condition, no matter how sturdy its original packaging.

Could it be a DVD then? With their shorter checkout times, some DVDs remain in circulation long past the point at which you’d think they were capable of continuing to play.

But no. The answer was as obvious as the nose of my face. Because if you want to talk about the most popular items in any library, large or small, all you need to do is head straight to the children’s room. And indeed, when I got the final list there it was in the #1 slot:

The Berenstain Bears and Too Much TV by Stan & Jan Berenstain.

Cover from The Berenstain Bears and Too Much TV. Credit: Betsy Bird

Clocking in at a massive 290 circulations (which is to say, it’s been checked out 290 times since it was added to the system in 1984) this book has all the hallmarks of a Never Gonna Die title.

First, this particular edition is what we call “Perma-Bound.” At some point in its history a librarian sent this book off to be turned into a sturdy hardcover.

Next, it’s a series that many people my own age with small children remember from their own youth. Nostalgia goes a long way when it comes to popular picture books. And then, of course, there’s the fact that it seems like a simple enough storyline that can’t have aged too terribly. We still have television. Screen time is still an issue for kids. What’s not to like?

Except, of course, that the book is wildly dated.

Uh oh, with the new color TV, the kids are watching too much. Credit: Betsy Bird

Let’s just start with the plot: Mama Bear is lamenting the fact that the family replaced their black and white set with a fancy dancy color one. A premise, I would note, that was dated even when this book was originally released in the early 1980s.

When Mama cuts the whole family off from TV, she encourages them to read newspapers to get their news now. Later they go to the mall and Brother Bear buys himself a Rubik’s Cube. I am not kidding about this.

All told, these days the book is probably usually checked out with a large pile of other Berenstain Bear books. Still, it’s nice to see titles circulating so much. Because for all the fun I make of the book’s premise, when it comes to checking out actual physical books, screens simply cannot compare. 

Betsy Bird is the Collection Development Manager of Evanston Public Library.

Betsy Bird

Betsy Bird is the Collection Development Manager of Evanston Public Library. She has been writing for the Evanston RoundTable since 2016.

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