Choose Your Own Library Books, Praise for S.F.'s Compost Program

Today's notes on national stories, local trends, random tastes, and other bycatch dredged up from the food media.

1. More about the library's cookbook collection. The Main Branch of the San Francisco Public Library has played a huge role in my culinary education, starting with my cooking days, when I'd pore over classic French and celebrity cookbooks, looking for ideas; and when I found myself writing about northeast Chinese, Ghanaian, Lao, and Chilean cuisines, I'd stop at the library after a first exploratory visit.

So when I talked to fourth-floor manager Mark Hall this week about Modernist Cuisine, I asked him a little more about how he chose cookbooks for the main library. The Main Branch acquires 40 to 55 cookbooks every month, he said, chosen after reviewing reports from a service that aggregates advance reviews, blog posts, and publishers' lists. “We create a monthly order focusing on things that are sure to generate a lot of interest — books getting good press coverage, things that have local interest, certain interest areas like ethnic cookery, vegetarian diets, special diets,” he says. They're always trying to fill gaps in the library's collection, and the Main Branch tends to pick up a lot of the glamour books that most of us can't afford. (Alas, they don't have any of the El Bulli yearbooks.)

One thing I didn't realize was just how much influence individual patrons can have on selection. Part of the reason the library ended up ordering two copies of the $625 Modernist Cuisine is that several patrons made recommendations via the library website's “suggest a book” feature. How often do you buy books that people suggest? I ask. “if someone suggests it, we generally get it,” he replies, “unless someone suggests their own self-published book.” Which, I imagine, happens a lot.

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