When a self-published author contacts someone in the collection development department at my library, we let out a collective groan. Inevitably, our answer to the request to add their book to our collection will feel personal, which is awkward. It will definitely mean more work for us no matter what, and for acquisitions and cataloging staff as well if we do accept the book as a donation or decide to purchase it.
Librarians don’t want to buy your self-published book, but not for the reasons you think.
I’ve been thinking about self-published books and their place in libraries a lot recently, as my library has been updating our collection development policy and brainstorming ways to streamline how we deal with requests from authors to include their self-published materials in our collection and how our collection development work complements our strategic goal of supporting content creation in our community.
Then, this weekend, I happened to catch a link to this post from a former librarian about the relationship between self-published works and librarians, and I thought it made several great points. I started writing a comment in response, then realized I had so much to say I might as well write my own post.
Technically, I’m a collection development librarian, even though I do a lot of other stuff. The stuff I talk about on this blog is mostly about programs and social media and readers’ advisory, and I’ve really only ever talk about one aspect of my collection development work, which is thinking about new books. But most of my work as a collection development librarian is actually collection management.
I spend anywhere from 1-2 hours a day vetting and responding to purchase requests or interlibrary loan requests. Another couple of hours a week are spent going through lists of “problem items” that are billed, missing, lost, or damaged and seeing if I need to, can, and/or want to replace them. I spend a few hours a week going through piles of physically damaged books that are sent to me from the circulation department or are pulled from the shelves by front-line staff, and I evaluate whether I need to, can, and/or what to replace them. Then I hope I have a volunteer to scan them into a weeding list and recycle them, or else they start to fill the collection development office in a maze of carts, and then piles and boxes when we run out of carts. This is just the “regular” weeding that occurs. I also run reports on every collection and cull the stacks based on usage statistics, too. So, only a small portion of my work time is spent actually researching and finding new items to add to the collection, even though that’s what I think comes to the mind’s of most librarians when they think “collection development librarian.”
I buy YA books (fiction and nonfiction, and in physical, audio, and digital formats) and graphic novels (for teens and adults). But I also buy all DVDs and music CDs. So only about half of what I do is books, and about three-fourths fiction. (There’s another full-time staff who handles print and digital for adult fiction and nonfiction, and a half-time staff who buys print and digital fiction and nonfiction).
So, I get less than a few hours a week to spend ordering new books. And I’m a dedicated collection development librarian. In places where collection development is just one of many primary duties, it might be even more of a luxury to have time to sit down and read journals and weigh the needs and interests of your community and select the books that will be best for your library.
No librarian has the time to seek out independently published books, even if they would like to have that luxury.
It’s simply not efficient or cost-effective to acquire self-published books. They don’t often have existing records ready to add to the library’s catalog; these records have to be created. Self-published books might not be available from the library’s main vendor, who might do any number of tasks to make the book ready to be shelved in a library (a protective cover, property stamps, stickers to identify the proper location of the item, etc.). And of that work has to be done by library staff as an extra step if it is purchased by a different vendor (say, Amazon) and that’s only if the policies allow the library to do that (sometimes a library is restricted to specific vendors). These are all issues librarians take into account when deciding whether or not to buy your self-published book. These considerations are made before a librarian even evaluates potential demand or quality of the item.
And a lot of them are of poor quality and are not in demand, or it is impossible to predict or evaluate the demand.
Most librarians don’t hate self-publishing on principle. Many actually support it. There are lots of examples of programs where libraries are facilitating content creation through programming efforts or even by providing the means of production.
It’s not that librarians are completely unwilling to buy self-published books, it’s just that the systems aren’t in place yet (or aren’t yet robust enough) to make it easy to evaluate the quality and to efficiently bring them to patrons.
Self-published authors do have some options for getting their books into libraries. For example, Overdrive has information on getting started making books available through their platform, and Library Journal is working to make it easier for authors/publishers and librarians with self-e.
In time, I anticipate it will be easier to have quality and in demand self published books in print and digital formats in libraries.
In the mean time, indie authors who are looking to get their books in libraries should be professional, courteous, and respectful of the library staff’s time; follow directions for submitting a request/suggestion via their website; and NEVER pitch them via social media (I automatically mark anything on Facebook or Twitter from an author asking us to buy their book as spam).
What are your thought on self-published books in libraries? As a patron, do you have trouble getting independently published books you want to read via your library? As an author, what is your experience in getting your book into libraries? If you work for a library, how is your institution handling self-published books, both digitally and in physical formats? I’d love to hear any thoughts.