There is no question that public libraries are in a difficult position. They’re charged with providing valuable technology resources, learning opportunities, and of course, books to their communities while working within the most meager of budgets. As if those budgets weren’t already spare enough, libraries are constantly under threat of further cuts, manpower and salary reductions, and outright closure.
Which is why it boggles the mind that more libraries aren’t fostering relationships with individuals who can stand to draw in patrons, provide free content for circulation, and offer educational opportunities: self-published authors.
While it is obviously not the norm across the country, self-published authors have faced reluctance and even outright scorn when trying to make their way into the library sector. Some libraries have even had to adopt a no-indies policy, even if the material is donated, on the grounds that “if we let one author’s book on the shelf, we’ll have to take them all.”
The sad truth is that the same attitudes that prevented a number of authors from publishing before the digital and print-on-demand revolutions still permeate some libraries. Concerns over quality and appropriateness still color librarians’ willingness to take a risk on an author who wasn’t “vetted” by the industry; limitations on shelf space prevent the circulation of even donated copies of authors’ works. Some libraries contacted prior to this article won’t even let a local author have a book signing at the library if he self-published, despite long-standing policies of renting out their space for events.
Fortunately, there have been enough pioneering libraries who’ve embraced indie authors–particularly their local authors–that the attitudes are shifting. Colorado’s Douglas County Library System pioneered the large-scale purchase of thousands of titles from Smashwords as far back as 2013, while more recently the Rutland Free Library in Vermont began hosting author fairs that invite any and all authors–regardless of method–to their events.
As the attitudes towards authors and the preconceived notions about the quality of their work start to fall away, there are still obstacles to having your book purchased for circulation by libraries, many of which go back to time, budget, and discovery. Librarians simply do not stand at their circulation counters all day, browsing some mythical massive catalog of book titles; even if an author has opted for a publishing route that will include his work in viewable catalogs for library distribution, that simply isn’t how librarians discover titles.
The truth is that authors–self-published or traditionally–have to do the legwork of reaching out to libraries. This can be done somewhat effectively through curation platforms like Self-e, but a personal contact of some kind is still far more likely to result in a relationship. Having strong book reviews from well-known sources is also another measure of proof for libraries to take a chance on a book. Finally, maintaining a strong presence in terms of both social media and further follow-up titles lets librarians know this is a serious career and not a passing fancy; the last thing they want is to purchase a book that their patrons loved and then have no other titles to offer those patrons who clamor for more.