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Six Degrees Left: Tightening the Bond Between Libraries and Small Presses, Part Three

 

Today the conversation continues to center around the logistics of opening communication between small presses and libraries with a look at eBooks and librarian publicity preferences. Read last week’s conversation.

Thanks to Jefferey Lependorf, Executive Director to CLMP (Council of Literary Magazines and Presses) and SPD (Small Press Distribution), Sarah Houghton, Director for the San Rafael Public Library and author of LibrarianinBlack.net, Karen Gisonny, the Helen Bernstein Librarian for Periodicals at the New York Public Library, and Jamie LaRue, the Director of Douglas County Libraries for participating.

A child's garden of verses (1905)

 

The following conversation is conducted by Atticus Books publicity assistant Abby Hess.

 

Are eBooks an easier option for small presses to consider marketing to libraries?

Jeffrey Lependorf: eBooks are surely becoming an important way for many people to read, but it’s important to note a couple of things. First, at least for now, eBooks are unfriendly to poetry due to the specific nature of much poetry requiring specific typesetting. Secondly, the great joy of a good number of small press books is deeply tied to the way they are produced as physical objects—it’s not just the literary content that makes up the entirety of the reading experience. There are also serious economic questions when it comes to small press books in e-formats. The profit margin on these books (contrary to what one might assume) is extremely small given the small volume of sales of small publishers (compared to their conglomerate counterparts), so selling through e-formats creates tremendous challenges to long term sustainability.

Sarah Houghton: The only way currently of marketing eBooks to libraries, in 99% of cases, is through an aggregator company – like OverDrive, 3M’s Cloud Library, Baker & Taylor’s Axis 360, etc. Few of us are doing title by title selection for eBooks outside those systems because we don’t have library-run platforms on which to host and deliver that content to our patrons. If you are offering DRM-free eBooks, however, libraries may be happy to host them on their websites and make them available that way.  Anything that requires DRM, a limited number of users per title at a time, etc., will be hard for a library to implement outside one of these package solutions.  The Douglas County Libraries in Colorado and Califa Library Group here in California are experimenting with library-run eBooks. They would be good to get into contact with about how to get your eBooks folded into their pilot projects early.

Jamie LaRue: We are KEENLY interested in small press eBooks, and it is through the establishment of our platform that we’ve now purchased over 9,000 books this year from them. We’ve learned, ironically, that eBooks take a lot of manual work, because neither publishers nor libraries have worked out the process management yet to order and receive all the files we want (cover, metadata, book, reviews), in any consistent format. But it is just absolutely clear that this is the future, and this is the precise moment to get involved, particularly because the Big Six (now Five) are being so balky and high-handed. In these do-it-yourself models (I’m from Douglas County) we ask for three things: ownership of the files (to which we will attach Digital Rights Management and restrict use to one person at a time), a discount (the better to build our collection quickly), and a share in the revenue of any sales made THROUGH the library. By that I mean, we are providing a link in our catalog that allows patrons to directly purchase an item they found through us and liked. We’re still playing around with partnerships with various e-tailers. We will also purchase additional copies to satisfy demand. Right now, we’re buying another copy every time we have three people waiting to read it. Interested? Go here for information about the program.

Jeffrey Lependorf: I should add that SPD does now offer a number of eBook titles, and our list is growing! You can see what we have here (and purchase them for libraries through Overdrive):

 

What kind of publicity materials are libraries interested in receiving? Do they expect certain discounts or programs?

Sarah Houghton: I find publicity materials, in general, to be annoying and rarely worth my time.  Discounts help grab our attention.  Programs help grab our attention.  Basically anything that tells us to stop and pay attention will do it.

Jamie LaRue: I agree. Mostly, publicity materials don’t work. Sometimes, a postcard or email with a highlighted review on a popular subject does work. I think pushing the author helps. Yes, we expect discounts. But again, with eBooks, we’ll actively help you sell them.

Karen Gisonny: Yes I agree with Jamie, in terms of publicity a postcard or email might catch my eye and discounts of course.

 

Libraries are the front lines in the support for publishing houses, gaining support for learning and a joy of reading across all age groups. Does this give the library a responsibility to procure many kinds of texts?

Sarah Houghton: Yes.  Simply, yes.

Karen Gisonny: Agreed!

Jamie LaRue: You bet. But as I said above, there are at least 900,000 new titles a year from commercial, independent, and self-published streams. We buy 150,000. Right now, most libraries haven’t figured out how to deal with the explosion of the latter two. We have choices to make, and they will be guided by our community’s interests. The issue, finally, is more about visibility and the management of demand than just setting budget targets.

 

Are libraries in danger of losing their status as a community discussion center of literary culture? Why do you think most people walk into a library?  Is it to find something new?

A child's garden of verses (1908)Sarah Houghton: I don’t believe so.  We have seen literary communities spring up on our social networks and blogs, and we still have real live patrons in our libraries who participate in book clubs or just talk about what they’re reading to other patrons and staff.  What a library is is changing, from just a bricks and mortar space to include also a virtual branch as well.  Most of our users walk into our library to use our computers, pick up something they put on hold, or browse the shelves for something to read.  For some it’s to find something new, while for others it’s to find something known.  I don’t think that ratio has changed in the 11 years I’ve been a public librarian.

Karen Gisonny: No–I think Libraries have a significant role to play as community spaces; including literary culture and it’s becoming more central to the role of libraries. NYPL has several programs for scholars and writers, with plans to increase these spaces and also robust literary programs across the institution. And as Sarah mentioned, many libraries are also heavily involved in creating communities virtually, through social media and blogging.

Jamie LaRue: Library traffic has risen significantly, all across the country, over the past decade. I just analyzed all our stats, and the sequence is this. We checked out 8.2 million items last year–overwhelmingly still the biggest reason for library traffic. That’s over 27 checkouts per capita, so people are definitely reading and talking about it. We had 2 million physical visits, and another 2 million virtual visits. Then the last four programs were just about evenly divided: responding to individual reference questions (292,000), use of our subscription databases by patrons (241,000), attendance of various programs (225,000), and in-house use of technology (221,000). So it kind of comes down to content, place (much of which is sheer social hub), and an alternation of staff assistance and tech. I think that will all hold up pretty well.

 

Existential Press has a program to give free, unbound copies of their books to libraries.  On their website they explain their reasoning.

Most libraries already have established methods of binding and re-binding books.  And such binderies usually put the books into hard covers, which is better than the bindings offered by Existential Books, which are paperback bindings.

Would libraries be interested in a program like this on a larger scale, made possible by many small presses?

Sarah Houghton: Most libraries do not have methods of re-binding books.  Most big urban libraries do–but if we’re talking about county systems or smaller cities or towns, no we do not have access to this.  We have community volunteers who repair books in-house, but if we got something unbound we would toss it out–the cost to us to bind it would be prohibitive.

Jamie LaRue: Sounds like a mess. Nope, we don’t have the time or interest for that.

 

Does having a book in a library contribute to more sales of that book elsewhere?

Jeffrey Lependorf: There’s a bit of recent data that suggests that this is the case. I consider libraries as not only an excellent place to discover books, but also as excellent marketing vehicles for publishers.

Sarah Houghton: Yes, there are a couple of recent surveys that back this up.

Jamie LaRue: Studies by Pew, Bowker, and us (all of thousands of readers) confirm that in the eBook realm, heavy library users (who come once a week), buy one eBook for every two they borrow. And the one they buy, they found at the library.

 

How much do libraries rely on reviews to find small press books?  Is a small press better off marketing books to reviewers and hoping to get a good review, than to directly mail or email libraries?

Jeffrey Lependorf: There’s no question that a single review (good or bad) in media read by librarians will do far more to help that book get into libraries than years of directly marketing to librarians.  Understandably, most librarians need some kind of third party to help them make the decision to spend precious funds on a small press book.  In our experience at SPD however, librarians are wonderfully flexible about who that third party can be.  We generally tell our publishers to cultivate any kind of “chatter” about the book that they can, even if the media is not Library Journal or Kirkus.  Online reviews, and even blog chatter, can help a librarian see that there really is an excited audience out there for a given book they want to purchase.

Sarah Houghton: We rely heavily on reviews to introduce us to materials that aren’t in the mass media or sold by the biggest publishers.  Reviews are very, very important.  Getting a good review is, from my point of view, a better approach than directly marketing unknown, unreviewed books to libraries directly.

Karen Gisonny: I think librarians do rely more on reviews, as others have said, and they are much more effective than direct marketing.

Jamie LaRue: Traditionally, yes, reviews are huge. Will they remain so in the swelling of new writing? I don’t know. We’re experimenting with crowd-sourcing reviews to our community. Ask me again next year if it worked!

 

Do you think most libraries and publishing houses or small presses appreciate their importance to one another?

Jeffrey Lependorf: Speaking on behalf of the small press community: we love libraries and librarians!

Sarah Houghton: Yes, absolutely. I think we share the value of bringing quality information to people, and of everything not necessarily being about money. Our past cooperation will serve us well in years to come.

Jamie LaRue: I actually started in the small press world, as a poet and editor. I deeply appreciate the craft and commitment that I saw so often there. But I think both librarians and small press folks have a tendency mostly to hang out with themselves. So I commend you for reaching out to us. As this has shown, we have a lot to talk about!

Karen Gisonny:  Yes,  I think there’s a natural synergy between the two.  Small presses publish important, literary and cultural works that are not found elsewhere and libraries collect, preserve, and provide access to those works–they go hand in hand.

 

Participants

Jamie LaRue has been the director of the Douglas County Libraries, headquartered in Castle Rock, CO, since 1990. He is the author of The New Inquisition: Understanding and Managing Intellectual Freedom Challenges, and wrote a weekly newspaper column for over 25 years. He was the Colorado Librarian of the Year in 1998, the Castle Rock Chamber of Commerce’s 2003 Business Person of the Year, and in 2007 won the Julie J. Boucher (boo-SHAY) Award for Intellectual Freedom.

 

Jeffrey Lependorf serves as the shared Executive Director to our nation’s two national nonprofit organizations serving the community of independent literary publishers: CLMP—Council of Literary Magazines and Presses (http://www.clmp.org)—providing technical assistance and advocacy, and SPD—Small Press Distribution (http://www.spdbooks.org), the only nonprofit distributor of literary books in the country. Also also active as a composer and performer, his Masterpieces of Western Music audio course is available through audible.com.

 

Karen Gisonny is the Helen Bernstein Librarian for Periodicals at the New York Public Library.  Her collection development work centers on the Library’s extensive collections of books published by independent literary presses, small and alternative press periodicals, and zines.  She curated the NYPL exhibit New American Literary Magazines and for over ten years has collaborated with the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses to host Periodically Speaking and Magathon at the NYPL, programs which highlight these collections.

 

Sarah Houghton is best known as the author of the award-winning LibrarianInBlack.net.  She is also the Director for the San Rafael Public Library. Sarah is a big technology nerd and believes in the power of libraries to change lives.  Combined, they make a fearsome cocktail.  Sarah has been called an iconoclast, a contrarian, a future-pusher, and a general pain in the ass.  She takes great pride in each. Her first book came out in 2010: Technology Training in Libraries and she is a frequent speaker for online and realspace worldwide events for libraries and other institutions.

 

 

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About Atticus Books

Atticus Books is a fiery multimedia press based in Madison, N.J. We specialize in genre-busting literary fiction and compelling narratives that feature memorable main characters. Contrary to conventional wisdom, we receive no nourishment from Uncle Sam, nor do we eat small children for breakfast. We do nurture the creative minds and bruised egos of starving writers worldwide.

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