Why Don’t More Authors and Publishers “Get” Libraries?

Don Linn on Libraries

For nearly 85 percent of kids living in rural areas, the only place where they have access to technology or books outside the schoolroom is in a public library. For many urban kids, the only safe haven they have to study or do homework is the public library. Librarians are soldiers in the battle for our place in the world, and in many cases they are getting the least amount of support our communities can offer.

“Fight for libraries as you do freedom,” Karin Slaughter

Who doesn’t love libraries? Conceptually, at least.

The public library is one of the fundamental pillars of our peculiar flavor of democracy, and yet, recent events in both political and publishing circles suggest that our commitment to them is wavering. And there’s certainly no shortage of opinions about their place in the “digital future,” some optimistic, but most some ignorant variation on “Who needs libraries when we have Kindles, Netflix and Wikipedia?”

This week is all about Book Expo America, and while most of the attention has been soaked up by ereaders, ebooks and Amazon’s formal move into publishing (along with the occasional mention of an actual book or two), on Monday I had the refreshing pleasure of attending both School Library Journal and Library Journals respective “Day of Dialog” events, the latter of which included an inspiring appearance by thriller author, Karin Slaughter, who is also the founder of the Save The Libraries campaign.

Save The Libraries[BIAS ALERT: I work for LJ and SLJ, along with The Horn Book.]

Slaughter made a passionate and vigorous case for the importance of libraries, and while she was preaching to a very receptive choir, her words have been more than matched by her recent actions. Even her website prominently directs attention to Save the Libraries right on the home page, and when answering a local librarian’s question about the lack of NYC-based authors prominently supporting libraries, she even promised to email some of her friends to ask, “What the hell are you doing?”

While many authors heartily praise libraries when asked about them, the kind of proactive, strategic initiatives Slaughter and others in ALA’s Authors for Libraries Members are engaging in seems to be an exception.

And that’s a shame.

Beyond all of the philosophical reasons to support libraries, there are three very concrete reasons I can think of:

  1. Discoverability: With the volume of books being published each year growing exponentially, it’s increasingly difficult for any book to rise above the noise and connect with its audience. While “curation” is the buzzword du jour, librarians have been curating books forever, and there are far more libraries than bookstores in this country. Most library websites are better than your average independent booksellers’, too, and as ebooks become increasingly popular, being visible on more than Amazon, B&N and Goodreads will be a critical advantage. As ebook business models evolve, direct partnerships with libraries become an option, too, like the recent innovative deal between the Colorado Independent Publishers Association and Douglas County Libraries.
  2. Digital Literacy: Libraries aren’t warehouses for books and movies, they’re often the only resource for people in their communities to learn about and interact with new technology. Only the most cynical of publishers can believe there’s no value in nurturing new readers, and libraries have long been invaluable in that regard. Today’s borrower is tomorrow’s buyer, but only if they have equal access.
  3. Diversity: Library collections tend to be more diverse than bookstores because they are community-oriented, not driven by commerce. Beyond the bestsellers and trends du jour, libraries can connect readers with books that “the market” has pre-determined to not be commercially viable.

I recently joined my local library’s “Friends of…” association and have offered to help them out any way I can, and I’m intrigued by the Geek the Library campaign, but I think there has to be more we can do, not just as individuals, but also from the publishing industry’s perspective.

Why is Slaughter’s initiative exceptional rather than one of many all across the country?

Why don’t more authors and publishers “get” libraries?

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6 thoughts on “Why Don’t More Authors and Publishers “Get” Libraries?

  1. I worked at our public library for seven years, starting at the reference desk and eventually moving to full-time online support: building our web site and patron training. When I say I quit in January 2000, this maybe sounds like the general course of things. But my friends who are still at the reference desk still teach intro computer skills classes: they fill as many as they offer, with a curriculum like “What is the desktop?” and “How do I delete an e-mail?” So your description resonates with me. The blase “Oh, everybody’s got e-readers now” ignores such a huge percentage of the population. It’s not the same as a technological shift like TV to cable.

  2. I agree with Ann MG. I’m an aspiring YA author who buys hardbacks, paperbacks and e-books, but I’m also the proud owner (and frequent user) of library cards from five city libraries in this area. No matter which one I visit, or when, the computers are full. And it’s not just about books or the internet. Right now I have six CDs checked out from two libraries. The magazine and newspaper areas at my libraries are always busy. For me, libraries are about community and an a vast array of resources, information and entertainment. At their core, libraries are about allowing all citizens equal access to information–and that’s probably more important than ever and still essential to our democracy. (Sorry.Got a bit worked up.) Some of my best childhood memories are from the library–and the cool summer bookmobile!

  3. Okay, full disclosure, my mom was a librarian for many years (and a single parent) and I spent a lot of my time after school in the stacks of the Westport Public Library, where she was director, “killing time” until she got off from work. That said, is there any more purely democratic institution that your public library. Don’t just sit there. Get out and loan something!

  4. It is impossible to over rate the importance of public libraries in any society. I am not an academic, an ordinary joe who has been the beneficiary of the availability of public libraries. My work would have been impossible without Houston Public Library and the internet. Centuries worth of scholarship are stored in our books, and libraries are the repositories of this wisdom and knowledge. We can not afford to leave this behind or neglect it in any way, no matter how widespread and revolutionary the digital age is or becomes.

    My question is as a member of the public how can I help?

  5. I love our public library, and our community supports the many activities that go on there. It is modern and quiet and the librarians are always helpful.

    Having a library in our small town gives the citizens a sense of belonging. It would be a real shame if our library ever went away…

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