Talking About Libraries—Updates from Libraryland

It’s been a while since the last update on my work with the Panorama Project, and although current events make any kind of self-promotion feel ill-timed and unseemly, it’s also a particularly interesting moment for libraries and publishers as the slow motion ripple effects of the coronavirus pandemic are finally starting to have a tangible impact on consumer behavior.

Imagine being a publisher watching current events unfold—as many people begin embracing “social distancing,” limiting their external interactions to the essentials (including, bizarrely, the apparent hoarding of toilet tissue?!?)—while having recently choked off a growing digital channel that drove solid revenue AND free marketing for your books. Now imagine being one of their authors with a new book releasing over the next few weeks.

I’m curious to see what happens to book sales over the next couple of months as marketing for most new releases will get drowned out by a relentless news cycle that makes the past couple of years seem quaint by comparison. I’m particularly curious about what role public libraries will play as people stay closer to home and are more mindful of their discretionary spending. Will print and/or digital circulation spike? Will backlist in certain categories see a surge in demand, the way 1984‘s did in the wake of the Snowden NSA leaks back in 2013, and again after Trump’s inauguration in 2017?

Hyper-current events aside, 2020 has gotten off to a productive start for the Panorama Project, hot on the heels of my Publishers Weekly op-ed challenging the industry to take question of libraries more seriously. Since then, we released our annual report and announced two major new initiatives; I was a featured speaker at PubWest 2020; and I did fun interviews with Library Journal and Book Riot where I got to discuss my work in more detail.

2019 Annual Report Released; 2020 Initiatives Previewed

“Despite the growth in ebooks and audiobooks over the past decade, there are reportedly fewer people reading books today, and fierce competition for their attention and discretionary spending,” explained project lead, Guy LeCharles Gonzalez. “Coupled with fewer bookstores in fewer communities, it’s vitally important to understand what impact the 16,000+ public libraries across the United States have on developing readers, driving book discovery, and generating book sales.”

“Most people agree,” said Gonzalez, “transparent, actionable data about the public library’s role in the publishing ecosystem would be enormously helpful to everyone.”

To help generate some of this data, the Project announced two new initiatives for 2020 in its newly released annual report.

Panorama Project

Ensuring a More Literate Future for All

The keynote also included passionate defenses of libraries, a common theme throughout the weekend. “Libraries are truly embedded in their communities. They represent the people that live in those areas,” said Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, who emphasized the role that libraries play in offering children books that reflect the diversity of their neighborhoods. Gonzalez is the project lead at the Panorama Project, an interdisciplinary effort to measure and explore the influence of more than 16,000 public libraries in the United States. “Go to libraries in your region, because they are required to understand their communities,” Gonzalez said. “That’s an easy way to engage directly with providers in the community. If you claim you want to reach other audiences, start right there.”

Publishers Weekly

[You can listen to the full keynote, courtesy of PubWest and the Beyond the Book podcast.]

Panorama Project To Provide Actionable Data on Importance of Libraries to Publishers

“The media market has evolved significantly since 2015, when the Pew Research Center published the last major survey on consumer use and perception of libraries, Gonzalez said. Streaming services and “bingeable” prestige television shows have proliferated, and the digital audiobook market has grown rapidly, to cite just two examples. Multiple media types compete for people’s time, yet the current discussion about the impact of libraries on retail ebook sales typically does not take this half-decade of changes into account.“

Library Journal

Discussing Libraries and Publishing with Guy Gonzalez, lead for The Panorama Project

Book Riot’s Jeff O’Neal interviewed me about what we do (and mostly don’t) know about the role of libraries in the wider publishing world, Macmillan’s embargo strategy, questions that could use answering, data we don’t have, and much more.

Book Riot

Unrelated to Panorama but very much library-related, I also wrote a 3,500-word feature about Nashville Public Library for Publishers Weekly that I’m really proud of:

How the Award-Winning Nashville Public Library Makes the City Tick

Imagine growing up in a city where you discover the joys of reading and music via storytime and puppet shows at your daycare provider and have access to almost any book you want to read via your school library, from first grade through high school—a city that offers support and resources for a variety of after-school and summer activities, including opportunities to write and tell your own stories via poetry, fiction, and music. Now imagine these opportunities are all powered by your local library.

If you’re one of the nearly 700,000 people who live in Nashville, this scenario isn’t some hypothetical utopia—it’s reality. From Wishing Chair Productions’ world-class puppet shows and the famous Civil Rights Room, from the Salon@615 reading series to the annual Southern Festival of Books, the Nashville Public Library is an invaluable, year-round gateway to the city’s history, especially for its literary and musical communities.

I spent two days in Nashville and did ~8 hours of interviews with 15 people, plus some additional online research—all with one week to turn in a close-to-final draft! It was intense and I’m not sure I’d ever take on an assignment like that again, but it was also incredibly fulfilling. It’s the longest—and without question, best—thing I’ve written since “The Revolution Will Be,” an essay about slam poetry originally published by Poets & Writers in 1999, and then reprinted in The Spoken Word Revolution, Redux (SourceBooks MediaFusion, 2007).

Props to NPL’s amazing staff, the generous people I interviewed, and PW’s amazing copyeditor for some insightful fine tuning after my brain was fried. Shoutout also to for its solid transcription service, without which there’s no way I would have been able to come close to hitting the aggressive deadline, and to the wonderful Jane Friedman for the recommendation.

Photo by Yaoqi LAI on Unsplash

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