Oct 22

Indies and Libraries

I read an interesting post, “Self-Publishing and Libraries,” from the Annoyed Librarian on Library Journal. What surprised me was the hostile tone toward self-publishing taken not only in the post itself, but also by many of the librarians commenting. When talking about the decision of writers to bypass traditional publishing and self-publish, Annoyed Librarian has this to say:

It’s not surprising that finding a publisher is an obstacle. Finding a publisher is supposed to be an obstacle. Publishers are supposed to stand between the public and awful novels and “inspirational” works. The stuff that gets published through traditional means is usually bad enough.

She finishes her post with this:

 If an ebook is published in the wilderness and nobody reads it, does it still count as a book?

The basic message of the post is traditionally-published book=quality; self-published book=trash. Wha– Huh?

I worked as an assistant medical librarian for six years. I did work-study in high school, junior college and state university libraries. All the libraries I worked in were concerned with one thing: connecting customers (readers) with the information they wanted. We didn’t try to tell them, “Oh, you don’t want that. That’s not good enough for you.” So I’m bewildered by the attitude of some of the librarians speaking up on Annoyed Librarian’s post.

In today’s economic climate, I understand that librarians are feeling besieged. Year after year, they see budgets and hours cut when the public most needs the very resources libraries provide. They’re faced with the changing paradigm of ebooks and the Internet. And Big Pub apparently sees libraries as competitors to be crushed. After all, every book checked out from the library is a lost sale. (Never mind that if I really like the book, I’ll go ahead and buy it.) Big Pub’s response is to gouge libraries for books–both electronic and physical– and to put absurd limits on ebook circulation.  But why should librarians turn their ire on self-publishers?

An underlying theme in many of the comments is this: We’re used to dealing with traditional publishers. We trust them. One comment toward the end of the thread, though, crystallized the source of the hostility: There are just so damned many self-published books. How can we decide which are worth purchasing? This is a valid source of librarians’ dismay. The person commenting goes on to suggest:

Help create the review sources for indie publishing that would help librarians find the good books which have been self-published.

An excellent suggestion. I guess the writer has never heard of Amazon. Or Goodreads.

I think the hostility boils down to the common human desire to stay in one’s comfort zone. Things are changing. People are feeling pressure. This is just one more thing to have to deal with.

The problem is, indies can be some of libraries’ best allies. For one thing, most writers read. A lot. We know good storytelling, and we know good writing. If librarians want to ask someone if a book is worth including in their collection, a writer can help them. Furthermore, most indies won’t gouge a library that wants to include their books in its collection. On the contrary, we’d be honored and thrilled. Readers have already discovered that indies are willing to offer books at an affordable price. If librarians would see us as a great new resource rather than a threat, they might realize that they’re directing their hostility at the wrong people.

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