Between eBooksAreForever, OverDrive, and other channels, indie authors are making inroads on the library market, and yet they're still facing resistance. OverDrive, for example, isolated self-published books in a ghetto, and librarians are still resisting the idea of buying self-published books.
But as Molly Wetta wrote on her Wrapped up in Books blog last week, the resistance doesn't come from a perceived self-pub stigma. Instead, librarians face tight constraints on both their time and budget.
Wetta explained that a collection development librarian like herself only has a few hours a week to devote to buying books. And in library systems where collection development is just one of many primary duties, a librarian faces even tighter constraints.
As a result:
It’s simply not efficient or cost-effective to acquire self-published books. They don’t often have existing records ready to add to the library’s catalog; these records have to be created. Self-published books might not be available from the library’s main vendor, who might do any number of tasks to make the book ready to be shelved in a library (a protective cover, property stamps, stickers to identify the proper location of the item, etc.). And of that work has to be done by library staff as an extra step if it is purchased by a different vendor (say, Amazon) and that’s only if the policies allow the library to do that (sometimes a library is restricted to specific vendors).
And that's not the only problem.
Even when a librarian wants to buy a self-published book, they are still constrained by a limited budget. The librarians need to make sure that the books they buy are in demand and of good quality.
That applies to all books, and not just self-published, but the latter are more difficult to quantify:
It’s not that librarians are completely unwilling to buy self-published books, it’s just that the systems aren’t in place yet (or aren’t yet robust enough) to make it easy to evaluate the quality and to efficiently bring them to patrons.
The supply channel issue can't be solved by authors on their own, but aren't there steps that an author can take to demonstrate the quality of their books?
For example, authors could put their ebooks into Biblioboard's Self-e platform (there's no money in this, however, just visibility which could lead to sales). Do you suppose a paid book review from a legacy source (PW, Kirkus, etc) would help?
In the absence of official recommendations, some librarians have had to wing it. One librarian explained in the comment section of Wetta's post how her library is selecting self-published books:
The Greater Victoria Public Library in Victoria, BC (where I am the Head Cataloguer) started an Emerging Local Authors Collection this year, intended for (mostly) self-published books. Clear guidelines were posted on the library’s website, including the geographic area where the authors live, durability of books and the fact that one copy of each book would be donated by the author. The books were fully catalogued (by me) and the collection was launched with an evening reception for the authors and their guests. The books are prominently displayed at our Central Branch, and have been circulating briskly. At the end of one year, books that have proven themselves by high circs may be added to the permanent collection (which is, of course, subject to weeding. Already a small number of titles attracted enough holds on our public catalogue that additional copies were purchased).
That is a lot of work, so it is beyond the resources of most libraries. But until more self-published books make their way through the accepted vendors, ad hoc arrangements like GVPL's could be the way that many self-published authors get their foot in the door.
image by Friar's Balsam