This fall a new national “library staff picks list” will debut under the name LibraryReads. All public library staff will be welcome to nominate new adult titles that they have read, loved, and are eager to share with patrons via the website libraryreads.org, which will go live today at noon. The ten most frequently recommended titles will be calculated monthly, and beginning this autumn, the resulting list will be publicized and promoted by librarians in branches as well as in patron newsletters, websites, etc.
LibraryReads welcomes recommendations from all library staff members, not just readers’ advisory experts or credentialed librarians; Robin Nesbitt, Collection Management Director, Columbus Metropolitan Library, told LJ, “Library staff can nominate five titles a month if they’re avid readers, or if they only really love one book a year and want to nominate once a year, that’s fine, too.”
Books from all adult genres and categories are welcome. The list is focusing on adult titles, the LibraryReads FAQ says, because libraries’ role in promoting new titles and authors is less well established there than in children’s books. However, says Nesbitt, “if this thing takes off like a house afire, then we start saying, ‘how do we branch out?’” As part of such an expansion, adding a kids or YA list could happen down the road.
Nesbitt told LJ that LibraryReads went with staff picks rather than most frequently circulated, requested, or held titles because “we wanted to expose people to titles they aren’t already seeing,” because personal recommendations can have “more appeal than just pure numbers,” and to distinguish the list from others already out there.
LibraryReads is led by a steering committee of public librarians and library advocates, including Stephanie Anderson, Darien Library; Stephanie Chase, Seattle Public Library; Melissa DeWild, Kent District Library; Robin Nesbitt, Columbus Metropolitan Library; Nora Rawlinson, EarlyWord; Miriam Tuliao, New York Public Library; and David Wright, Seattle Public Library.The committee is also collaborating with a network of librarians and book publishers. (Additional outreach and marketing committees will be formed over the coming months.)
But if the librarians are in the driver’s seat, LibraryReads enjoys widespread support from other parts of the publishing ecosystem as well. For example, the top ten titles will be tabulated by Edelweiss, an online catalog, customer relationship management, research, social networking, and review copy distribution service. John Rubin, Edelweiss spokesperson, told LJ, “Helping publishers connect with librarians and librarians connect with each other is a key part of the Edelweiss mission. As a company, we started more in the Independent bookseller world, but are committed to making Edelweiss work just as well for librarians. We think that there are untapped ways for publishers to work with librarians using Edelweiss to help get the right books in the hands of the right customers—and LibraryReads is a great step in this direction.”
The American Booksellers Association (ABA), which developed the Indie Next List, will provide expertise and back-office support. Said Oren Teicher, CEO of ABA, “It’s a wonderful initiative to spread the word about books and to harness the vast knowledge of librarians in putting books in reader’s hands. We know that bookstore customers are also often library patrons; and, sometimes, library patrons are often bookstore customers! Working together makes perfect sense.”
The costs of creating the website producing marketing materials are being underwritten by publishers. Initial publisher partners include HarperCollins Publishers, Macmillan, Other Press, Penguin Group (USA), Quercus Publishing, Random House, Inc. and Workman Publishing. (Title selection will be based entirely on librarian nominations, independent of the publisher sponsors. A publisher need not be a partner for its titles to be included.)
Ruth Liebmann, vice president, director of account marketing for Random House, told LJ, “that although Random House has only committed to one year so far, it intends to continue to participate if LibraryReads sees an enthusiastic response from librarians.
Among the benefits to the publishers of sponsoring LibraryReads is data, as well as marketing. Said Liebmann, “Both libraries and library wholesalers are great about sharing information, so we will be looking at purchase data and circulation data for selected titles. And the promotion that libraries do is also going to mean a lot to us – for example, pictures of LibraryReads displays will carry weight. As [LJ’s] Patron Profiles and other research has shown, many bookstore customers discover new authors and books via their public libraries. We would love to see our selected titles featured on library websites, and in their newsletters to patrons.”
The power of a good example
LibraryReads grew out of informal conversations at a 2011 library conference, after a panel discussion on the role of libraries in building word-of-mouth for new books and authors, and mentioned ABA’s Indie Next List as a program that helped lift the profile of independent booksellers and the books they loved. Since then, librarians and library advocates met to discuss building a volunteer program to “gather library staff favorites, create marketing collateral to support outreach at individual library systems, and showcase the collective impact of public libraries on the national reading culture,” LibraryReads said in a statement.
Conversations with publishers began at meetings of the Association of American Publishers (AAP) Trade Libraries Committee. AAP’s Tina Jordan told LJ, “Our committee offers librarians the place to share some of their promotion ideas, and the ways in which publishers can each help support the effort. As we all know, the buzz word nowadays is discoverability, and libraries across the country play a critical role in discovering books and authors and recommending them to their patrons. As a unified, highly qualified voice on a regular and frequent basis, the sky is the limit on the impact the LibraryReads lists will have on the making of a book. It’s exciting to watch it grow, and from the ground up.”
Next steps at ALA
Nesbitt told LJ that LibraryReads plans to connect with public library staff during the ALA annual conference in Chicago to gather ideas. “We don’t have sample display materials yet, because we feel it’s very important to get direct feedback from a wide range of public libraries on these – it’s a diverse group with diverse needs, so we’ll talking to a ton of folks in Chicago about what kind of marketing collateral (both for printing out, and for digital promotion in newsletters and on websites) will work best for them,” she explained. Among the ways that LibraryReads will reach out to librarians, according to Nesbitt, is via postcards placed in all the publisher sponsors’ booths.
The feedback on materials may have impact on more than just LibraryReads’ own materials: said Liebmann, “We [Random House] are eager to work together with the larger library community to find out what kinds of marketing materials—both digital and physical—will help them promote our featured titles. We’ve learned a lot from retailers about how physical marketing materials can help drive discovery in the bricks-and-mortar environment, and public libraries are increasingly interested in bringing the same kind of visual panache to their book displays.”
So committed is LibraryReads to designing its materials around librarian feedback that even the logo was chosen by librarians. The AAP Trade Libraries Committee sponsored a design contest: publishers entered, and librarians judged the results, with an eye toward something that would complement existing library websites and newsletters. (The winning designer was Rebecca Tulis, working with Jeff Kenyon, an Art Director at Random House.)
But the feedback LibraryReads seeks isn’t limited only to marketing materials; LibraryReads is seeking a wider audience to help determine what success for the program would look like and whether it has been achieved, as well. Steering committee members also plan to meet with publishers at the conference to enlist their support, and afterwards, to reach out to other library vendors and wholesalers.