September 25, 2017

No Cold Shoulder in Kentucky | Self-Publishing & Libraries

LaRue_color_newA Computers in Libraries conference got Jim Blanton thinking: ebooks were on the rise. Self-publishing was taking off. How could libraries turn the challenge into an opportunity?

In his previous position in Chesapeake, VA, he answered this question by sponsoring local author programs such as book fairs, book talks, signings, and even big annual events, all well attended and well received.

When he became director of the Daviess County Public Library (DCPL), Owensboro, KY, which serves about 90,000 people, he teamed up with neighboring library Henderson and its then-director Essy Day (now in Waco, TX) to take it one step further. He’d noticed that many libraries turned a cold shoulder to local authors: librarians didn’t return their phone calls, shied away from booking them in meeting rooms, and turned down their books for the ­collection.

Suppose, he thought, we could take advantage of new technologies to turn that around? Suppose local authors could register with a website encompassing many libraries and book their own tours? So, Blanton built it. It has been up and running for about a year at www.­epublishorbust.com.

It has three components:

  • Discover your voice. Staff members blog about writing. Some are already published, others are just getting started.
  • Tell your story. Staff members review various tools, offer tips, and review self-published works.
  • Build your audience. Registered authors can access the booking calendar; others can see what’s scheduled.

In addition, DCPL offers a monthly workshop, advertised on the site, called “transformational editing” to help authors work through the whole self-­publishing process.

Easy on staff

Currently, 25 Kentucky counties participate. Blanton says staff time required to run the program is minimal. Participating libraries offer a time and a space, which, for some, may be only a table and chair. For others, it might be a larger meeting room, wired for presentations. Poster and flyer templates are available for libraries to plug in the author name and dates of the appearance. Marketing for author appearances is through the newspaper, website, and in-house. Authors typically do their own grassroots advertising beyond that. For the library, the process is pretty automated: booking a room sends an email to the local coordinator, who reviews the information about the book, and follows up as needed.

Daviess County picked Saturday afternoons for meet and greet and presentations. It offers a couple of author programs a month; Henderson County does a few more. Attendance ranges from ten to 12 to as many as 60.

Author and public response

DCPL reports that authors have come from all over the state. In the past year, 24 have passed through, with works ranging from genre fiction to inspirational to cookbooks. By and large, says Blanton, they’ve been pretty good. So far, there hasn’t been any content that would violate community standards.

Blanton says, “Authors seem very excited about it. One guy had been writing historical fiction for a number of years, at a professional level, and said he was used to the cold shoulder. He wished the program had been up and running years earlier. It sure would have made his life easier.”

I asked if Blanton typically bought the authors’ books. He said that “sometimes we get donations, which we accept. Sometimes we buy a copy. Henderson buys several books and uses them as giveaways during a program.” DCPL is working on the creation of a dedicated local author collection. He makes it clear to his community that this is an experiment. Thus far, the public has responded positively.

What’s next

Blanton continues to meet with regional directors, who are often relieved to have a clear and welcoming process to defuse interactions with occasionally eccentric or demanding authors.

There’s nothing that restricts the website to Kentucky. “Imagine,” says Blanton, “an author…could book a tour all across America.” Blanton envisions the site’s logo, dubbed “Qwerty,” on library websites everywhere, signaling that doors are open to independent authors.

Blanton is working with SELF-e, a collaboration between LJ and BiblioLabs that curates and hosts self-published works for libraries, to take the project to the next level by the end of the year. Mitchell Davis, chief business officer of BiblioLabs, says, “The [Kentucky] libraries are using SELF-e and Creator to build their ‘Kentucky Creates’ project on [BiblioLabs’ web-based platform] Biblio­Board, which is going to go beyond books to local musicians, film-makers, artists, etc.”

Says Blanton, “My hope is that libraries continue to be more welcoming to local authors. As self-publishing grows, it is incumbent upon us to help them connect with readers.” He’ll be in a position to spread that message: in June, Blanton was named director of the Louisville Free Public Library, KY.

James LaRue writes, speaks, and consults about the future of libraries. He can be reached at jlarue@jlarue.com

This article was published in Library Journal's September 1, 2015 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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