February 16, 2018

The Public Library as Publisher

What does it mean for a public library to become a publisher?

Public libraries have been publishers before, largely of annual reports, bulletins, and printed catalogs of special collections–items that are now integrated into the catalog itself or available online. More recently, libraries have facilitated the self-publishing efforts of their communities, such as Sacramento Public Library’s iStreet Press and Temecula Public Library’s Flash Books! And academic libraries have entered the scholarly publishing business in increasing numbers: the Library Publishing Coalition’s first directory lists 115 academic and research libraries engaged in publishing efforts.

But what might publishing by a local library look like?

Over the past two years, two public libraries have begun to explore that question.

Provincetown Public Press

In 2012, Director Cheryl Napsha and Coordinator of Marketing & Program Development Matt Clark of the Provincetown (MA) Public Library assembled an enriched ebook about the library in support of a service award application. They enjoyed the process and the result so much that they wanted to explore offering local writers and authors an opportunity to publish ebooks. “Both of us are still completely blown away by the amount of dynamic content…that could be included in an iBook, and saw true potential for a way to completely change and enhance the reader’s experience,” said Clark.

In early 2013, the Provincetown Board of Selectmen approved the creation of the Provincetown Public Press. Provincetown is home to the longest-running artists’ community in the country, and Napsha and Clark felt that the Press would support the needs of that community.

Unlike previous library publishing efforts, Provincetown chose to follow a curated model, using a selection jury made up of staff from the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center and the Provincetown Art Association Museum, and local artists and authors. Provincetown Public Press will publish a small number of quality ebooks each year, primarily due to cost—the Library serves a population of 3,000 with a $300,000 budget —but also because the Press is “striving to become a respected outlet with the ability to provide exposure to up-and-coming writers and artists,” said Clark.

Academy Park Press

As word of Provincetown’s efforts hit the national news, Director Dolores Greenwald of the Williamson County (TN) Public Library was inspired to reach out to the library’s backyard neighbor—Ingram Books—and see if it couldn’t do something similar. “The motivation…was the desire for the library to move in the direction of being content creators, not just content curators,” said Greenwald.

Bucky & Bonnie's Library Adventure book cover

Williamson County (TN) Public Library’s first title, about miniature horses, was written by library staff

Last year, library staff wrote a picture book about two miniature horses—a popular local topic—and piloted the publishing process from first edits to the final book using IngramSpark, Ingram’s ebook and print on demand (POD) platform. Academy Park Press—an imprint for library-created works—launched with the book release party in December 2013 to great success. The real-life horses ‘signed’ books with horseshoe stamps, and the Friends sold many copies of the titles.

Publishing their own book gave staff at Williamson County the experience to expand their program. Like Provincetown, Williamson County has a strong local author community, and Greenwald wanted to do more than just collect and archive their works. In January of this year, the library announced the Janice Keck Literary Awards, named for a former directory of the library and author, with a review board consisting of established local authors. Winners of the awards will be given support and funding provided by the library’s Friends group to publish their own works via IngramSpark, major distributor Ingram’s digital and print on-demand self-publishing arm.

Im-pressing services

Both Provicetown Public Press and Academy Park Press offer many of the services of a traditional publisher. Once their manuscript is accepted, authors receive help from library staff with final editing, design, layout/formatting, and preparation for publication. Authors hold the copyright to their own works, and the libraries help them register that copyright, as well as obtaining ISBNs and Library of Congress numbers for all the formats that they want to publish in.

The skills needed to support both publishing programs are consistent, to a point. InDesign, Illustrator, and Photoshop are used during the format and design stages, and experience with copyediting is a must. In addition, Clark uses a suite of Apple software products to create dynamic content for enriched iBooks: Apple Pages, Apple iBooks Author, iTunes Producer, and iMovie.

Once the manuscript is ready, the libraries support authors as they publish and distribute in a variety of ebook platforms and formats, including iBook in iTunes (Provincetown) and ePUB on the IngramSpark platform (Williamson County). Beyond ebooks, IngramSpark offers authors a POD option, and Provincetown is working on a project with BiblioLabs to offer their full collection of titles as a visually compelling BiblioBoard, building on the arts emphasis of the imprint.

After publication, Williamson County will add print copies of the literary award winners to its archival Local Authors collection and circulating collection. Ebooks will be added to both Provincetown and Williamson County collections with author agreement.

Director Dolores Greenwald and Ken Moore, Mayor of Franklin, with mini horses Bucky and Bonnie

The stars of the Williamson County library’s first book appear at the release party with Director Dolores Greenwald and Ken Moore, Mayor of Franklin

The one aspect of a commercial publisher that neither library will be offering is marketing or PR support. Authors are responsible for any efforts beyond local exposure and making the book widely available through global ebook platforms. As we’ve seen, however, creating buzz and demand via social media and innovative approaches can go a long way. Clark offers an example: “An upcoming art book from Terry Catalano highlighting Parisian graffiti will be supported by innovative release parties held at local galleries where visitors will be able to ‘tag’ blank walls set up throughout the building.”

Well into its second year, Provincetown Public Press has four completed titles and a fifth in development, targeted for the fall of 2014. Williamson’s first book was the library-created children’s book—Bucky and Bonnie’s Library Adventure—and the submission deadline for the first round of the Janice Keck Literary Award is March 15th.

Can any library do this?

Libraries interested in developing a publishing imprint need to see it as a targeted program rather than a business model, at least at the start. “We have deliberately decided not to track hours worked… since it is truly a labor of love,” said Clark. Similarly, Greenwald said that, “The budget, including staff time, is a moving target.” Initial support for both projects was in the $3,000-$4,000 range; at Provincetown, it was funded by a single large donation, while the Friends of the Williamson County Public Library supported start-up costs there.

Staffing for the programs is small, but significant. Napsha and Clark (director and programs coordinator) are the two library staff members involved in the press, out of 13 total. At Williamson County, seven staff will do work for the library publishing program, about 9 percent of the total library staff. Support by staff is key: “The staff here is amazing!” said Greenwald. “Managers…let me ‘steal’ their staff from normal duties to take classes and work on publishing… and the staff members working on [the project] have been excited, enthusiastic, and shared the same vision as the library.”

Williamson County intends to keep funding the imprint as a library program—phase three will focus on offering support to all local authors while continuing to publish library-created work through Academy Park Press. Provincetown Public Press does intend to expand and scale, with funding from the original donation and royalties from book sales.

Provincetown and Williamson County both used local advantages—a strong local author and artist community and a large strategic neighbor, respectively—to capitalize on the possibilities offered by new technologies. Lessons to be learned from their efforts sound familiar: start out small, rely on local connections and partnerships, and recognize the non-traditional applications of librarian skills. As Greenwald reminds us: “When the web became popular, libraries moved to assisting customers in learning, navigating, and evaluating sites. I consider this evolution in publishing to be similar, another adaptation to technological change.” Library staff members are already old pros at evaluating works after publication—now they can help to create content worth choosing for all collections.

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  1. By using open-source software, the cost barrier to producing ebooks can be greatly reduced. At Westlake Porter Public Library, we began an experimental project to digitize local cookbooks that we had in our collection, or that have been donated/loaned.

    I use a project called “Homer”, a suite of open-source tools bundled within a bash script, which produces an editable PDF: http://bookscanner.pbworks.com/w/page/40965440/FrontPage

    The recipe content from the PDF is edited in ebook editor Sigil to create an ePub, and also uploaded into a Drupal-based website that functions as a recipe database with the same functionality as commercial recipe sites, including recipe exports in common recipe formats:

    The ebook versions of these cookbooks are offered on the site, too. We have produced 6 ebooks so far.

    Since late October, when the site launched, there have been nearly 500 ebook downloads and almost 10,000 individual recipe downloads. We paid $0 for this content.

    There have been no costs associated with this project other than staff time: we already owned a DSLR camera and the scanners that have been used for capturing images, and all of the software is free. We host the site on an existing server.

    I am not saying that our experiment is an apples-to-apples comparison to the above projects, but the skills we have developed constitute an important outcome, as they can be applied to any other local publishing initiative. It also allows physical objects to become source material for new types of information products with local context.

  2. Anita Phelps. Lockhart Spainhower says:

    As a student, I was in the library club at school and learned the Dewey Decimal System. After I retired from a Federal Civilian position, I worked for defense contractors. One of my assignments was in the Rome Lab Technical Library, where the skills I had learned in the school library came in handy tho’ the DDS was no longer used. After retirement, I worked in a Public Library in the town where I spend my winters, as a volunteer. I have edited two books for friends, written some short stories which were published in a local Upstate NY women’s magazine/paper and have subsidy published a book of poetry (1978) as well as a novel (2012). The cost of the first book was High! The second one was more within my budget, but the PR and obtaining copies to donate to various libraries is quite costly! I am now writing a sequel to my novel, being prodded by loyal readers, and want to explore publishing opportunities. I am proud to say that a top reviewer at Amazon gave my novel, “Tennessee Transplantation’ a five-star review! I was glad to see that libraries are taking an interest in publishing in-house. Thank you for your informative article!