Are Libraries Still Relevant for Writers?

I recently asked my editor and writer friends on Twitter and Facebook if public libraries are still relevant for writers (and by their reply to give me permission to quote them). Well, that opened a can of words (see what I did there?)—so many that I can’t use them all—but here are some of their responses:

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Brooke Jones Keith said, “I research online but I take inspiration from seeing and holding books…. Libraries are still a nostalgic way to reconnect to why I love what I get to do.”

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J.D. Wininger agreed: “A library reminds me of where my loves for reading, and eventually writing, first began,” adding that it’s also “a place for community; where people can gather and share.”

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Richard Mabry answered, “Yes and no. I do my research online, but when each novel is published, I make sure to give signed copies to every library around—both civic and church.”

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Jean Stewart said, “I love being able to browse through a section to find books I’ve never heard of that are relevant to the topic I’m researching. That just doesn’t work online.”

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Terry White shared his perspective: “For historical research, there is no alternative to spending hours with the microfilm machine on the upper floor of our public library. That’s the only access to decades-old copies of newspapers and local media.”

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Stephanie L. Robertson even “traveled three hours to access microfiche at our state archives.”

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Jill Richardson added that “a good librarian can still outdo google on some obscure or geographical knowledge. They can be relentless.”

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Nancy Lohr pointed out that she tries to verify citations online, but “I regularly go to the library to find a physical copy of a book, and I use my phone to take pictures of the title page, copyright page, and quoted or paraphrased text with page number showing. When I am back at my desk, I have everything I need to verify the quote or paraphrase and to present the citation accurately.”

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Teri Lynne Horsley took a different tack. “As both an academic and commercial writer I do not physically go to libraries. But, with online access to libraries around the world, I use their .orgs/databases all the time.”

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LaJoie Lex responded, “As an academic writer, I would not have access to even a fraction of the resources I need without my institution’s library. Also, I’ve been able to do a bit of archival research and work with rare items, and that’s an incredible learning experience that libraries make possible. Even though many things are becoming available online, it’s still crucial for writers to have access to the physical copies of books and manuscripts. They hold so much meaning that is lost in even an excellent scan.”

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Andrew Ronzino answered, “I believe libraries will never lose their relevance. Sometimes you want to rent a book instead of buy one. Sometimes you need a quiet place to research. Sometimes you want to just browse for hours and get lost in the sea of stories that exist on those shelves.”

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Steve Duke uses the library less these days for research but says, “I still spend time in the periodicals section for my own pleasure.”

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Though Anthony Trendl opined that the Golden Age of libraries is gone, he said, “I think it depends on the book…. Picture books, and children’s books in general, are consumed by the dozens. Parents can’t buy them all. Libraries can buy some of them. So, for certain books, libraries will be necessary.”

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Debra Breese Marvin answered, “Now that they also provide books and audiobooks via apps like Overdrive, Libby, and Hoopla, it’s extremely helpful for me. I borrow books and audiobooks all the time and I do a lot of writing there. And I can order borrowed books from outside their system.”

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Janyce Brawn and Ardythe Kolb both cited the programs libraries provide to encourage reading and education, especially among children; and Susan Lower mentioned the role of libraries in hosting book clubs and writers group meetings.

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Linda Rowland Kruschke made the point that many potential readers “could never afford to buy as many books as they read, so they rely on libraries for their voracious reading appetites. These are the readers who will recommend our books to others.”

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Patti Lincecum Miinch suggested that “many people who may never see a book on Amazon or in a bookstore, who hesitate to spend money on a new-to-them writer, or who may not be able to purchase many books, will check out a book or author for free in a library. They may be hooked and make a point to buy other books by the author. I’ve ‘discovered’ lots of writers that way.”

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Colleen Coble said, “I have found some of my most ardent fans speaking at libraries, especially small ones.”

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Holland Webb replied, “In the face of macrotrends such as smart city development, rapid urbanization, and the hardening of economic categories, libraries hold increasing relevance as public spaces in which writers can speak to people from across a wide social, economic, technological, and political spectrum.”

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Cherrilynn Bisbano struck a similar note: “Libraries have meeting rooms where writers can give a free class. This could lead to other speaking engagements, selling books, and more.”

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Finally, the prize for “answer of the day” goes to Bill Patterson, who said, “I’m reading your post from a library. Yes, still relevant.”

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What about you? Do you still find libraries useful?

19 Responses to Are Libraries Still Relevant for Writers?

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    markalanleslie December 4, 2019 at 6:25 am #

    I’ve found libraries to be great places to give my presentations on the Underground Railroad and the KKK in Maine. They’re packing the rooms and BUYING A LOT of books. As a matter of fact I’ve been asked to be a Bicentennial Speaker during Maine’s bicentennial celebration in 2020. My talk will be at the State Library.

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    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser December 4, 2019 at 7:34 am #

    Are libraries yet practical,
    and does society still care
    that they can act as hospital
    to those lost in despair?
    To some they seem quite obsolete,
    dusty books on dusty shelves,
    but they can make the soul complete;
    we in the dust motes find ourselves.
    That far and undiscovered country
    pioneered by those we’ll never meet
    can lift the heart and set it free
    to grasp a vict’ry from defeat.
    Within these walls, a second home
    so one might know one’s not alone.

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    Sue Rice December 4, 2019 at 8:20 am #

    I think library usage is what is changing. When I was a teenager I loved volunteering to work at the library checking out books. Now I go to attend writers’ groups, listen to speakers, use the maker room, get help from the tech expert and once in a while to check out a book. So long as libraries are evolving to recognize and offer services that are relevant, I think they will continue on for now.

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      Janice Laird December 4, 2019 at 10:15 am #

      Heck, yes! As an historical writer, I can’t begin to tell you how many rare or out-of-print resources my librarian friends have located for me. As a group, they are an extraordinary blessing!

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    Bryan Mitchell December 4, 2019 at 8:42 am #

    I love libraries. They are great for communities.

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    Joey December 4, 2019 at 8:47 am #

    I can’t stress how much I love going to the library. There’s something about perusing the shelves, touching those buried treasures, getting a stiff neck as I lean to read the titles, and taking in the stillness. It’s as if I slip into another world, relishing that each book represents a writer that once stood where I do: hopeful.

    I enjoyed all of these quotes, Bob, but smiled when I read Linda Rowland Kruschke’s: some readers “could never afford to buy as many books as they read, so they rely on libraries for their voracious reading appetites.” I grew up watching my mom do that very thing.

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    mimionlife December 4, 2019 at 9:28 am #

    Yes, libraries are still very relevant. I have precious memories of my parents taking me to the library when I was a young girl. I am 59 years old now and still visit libraries.

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    karencarterhiner December 4, 2019 at 9:28 am #

    Sometimes I check out a book to see if it is one I want to purchase and add to my personal library. This week I am picking up a book titled, Acceptable Words: Prayers for the Writer, that was reviewed in a past issue of Christian Communicator.

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    Nancy B. Kennedy December 4, 2019 at 9:36 am #

    What a question! I’ve been researching the American suffragists and have relied heavily on the state and a local college library. The books I need are 100-150+ years old and not available online. I loved my library visits! Librarians saved me hours of time with their knowledge of their library’s collections. Also, here in my town, volunteers are compiling a free, online database of local historical documents, photos and maps. Local authors have been generous in allowing their material to be digitized, and generally the few copies available are in our library. Libraries rock!

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    damonjgray December 4, 2019 at 9:43 am #

    Absolutely! I am in the library once every week at a minimum. One distressing note, however, is that the libraries in Whatcom County (WA) are terribly noisy. This is the new norm. It is possible to reserve space in a study room, but the library itself sounds like a supermarket, making it a difficult place to study and write.

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    Linda Riggs Mayfield December 4, 2019 at 9:49 am #

    I identify with Terry White. For the newspaper history column for which I write, the best sources are documents from the 1800s, including books, pamphlets, photos, and old newspapers, that usually have not (yet) been digitized. My local public library has a large, well-appointed Illinois Room full of those resources, from which nothing can be checked out, but everything can be studied, photocopied, and enjoyed. There are hundreds of reference books, plat books, family histories, city directories, and atlases on the shelves, and on microfilm and microfiche I can access all the city’s newspapers since 1835. It’s a treasure not available anywhere else.

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    Stepp December 4, 2019 at 10:06 am #

    Loved this article. Thank you!! … I still use the library often when researching my books … and I am heading to the library today to pick up a stack of books on hold to read and enjoy. … Lin Stepp, author

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    Carol Ashby December 4, 2019 at 10:27 am #

    I say a resounding YES to the value of libraries for authors. I take part in a few Christian fiction Facebook groups that are mostly readers. There are many avid fans of Christian fiction who always get their books at the library (often a cost-related decision), and they request the local librarian to order specific books by authors they love. That’s mostly traditionally published authors from the big publishing houses, but Ingram Sparks sells POD books to libraries so maybe some of my sales through there, especially the hardcovers, went to libraries. No way to know.

    For research, I mostly buy used books by academic authors through Amazon (>115 print volumes now, not sure how many ebooks) and download original research articles from Academia.edu and Google Scholar (a search engine focused on research papers where free copies of many are only 1 click away). I got the perfect paper on the bridges across the Danube that were built in preparation for Trajan’s invasion of Dacia (now Romania) in the early AD 100s and another that discussed when the original earth-and-wood legion fortresses were converted to stone. They were exactly what I needed for one section of Hope Unchained, my newest that released last Monday. I can use Academia.edu from home because of my research career, but probably anyone could access it through a library.

    You can always look at papers and print them out in a college library, but it’s sometimes possible to get access to the subscriptions of the library for download at home if you make the request or if you’ve ever taken a class there. Anyone writing historical fiction might find it super valuable.

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    claire o'sullivan December 4, 2019 at 10:33 am #

    holy moly. excuses: I never leave the house because my hubby drives me wherever for physical reasons. Our community library was shut down and is open rarely by volunteers.

    now I feel bad. DuckDuckGo helps me with investigative writing?

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    Lila Diller December 4, 2019 at 11:35 am #

    1. I still use the library for my personal use.
    2. I don’t use the library for research.
    3. I make my books available to Overdrive and other online distributors for libraries, and they are my #1 source of sales right now.

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    Kristen Joy Wilks December 4, 2019 at 12:07 pm #

    Absolutely, our sons waited for their brother to get out of Cross Country practice every day at our local library. We live out of town, so driving in twice wasn’t an option. But they could use the library computers for homework or to play a game with friends, check out books or just browse new ones while they waited for us to pick them up all together. We also order family movies from the library, one of the only options available for old movies as Redbox only has new offerings and Netflix only works if you can get fast internet. Also, we order so many books from the library by mail! A great place. It is packed every day after school in our small town.

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    Kristen Joy Wilks December 4, 2019 at 12:08 pm #

    Oh, and I do still use the library for research. In fact, I drove three hours to a university library to look at an Ancient Assyrian text.

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    Sarah Geringer December 4, 2019 at 2:57 pm #

    Part of my heart belongs to my local library. I’m blessed to live in my hometown and visit the same library I enjoyed as a child. I use the library for research when writing my books, feeding my mind with reads outside my normal genres, and purchasing lightly used books for pennies during the quarterly sales. I also donate my own books for other readers to enjoy through the library.

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    remadepreacher December 4, 2019 at 5:44 pm #

    I have always loved libraries. I check out books, audiobooks, and DVDs on a regular basis. I also join a writer’s group regularly there. The Army and Air Force libraries here also offer free book exchange and I check what is available at least once a week.

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