by Steve Laube
It all began in elementary school. I discovered our city’s public library with the help of my mom. I soon began walking there regularly after school. While there, in what seemed to be a massive building, I would explore the rows and rows of books. Plucking one off the shelf here and there and skimming pages. And one day discovered a complete section of books on medieval knights and their armor. I spent hours pouring over those illustrations and reading all about medieval warfare.
Later, in high school, I spent one semester as the librarian’s aide. She and I would race to see who could file things in the card catalog faster. (Yes, back then we had a card catalog.)
In college I spent my junior year, one full Summer, and the first semester senior year working in the college library. I even explored the possibility of getting a Masters degree in Library Science. There was a certain satisfaction in helping other students find the right material for their research or showing them how to use various pieces of equipment. I even spent time in the back room repairing broken bindings and cataloging the rare book collection.
This past weekend there was the Public Library Association Conference in Indianapolis and had me thinking about the impact of the Library on my life and today in my profession as a literary agent. One fascinating Pew Research study found:
Nearly “90% of Americans ages 16 and older said that the closing of their local public library would have an impact on their community, with 63% saying it would have a ‘major’ impact. Asked about the personal impact of a public library closing, two-thirds (67%) of Americans said it would affect them and their families, including 29% who said it would have a major impact.”
It is a sad thing when municipal budgets cut library hours, services, and resource budgets. It is as if many don’t realize how vital a strong library system is to our society. Instead they see the library as a luxury. A non-essential.
I’ve said it this way, “The public library system is the largest bookstore chain in the country and few realize it. If a book is sold to only a tiny percent of the branches your book could sell thousands of copies!” Even with digital initiatives changing the nature of libraries, they still buy books. Lots of books. (Publishers are finding ways of selling ebooks to libraries so they can be checked out by the public. The link is to a Forbes article on the topic.)
One estimate claims there are 120,000 libraries in the U.S. Of those 9,000 are public libraries (which also have an additional 7,000 branches = 16,000 buildings). There are another 98,000 school libraries, both public and private.
As I was thinking about this post and the job our librarians do I stumbled across this great interview with a librarian published only a few days ago. Read it here.
For authors there is a great service called Library Insider (click here to visit the site) Developed by Books and Such Literary Agency and Judy Gann, herself a librarian, it helps writers market their books to libraries across the country.
Back to the title of this post. When was the last time you went to your local library? Have you shown appreciation for the work they do? Consider joining a local group that supports your library system. Give them a proverbial hug.
As Neil Gaiman said, in his brilliant lecture “Why Our Future Depends on Libraries, Reading and Daydreaming“:
“Libraries are about freedom. Freedom to read, freedom of ideas, freedom of communication. They are about education (which is not a process that finishes the day we leave school or university), about entertainment, about making safe spaces, and about access to information.”
This is really cool. I also found my love of books, and ultimately writing, at our local library while I was growing up. I spent several summers during middle school working as a librarian’s assistant. Our races consisted of getting books reshelved. this post transported me back to those great summers when several librarians poured their knowledge and love of books into an awkward preteen girl.
Saturday! We go about once a week. And our new Oxford (Michigan) library is beautiful, with a big center fireplace and comfy chairs where one can spend a January afternoon reading and staring past the fire to a glass wall and the snowscape beyond.
I was a Navy Brat. The first thing I’d do when we transfered was find the base library. In some cases, these were old buildings and I often found myself alone among the stacks of musty books. When housing was off base, as it was in Virginia Beach, we were visited by the Bookmobile every Thursday. I was always waiting for it. It was in the Bookmobile where I discovered Watership Down. I thought it was about naval ships. To this day it’s my all-time favorite, and I found a copy for my wife, on our honeymoon, at The World’s Largest Bookstore in Toronto.
I’m rambling. Loved the Bookmobile you know (I didn’t get one on my 16th birthday…yet another childhood dissappointment). And yes, libraries are essential. Though I’ve had to question some of the expendures in ours. An automatic checkout in a town of ten-thousand seemed a bit much. And ours has kept up with digital and audio. Overdrive is now my favorite iPhone app. I check out more audio and e-books than I do hard cover now.
But I still miss the Bookmobile. Maybe that’ll be my retirement job. Books on Wheels.
Ron, we had a Bookmobile that came to our elementary school too. Love the memories of scouring through it to find the perfect books to check out.
I’m not familiar with Overdrive. What is it?
Overdrive is an ereader’s app used primarily by libraries. It serves as the place that drives you to that part of the library’s website where their ebooks and audiobooks are borrowed then downloaded onto your ereading device.
Like Cherlane said, it’s the interface to your library’s e-book and audio book selections. It installs onto your smartphone or tablet. It will list out participating libraries, which is substantial. But there are also regional holdings. For example, I have a card with Oxford Public Library in Oxford, Michigan. But my library is part of the Midwest Colaberative Group, so I can check out books from my library and the group, which is composed of many libraries.
Since I spend about 1 1/2 hours per day in my truck, the audio books allow me to double my reading. I plug my phone into the aux jack and listen over my truck speakers. The e-books come in most formats. When I select Kindle, it takes me to Amazon, where I download it like any other e-book.
I LOVE IT.
Thanks Ron. That’s good to know. It sounds like an app I need. 🙂
Thanks for this post. Our local library was small but I remember many trips there, where I read books and books on music composers and also checked out their records. Recently, my cousin served as a volunteer librarian and she would get grief from people having to pay their fines. The last time I had an over-due fine six months ago for a book I was trying to finish, the librarian sort of was hesitant to announce how much I owed. I could almost tell that she was used to getting complaints. But I told her I always think of paying a library fine as a contribution. It’s the one fine I don’t mind paying for getting to finish the book and support a worthy cause.
You made me smile with this post. My oldest son has had a love affair with books since before he could crawl. He can’t wait to be in sixth grade next year because he’ll be able to be an aide in their school library.
My mom took me to our old local library every week. The building was like a restored old home. The scent of the building and the books was a little piece of heaven for me.
Being the wife of a retired Air Force officer, it was important for me to scope out the libraries each time we moved. I loved (love) checking out books to read or listen to. My kiddos love the library also. We spend lots of time there in the summer. And they check out as many books as they can.
Your suggestions for giving a proverbial hug sound like good ones for our family to follow up on.
I homeschooled my children. The library was a vital source of reading material for them. I could never have afforded to buy all the books my son, who devoured them by the stack, could find time to read. I remember a couple of high school years where he read more than thirty novels on top of his regular curriculum.
We did a lot of our research at the library as well. The internet was not then what it is today. I still prefer a good book with pages to turn over a click of the mouse.
At our church I supply the librarian with many new fiction titles by Christian authors. I buy the books at conferences and tote them home, introducing the readership to new writers. Many of the widows in the church are on fixed incomes and can’t afford to buy books, so the library becomes a valuable resource for Christian titles.
Janet Ann Collins
Since I was an asthmatic kid I often couldn’t walk up the hill to our house, so I went to the local branch library every day after school and stayed until my mother picked me up on her way home from work. Of course I read a lot while I was there, and checked out more books to read at home. Since I was in the library for hours every day the librarian taught me to shelve books and allowed me to help her do that. As a reward I always got to be the first one to read any new books in the children’s section. Of course I also read every book that was already there.
Later as a student I worked as a library aide and got so good at mending books they had me mend a Gutenberg Bible!
Now I’m proud to live in a small town where people are usually lined up waiting for the library doors to open. A few years ago there was a threat to privatize our county libraries, but the entire community came together to keep that from happening. We appreciate our libraries!
Love the statistics here! Now with the ebook and kindle books available online through the library my children are able to keep up with their reading appetite. Even then, we still go to the library often to allow the kids to browse and learn to pick what looks interesting. The touch and experience of new books in our hands will always be treasured by some, me included.
Erin Taylor Young
I love that you mentioned Library Insider, Steve. As writers, we don’t want to neglect marketing to libraries. The library system I work for has 19 libraries and a budget of over 5.2 million dollars per year to purchase materials. YES REALLY. They receive an average of 340 requests per week from customers asking the library to purchase various books. As they build their collection, they try to accommodate as many requests as they can.
Authors, get to know your library staff. They recommend books to customers left and right. They make displays to feature books. They read and review books. They are a most excellent friend to writers everywhere. And don’t forget that you can encourage your readers to visit their libraries and request that the library purchase your books if they don’t have them. Libraries are there to serve their communities, and they really do want to hear what their customers are interested in.
Getting off soapbox now…
Thank you for this excellent post on public libraries and your shout out to Library Insider. To all those who’ve commented, this librarian considers herself hugged. 🙂
Building on Erin’s comment, in times of tight budgets libraries are moving toward PDA–Patron-Driven Acquisitions. They are purchasing far more materials based on patron requests than in the past. Authors, ask your influencers and readers to request your titles at their libraries.
If you plan to attend Mount Hermon, I’ll be giving a brief presentation on marketing to libraries in Michael Reynold’s Marketing track.
If you have questions about Library Insider, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Judy, I didn’t know about your connection to Library Insider. Thank you!
Public libraries and the people who work there are truly amazing — and I’m reminded of that on almost every visit!
As a librarian and author, I love this post!
I’m a school librarian, so I don’t worry about my job security much, but I do worry about community libraries!
I love libraries and use them all the time. Those wonderful librarians are always getting requests from me. I appreciate it very much.
The one problem now is how are the libraries going to carry self-published titles when they aren’t available in their order resources?
This reminded me of my volunteer job at my HS library. Also, I looked through practically every picture book section in our public library when my daughter was young. Numerous slippery stacks of books piled up around our living room…
Because of budget issues, our county public library system was closed for over a year. That was a very bad time. I’m thankful to have them back now, even with limited hours.