Friday, August 6, 2010

Authors and Librarians - One True Pairing

Today, I forced myself to perform that most odious of tasks. Kindly but firmly, I explained to an author by email why I couldn't add his book to our library system's collection. In a nutshell, it was because the book in question was self-published and, although it wasn't terrible, it had many of the hallmarks of a self-published book. The flimsy paperback format, the super-skinny spine lacking title and author, the absence of any CIP information, the computer generated illustrations, and the clunky text all demonstrated why going through the effort and agony of having your book published by an established publishing house is well worth it. As always, I recommended that the author join the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.

It's painful to reject the product of an author's blood, sweat and tears, especially because the authors are often so astonished. What?! Don't libraries put EVERY book on the shelves? Aren't they SUPPOSED to??

Well, no. While the word "censorship" is anathema to us, we do have standards and collection development policies, not to mention limited budgets, so we don't even add all the books of mainstream publishers to our collections, let alone the vast hordes of self-published books.

But still - it's hard for me to say "no" to authors. No one loves authors and illustrators more than librarians. They are our sun and moon, our true-life heroes and gods! Without writers past and present, my own personal life would be diminished beyond recognition, and my profession would be non-existent.

Given our druthers, we would build little shrines in our libraries to our authors, and when they came to visit us in the actual flesh, we would fling marigolds and money at them in delirious abandon, hoping for a blessing.

However, money is in short supply these days. Even an author who is well-represented in our collections may find that we can't quite cough up the dough to host him or her. In fact, the agent of a well-known children's and YA graphic novel author/illustrator has tried off and on for months to arrange a library visit with us while she's in the area for a week this October, but due to the combination of logistics, the fee (which, though an outrageous bargain, was still significant for us), and the worry that after all the work, we wouldn't be able to draw a decent audience, I was forced to give up and pass her on to a neighboring library system. I WANTED to have her (I'm a fan myself), but it just wasn't working.

The painful truth is that library audiences can be very unpredictable. Even a well-known and/or well-reviewed author, whose appearance the librarian has promoted high and low in the community, might draw just a handful of folks to a library program, a hideous situation that every librarian (and most likely, every author) has experienced and that has surely added to my own white hair count.

And if the author isn't well-known? Well, forget about it. Does a child or its parent have any interest in coming to an appearance of an author they've never heard of, whose book they have never read? Nope.

As much as librarians want to promote books and their authors to the kids and parents in their communities, they are often reluctant to waste scarce time and money on planning, promoting, and implementing author programs that attract a handful of people.

What is the answer? Tune in next time for...
Creativity, Flexibility, and Shared Passions to the Rescue!

Photo by Luis de Bethencourt


  1. Sad to hear how it is on your end for booking authors, but also helpful to know what the current reality is. Loved your Ramona blog. At least in the photo your hands were behind your back. As an older sister, I'm afraid I was up to no good too much of the time.
    Barbara Bottner

  2. I feel your (our) pain on letting down self-published authors easy. We have so many hopefuls lately that give us such sincere efforts that are woefully short of something we can add to the collection. We are going to be talking about this tomorrow in our Admin Team meeting. I am thinking, what if we ask them to doante their self-published book. We put is uncataloged on a designated "local self-published" author shelf and people can browse it for a year. After that it goes into our Friends booksale. Maybe have a once-a-year fair for them to gather (bring their own table and chair and change) and sell and sign their books at a local author fair. It might help ease the sting and honor their efforts without the imprimatur of adding this stuff to our collection!

  3. Nice ideas, Marge -I will keep them in mind!