Attendees, prompted by questions from a panel of their fellow librarians, discussed several hot-button issues at LJ’s Day of Dialog last week. The Town Hall meeting—planned to encourage the “dialog” promised on the day—was chaired by LJ’s Prepub Alert editor Barbara Hoffert, who introduced Stephanie Anderson, Head of Reader Services at Darien Library, CT; Melissa DeWild, Collection Development Manager at Kent District Library, Comstock Park, MI; Robin Nesbitt, Manager, Columbus Metropolitan Library, Hilliard Branch, OH; and Kaite Stover, Director of Readers’ Services, Kansas City Public Library, MO. Each librarian in turn posed a question or an issue to the audience of librarians gathered at the McGraw-Hill building in New York City. The audience, seated at round tables for easy chatting, spoke about the topic for around five minutes, after which Hoffert passed around a microphone so that everyone could hear the answers and ideas generated.
The first question, posed by DeWild, concerned self-publishing. Her library, she explained, supports local authors by keeping a “Local Indie Collection,” but isn’t able to spend a lot of time or money on it. She asked the librarians present how they collect self-published materials: do they hold them to the standards expressed in the library’s general collection development policy? And what sources, DeWild asked, do they use to find out about those materials?
The ensuing conversation revealed frustration over the need to be so inclusive—“why do we collect everything?” asked Stephanie Chase of BiblioCommons—as well as difficulty in purchasing materials that are not available through regular library vendors. Several librarians commented, too, that shelf space is valuable and therefore it’s important to let self-published authors know that their books will be held to the same standards as others: if the title doesn’t circulate, it will be weeded. On sources to find reviews of such materials, a librarian from Douglas County Libraries, CO, recommended BlueInk Review.
Kaite Stover of Kansas City Public Library had several pointers for independent authors trying to have their books added to the library. She noted that when she asks about such books, “the authors start talking about themselves, and I have to stop them and remind them that they’re a small business and need to develop an elevator speech about their product.” She gives the authors a list of local review sources and encourages them to create a social-media plan. Authors who can’t find an agent, said Stover, should hire a professional editor, as “increased writing quality will go a long way toward getting the book into the collection.”
What Patrons Want
Robin Nesbitt next proposed a change: “To stay relevant, we must give people what they want,” challenging those who rely only upon reviews and catalogs for purchase decisions to “flip it: get what people ask for.” Tammy Neblett of Los Angeles Public Library confirmed that lack of reaction to patron demands can be a problem: her library, she said, “won’t buy books by James Patterson because they’ll never be on the shelf.” A librarian from Chicago Public Library, meanwhile, described meeting patrons halfway: her library, she said, lists items in the catalog and buys them if there are requests. Nesbitt then closed the patron-demand portion of the town hall by urging the librarians present to “pester” their ILS vendors for the availability of a no-hits list, showing which items patrons searched for that found no results. “The two biggest vendors merged recently,” she noted, continuing, “surely we can get them to do what we want.”
Too Many Choices
Next up was Stephanie Anderson, who noted that while budgets are up again on average, there are also more demands on that money. “Librarians are robbing Peter to pay Paul,” she said, noting that patrons also want more formats, and “the number of vendors is out of control.” When there are so many outside forces at play, Anderson asked, how should we proceed?
In the ensuing chat, Alene Moroni of Seattle Public Library declared that libraries should drop all database subscriptions, as these resources are so expensive and are not used enough—some cost as much as $5 per search, she reminded those at her table, and “we weed books that aren’t used, after all.” Shayera Tangri, of Los Angeles Public Library, explained that her library now uses the space that used to be the reference shelves for graphic novels, “and that shelf goes out now.” Another librarian told the audience that, at her library, when a patron asks for an item to be purchased, the staff asks about format preference. There was a final impassioned plea from Ariel Farrar of New Orleans Public Library: “we should band together for ebook purchases,” she said; while many present noted that at least some vendors won’t allow books to be shared across states, Farrar’s enthusiasm for librarian solidarity ended the panel on a high note.