Ebooks Minnesota Helps Bridge Access Gaps

People who live in small, rural communities often struggle to find access to high-quality literature and nonfiction content. Minnesota is solving this access problem with a shared ebook collection that is available to every Minnesotan through their local library.

Statewide project also helps local authors self-publish their manuscripts

People who live in small, rural communities often struggle to find access to high-quality literature and nonfiction content. Minnesota is solving this access problem with a shared ebook collection that is available to every Minnesotan through their local library. 

The collection covers a wide variety of subjects for readers of all ages, and it features content from the state's independent publishers as well as large national publishers. In addition, the MN Author Project helps local authors expand their readership while having the chance to have their book chosen as the best in the state.

“Our goal was to make ebooks easily accessible to Minnesota residents, with as few barriers as possible,” says Zach Miller, head of communication for Minitex, a joint program of the state’s Office of Higher Education and the University of Minnesota Libraries. Minitex operates the Ebooks Minnesota project in conjunction with the State Library Services division of the Minnesota Department of Education.

The program launched in February 2016 with an initial collection of 4,100 titles from 13 publishers, many of whom are located in Minnesota. Residents of Minnesota (as well as visitors to the state) have unlimited access to the digital collection through the BiblioBoard Library platform, with no holds or waitlists. Content is instantly available for all users.

“We wanted to give people access to ebooks in every corner of the state,” Miller says. “If you’re in a remote location without a public library nearby, you’ve still got access to these ebooks. If you’re at a school that doesn’t have a lot of resources, you’ve got access to these ebooks.”

The project uses geolocation technology, which is based on browser data and GPS, to allow any user in Minnesota easy access to all of the content. What’s more, an unlimited number of users can access the same title simultaneously, making the collection “perfect for use by book clubs or schools,” Miller says. In fact, the state recently unveiled a version of the program targeted specifically for schools, with a limited collection of titles appropriate for students.

Program administrators continue to add more content to the overall collection, which now includes more than 8,500 titles in seven languages. Judging from the number of times this content has been accessed, Ebooks Minnesota has proven to be quite popular: There have been more than 190,000 ebook “opens” since the program’s launch, Miller says—and readers from more than 450 communities have taken part.

From Consumption to Creation

Building on this initial success, the latest aspect of Ebooks Minnesota supports local self-publishing. Through a program called MN Writes MN Reads, Minnesota authors (and aspiring authors) can create ebooks and share them with readers across the state—and potentially across the nation—using free tools provided by the state’s library systems.

MN Writes MN Reads came about “in recognition that self-publishing is booming, and libraries need to be playing a role,” says Andrea McKennan, former project manager for the Metropolitan Library Service Area (MELSA).

As one of 12 regional library systems in Minnesota, MELSA guides and supports public libraries in the Twin Cities metropolitan area. The organization teamed up with Minitex to create MN Writes MN Reads within its service area in October 2017, and the program expanded statewide in early 2018.

Through MN Writes MN Reads, Minnesota residents can upload their manuscript or document to an online platform called Pressbooks Public. In Pressbooks Public, they can format their manuscript by adding images, a table of contents, and other features.

Pressbooks Public “has templates that help get writers’ manuscripts looking not like Word documents but like polished books,” McKennan says.

From there, writers can participate in a number of Indie Author programs, including the popular SELF-e program run in conjunction with Library Journal. Once an ebook has been screened to make sure it’s appropriate, it’s available to readers across the state within the Ebooks Minnesota collection. If authors write fiction, McKennan says, their work is also vetted by Library Journal—and titles that are considered high-quality are made available not just in Minnesota but at libraries all across the U.S. and Canada through the BiblioBoard Library platform.

Although the program had to overcome some initial skepticism, it has since made a big splash, McKennan says.

“Authors are often bombarded with offers to help them self-publish, and there’s usually a catch,” she explains. “It has taken a little bit of time for people to warm up to the project because there’s an issue of trust involved. Helping them recognize this is all available for free took a few conversations. But once they realized we were sincere, it has been very warmly received.”

A statewide contest helped spread awareness of the program. Minnesotans were invited to submit original, self-published ebooks in two categories, Young Adult Fiction and Adult Fiction, from April through June 2018. The winner in each category received a $1,000 cash prize, and the winners and two additional finalists in each category had their books purchased in print by libraries all over the state.

Titles by writers B.K.Parent and Lizbeth Selvig.

“Writers were grateful for the opportunity to receive recognition and to be connected with their library system,” McKennan says. “Submissions really skyrocketed as a result. And, we’re excited to see what happens in next year’s contest.”

McKennan sees MN Writes MN Reads as fulfilling an important need in the community. “We’re seeing more and more libraries become places for content creation and not just consumption,” she observes. “People are coming into our libraries not just to grab CDs, but to learn how to make music. And the same goes for writing. This is in line with trends we’re seeing in libraries nationwide.”

To learn more about how your library can join the 2019 Indie Author Project, click here or go to biblioboard.com/indie-author/.

The 2019 statewide author contest begins on April 1.

States that promoted an Indie Author Contest and the SELF-e program in 2018 saw significant growth in submissions.
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