LJ’s Self-Publishing Survey | Self-Publishing & Libraries

LJ reached out to public librarians in a recent survey to get their take on how self-published titles are represented—or not—in their own collections.

Issues surrounding the collection of self-published works are far from resolved in the library sphere. LJ reached out to public librarians in a recent survey to get their take on how these titles are represented—or not—in their own collections. The results show that there is still work to be done to get good indie books into the hands of patrons who would enjoy them.

What they’re reading

Of the subjects on which self-published work is offered in public libraries—­either in print or digital format—local history leads the pack at 76.1%. Respondents specified that some of their biggest influences for including a self-published book are local authors and setting, which carry over beyond history to fiction as well. The result is not surprising since indie initiatives often look to support regional writers.

Still, while local history is well represented, it and nonfiction as a whole are generally the most carefully scrutinized prior to selection. One librarian notes that they “consider the author’s qualifications to be writing in their subject area. There are plenty of people who think they are experts in something who in fact do not know much accurate information about it.”

Practical obstacles

By far, the main explanation given for not carrying self-published titles involves vendors. Some 48.9% of the public librarians responding told LJ that their libraries only provide what is available through specific vendors, presumably those with which they have a prior relationship. If indie titles do not exist on those platforms, then libraries are limited in what can be offered. And not many have the resources or mandate to seek out indie content that is not included in their usual channels: very few libraries—less than one percent of respondents (0.7%)—have dedicated budget lines allocated to self-published works.

ljx160601webSelfPubQuestions of quality

Supposing the money were in place to acquire self-published titles beyond those donated by local authors. A long-­standing reservation that still persists is that the books often lack the professional editing and packaging provided by the mainstream publishing industry.

Whether the claim is accurate or not, it is a concern for public librarians. Of those surveyed, 21.3% cited poor quality as the reason for their decision not to provide indie books. “Self-published titles often can’t meet standard collection development policy requirements,” said a respondent—just one of several public librarians who expressed frustration at the caliber of titles submitted.

A matter of time

Even for those collection development librarians who are convinced that some indie titles are worthy of inclusion, finding out which can be a formidable challenge. Some 34.8% of respondents indicated that there are no reliable reviews available, while 25.5% said that there isn’t enough time to dedicate to evaluating the books themselves. Said one, “Selection is a real problem. There are just too many things being self-published.... I work in a small library and don’t have time to separate the dross from the good stuff.”

Three-quarters of those responding from public libraries that do offer self-published books reported that they are responsible for selecting them independently, rather than through the state/county or a consortium, so leaning on external help is not an option for many.

A creative solution

How can librarians best provide the books their communities want and not the ones they don’t without getting bogged down in unsustainable work flows? One public librarian mentioned a potential solution: “We’re in the process of creating an Urban Fiction Advisory Group made up of staff and patrons in order to meet the requirements. If the model works, we may expand it to other areas where we see a need for self-­published titles that we can’t justify under our policies.”

According to LJ’s gathered data, collecting self-published books in public libraries has a ways to go. Old stigmas hang on, and librarians, already stretched thin, are finding it challenging to come up with the time and resources needed to build these collections. Indie gems just looking for a comfortable home in their local libraries—and the readers looking for titles that reflect their own experiences and interests—have their work cut out for them.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.

Jim Neal

Acquiring and making available self published works big challenge for all types of libraries. Also important is a collective strategy for long term preservation and usability of these works. Currently, nothing is being done. And a growing body of 21st century creativity and innovation is being ignored and lost.

Posted : Jun 08, 2016 12:13

Mitchell Davis

Jim, Good news, we have been working very hard on this problem for over two years with Library Journal. We have hundreds of libraries using our SELF-e platform to solve nearly all of the problems associated with public libraries collecting self-published works. In Jan 2016 we launched our first SELF-e Select collections with several hundred of the best self-published ebooks from thousands of submissions from around the world. I would love to talk with you about it in more detail if you have a chance. self-e.libraryjournal.com

Posted : Jun 08, 2016 12:13



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing