Multnomah Partners with Portland State U. to Publish Local Ebooks in Print

Multnomah County Library, OR, (MCL) launched a partnership with Portland State University’s Ooligan Press to publish and distribute print copies of ebooks written by local authors and selected during MCL’s annual Library Writers Project.

Cover of Katie Grindeland's The Gifts We Keep. A closeup of an old wooden door with vines growing on it.Multnomah County Library, OR, (MCL) launched a partnership with Portland State University’s (PSU) Ooligan Press to publish and distribute print copies of ebooks written by local authors and selected during MCL’s annual Library Writers Project.

Every fall since 2015, MCL has invited local authors to submit their work for potential inclusion in the library’s ebook collection. MCL staff vet the submissions, and the library then purchases ten one-user/one-ebook perpetual licenses for each selected title through OverDrive, via self-publishing sites such as Smashwords, Kobo Writing Life, or Draft2Digital, where authors set their own prices. Like other ebooks, if holds reach a certain threshold, the library will buy additional licenses. The number of titles selected by the program each year is not capped, but usually less than a third of about 60 annual submissions are chosen for purchase, according to Kady Ferris, MCL’s electronic content librarian.

“Self-publishing was blowing up, and people were looking for ways to get their work out there,” Ferris said, regarding publishing trends that have taken hold during the past decade. Development of the Library Writers Project began shortly after OverDrive and Smashwords announced a distribution agreement in 2014, making it significantly easier for libraries to offer patrons access to indie ebooks. “Until that connection existed, we had no way to add [self-published content] to our collection in any format,” she explained. “When that came up, we thought it would be a really good opportunity to stay relevant by highlighting unique content from local authors.”

Katie Grindeland’s debut novel, The Gifts We Keep, was selected during the second Library Writers Project in 2016. This spring, it became the first Library Writers Project title to have a print version published by Ooligan. “It was the top circulating [Library Writers Project] title from that year, and it was also the favorite title that our reviewers read that year,” Ferris explained.

Founded in 2001, Ooligan is a not-for-profit trade press with national distribution through Ingram. It is staffed by master’s degree candidates enrolled in a publishing apprenticeship program through PSU’s department of English. The partnership with MCL is a natural fit. The Library Writers Project was launched to highlight the work of local authors from Portland and the surrounding region, and Ooligan’s mission statement declares that the press “aspires to discover works that reflect the values, attitudes, and experiences that inspire so many to call the Northwest their home.”

Rachel Noorda, assistant professor and director of book publishing for PSU, describes the Pacific Northwest as “a big part of the [Ooligan] brand…. But we do fiction, nonfiction, and a range of different genres to be able to introduce students to how the process works for different kinds of books.”

For example, in addition to The Gifts We Keep, Ooligan titles include Jeff Alworth’s history of a local brewing company, The Widmer Way: How Two Brothers Led Portland’s Craft Beer Revolution; Classroom Publishing: A Practical Guide for Teachers; and Dot-to-Dot Oregon, a collection of poems by Sid Miller. Ooligan pays traditional, negotiated royalties to authors.

The relationship with Multnomah began shortly before Noorda became director of the program last year. “For authors, there’s a legitimacy that comes with having a print version” of their work, she said. “That’s when the conversation started with Ooligan about ‘wouldn’t it be great if a local press could also be part of this promotion of local authors?’”

Going forward, Ooligan will choose titles from a selection of Library Writers Project ebooks and publish one annually. Previously, the press had published four paperback titles per year, but the new partnership will enable the program to publish five.

“Already-selected books from the Library Writers Project [will be chosen] to publish and print,” Noorda said. “They will go through an expedited process in terms of production…. Part of what allows us to do this is that they have already been through a vetting process with the library” and, in most cases, will already have ebook circulation data reflecting a title’s popularity.

In terms of selecting titles, Ferris explained that “We have a rating form where they’re…given a score on artistic [and] technical merit, and then the big metric for us is how likely you are to recommend it to another person…. That’s what this is all about—reader’s advisory.”

While it was easy to feature these titles on the library’s OverDrive site, prior to this partnership it was more of a challenge to promote these local authors to patrons who preferred print.

“If you put a book right in front of somebody’s face, they’re more likely to pick it up than browsing through the stacks,” Ferris said. “Our OverDrive site is visited by over 6,000 people per day, and we feature the [Library Writers Project] books pretty heavily, right at the top of the page, as soon as we add them to the collection. They all get checked out immediately…. But when we went into the branches to promote them, what we found was that people who come into a library branch aren’t super interested in reading ebooks; they’re there because they want to read print books…. So that’s when the seed was planted” to find a way to publish some of the titles in print.

Initially, the library considered developing a print publishing program in-house, but a few MCL staff had gone through the Ooligan program, and suggested reaching out to PSU to see if the press would have any interest in partnering with the library.

“We had a single meeting, and there was enthusiasm right away,” Ferris said. “From their perspective, this was a pool of books that had already been vetted, first by librarians, and then by readers” based on circulation statistics. “The upside for us was that they had all of the knowledge about publishing, and could work with the authors, bringing them through the process of editing the book again, designing a beautiful cover, and all of that.”

The print version of The Gifts We Keep was an immediate hit, circulating more than 1,000 times between its publication in April and the end of July, Ferris said. Book groups at eight of MCL’s branches also selected the title for reading, and Grindeland has scheduled visits with those groups through the remainder of the year. “It’s a really neat opportunity for readers in the community to connect with the author,” she said.

Ooligan has been excited by these early results as well, Noorda said, noting that “it’s unique; the library is for Ooligan both a partner and a customer. They’re very invested in having copies and having very visible displays of the books in all of their branches.”

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Matt Enis

menis@mediasourceinc.com

@MatthewEnis

Matt Enis (matthewenis.com) is Senior Editor, Technology for Library Journal.

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