Working with Libraries

Stamford CT library 2011 photo by K. S. BrooksIn a perfect world, you’d walk into a library carrying your sleek print book, hand it to a librarian, and they’d graciously accept it, asking you when you’d like to come in and give a talk. Then they’d scan it, enter it in the system, and you’d be good to go.

Not so fast: not all libraries accept book donations.

One library I contacted about donating books responded with this: due to the high cost of cataloging and processing donated materials, the library cannot add used books to its collections. We purchase materials at a significant discount and these materials arrive cataloged, processed and ready to be shelved.

I don’t know if that response was because I’m an indie author or not, but I had to wonder that since I told them up front in my email that the books were brand new. A major library system responded to my offer with:  Material will be considered for circulating collections of … only if accompanied by a review from a standard reviewing medium. These include The New York Times, (or other major newspapers which regularly review books), Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Booklist, and Choice. Reviews published in other well-established periodicals, academic journals and genre magazines are also acceptable. A published review does not guarantee inclusion of material in the circulating collections.

Okay then.

A few years ago, I was doing a give-away to benefit libraries – each month a different winner could have a book donated to the library of their choice. I went to one library in person to donate the book under the winner’s name, and dropped it with some “Local Author” display materials. I didn’t have a good feeling about it, so I called to follow up. Sure enough, they have a committee evaluate books for donation – because they purchase additional copies so each of their branches has one available (six total). It took nearly two months to find out that Mr. Pish’s first book did not meet their criteria, although they wouldn’t tell me what exactly that was. I hassled them and got my book back. That’s how I roll, you know.

I’m sorry if that’s disappointing, but that’s what I’ve learned. Better to know that in advance than to drop off or mail in a book thinking it’s going on their shelves.

The moral of this story is: check with each library before making a donation since procedures vary. While surprising and off-putting, these rejections seem to be the exception, not the norm. I have donated books all over the country without issue except for major metropolitan areas.

One library I know of even has a special room containing books of authors who have lived there known as “The Andover Room.” Sounds impressive, doesn’t it?

Another good reason to contact your library about your donation is that there is a good possibility they will want you to come in and do a talk. Odds are the presentation will be about publishing or writing – not your book – but it’s still an opportunity to get out there in front of readers. Libraries are great about advertising their programs with the local media and listing them on their websites and calendars.

I walked into my local library to donate a new release and noticed that they’d actually purchased some of the books I’d yet to donate. So, I made some sales as well. Not bad.

It’s also a nice feeling to look up your book in the library database, see that it’s checked out and that it’s on reserve after that!

So don’t be discouraged – just be educated – and go right on in to that library and see if you can’t strike up a relationship with them. You never know what could happen.

[If you’d like some tips on dealing with libraries, check out this post by Peggie DeKay called Growing Your Author Platform One Library at a Time]

Author: K.S. Brooks

K.S. Brooks is an award-winning novelist, photographer, and photo-journalist, author of over 30 titles, and executive director and administrator of Indies Unlimited. Brooks is currently a photo-journalist and chief copy editor for two NE Washington newspapers.  She teaches self-publishing and writing topics for the Community Colleges of Spokane, and served on the Indie Author Day advisory board. For more about K.S. Brooks, visit her website and her Amazon author page.

19 thoughts on “Working with Libraries”

  1. I’ve been lucky to be on the good luck side of it with libraries in my area. Other than being in good shape, all they cared about was that it had an isbn so it could be cataloged easily. They took the copies of my book, made sure they were in good shape and about a week later they were on the shelf. Even recived thank you letters for them. That being said, I can see why some libraries might not want the donations, but with as often as the pull books from circulation due to condition, not being checked out, or sold to make the library some money, it really is sad to see that they would turn down a free book. In most cases its not costing them a dime to put it in their system, unless they actually pay the people in the back OT, which most libraries, being county/state employes, are goning to shy away from. So in most cases all its costing them is shelf space.

  2. I’ve found that small town libraries are much more accommodating. They often have tiny budgets and are thrilled to get any book donations. They are also happy to have authors speak without having to dip into their programming budget. I have also used the “local author” angle to get free publicity in local papers for both the writer and the library. Win-win all around.

  3. Good article KS. I tried to crack the library here in our Phoenix area and was told that they would not stock any book which in their opinion would just sit on the shelf. Sounds like a catch-22 to me. I haven’t given up on the process yet, but we’ll see how they handle all that pent up demand. LOL

  4. I went to my local library just after I published my first novel and was thrilled when the guy behind the desk agreed to accept the donation immediately. Then as I was leaving he thanked me and said, “If we can’t put it on the shelves, we’ll donate it to the used book sale”!
    Not quite what I had in mind, but I was too new to the process to ask for the book back if they weren’t going to shelve it.
    Maybe it’s time to have another go.

    1. Yeah, it’s tough out there! You can always check their online database to see if your book is listed. Then you can plan accordingly.

  5. Food for thought — thanks, Kat. I haven’t even tried to get libraries around DC to shelve my books, figuring I’d get the same kind of attitude you got from the Big Nameless Library you quoted. But I might be going back to my (much smaller) hometown later this year. Hmm, I wonder if they’d accept my books…and let me talk about indie publishing…? Might even get a mention in the local paper! And hey, then I can write the trip off on my taxes! 😀

  6. I love libraries! Many of my local libraries will not only accept donations but will invite me to speaking about pretty much anything I want. All have allowed me to sell books and only one wanted a cut. (Although I always donate a book or two.)

  7. I developed a friendship with the assistant Director at my local library. She had always been so helpful with information, and my struggle with computers. Instead of asking if I could donate, I gifted her copies of my books. She was pleasantly surprised. I put my card in one of them and thanked her for all her help. I’m waiting to see what happens next. She does have the power to add them and approve a reading. A bit of around about way, but I’m comfortable with it.

  8. I tried to donate 6, hard cover, large print (18pt) books to our local library. They were bold about telling me they didn’t accept self published books. I noticed that their shelves were starting to look a bit bare. Nice use of our tax dollars, turning down free books which could aid vision impaired readers. I took them down to the Senior Citizen Center. They were very happy to get them. That was in 2008. I wonder what that library is doing now?

    1. IF you have the stomach to deal with them, you should revisit it. I tend to hold grudges for a VERY long time (ask the Boston Bruins – been angry at them for over 20 years for trading Joe Juneau)… but so glad the Senior Center took your books. It’s nice to be appreciated! 🙂

  9. Your local library is likely to hold general guides to collecting books and other items, as well as specialized price guides and compilations of auction records that will help you determine the range of prices at which specific items have recently sold. Standard price guides for books include American Book Prices Current ( About ) and Bookman’s Price Index ( About ). A general idea of a book’s current market price can also be found by checking listings of used and rare book sellers. Sites such as BookFinder and AddALL Used and Out of Print Search allow users to search across the combined listings of many online booksellers and to review asking prices for books.

  10. Libraries sound pretty hard nosed in the US, and some of them not a little up themselves; much easier going here (down under), large or small.

    One of the libraries I donated a copy of ‘Surviving the Battleground of Childhood’ to was a local college library. Some time after, while delivering a business studies course there, I was browsing the shelves but nowhere could I see my book. Finally I asked one of the librarians where I might find it, after a quick computer check, she said, “I’m afraid you will have to book that one, sir, it seems to be a very popular, and has hardly hit the shelf since it came in.”

  11. I’ve been to two branches in my county and no one seems to know who I can even talk to about a donation. Book branches even have a Florida author’s display case right across from the reference desk. It’s kind of depressing that the age of the helpful librarian seems to be fading away.

    1. I dealt with a children’s librarian in Del Ray Beach and they were just wonderful. I provided them with a display and everything. But I know that doesn’t help you at all. You might have to do some research online, or find out which authors are in that case and ask them what they did to get there. Perhaps some local writers groups might also have an answer.

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