Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Writer-Library Connection

What Your Library Can Do For You
Writers and libraries are the perfect pair.  Libraries exist to provide books and other materials to the public.  Writers exist to produce books (and other materials as well.)  Yet not all writers understand what a valuable ally they have in libraries.

Writers need to read.  They read for many different reasons.  Here's a few
  • Keep current on writing trends in their field.
  • Research publishers.
  • Find information on all aspects of writing, from generating ideas to promoting a book.
  • Research topics for their current writing project.
  • For fun!
Who can afford to buy all those books?  Especially on a writer's salary!  But the library lets you take them home and read them for free.  Yes, of course you need to bring them back on time to avoid a late fee, but this is still the best deal you'll get anywhere.

'But what if my library doesn't have the books I need?  What do I do then?' you ask.  It's true no library can have everything you want on the shelf but the good news is that libraries are great at sharing.  Programs vary from state to state but most of the time, pretty much anything that you want can be found at another library and sent to your library at little or no cost to you.  Pretty cool, huh?

What about the reference desk?  In most libraries you will find trained researchers ready and willing to help you find the information you need.  Libraries often have access to data bases and other sources to gather information from.  Without a library you have no access to these sources.   

Your library may also be a good place to escape to when you need some peace and quiet to finish that last chapter.  Your writer's group or book club may find a home at your local library as well.  With all this to offer, how can you go wrong?

What You Can Do for Your Library
There are benefits to working with your local library. The person who checks out and enjoys your book may look for more of your work to purchase and will probably tell her friends about the great new author she's found.  Plus, book stores keep books for only a short time.  If your book is in the library people will have years to discover it rather than the few weeks they'd have to find it in a book store.

Writers sometimes complain that their local library isn't interested in them as a local writer.  That's not usually true.  The problem may be your approach and not your library.  Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Are you acting like a professional?  I'm not saying you need to show up in a skirt and heels, but looking and acting professional will help librarians to see you as a professional and respond to you accordingly.
  • Are you to talking to the right person?  It may do you no good whatsoever to sweet talk the person at the front desk.  Who is in charge of buying new materials?  That's the person you need to pitch your book to.  If the library declines to buy a copy consider donating one.
  • What do libraries need?  Libraries need to promote themselves just as much as authors do.  Explain how  your book signing or other event will bring people into the library.  Show that you're interested in providing a benefit to the library as well as to yourself.
  • What can you do?  It might be more beneficial for you and the library if you do more than offer to sell them a copy of your book or to show up for a book signing.  Help arrange a reading for several local authors.  Give a workshop, lead a book discussion.  Be creative.


Joyce Moore said...

Kara: This is a great post, and one that needed to be done. For myself, I think libraries are the biggest bargain we get for our taxes. I give workshops on Researching for Historicals, and I'm always surprised at the writers who don't know about ILL. Great post!

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Kara,

As a former teacher and librarian, I couldn't agree with you more! And I just visited our local library today.

After downsizing from a large house to an apartment, I had no room for the numerous bookcases of books I'd collected over the years. I donated most of the books to the Friends of the Library booksale and hope they found good homes. I now just borrow from the library since I no longer have room to collect books.

I did a writing workshop called "We Can All Be Writers" in my old hometown library and was gratified by a large turnout and positive feedback. I loved doing it since I have taught creative writing both at the high school and college levels. As writers, we have so much to offer the public, more than just our printed books.

Terry Odell said...

We just moved to a new state, and I'm delighted that I finally have a new library card. Not only are we spending all our money on fixing up the house, we don't have any bookshelves yet.

One other factor to consider--libraries have tight budgets, and often they are restricted to which books they can buy. Sometimes they can't add a book if it hasn't been reviewed in specific publications. And, believe it or not, it costs money to add a book, even a donated one, to a collection.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Picking up on Terry's comment, I am very concerned about the cuts to library budgets.
Here in the state of NJ, major cuts in library and education funding are a serious problem. I know many other states are effected as well.

Kara Lynn Russell said...

It's good to hear from library supporters! There are so many ways that libraries can enrich people's lives. Let's hope and pray that budget cuts won't take that away.

Anonymous said...

I like your last suggestion, Kara. Volunteering at a library can be such a great help to the over-worked and under-staffed librarians. Leading discussions and organizing programs are great, but even something as unglamorous as shelving books helps!

Anonymous said...

As a reader, writer, teacher, and professor - I love this post as well! The local library has always been a magical place for me, but I don't think I fully appreciated what a library could do for me until I was in graduate school. Then the library became like a hospital for a needy patient. I literally could not have survived w/o it!

And my favorite library-related scene? "Hearts in Atlantis" by S. King, when the boy receives a library card for his birthday. He thinks it's a terrible gift, and the neighbor--played by Anthony Hopkins, convinces him of its worth.