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How do Librarians feel about Self-Published Books

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1WTNaud
Jan 4, 2012, 1:39pm Top

As librarians having to choose from a massive amount of books to obtain for your library. Do you view self-published or small press books as less worthy of a place on your shelves?

2tardis
Jan 4, 2012, 2:07pm Top

Because they generally aren't available through our standard suppliers or covered by our regular review sources, I may be unaware that they exist, but when they do come to my attention, I'm very critical. For small press books I would consider the reputation of the press and look at what else they may have published. For self-published, one has to wonder why self-published? Not good enough for a "real" publisher? And doing that kind of research takes time and effort, which I don't always have, so self-published in particular get short shrift, but even small press books, unless I know the press, will get lower priority.

3MsCellophane
Jan 4, 2012, 3:07pm Top

I'm not a librarian, but I've noticed that at the local small-town libraries, they're most likely to have self-published/small-press books by local authors or about the area's history.

4susiesharp
Jan 4, 2012, 3:11pm Top

>#3- This is true at my small town library.

I have started reading more indie authors just on my own from freebies and MG and if a book is good enough I will seek it out when they finally get a paperbook. But they do mostly have to be something first that caught my eye and that I have read and saw a place for it on my already cramped shelves and if my patrons will read it.

5Fjumonvi
Jan 4, 2012, 8:02pm Top

Tardis is absolutely right about the difficulties associated with locating small press books and especially self-published books. Not only can they not be ordered through usual channels, but some publishers insist on payment in advance. We are prohibited by law, however, from paying for materials we have not yet received (magazine subscriptions are an exception). A few small presses have been quite nasty to me when I requested that they bill the library.

I agree with Tardis that self-publication raises red flags as to why the book did not undergo the rigors of evaluation and editing at a publishing house. Some are poorly written and call to mind a former colleague's favorite saying, "Paper refuses nothing." Another problem is that many have soft covers and don't stand up to normal use, which gives us later expenses for rebinding.

For the past 35 years, I have worked with local history materials and have made a conscious effort to acquire as many small-press and self-published books pertaining to this geographic area as I can find and the budget can accommodate. Just yesterday, I made a patron very happy by providing all three of the out-of-print, almost-impossible-to-find, self-published books she needs for her dissertation. My take on self-published books is that they're a pain to find, buy, and catalog, but often they contain the only information on an obscure, locally oriented subject.

Oh, one more thing--often the small-town public library has a copy because the author (or the author's mother, sister, etc.) is a library user and donated it.

6Katya0133
Jan 5, 2012, 11:28am Top

>3 MsCellophane: "I've noticed that at the local small-town libraries, they're most likely to have self-published/small-press books by local authors or about the area's history."

I work at a medium-sized university library and we collect the same kinds of self-published materials for our local history collection.

7manatree
Jan 5, 2012, 12:43pm Top

While I'm not a librarian, I assist with collection development for an academic library, mainly in the areas pertaining to architecture, landscape architecture, art history, industrial design & graphic design. Just yesterday, I accepted the following gift books that were given to the outgoing head of the architecture department by the publishers.

A book of essays discussing the theoretical implications of virtual space from a small press - I knew that it would be of interest to three of our faculty and I recognized the authors of two of the essays.

A self published book by a retiring Cali. architect that is essentially a scrap book of buildings that have inspired him, his thoughts on education and the profession over the years, sketches of his designs, etc. Most of our Arch & LArch professors require their students to keep such a journal.

A small press book from India on a contemporary Indian architect. Our collection has very little on contemporary Indian architecture.

I also check WorldCat to see who else has a particular title in their collection. We have a few institutions that we like to benchmark ourselves against.

If the book is about a designer or by an author that I don't recognize, I hit a few of our databases to see how much has been written about/by them in the scholarly journals.

We also try to keep an eye out for items of local interest. For example, we have a retired accounting professor who is a bit of an architecture buff. He's been putting together some self published books that document some local architecture. Self published as in using MSWord & printing them out and putting them in a three ring binder. Some of them are based on exhibits that he has done for the local historical society. We're also in the process of putting them online and adding his photos to a digital image database that we maintain for our students & faculty to use. While they might not be as exhaustively scholarly as something published by the Princeton Architecture Press, it does fill a need we are always trying to fill. Here's the first one that we've put online: http://www.libraries.psu.edu/psul/digital/hajjar.html

Small press & self publishing, like regular publishing, is a bit of both good & bad. Legit material with limited/narrow audience gets published, which is good, but the fact that some of it is low quality, vanity items makes the job of the selector a bit harder. However, the big publishers often pass on smaller items in favor of titles that will sell high numbers. The big presses put out their fair share of questionable titles as well.

8alco261
Jan 8, 2012, 7:15pm Top

One aspect of self published books worth considering is that there are areas of interest which simply wouldn't provide the sales needed to turn a profit through regular publication channels. One area that fits this criteria is first person accounts of working on the railroad. I'm very interested in this area and most of the books I have on this subject are either self published or published by a small indie press. As noted in threads to this post and in my profile the writing quality of these books is all over the map but, at least for first person accounts, it is either this or limit yourself to a small number of books by main stream publishers.

9WTNaud
Edited: Jan 9, 2012, 9:51am Top

You are absolutely right on. The Big Publishers aren't quick to publish personal acounts (unless they are by a famous name)even when they are compelling and well-witten. Most notably war accounts add a dimension to understanding historical events from a perspective historians can overlook. Especially when offiicial accounts of war events are dictated by those in power that want it all colored to their liking. Reading the honest words of soldiers gives you an experiene no historian doing an overview can give you on war.

10fugitive
Edited: Jan 11, 2012, 10:42am Top

Our (academic public university) library uses Yankee Book Peddler to acquire books. In general, self-published works will not even appear via that channel. On occasion, we have sought out, and purchased, specific self-published titles which may satisfy a specific faculty member's needs, or as an addition to our special collections. E.g., I think we added J. G. Eccarius' self-published Last Days of Christ the Vampire to our collections at one time.

ADDED EDIT: I also have to state that we really frown upon being approached by self-publishing authors attempting to get us to purchase their book. We find it time consuming and annoying. We don't accept them as gifts, either.

11tardis
Jan 11, 2012, 11:21am Top

Thank goodness for our collection policy! It allows us to deflect quite a number of donations - not just self-published stuff, but also freebies from political, social and religious groups. It is important to remember that free is NOT free. The actual item might not cost us anything but evaluating, cataloguing, labelling, etc. costs in staff time and supplies, and shelf space is not infinite. If we take something we need to be fairly sure it will meet our clients' needs in some way.

Mind you, I work for a special library, and our mandate is very different from that of a public library. A public library would need to collect a broader range and might actually want some of the stuff we turn away.

12alco261
Jan 11, 2012, 11:55am Top

>10 fugitive: and 11 - I'm not trying to start a firefight here but I am curious. What is the annual count with respect to self-published authors offering to donate/sell a copy of their book to your respective libraries? The reason for asking is because the tone of your posts leaves me with the sense of a count in the 100's.

13fugitive
Jan 11, 2012, 8:02pm Top

We don't even waste our time counting how many self published authors approach us. Time is money. But, no, it's not in the "hundreds." But if I have to spend 45 minutes explaining to one author why we won't even consider acquiring their book, that's taxpayer money down the drain. That, and figure they're hitting up every library they can find in the area (4 public systems + 12 universities x 45 minutes @ $10/hr(minimum) is $120 of taxpayer money down the drain. If it's only 10 per year that's $1,200. That's a conservative estimate.

Better to nip things in the bud and just say, "No."

14tardis
Jan 11, 2012, 9:41pm Top

Yeah, not hundreds for me either, but it looms large because I hate disappointing people. It's a waste of the author's time, too. Some haven't done even the most basic research about the library they're approaching. I used to be in a special library with a subject focus on agriculture, so I was happy to accept a set of self-published books on commercial herb growing (the author had done most of his research using our databases), but I turned down books on religion, politics, homelessness, fiction... can't recall what else. And I always had to either talk to them on the phone if they cold-called me, or compose a courteous "no thanks" email if they contacted me that way.

I should add that big commercial publishers are also guilty of not doing their research, but most of them just send catalogues or emails that don't require responses.

From the other side, my next-door neighbour wrote and self-published a book and she said the local public library was quite curt when she offered to give them a copy (along the lines of "we don't take self-published books. Period") but later she was getting some recognition at city hall for writing the book and the Head Librarian was there and gushing about how great it was that she'd written this book and how they'd love to have a copy, so the library had to take it after all. Obviously, policy is for minions to follow :)

15nickhoonaloon
Feb 6, 2012, 12:50pm Top

I`m not a librarian, but I found this discussion interesting.

Where I live (Derbyshire, UK) there`s an existing tradition of self-publishing on local history, particularly with respect to coal-mining.

Not only do my local library stock these, they also offer a number for sale.

First-hand accounts of life in the mines are actually quite popular, and usually self-published or published by small presses/local history groups. Big publishers would never touch them, due partly to limited market size and possibly also that the writers do not always express themselves in a polished fashion. Maybe that`s part of the appeal, I don`t know.

It may be relevant that there are two well-organised local history groups in the area but that`s not the whole story.

16kqueue
Feb 13, 2012, 5:31pm Top

I am with a medium-sized public library, and we gladly purchase/accept self-published books from local authors, or authors who have written items with local interest.

What really, really annoys me, though, is when I get an e-mail or phone call out of the blue and the person pretends to be a patron of my library asking me to purchase their book. It usually goes something like "Hi, I just heard about this great new book, and I wondered if you would purchase it for the library. I'd really like to read it. " The conversation usually ends quickly when I ask for their library card number so that I can place it on hold for them when it comes in, if we decide to order it. I'm sorry, but I feel if you have to resort to subterfuge to sell your book, then it probably sucks.

17vtlucania
Feb 16, 2012, 2:57pm Top

I like that people are able to express their creative ideas. I find these offerings usually would benefit from an editor or a close friend or not close friend making some deletions and grammatical corrections but this is sometimes true with books published by publishing houses.

18DanMat
Edited: Feb 16, 2012, 3:27pm Top

The self-publishers in my area are very pushy. The books themselves, 9 out of 10 times, are substandard. It's an awkward situation and they generally do not donate their work. For the speakers or college professors who write professionally, we order the items, but they are not very different from big press releases and are good for the collection.

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