How do Librarians feel about Self-Published Books
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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.
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.
I work at a medium-sized university library and we collect the same kinds of self-published materials for our local history collection.
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.
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.
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.
Better to nip things in the bud and just say, "No."
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 :)
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.
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.