I once overheard one acquaintance ask another where she could download a free copy of a popular YA book. Because I tend to be a bit of a PiTA, I asked why she didn't just go to the library. The book in question was the second volume in a series she obviously enjoyed and I knew the library had at least one copy. It might not be instant, she might have to wait for it, but checking it out of the library was better than downloading a pirated copy.
The response was a bewildered stare followed by a comment along the lines of “Why go to the hassle?” Since she wasn't paying for the book either way, what difference did it make whether she downloaded a pirated copy or walked the two blocks to the library?
To an author, it’s a big difference.
This isn't going to be a big discussion about piracy or accessibility (those are bigger discussions that have been tackled other places). Instead, I just wanted to point out a few of the ways in which using your local library benefits authors.
- A lot of libraries buy a lot of books. Have you ever noticed how publishers drop ARCs at events like OLA and ALA? There’s a reason for that. Library sales are important to both publishers and authors. A decent sales record can help an author interest publishers in future projects.
- If a book is popular with patrons, a library may add additional copies and are more likely to purchase future books by that author. There are twenty copies of Hemlock in libraries across my home province. The more those twenty copies get checked out, the more likely those libraries will be to add Thornhill to their collections. And, the more those twenty copies are checked out, the larger the chance that at least some of them will need to be replaced with new copies. Those are all sales.
- Some countries (like Canada, Denmark, and Australia) actually have programs which compensate authors for the presence of their book in libraries. In Canada, it’s the Public Lending Right Program.
- Most authors (at least the ones I know) have a deep love of libraries and believe they are essential to the health of our communities. We want our libraries to flourish and one of the things necessary for that is a vibrant, dedicated base of users. Long before I was old enough to pick up any of his books, I knew Stephen King’s face from the PSA he did for Maine public libraries.
Those are four reasons. I’m sure librarian extraordinaire Kelly Jensen has more....
Kathleen outlines some of the ways libraries benefit authors, and I’m going to take that topic and run. Libraries don’t just benefit authors, though -- they’re beneficial to all readers.
How is it that libraries pick out what books they have in their collection? It’s through highly trained librarians who know how to not only read and evaluate the books they get, but they know how to scour professional reviews like Kirkus, School Library Journal, and VOYA to find books that will fit their collections and satisfy readers. Librarians work with a knowledge of the people they serve, meaning that different library collections look different. But this is a good thing. Because libraries are community-specific, they can better tailor their collections to what it is their patrons want. A library that has readers who are wild about mysteries will likely stock a deeper collection of mystery titles than those which have readers who are more frequently seeking out science fiction titles. And that doesn't mean that those libraries with heavier mystery readers won’t have the latest hot science fiction title on shelf. It just means they may buy fewer copies.
But this is where readers come into play.
Librarians can do their job best when they know what their readers want. You can tell them. Most libraries will have a place you can request titles, and you can always approach your librarians and ask for something. I know when I’m asked to buy a title, as long as it’s relatively current, I’ll buy it. An older title -- something published 3 or more years ago, usually -- I’ll try to get it through another library. Because every library’s collection is different and serves different needs, the likelihood of finding that book elsewhere is very good.
A book that’s popular at the library? Librarians will buy multiple copies. They’ll buy the rest of a series. They’ll buy replacement copies if something doesn't come back or comes back damaged. This helps both the author -- sales -- and the reader -- because the book’s available.
Using the library means you become one of the people who librarians “know” about. You become what we consider when we’re purchasing items. If you download something illegally, we never know what your needs or interests are for your collection. Since your tax money pays to keep libraries open -- you already pay for libraries -- why not make your money count?
Something else that libraries do that piracy can’t: recommend more to you. Like Hemlock? Want similar books? You aren't going to find that out from a piracy site. Your librarian, though, can tell you what books to read next. If it’s a book the library doesn't have? They can get it for you.
To end, I’ll talk about those same things Kathleen does, from the librarian perspective:
- I get to buy a lot of books. Even when I worked at a tiny library, I got to buy many books. Some libraries have far smaller budgets than I have ever worked with, but because libraries buy so many copies of books, we get discounted rates through our sellers. On average, I buy roughly 15-30 new YA fiction books a month. I also replace a handful of books, too. This doesn’t count all I buy that’s in other formats like audiobook or graphic novels. Readers who tell me what they want -- they’re at the top of my list when I buy stuff. Like an author? I make sure I have not just their latest, but I’ll buy some back list titles in paperback, too. If one person is asking, I operate under the assumption other people will be interested in those books, too. And the more I buy, the more I’m supporting the author as a librarian. Not to mention, the more I’m able to promote them via book displays and book recommendations.
- I check stats on books all the time. If it’s going out a lot, I will buy a second copy. I just bought additional copies of all the Christopher Paolini novels because our two copies of each title do so well, and there’s still a waiting list. I want people to get these books. If no one checked out these books or put their names on the holds list, I wouldn't know I should buy more. This series isn't shiny and new, and yet, I know I need to keep buying it because people want it.
- The US doesn't have a compensation program, but many libraries do author programs. I bring in authors to talk with teens who like their books and who want to be writers themselves. I've done chat programs with authors and my teens for book club. I am in a great position where I get to connect readers directly to the authors to talk about their books. Seriously. There is little more enjoyable than that, but I can only do it if I know that’s what people want.
- Talk to your librarians. Tell them what you want. Their job is to serve you. And the only way to do that is to speak up.
Downloading a book illegally tells us nothing. But putting a book on hold? Requesting we purchase a new book? That we know about a certain author we don’t have? Those things help us get books to you and continue to do so in a way that makes us reader-centric and able to continuing supporting authors who are writing the books you want to read.
Kelly Jensen is a compulsive consumer of all things books and blogs. She's a librarian, writer, reader, contributor at http://www.stackedbooks.org/ AND is currently writing a book about realistic YA fiction. She can for VOYA Press. You can catch up with Kelly on Twitter or Goodreads.