Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Getting real: Libraries are missing books

Back in March 2006, Jason Fried and his company 37Signals released the book Getting Real: The smarter, faster, easier way to build a successful web application. Originally available in PDF format only, in October Fried released a paper version, produced by Lulu.com, and a free HTML version.

Getting Real is an important book. It came along at exactly the right time, said something important. To the extent the greap web-app "explosion" of 2004-2007 had a book, this was it.

And it was successful. According to 37Signals the (paid) version has sold has 30,000 copies. It's the number six seller on Lulu.com. Passionate, unpaid fans have produced translations into thirteen languages. Google records 166,000 mentions. Even on LibraryThing, where the book had to be manually entered and there is a bias toward the printed version, 37 members have listed it.

Did libraries notice? Not at all.

OCLC's WorldCat records exactly three copies—MIT, California Polytechnic and the University of Nebraska. That's three copies of one of the top tech books of the 00's in most of the US libraries that matter. The Library of Congress? New York Public? Harvard? None of them. For comparison, WorldCat contains 619 copies of Solitary sex : a cultural history of masturbation.

This is not an isolated phenomenon. Lulu, the online, no-editors, print-on-demand publisher that 37Signals turned to is almost completely ignored by libraries. Take a look at its 100 top-sellers and run the books through WorldCat. I made a start: Lulu's most popular book, something about ecommerce, is held by NO library in WorldCat. The second, How to Become an Alpha Male, is held by just two.

Let's be clear, Lulu publishes a lot of crap! But it's not all crap. And even if it were, publishers like Lulu represent a significant event in the history of publishing—an event libraries should be trying to capture. Lulu isn't some obscure novelty—it already gets twice the web traffic of HarperCollins.

I am a passionate defender of libraries and library data—of the relevance of libraries now and going forward. LibraryThing is the only significant service of its kind to use library data and to link liberally to libraries. I believe in the expertise to choose and classify—that innovations like social cataloging and tagging supplement but do not replace expert classification. LibraryThing has as many librarians as programmers. I like blogs, but I love books.

But this throws me completely. How could libraries miss this?

Thanks to LibraryThing members for bringing this topic up.

Addendum (moved from comments): I'm not that concerned about regular public libraries, excluding the Bostons and the NYPLs. They're about access more than comprehensiveness and preservation. These books are available. I think it would be great if one of the jobbers added Lulu to their list, and the top-selling Lulu books were found in large publics, but I have my eye on academics.

Take the number two book—"How to be an alpha male." Many universities have large and active gender-studies departments. Taking GR's numbers and assuming a long-tail distribution of sales, we can guess that book has cleared 60-100,000 copies. I suspect that if HarperCollins or Random House published such a book, they'd be all over it, and not because of any notion of "quality." They'd get it because it would be an important document of American gender identity.

Instead, I'm afraid its absense is a document of American publisher- and librarian-identity.

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42 Comments:

Anonymous Lynn R. said...

Lots of reasons, really. When I did collection development work in a public library in the U.S. I really didn't pay much attention to vanity presses/self-publishing unless it was on local history/genealogy - and even then I was judicious about what I selected. For the following reasons:

1) I had to be very selective about what I purchased given my limited budget. So I relied on reviews in mainstream journals, best-seller lists, patron requests, known authors and known publishers.

2) An unfortunately high percentage of the vanity press/self-published material that I saw was... crap... to be frank. Now, I only saw a very limited amount of it so I didn't judge the whole publishing area based on what little I saw - but I didn't have a good sense of what authors could be trusted on which topics and there were no reviews out there to help.

3) The vast majority of the vanity press or self-published items weren't available through our jobbers - and we were required to use the jobbers because we got the best discount. We had to justify each purchase made separately.

4) We had to use purchase orders to make our purchases. Credit cards could be used only with the express approval of the city manager - and this was granted rarely. Unfortunately, this eliminated many of the vanity press/self-publishing options even when we received permission to purchase outside of the jobber.

I know that the same issues affected many of my colleagues in nearby libraries.

3/27/2008 2:00 AM  
Blogger papalazarou said...

I'm glad you've picked this issue up - it has been bothering me for a long while. When the self publishing sites first emerged there was a tendency to treat them as one did vanity publishers and there is, of course, an element of truth in that analogy but they now represent an entirely novel phenomenon in publishing and literature.

Speaking as an experimental writer I would also point out that the future of contemporary literature is not bound (sic) to the printed word. Much of my work cannot be printed and bound - there simply exist no traditional methods to capture multiple presentations and parallel threads in the way that hypertext does the job. Typography cannot help us here. So does that mean that libraries have no place in capturing and disseminating modern and future literature? I sincerely hope not.

The library community has to step up to these challenging marks and decide whether it is interested in remaining relevant to publishing as it changes.

3/27/2008 4:57 AM  
Blogger Joshua M. Neff said...

I'd just like to point out that HarperCollins publishes a lot of crap, too. Being available through Baker & Taylor is no indication of quality or importance. (Plus, I think B&T has some of the worst customer service I've ever encountered.)

3/27/2008 9:09 AM  
Blogger Faith said...

Like Lynn R. said, there are a lot of reasons why a library wouldn't look to the self publishing industry for collection development. I would like to think that the biggest reason for not having these books on the shelves would have something to do with simply not knowing about them. Smaller libraries do not have the staff to check out the self pub sites for new books. They rely on reviews from Library Journal, Booklist and Publishers Weekly and then in turn what Baker & Taylor carries in order to make purchasing decisions. Unless places like Lulu can somehow appeal to B&T and the other review mags, this might not change for a long time.

3/27/2008 9:36 AM  
Blogger Melinda said...

Agreeing with what everyone else has said. Most libraries get the vast majority of their books on approval plans from companies like Yankee Book Peddler, or Baker and Taylor. Librarians can try to fill in the gaps with things that don't come in on approval, such as books published abroad, or in foreign languages - and as Lynn said - usually rely on the main review mags to fill in any gaps. Unless a library has a subject-specialist librarian in Computer Science, who is really pro-active about new/innovative books - stuff from lulu isn't gonna get found.

3/27/2008 10:11 AM  
Anonymous Lynn R. said...

To Joshua:

I never said that being on Baker & Taylor was an indication of quality (it most certainly isn't). However, it was a factor in our decision to purchase for fiscal reasons. It was both a city and state requirement to use the jobber that won the contract for that year - so if the small press/vanity press isn't available on them... we probably won't purchase their stuff (or even know about it - as others have noted).

Also, I realize that the major publishers publish a lot of crap too. But there were ways of finding out what was high quality and what wasn't - something that simply wasn't an option with most things published by smaller presses.

3/27/2008 10:29 AM  
Blogger Joshua M. Neff said...

Lynn, my comment wasn't directed at you in particular, and as someone who's done collection development, I agree that it's often easier, in all kinds of ways, to get books through the traditional jobbers. Although when I did collection development, I did try to get away from ordering through B&T as much as possible, just because I began to feel that whatever discount and convenience they offered didn't make up for all of their faults.

As for my comment about publishing "crap"--I was being snarky. In my experience, it rarely matters to a library whether a book is crap or not. Or rather, crap is in the eye of the beholder. I've selected books I thought were horrible, and patrons checked them out constantly.

3/27/2008 10:36 AM  
Blogger Tim said...

I want to add one point.

I'm not too concerned about regular public libraries, excluding the Bostons and the NYPLs. They're about access more than comprehensiveness and preservation. And these books are available. I think it would be great if one of the jobbers added Lulu to their list, and the top-selling Lulu books were found in many publics, but I'm more concerned with academics here.

Take the number two book—"How to be an alpha male." Many universities have large and active gender studies departments. Taking GR's numbers and assuming a long-tail distribution of sales, we can guess that book has cleared 60-100,000 copies. I suspect that if HarperCollins or Random House published such a book, they'd be all over it, and not because of any notion of "quality.' They'd get it because it would be a document of American gender identity.

Instead, I'm afraid its absense is a document of American publisher- and librarian-identity.

3/27/2008 10:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You seem to be implying that a serious social study by a respected history professor at Berkeley and published by a major academic press is a “how to jerk-off” manual, which detracts from your real argument.

3/27/2008 10:57 AM  
Blogger Tim said...

Yeah, take what you will. I did enjoy the New Yorker review of that book, which found incredible the idea that the book would change masturbation as we know it.

We both know that if it *were* a masturbation manual, universities across the country would be buying it as a document of American attitudes toward sexuality.

Anyway, that was less offensive than my first choice there—comparing the number of copies from the ALA "Banned Books" list. Needless to say, being banned is a very localized thing. The books on the ALA list are basically everywhere. It suggests that libraries should spend some time thinking about their tacit ban on POD publishers.

3/27/2008 11:03 AM  
Blogger Steve Lawson said...

There is some kind of chicken/egg problem there, too. At smaller colleges (like the one where I work) collection development is highly faculty-driven. If a professor wants us to buy a book, we buy it. So it's not just that libraries have a blind spot, it's that all of academe has a blind spot.

3/27/2008 11:16 AM  
Blogger waltc said...

Speaking as a Lulu user (five books) and library person, two notes:

1. Lulu isn't a publisher. It's a service supplier/fulfillment agency. (Technically, if you buy a Lulu ISBN, then it's the publisher of record, but that's all.) What that means--apart from Lulu books being self-published, not vanity press books (a distinction I'd like to see more people make!), is that it's entirely up to the author to do publicity, send out review copies, etc., etc.

2. With more than 150,000 new titles published each year, it's hardly surprising that libraries don't pick up most titles that aren't reviewed in some form--and most Lulu titles don't show up in review media.

My top Lulu title shows 44 library copies at Worldcat. That's without print reviews, but with fairly strong name recognition among librarians. Still, I'd bet that roughly zero of those sales came from people browsing Lulu...

I'm a little surprised that a book was sufficiently well-publicized to sell 30,000 copies through Lulu and only make it into three libraries. That sounds unlikely, frankly, but I certainly won't argue with the author's reporting on sales... Still, with that many sales, you'd expect (a) that the author would spring for an ISBN, which would improve visibility and orderability, (b) that the author might even spring for Ingram distribution, which would make it easier to buy...and probably get it into Amazon.

Well, and maybe (c) choose a primary title that doesn't duplicate so many other books!

3/27/2008 1:33 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

What you're missing here is that someone like Fried doesn't care about your ISBNs and he doesn't care about your Ingram. They are irrelevant to him and to much of his audience.

The 37Signals blog, Signal to Noise—where the book was discussed many times—is ranked 313 out of all blogs on Technorati! It has a Technorati rating of 2,768.

I doubt if there's a librarian blog in the world with half that.

Publishing is changing. For some areas, like tech, it has already changed. As Tim O'Reilly says, more and more he hears tech people say they never buy tech books. The whole traditional system—of which O'Reilly is a part—is being ripped apart. Authors of interesting stuff do not need a publisher and they don't need a distributor to get their thoughts out. And if they stoop to making a book, they don't need an ISBN either.

3/27/2008 1:44 PM  
Blogger waltc said...

Well, they're neither "my" ISBNs or "my" Ingram. I was offering some reasons why libraries, with finite budgets and finite attention, might not have this book. You say it "throws you completely." It shouldn't.

Namely, how would libraries know it exists?--much less that it's worth buying?

Being mentioned lots of time on the publisher's own blog: One, that doesn't reach anyone who doesn't read the blog; Two, it's not any indicator of quality. You expect an author to flog their own book.

I guess my problem here is that you seem to be finding fault with libraries/librarians for failing to buy a book that's flying under the radar--and a book that was originally only available as a freebie.

In a real world, libraries lack omniscience and infinite resources. I offered a couple of reasons (adding to those I already saw) as to why they simply aren't aware of it as being something worth purchasing. Ideal? No. Real? Yes.

By the way, when I just did a Google search on the full title of the book, I got 654 hits--which yielded 115 actual results. (Any Google result size larger than 999 is generally untestable.)

Oh, you're right: No library blog has half the Technorati authority of 37signals--hardly surprising. One does have about one-third that authority, though...

For the record: I'm not a librarian and I don't work in a library. I've never worked for a jobber, but I can't fault jobbers for not handling zero-discount books: Hard to make a living that way.

3/27/2008 2:04 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

Well, they're neither "my" ISBNs or "my" Ingram. I was offering some reasons why libraries, with finite budgets and finite attention, might not have this book. You say it "throws you completely." It shouldn't.

First of all, per above, I want to restrict this somewhat. I don't think every library should care. They should have some of this stuff, but its their jobbers, review source and so forth that should care. But I think some libraries should.

Namely, how would libraries know it exists?--much less that it's worth buying?

Because finding important books is part of their job. No, a public library in a small town doesn't have a heavy responsibility here. Companies have sprung up to do this for them, and they do a mostly good job.

But I think these jobbers should start paying attention to Lulu and etc. And I think some libraries make finding important stuff a core responsibility. Harvard University, for example, or the LC, sends out people to scour foreign countries for books. They pay close attention to rare and collectible sales. They look for what they don't have. It's what they do.

Being mentioned lots of time on the publisher's own blog: One, that doesn't reach anyone who doesn't read the blog; Two, it's not any indicator of quality. You expect an author to flog their own book.

So, first, this blog is a major blog. It's readership is certainly higher than all but a few magazines. Jobbers are watching magazines; they should watch blogs.

Second, are you really going to bring up quality? Of what? Libraries abandoned the idea of collecting only "good" things a century ago, if that. They now juggle any number of criteria--quality, interest, collection balance and so forth. Again my small-city library has a large collection of junk romance novels, and its computer books are crap. That's okay, they're important and wanted enough, so they buy them.

I guess my problem here is that you seem to be finding fault with libraries/librarians for failing to buy a book that's flying under the radar--and a book that was originally only available as a freebie.

It's a top 300 blog. It's been bought by more people than 95% of books. It's the number 6 seller on Lulu. It has an astounding number of hits. This isn't flying under the radar, this is dismissing telephones because only smoke signals "count."

In a real world, libraries lack omniscience and infinite resources. I offered a couple of reasons (adding to those I already saw) as to why they simply aren't aware of it as being something worth purchasing. Ideal? No. Real? Yes.

The whole Lulu catalog is woefully underrepresented. This is an oversight that should be corrected. Somebody--a jobber?--should correct it. Since we've already established that being important online doesn't count, we're certainly caught. Maybe I'll print this out.

By the way, when I just did a Google search on the full title of the book, I got 654 hits--which yielded 115 actual results. (Any Google result size larger than 999 is generally untestable.)

The full title? Nobody uses the full title. So what?

You're right that I only managed to go 1,000 entries in. But it's certanly testable beyond that. For example, I could write a PERL script to add common words and test overlap, just as one might get a good estimate of how many fish there were in a pond without draining it. Your point is that Google is lying?

3/27/2008 2:46 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

Incidentally, it wasn't a freebie originally. The free version came seven months later

3/27/2008 2:52 PM  
Blogger waltc said...

I'll only respond to a couple of things:

1. No, I don't think Google is lying. I think--I know--that Google counts aren't terribly meaningful. I clicked on your actual search link. It yields some 700 actual results of the "about 169,000 hits."

2. Your original question was "How could libraries miss this?" I think you've been given several very good reasons. You don't accept those reasons. That's your privilege: it's your blog.

3. 37Signal's blog is read more than all but a few magazines? Do you have statistics to back that up? I doubt it very much. (The corporate blog has a pagerank of 7--good, but not great: my tiny little ejournal used to have that rank--and the Bloglines and Google Reader counts certainly don't suggest anywhere near to six-figure readership. There are a LOT of magazines with six-figure readership.)

But I don't think either of us is convincing the other of anything at this point, so I'll let it rest.

3/27/2008 4:00 PM  
Anonymous rivendell said...

Incidently Lulu authors who use Lulu to make available printed copies and who live in the UK or Ireland are legally obliged to send a copy of their book to the British Library. Although the BL should be doing more to chase copies.

3/27/2008 4:07 PM  
Blogger Deirdre Helfferich said...

Quite a few people at the University of Alaska Fairbanks are using Lulu to print/sell/publish books; in the Ester library, several of the titles we have there are UAF authors who've used Lulu. They don't necessarily have Lulu ISBNs, though, so they may not show up as Lulu-published.

Part of why some of these may not be showing up is that the author or publisher is using Lulu as a print-on-demand printer, rather than publisher. On the library end, the other part may simply be things like lack of budget, lack of staff to research or catalog in a timely fashion (the case at the Ester library--all volunteer), and lack of sufficient profit for the jobbers...which brings me to a major peeve of mine (big publishers, big chain bookstores, big distributors, etc. squeezing out the the independents).

3/27/2008 8:14 PM  
Anonymous Yakov Shafranovich said...

Tim,

You can add Lulu and other small presses as a cataloging source. Or get a data feed from Bowker.

3/27/2008 11:11 PM  
Anonymous JB said...

I published my first novella/memoir with IUniverse, one of the first Publish-on-Demand publishers. You were supposed to get the best of both worlds- you book would be in Barnes & Noble (then one of the major investors in IUniverse) and the power of the internet would enable you to make an end-run around all those stodgy New York publishers. But guess what? The book never ended up on the shelves of B&N- which led to a class action suit on behalf of the authors who thought that it would. B&N eventually backed out completely. The book got zero promotion. The fact is, without a regular non-POD publisher behind a book, it'll get nowhere. I canceled the contract with IUniverse. It was a weird contract. It could be and was changed anytime they wanted- there was a verion 1.0 of the contract, then a version 2.0, and then by 3.0 I was outta there. I didn't know that they could even DO that, but they did. Now I know better. If your book is good enough to be published by a REAL publishing house, then that's where it should be published.
I asked my local library to buy two copies, and they did. On a listserve frequented by librarians, I offered to GIVE copies away to any library (including internationally) that asked for one, and only got one taker- a university library in Texas.

3/28/2008 2:12 AM  
Anonymous JB said...

My URL didn't end up on my comment. Hopefully it will on this one!

3/28/2008 2:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tim said: "What you're missing here is that someone like Fried doesn't care about your ISBNs and he doesn't care about your Ingram."

He evidently doesn't care about copyright, either: I couldn't find it in the copyright catalog -- http://cocatalog.loc.gov/ -- which may well account for its not being in the LC.

3/29/2008 5:40 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

Since the US joined Berne, Copyright is automatic and does not require either registration or notice. There are some slight legal advantages to filing, but they are slight.

3/29/2008 8:51 PM  
Blogger Reb Yudel said...

We're in the odd position where it's easier to get a book published than to get it read.

Even putting aside Lulu, how many of the books published are likely to get two reviews this year? The New York Review of Books, to take one example, is filled with ads from university presses with dozens of books that will never be reviewed in the NYBR or anywhere else, except perhaps in a speciality journal three years from now.

The flip side of the Getting Real question is how can an intelligent observer of a particular field -- in Tim's case, the world of Internet development -- signal to librarians that a particular work is important?

3/30/2008 5:32 PM  
Blogger Anna said...

Traditional publishing, for all its problems, still has the benefit of vetting, particularly for academic titles. Self-publishing has too many bad apples that spoil the bunch, and with tight budgets at most higher education libraries, the focus for acquisitions has to be on sources that are known to be reliable. When a Lulu.com book gets enough attention from other scholars, causing faculty to request that the library purchase it, we might. Until then, ranting and raving over something you know little or nothing about won't change anything.

3/31/2008 10:31 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

Well, I think that "something you know little or nothing about" is rather unfair and ad hominem.

I just love the idea that academic libraries are there to collect "reliable" sources. What library are you working for? What library today treats "reliability" as the guiding principle of collection development--a small, Fundamentalist Bible college?

No other important criteria come to mind? Not, say, cultural importance? Do you ditch Galen because he got most of it wrong. Omit buying a copy of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion because it's not "reliable"?

No, libraries collect for a variety of reasons. Books about the philosophy and methodology of making web apps. are neither susceptible to the notion of "reliability" nor would anyone consider librarians a fair judge of it.

3/31/2008 10:44 PM  
Blogger Anna said...

Tim, stop writing like a crazy man. You said yourself you're not a librarian nor have ever worked in a library, so how could you know what an academic library does to collect materials?

I currently work at a small private college, not affiliated with any religious organization, so our criteria for collection development is a bit more enlightened than your example. Subject liaisons who make it a point to learn about the fields they work with and the faculty members who do research in those fields know what the reliable sources are -- from publishers to authors -- and we use tools offered by book jobbers to locate them.

If you were to spend half a day in the acquisitions department of a university library, you would quickly learn just how difficult it is to stay on top of what is being published by traditional publishers. Blaming libraries for not purchasing books from self-published authors, or more specifically, blaming librarians for not seeking them out only shows your ignorance of what we do.

Rather than ranting about what you think librarians and libraries should be doing, put your expertise to work and give us better discovery tools. I want something that will aggregate information about all self-published and small press books, generate RSS feeds broken out by subject categorizations, and include detailed information about purchasing. How soon can you have that finished?

3/31/2008 10:54 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

Incidentally, while I'm not a librarian, and you are free to discount anything I've learned developing LibraryThing, writing for this blog or delivering talks at libraries around the world, your argument also depends upon a knowledge of publishing. Well, I started my career in publishing--and even wrote a "vetted" children's book on the side.

3/31/2008 10:57 PM  
Blogger Anna said...

Well, then, I bow to the master, since apparently I am simply a poor lowly academic librarian (read: the enemy) who can't possibly know something you don't know.

Did you even try to comprehend my argument before you got all huffy and defensive? I give up. Love your tools, but not your attitude.

3/31/2008 11:01 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

I repeat, since you never worked in publishing, I don't respect a think you say on the topic. How could you "possibly" know anything about this?

See? Setting arbitrary professional limits on whether or not someone can speak is intellectual poison. Anyway, I can point you to a number of librarians who picked up this post with approbation.

3/31/2008 11:01 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

i am well aware it's hard to stay on top of these things. The problem here is that something has *happened* to publishing, and library collection development hasn't caught up. Pointing this out is the way to fix it. A reflexible attitude of "don't blame us" is not.

Obviously the solution is multi-tiered. Libraries will bear some of the brunt, but so will the many other filters—from review sources to jobbers.

Here's another example of what I mean. There used to be a publisher called "Loompanics." Their guiding principle was publishing anything that might have a market, no matter how controversial. They explicitly did NOT filter.

Anyway, they ended up with this fantastic collection of edge titles, the most famous was _Hit Man: A Technical Manual For Independent Contractors_. They were also big in sex manuals, anarchist literature and the sort of books that tell you that no law requires you to pay taxes.

Nobody ever accused them of being "reliable." But they were interesting documents of the "edges" of American thought.

Anyway, their stuff is *in* libraries. No title I looked up had as few as the Lulu titles I mentioned. They *should* be in libraries. But so should select Lulu titles.

3/31/2008 11:18 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

Wow, it looks like they're still kicking.

3/31/2008 11:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Personally, as an academic librarian who does collection development (among many other things), I rarely have time to look for books that are not available on GOBI (from YBP). It's remarkable to what extent vendors like YBP are making library collections homogenous.

4/01/2008 11:51 AM  
Blogger Reb Yudel said...

As a small niche publisher of Jewish titles -- some of which are more oriented to the academic community than a popular readership -- I would be interested in hearing from the librarians what I can be doing to bring my titles to their attention.

Do flyers matter, or are they a waste of paper and postage?

Besides GOBI, are there electronic sources you turn to?

Thank you!

4/01/2008 12:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

reb - I am the anonymous who does book selection using Gobi.

If you can't get picked up by the big book vendors like YBP, Blackwell's, etc., I would try researching who are the Jewish Studies librarians across North America, and targeting them directly. You can usually find this out on the library websites. Look for a staff directory, list of liaison librarians, list of subject librarians, whatever they call it.

I do look at the flyers I get from publishers, and I usually glance through the print catalogues. Email notifications are okay as long as they're not too frequent (quarterly would be fine) and as long as they're targeted to my subject areas.

If you are able to reach faculty members they will normally pass on their requests on librarians. I buy almost everything that faculty members ask for.

4/03/2008 7:49 PM  
Blogger Melinda said...

reb - presence at conferences - either for librarians or jewish studies would be a great marketing tool. I've often selected books in my field (modern languages), based on contacts I've made at conferences...

4/05/2008 8:35 PM  
Blogger PublishingMojo said...

Libraries are a lot like zoos. Both were invented by people who had a surplus of money, time, and curiosity, and inevitably became collectors. In the 18th and 19th Centuries, a humanistic impulse in Europe and the US led to the establishment of zoos and libraries that were open to the public, supported by taxes or philanthropy. Libraries and zoos opened worlds that were previously off limits to ordinary people.
Zoos have fallen on hard times lately, and it's not just because of animal-rights activists. Photography and lithography flooded the market with realistic images of exotic animals, and then movies and television put every toddler on a first-name basis with ostriches, penguins, and kangaroos. In other words, technology brought into our homes the experience we used to need zoos for, and at little or no cost to the consumer.
Are you listening, libraries? Your mission was to make learning and entertainment available for free to folks who couldn't afford to buy books. If the Internet takes over that job, maybe we won't need to keep the libraries open any more. And maybe it won't matter if there are important books that never make it onto library shelves.
Or maybe it will matter. Consider the Scimitar Oryx. These North African antelopes are extinct in the wild, and they'd be extinct, period, if they weren't preserved in zoos. Libraries, like zoos, offer a safeguard against extinction, a promise that the best ideas of our lifetime won't disappear along with the hardware and software used to deliver them.
In my March 22 post, I defined publishing mojo as finding the best ideas, presenting them clearly, delivering them conveniently, and preserving them for the future. The first three of these functions can easily be taken over by non-print media. That last one, though, is where print wins hands down, with the help of libraries.

4/06/2008 7:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a subject specialist at a large research university. Finding important books may be part of my job but with shrinking budgets and constantly being asked to take on more responsibilities because we can't afford to replace staff, collection development is only about 15% of my job, and hunting down items through self publishing is not a realistic expectation.
With the increasingly small amount of $ I get in my book budget every year and the amount of "crap" I'd have to wade through, it's just not cost effective. I've got to make every penny and minute count these days so yes, I do look for quality and authority in the sources I use to find books. Researching those items that: come up in GOBI, are recommended by my faculty, come in flyers/catalogs from publishers I know, and are put out by the non-profit and government organizations related to the field for which I select, takes up all my collection time. I do NOT have time to look for what I MAY be missing through self-publishing. I don't know a single librarian that has time to browse random blogs on the off chance they might find a book to purchase. In fact I don't know many librarians that have time to read blogs unless it's on their personal time. I don't know any of these libraries you mention that don't collect for quality. I can't afford not to.

4/20/2008 12:27 AM  
Blogger Melinda said...

I agree with Anonymous completely. Bravo and well-said!

4/20/2008 2:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

this is an interesting thread. It leads me to believe that every section of the chain needs to be 'tightened up', so to speak. PODers need to bee more agressive in their overall marketing efforts in order to catch the eye of more literary buyers. Libraries need to quit whining about their limited budgets and innovate. Can you not call for a volunteer to precisely, wade through the blogs and find jewels in the 'crap' you have no time to wade through?Jobbers need to consider that technology has provided more than the 'traditional' ways to 'skin a cat'. You won't be beheaded if you , just occasionally, look outside of your regular sources for new content to offer up. Funding sources need to reevaluate their criteria for providing funding to public institutions of creative collection which hold contempt for embracing public creation. In short -- everybody needs to step it up and stop hurling spit-wads. Because -- in the end, it is the citizenry who wants to assimilate and experience new creative content that gets hit in the face with the spit you are spewing.

6/08/2008 9:57 PM  
Blogger Bruce Fulton said...

It would be nice if LT would add a publisher search facet. I suspect it's not only libraries who under-represent self-published works, and libraries under-represent even traditional small publishers. I'm part of a research team at the University of Arizona currently doing a study on self-publishing and other related topics, and search access to records and reader reviews by publisher would be nice to have.

3/17/2010 1:57 PM  

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