One Book. Two Libraries. Two Experiences.

Talk to the handThis week I donated copies of my book to a couple of libraries here in Melbourne: the Northcote Library, and the City of Melbourne library. The experiences of doing so at each library couldn’t have been more different.

Here’s how each of the conversations played out:

Northcote Library

Me: “Hi, I’d like to donate a copy of my book to the library.”
Staff Member: “Wonderful. Oh, look at that photo on the back. Your hair was so long! Hey, this is really cute. I’m going to feature it. Thanks so much.”

That was it. Easy!

I’m afraid there are no prizes if you correctly anticipated that the experience of donating my book to the City Library was not quite so straightforward…

Melbourne City Library

Me: “Hi, I’d like to donate a copy of my book to the library.”
Staff Member, looking annoyed at being pulled away from her important admin work to tend to the growing queue of people: “Uh huh. It’s a self-published title, is it?”
Me: “That’s right.”
Staff Member: “Well, we can take it, but there’s no guarantee that it will make it onto our hallowed* shelves. We’ll look at it, but it’s possible that it may just end up getting sold at a book sale for 50c or $1 or something.”
Me: “I see. And is there any way that I can find out whether my book has been added to the library or not?”
Staff Member: “You could check our catalogue, I suppose. But no, we don’t do any follow up. Who was next, please?”
Me: “Right. I guess I’ll take my chances then. Here you go.”

I guess I kind of assumed that libraries would always welcome the donation of a book to their collection. This is obviously my naïvete coming into play here (of course they would want a copy of my book. Why wouldn’t they?). However as I learned today, that’s simply not the case. Prejudice associated with the phrase “self-published” is alive and well.

I do understand that there needs to be a vetting process and a minimum level of quality that books should meet before they are added to a library’s collection. If someone decides to write a 900-page tome detailing every excruciating detail of their life story (like these 41188 people—and counting— have done) then it’s understandable that the library might deem a title as not being appropriate.

But surely there’s no need to be rude about it! Give the author the benefit of the doubt before discreetly placing his life’s work for sale in the bargain bin. At the very least I thought she might have shown some level of encouragement, even if at the back of her mind she was thinking, “Here we go again!” That’s the kind of dismissive attitude I expected from traditional publishers who authors approach in order to convince them to invest in a book, not from a library.

What annoyed me most about this interaction was that the staff member automatically assumed that a self-published book is of inferior quality compared with one from a traditional publishing house. Perhaps this is most often the case and this particular person has dealt with one too many life stories. However given the ready access that authors have to technology these days, I don’t believe this is necessarily the case these days.

Of course, I won’t dwell on the issue if my book is not accepted by the Melbourne City Library. I’ll take consolation that someone will be happy when they pick it up for a steal at the library’s next rejected book sale, and move on.

*She may not have actually uttered the world “hallowed”, but the sentence reads so much better with it left in, don’t you think?

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