‘Libraries Transform’ to Answer Needs of Community, Authors


From Info Vaults To Creative Hubs

The American Library Association’s (ALA) Midwinter Meeting in Boston, has just closed with some impressive numbers to report.

Gary Price at Library Journal reports that a total 11,716 people attended the five-day event—librarians, library workers and supporters including 3,622 exhibitors. This makes the 2016 event some 1,000 people larger than last year’s Chicago staging of the event, Price tells us.

And to look in at any point on the #ALAmw16 tweet stream was to understand why the ALA’s Mary Mackay writes that the organization is placing so much focus on change. “Libraries Transform” is the name of the ALA’s public-awareness campaign, under Keith Michael Fiels’ direction of the huge organization. Transformation is also, simply, the absolute imperative in the library world. Like a divine mandate, whatever questions once eddied and nattered around this forward-leaning direction, the lights are blazing now and it’s hard to find a soul associated with libraries in the States who isn’t talking change, updates, upgrades, adjustments, innovation…transformation.

And what could be more logical or crucial? As the digital dynamic has rolled over one industry after the next, the library world has been rocked by the need to quickly address issues of digital media, operations, and patron services, some of which most librarians didn’t dream of even a decade or less ago.

A look at Saturday’s edition of Cognotes, the ALA meeting’s show daily, reveals the organization’s superbly determined Center for the Future of Libraries at work. Here are special sessions with titles such as “Understanding Change” and “Civic and Social Innovation.” Another highlighted session is a “deep dive” workshop on the proposition that “We Are All User Experience Librarians: Creating Change from the Trenches.” Yet another is presented as a way to tackle bracing diversity challenges: “If I Hadn’t Believed It, I Wouldn’t Have Seen It: Exploring Systemic Racism and Its Implications for Our Lives and Work.”

Change is simply raging through the library systems of the United States today. These are some of the smartest people in the country—librarians—wrestling with who and where they are on the digital food chain.

It’s not that the need for their services isn’t there. As soon as you say, “Oh, well, all the information is online now, who needs libraries?” you then look at the new Federal Communications Commission (FCC) draft report that Tom Wheeler is circulating this week. Would you like to take a guess at what percentage of of American schools today have fiber connections capable of meeting the FCC’s long-term goal of 1 Gbps per 1,000 students? Ready? Nine. Only 9 percent of our schools, the FCC reports, are hitting the right numbers on fiber connections. There’s more on this in The Hot Sheet, the subscription authors newsletter that Jane Friedman and I produce biweekly, its new issue is just out today. We did a double-take when we looked at Wheeler’s figures in the FCC report.

So look at that library in your neighborhood again, with its powerful connectivity and its people trained to help users find their way across the ever-widening worlds of the Web.

Then take another look. Digitization is showing us a fascinating, parallel area in which libraries’ stock is rising fast. You see it—a little like watching for the “flash of green” in a Gulf Coast sunset—by not looking directly at it. You look just to the side: at the rings of satellite services now pulsing around this newly revitalized library world.

The key services that support libraries in their newfound roles are changing, too, and their transformations help clarify the coming mission for libraries.

I can give you a hint in the video below, which has been produced by the ALA’s Libraries Transform Campaign  to help explain what’s going on. At about 20 seconds in, you’re going to see that video tell you that libraries are changing “from places where culture is downloaded to places where it’s uploaded, too.”

Hang onto that thought: culture being uploaded from our libraries. That’s the big pivot we’re talking about.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oS4TgdZ-7eI]

‘Where Culture Is Uploaded’

2016 can be a game-changing year for libraries, and the timing seems right to communicate with you about where we are as a business and where we’re headed as a company in supporting the emergence of the library as a mainstream media discovery and distribution platform…The business is working, but not in the way we expected. The harsh reality is that a better mousetrap does not always win the day.  

That’s BiblioBoard founder and Chief Business Officer Mitchell Davis in a frank and highly informative letter sent to the company’s publisher-partners, just as the ALA meeting convened in Boston. Having launched BiblioBoard’s digital library product in 2013—deliberately without venture capital in order to be self-directing, Davis says—the team ran into success but not in the way it expected.

Despite a better product and technology, libraries have much invested in their current ebook platforms and have not adopted BiblioBoard because of our content offerings.

You’d think this was bad news. What Davis is saying is that basic distribution of titles to libraries is not a place he and his team have found the traction they expected, at least not in the forms they thought were going to work out. But Davis and his Charleston, SC-based company have reinvented themselves right alongside the libraries they serve into something that helps understand what libraries are becoming, and it’s not just about checking out books, not even ebooks. It’s much more:

We were able to pivot about 18 months ago to leverage our multi-media publishing tools in order to help libraries meet local creator needs through a robust Community Engagement platform.

“Community Engagement.” Think of it as the destination for the “Libraries Transform” train.

What Davis is describing is one of the most energizing concepts in library evolution today, dovetailing with the messages of the Libraries Transform campaign. The BiblioBoard team envisions the library not simply as a place to go for information retrieval, but also as an enabling hub, an engine of its users’ own creativity—supporting, leveraging, even producing, promoting and distributing library patrons’ own ideas and capacities.

This is The Library as a driver-into-reality of makers’ dreams.

As Davis puts it:

Libraries can work directly with local writers, artists, photographers, arts organizations and others to help these creative producers get their work to patrons and the world. This has been a huge success, [and] focuses mostly on indie, small press and self-published content.  As a founder of BookSurge (now Amazon’s CreateSpace), I’ve been thrilled to be building the next business models for self-publishing and small press publishing and putting libraries at the center of that movement.

In that part of his letter, Davis is talking to the publishers about the SELF-e program that gets indie authors’ ebooks into libraries, and the newly added Pressbooks Public program that will allow libraries to offer self-publishing tools to those authors. (We’ve written about them here .)

Remember that line about libraries “uploading” to the culture. This is it. A library now can provide you with your publishing platform, just as it can now be a discovery platform for your ebooks. What BiblioBoard is doing, though, goes farther than literature: local history, local arts initiatives, local school programs, all can be promoted, archived, displayed, cultivated by libraries equipped with the platform tools required.

The community voice, then, can come together in a newly coherent, effectively communicated and contextualized way.

Enriching SELF-e: Select Previews For Publishers

As we’ve reported, one of the most exciting new developments for authors and publishers is BiblioBoard’s international program SELF-e in partnership with Library Journal, led by MediaSource’s Randy Asmo. Thousands of  self-published titles now are available to librarians and their patrons, positioning the library itself as a discovery platform for readership.

Now, the program takes another step authors will watch carefully: it plans to give its publishers an “early preview” of the titles that Library Journal’s evaluators curate for SELF-e Select. Independent authors interested in the attentions of trade houses could find their ebooks spotted by acquisition editors through SELF-e. As Davis puts it in his letter to the publishers:

We are looking to roll out with Library Journal an “early preview” service for publishers to see SELF-e selections before they are released to the library market. This can become an easy place to spot potential hits and secure publishing rights to hot new titles.

And Davis sees the outlook for 2016 as a refinement of the concept of the library world as a vast discovery platform:

Publishers are giving us high-demand books to promote alongside our library partners in a manner similar to BookBub and other channels designed to put people in front of authors and create fans. But in our case, there’s no charge from the library for either the service or the physical help they offer promoting upcoming books. 

Early in the SELF-e program’s life, needless to say, there were frequent questions about where library patrons were seeing the self-published books they’d submitted. The answers now are coming in: BiblioBoard was able to release just in time for the ALA meeting a listing of Top 2015 SELF-e ebooks. There, readers, writers, and librarians are starting to get a look at where some of the top-evaluated ebooks in the program are being checked out and read.

Libraries with patrons reading the listed books include:

  • Sacramento County Public Library
  • Cuyahoga County Public Library
  • Southeast Regional Library in Arizona
  • Mountain Top Library in New York
  • San Diego County Library
  • Georgia’s Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System
  • Cleve J. Fredricksen Library
  • Palatine Public Library in Illinois
  • Phoenix (Arizona) Public Library
  • Timberland Regional Library in Washington
  • Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library, the Matthews Branch
  • Orange County Public Library, North Carolina
  • Jacksonville Public Library

Davis, in his open letter, credits BiblioBoard’s successful change in direction to a decision to hire “a team of business development folks from Amazon’s CreateSpace.

“Direct community needs,” he says, is where the library budgets’ expenditures are coming to BiblioBoard. Some of this, he writes, is in literacy programs, K-12 content to support public library after-school programs, comic and graphic-novel bundles for libraries “looking to increase engagement from younger patrons.”

Gradually the picture widens and sharpens. If Davis is right, publishers’ content will be channeled to—and from—a transformed library system that is responsive and aligned with the talents and needs of its users. The traditional library-out directional flow of content changes to community-in, carrying creative work, social projects, civic development into the system from the grassroots—and then on to the commercial realm, the model you see when a publisher sits down to look at a special preview of SELF-e Select books.

We recently had several libraries move their ebook budgets from existing ebook vendors in the market to BiblioBoard,” Davis says, “in order to serve patrons more easily and comprehensively.”

That’s the touchstone of the change underway, something to watch this year: Davis calls it “direct community needs.”

Main image: Rem Koolhaas and LMN Architects designed Seattle’s Central Library, now part of the rapidly transforming American library system. SELF-e, a joint offering of Library Journal and BiblioBoard, is a client of Porter Anderson Media.