Public libraries learning to promote themselves
With publishers ever-nervous about the future of reading, libraries offer a large, dependable market. According to the most recent statistics available from the Book Industry Study Group, public libraries bought close to $700 million worth of books in 1997 and are projected to spend almost $900 million by 2002. And because libraries have a mission to buy books that are useful, and not just popular, they accept titles mainstream stores avoid.
\"Publishers depend on libraries for midlist titles,\" said Marcia Purcell, director of Random House\'s department of library promotion. \"The same is true with first-time novelists. Some bookstores are reluctant to take a chance on a first novel. Libraries are willing.\"
Publishers have historically looked at public libraries the way a politician may look upon a sympathetic but powerless constituency: grateful for its support, but uneasy in its presence. Just as librarians still are stereotyped as \"fussy spinsters,\" libraries have the image of something quaint and faded, rich in character but poor in the art of making money.
\"They ignored us totally when we first started coming to BookExpo, 12 or 13 years ago,\" said Merle Jacob, director of collection development at the Chicago Public Library. \"They didn\'t know what to do with us. They wouldn\'t give anything to us.\"
But in the past few years, libraries have become more aggressive about promoting themselves. Many now have public relations departments and lobby publishers to include them on book tours for authors. Working with libraries, Domkowski and others argue, isn\'t simply good civics. It\'s good business.
\"What surprised publishers most when I began to talk to them is that we do sell books. We view selling books as an important part of our program,\" Domkowski said. \"The perception used to be that we were looking for a handout, that we wanted the author to come and talk and that there was nothing else we could give them.\"