Can Curation Help Libraries Break Out of Frontlist Dependency?

In Guest Contributors & Editorial by Guest Contributor

Why must library patrons wait for weeks to read the latest bestsellers when there are so man more great books to discover?

Editorial by Heather McCormack, Collection Development Manager, Bibliotheca

Heather McCormack

Heather McCormack

“Curation” is often a term that comes infused with snobbery, exclusion. Yes, in the publishing industry, that is what we do. But it doesn’t have to pejorative.

Public libraries operate with a mission: to enable access to empowering information, fiction, nonfiction, fanfiction, and the like. In the 21st century, ebooks are a leading means of exchange between democracy and citizen.

If only collecting the damn things were so simple. American public libraries spend hundreds of thousands of dollars annually on adult fiction bestsellers in digital, with the largest systems acquiring upwards of 40 copies for an especially coveted title. The “holds list” for said work will number in the mid- to high hundreds easily. Fact: meeting popular demand is impossible.

Patrons wait, and they shouldn’t have to when publishers, large and small, offer the world in their ebook catalogs. Most vendors are content to contribute to this information bottleneck by highlighting only the most popular titles.

Right here, I could insert a tired, true, and inspirational quote about the discovery powers of libraries, but let’s skip this instead: if books are your brand, then it would serve you well to be talking about more than a fraction of what’s published. If you can develop an ability to be ahead of trends rather than right behind or in step with them, you’ve set yourself apart in a culture that’s in crisis about authority and taste.

Not every librarian has the funds or the time to take all of this advice, but most would agree that it’s too easy to fall victim to tunnel vision when collecting digital. Ebooks present a different experience than print books. Which genres and formats succeed and fail between the two need to be respected when public funds are being used. Still, risk taking is imperative when everyone invested in reading must vie for the attention of an increasingly distracted public.

In the United States and Canada, 3M’s library services division (recently purchased by Bibliotheca) has established a blueprint of showcasing quality midlist authors alongside buzzy first-timers and the usual suspects; calling out difficult-to-locate content for children, juveniles, and young adults; designing promotions that take collection development needs into account; and exposing backlist gems beyond film and TV adaptations.

One promotion involves offering e-shorts by rising and well-known literary writers. Brevity would seem like a natural selling point for digital marketers, but lowly short stories nearly always get overlooked. Yet, we found those took off like a shot in May owing to a simple shelf and Tumblr post.

Now, at 3M, we’ve hired the savvy London-based consultancy The Literary Platform to expand on my point of view for our new United Kingdom and Australian businesses. Their lists focusing on bestsellers, trends, and awards are crucial for connecting ebooks with audiences that differ from North America’s.

It bears mentioning that 3M Cloud Library’s apps have been created expressly with passionate readers in mind and reinforce our global collection development work. In three simple steps, you’re smack dab in the story, and when you’re hungry for more, you can save favorite categories rather than search the endless, chaotic metadata depths.

Heather McCormack is the Collection Development Manager at Bibliotheca, which recently purchased the 3M library services, including 3M Cloud Library. 

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Guest Contributor

Guest contributors to Publishing Perspectives have diverse backgrounds in publishing, media and technology. They live across the globe and bring unique, first-hand experience to their writing.