Between the Covers: A Look at Librarians, Part 1


As writers, our thoughts are usually consumed with fantasy worlds, complex story lines and large casts of characters – and occasional daydreams about when we’ve made the New York Time’s Best-Seller List so we can quit our day jobs and write full time. Ahem. Back to reality.

But what happens when creation and editing and revising (and more revising) and publishing and printing are done? When THE BOOK is on shelves in bookstores across the world?

Obviously, you want to appeal to your readers so that they will A) buy your book, and B) want to read more! But what about those people who *gasp* help make your book accessible to an even wider crowd for free ? That’s right – we’re talking about LIBRARIANS!

Today I’m getting into the nitty-gritty of book selection with a librarian who’s guided my reading selections all my life: Karen Wong!

Welcome, Karen! Let’s jump right in:


SP: What are your “go-to” sources when researching which books to buy for public consumption? Do you consult best-seller lists? How do library patrons request to buy new books? 

As the adult Fiction librarian, I rely heavily on several sources – Library Journal, Booklist, Publishers Weekly,  and Kirkus Reviews. I also read the weekly book reviews in the Dallas paper and the New York Times Book Review. Each week I check the New York Times bestseller list to be sure we have all the books listed. Many of our patrons check the list religiously (we print copies that we put out in the library). Most of the authors are perennial bestsellers so I already know to order their books before they’re published. We have a form on our website for people to submit requests. We look at them all and will often purchase the books after seeking out reviews.

A couple of years ago, a new program was started by a group of librarians, which resulted in a monthly list of books which are voted on by librarians who read advance copies of new books. It’s called Library Reads – the tag-line is, “The top ten books published this month that librarians across the country love.” We print this list out each month for our patrons, and I make sure I order all these titles.


20160922_143822_1474573299344SP: Your library loves to make unique book displays to bring attention to little-known selections. Why do you go the trouble?

We spend a lot of time creating displays and book-lists to help our patrons discover books that go beyond the bestseller list. So many people limit themselves to authors they already know and are missing out on great reads they would enjoy if they could only be persuaded to try them. Publishers put a lot of money and effort into designing book covers, and we try to get as many books facing out on our shelves, because that draws a reader to pick up a book and consider checking it out. It really makes a difference, although we still have some readers who love browsing a shelf and discovering interesting titles on their own.

When we moved to our new building, we pulled out many of our genres and shelved them separately – mystery, fantasy & science fiction, romance, etc. This has worked well for some genres, such as Christian Fiction and Horror, because these readers do want to browse and try out different titles. Other patrons (readers) do not enjoy this arrangement, as not all books by an author are in the same genre. At this point, it’s hard to say whether the decision to pull out genres is a success or not. Many people are now reading e-books, and that has impacted the circulation of our print books.


SP: Your library hosts authors quite often. What kinds of authors have been a hit with readers?  What kind of interaction do they have with their fans/audience?

Mystery authors are always a draw because the genre is just so popular. We had a terrific time with four romance authors who were obviously delighted to meet readers of their genre. Our best event, however, was with three fantasy/paranormal authors who had great camaraderie with each other and with the audience. They were just a lot of fun, teasing each other and making jokes with the audience. After a Q&A with the authors, fans have the opportunity to talk one-on-one with the authors as they sign books.


SP: How do you think the relationship between authors and librarians has changed over the course of your career? 

Authors have had to become their own publicists and promoters. Maybe it’s always been that way, but I think the pressure on them to do so has increased. Not many have an agent who does outreach for them. With so many books competing for attention, more authors realize they need to get out and promote themselves, so they are willing to come to libraries for events. Most of them still expect payment, even if that’s only for transportation expenses, which can be a problem for public libraries with limited budgets. The big name authors expect big paychecks, so only very large libraries can afford them.


SP: What can readers do to help their local libraries bring in more authors/get more of the books they like to read?

Readers can always request that their local library purchase titles they’re interested in. Most librarians are eager to respond to community demand, figuring that if one person wants the book, there will be others interested as well. I’m not sure that readers can do much to get an author to visit their library, but they can certainly make suggestions to the librarian, with the understanding that funding is often an issue.


SP: Thanks Karen!


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