Knowing Your Blogging Goals Can Help You Pick Which One to Pursue
After 11 years of blogging here at Pages Unbound, reading tons of blogging advice, and asking other book bloggers what they recommend to boost stats, I have come to the conclusion there are two main ways book bloggers in particular can increase traffic:
comment prolifically on other book blogs
focus on improving SEO.
These tactics bring in traffic from different sources, however, so knowing what you most want from your blog can help decide which to focus on. (Or, of course, you can dedicate time to doing both!)
Commenting on Other Book Blogs
If you value engagement and are hoping to get more people commenting on and interacting with your own blog posts, commenting on other book blogs is a valuable strategy.
Of course, you want to be genuine and leave comments that add to the discussion and try to make real connections with other bloggers. You don’t want to simply pop by and leave a short, “Nice post!” on something you barely even read, nor do you want to just leave a link to your own blog.
However, commenting and blog hopping is valuable because people can’t really find and read and (hopefully) comment on your blog if they are not aware it exists. Commenting frequently on a wide variety of blogs is likely to bring other bloggers back to your own site to check it out, and some will naturally become followers. This is great for engagement because other book bloggers are the readers most likely to actually leave comments on a blog, unlike more casual followers.
Improving the SEO of Your Blog Posts
If you are interested in getting a massive increase in page views, focusing on improving your SEO in your blog posts is a good bet. A lot of book bloggers report that the vast majority of their traffic comes from search engine hits (which is definitely true here at Pages Unbound; our second highest source of traffic is from the WordPress reader and app, and it doesn’t come close).
The only caveats here are:
visitors from search engines generally do not leave comments, so this is a good source of traffic but not engagement
sometimes when they leave comments, search engine visitors are more aggressive than book bloggers
you might have to think about writing “the type of posts people would search for,” as opposed to writing and posting whatever personally interests you.
In regards to point #3, you can, of course, try to optimize SEO on nearly anything. Some bloggers put a lot of effort into utilizing SEO on their book reviews, for instance, and these can end up as a significant source of traffic. Alternatively, you might simply think of things people are likely to Google, which are often lists (think: Books Set in NYC) or informational articles (ex. How to Write an Amazing Book Review).
If you are a book blogger who has written a post on SEO for book bloggers, feel free to leave a link in the comments below!
Both strategies will take time, but a lot of book bloggers have found they have paid off. If you only have time to pursue one, think about which you would enjoy more (engaging with other readers/the technical puzzle of good SEO?) and about what you want in return (possibly more discussion on your own blog/views from the general public using search engines).
The rise of BookTube and BookTok, along with articles like the March 2021 New York Times one lauding the selling power of TikTok videos, resulted in a lot of demoralization among book bloggers. Publishers, it seemed, were no longer interested in working with bloggers and were sending ARCs (advanced reading copies) mostly to influencers on other platforms. Additionally, though publishers had declined to pay book bloggers for years, citing a lack of funds, there were suddenly reports that they were willing to pay influencers on BookTok. Book bloggers felt unappreciated, lied to, and betrayed. And people began talking once again about book blogging “dying.”
This May, Pages Unbound turns eleven years old. People have been predicting the death of book blogs during much of that time, though Briana and I do not think that is true. To me, the idea that blog are dying puts too much weight on what publishers think of bloggers and how willing they are to send bloggers ARCs. There is an assumption that lack of recognition by publishers (and authors) means book blogs are no longer worthwhile or relevant. I could not disagree more.
Book blogs are primarily a space for readers, one that builds a community among individuals who love to engage with and talk about books. They still serve that function–we have more views than ever here on the blog! But, over the years, some bloggers have begun to see the mission of book blogs as “supporting authors” instead. The trouble with this is that bloggers then spend countless hours laboring to read, review, and hype books–taking photos, posting reviews on multiple channels, sending out pre-launch Tweets, urging people to pre-order, maintaining several social media platforms to sing the praises of certain books or authors, etc.–all unasked for. The mission has become to act as unpaid members of publishers’ marketing departments. And, even though this work largely goes unrecognized, bloggers keep doing it because they hope that if they do more and more and more, they one day will be recognized–and paid–for it. But I do not see monetary compensation happening any time soon. The publishers have revealed their hands. They had the money and the ARCs all along; they chose not to use them on bloggers.
Knowing that publishers are not particularly interested in working with book bloggers is, however, freeing. Since bloggers are not in any sort of relationship with publishers, publishers cannot and should not expect anything from bloggers. There is no imperative to market books relentlessly on social media, to buy all the new releases as an act of solidarity, to urge all and sundry to pre-order a book the blogger has not even read themselves and cannot personally recommend. Bloggers are not being paid to work as publishers’ advertisers, and, frankly, I think we should stop trying. Doing all this amazing work free has only demonstrated to companies that, well, they are getting the work free! Why would they pay bloggers for it when it is already happening at no cost to them? Working even harder is not going to convince publishers to pay bloggers just because they are kind. Publishing houses are companies. The fact that they produce books, and that books are art, does not mean they are above financial concerns and calculations. Like any company, they will save money where they can.
Personally, I have never seen it as my duty to market books for publishers; they already hire people for that. Knowing this has allowed me to see my blog as completely my own. I am not obligated to write up lists of upcoming releases, or to urge people to spend money on certain titles, or to get out that social media post NOW before it is too late. I do not even have to read to a deadline if I don’t have an ARC. I can blog what I like whenever I like. I can celebrate backlist titles or talk about bookish things that do nothing directly to sell books. I can even admit when a book was not for me. Is none of that valuable because publishers do not pay me and authors forget to add book bloggers in their acknowledgements section, even when they include Bookstagram and BookTube and BookTok? I think it is valuable.
Maintaining my blog as a space for readers, and not as a marketing arm for publishers, serves an important function, even if it does little to promote this month’s hottest title. For me, the beauty of books is what is inside them, the worlds and the words and the ideas they contain. I love celebrating those things and discussing them with other people. I love finding like-minded individuals, who share my all-consuming love for certain stories or characters. I also love interacting with readers who have different opinions than my own, but who challenge me to see things in new ways. I love making new bookish friends! Not feeling obligated to advertise constantly allows me to create this space, one that is flexible and open and, well, hopefully somewhat distant from the need to constantly buy more and consume more and do more.
I think that if I tried to take the blog in a new direction and to “support authors” relentlessly in a way that meant I was not just highlighting their work and bringing some natural visibility to it through my reviews, but actively chasing new releases and doing cover reveals and urging people to pre-order and promoting books I have not read or do not actually feel really excited about, I would feel drained. I would feel like an unappreciated underling in the marketing division. But I’m not! I’m not part of the marketing division, and so I don’t blog that way. And that’s why I still feel excited about blogging 11 years later, and why I still sometimes feel a creative spark when I start to write. I’m not doing it for the publishers or even the authors, though I am happy to give exposure when I can. I’m doing it for me.
Most people realize that the public library houses books that students can borrow for homework and assignments. But the library offers so many more resources for students–everything from tutoring to databases with information on finding scholarships and applying for college. Below are 15 ways that students can start using the public library to its full potential.
Find Homework Help & Tutoring
Many if not most public libraries offer tutoring. You can check your library’s website for any live tutoring options, or check their list of online resources to see if you can connect with a tutor online. You may also be able to access online resources where you can submit papers, cover letters, or resumes for feedback from a real person.
Prep for Standardized Tests
Yes, the public library has physical books that offer advice and practice tests for things like AP exams, the SAT, and the ACT. But the library may also have online resources that offer the same thing–so you won’t have to wait for that other library patron to return the book. Look for digital resources such as Learning Express Library or Peterson’s Test and Career Prep on your library’s website.
Research Colleges, Scholarships, & Financial Aid
Public libraries often offer books that will provide college applicants with information on college admissions, scholarships, and financial aid. However, don’t forget to look on the library’s digital resources page for these tools, as well. Try finding resources such as Learning Express Library or Peterson’s Test and Career Prep on your library’s website. Or check the library’s website for any upcoming programs that focus on these topics.
Digital resources that focus on homework help and standardized test prep may also include resources that allow individuals to research careers–the outlook for the job, potential earnings, needed skills, and recommended paths to being hired. Or the library may link to outside resources such as the Occupational Outlook Handbook from the U.S. Department of Labor.
Access Credible Sources
Many classes focus on teaching students how to find and vet credible sources. The good news is, the public library has usually done this work for you! Visit the library’s digital resources page to see what databases they pay for–these databases typically include peer-reviewed paper and resources that you can cite in your research papers. You can, of course, also check out a physical book.
Learn Computer Skills
Many people tend to assume that students have some sort of innate knowledge of computer skills, such as the ability to use MS Word and Excel, even though they have never been taught. If you need to learn computer skills for school or because you know you will later need them to apply for jobs, there is good news! Libraries often offer online databases with videos, posts, and even interactive tutorials that can help individuals learn basic computer skills for things like email, spreadsheets, and word processors. Or they might even offer appointments with a librarian who can offer personalized assistance.
Access Popular Fiction & YA Books While at College
Many college students are unaware that they are eligible to receive a library card from the city in which their college is located. You will likely have to demonstrate that you attend the college or have an address in the city. Usually this means you have to provide photo ID and a piece of mail showing your address (if it differs from that on your ID). You can show a piece of mail from your university mail box if you live in a dorm. Some libraries also ask to see your student ID. You can call ahead or check the library website to make sure you are prepared before you show up. But, once you provide the appropriate materials, you should be able to sign up for a card and check out books just as you would at your hometown library.
You can also visit your college library to see if they have a popular reading section. Not all do–but it’s worth looking!
And, of course, your card from your hometown library, if still active, will allow you to check out e-books and access digital resources while you are away.
Find Quiet Study Spaces
If you need a quiet space to study, check your local library! Some may have rooms you can use as a single study room for a few hours. Some might just have tables on a floor or in a specific section that are specifically for use by people who need quiet (as opposed to people who need to collaborate and talk).
Hang Out with Friends and De-Stress
Need a place to hang out for a few hours? The library is a great place to socialize because you don’t need to pay to be there, you get air conditioning, heat, and WiFi–and maybe other perks such as coloring pages or board games. You can just show up to chill for awhile, or you can attend a program with your friends–anything from trivia night to arcade night.
If you love crafting, but don’t have a lot of experience or don’t want to pay for all the materials to start, you can look for programs at your local library. They typically provide all the materials free. You may also find other opportunities to be creative–poetry contests, open mic nights, photography clubs, and more.
Gain Volunteer Experience
If you need volunteer experience to graduate, or something to put on your resume, check to see if your local library has any volunteer opportunities currently open.
Get a Job or Internship
Public libraries will often hire high school students to do work such as shelving, or work with college students who need an internship. Check your local library’s website to see what openings are available and what the qualifications are.
You can also use your library’s physical and digital resources to research careers, craft a resume and cover letter, and learn interviewing tips. Or you might find out that they even periodically host job fairs. Take a look at the library’s website to see what they offer.
Learn Life Skills
Libraries have books on all types of topics, of course, but library programs are also a wonderful way to get some experience with necessary life skills. Libraries may offer programs on everything from car maintenance to financial literacy to doing laundry! Check your library’s website to see what programs are upcoming.
Prevent Summer Slide
Research has shown that children who do not read over the summer, and children who do not participate in learning opportunities such as attending camp or going to museums, return to school in the fall having lost many of the academic gains they made during the previous year. Children who do not read over the summer can lose an average of two months’ of reading skills–and this loss is cumulative. Children from lower income households who have less access to books and to learning activities are particularly vulnerable to summer slide. So how to prevent this? Join the library’s summer reading program to keep students reading and having fun while school is out.
Access WiFi, Computers, Printers, Copiers, and Scanners
If you do not have internet at home, you can go to the library to access it or you can see if your library offers WiFi hotspots for checkout. Likewise, you can go to the library to use the computer, or see if they offer any laptops, tablets, Chromebooks, etc. for checkout. You can also print, copy, scan, and (probably) fax at the library. Call ahead or check the library website if you need to know if there is a charge for printing and if you will need to bring cash.
Many people use the public library for school reports or during the summer, to join the Summer Reading Program, and not for much else. But there is so much more to explore! Check out your local library’s website to see what they offer–and how it could benefit you.
In the past decade or so, many public libraries seem to have switched to the one-desk model of service. That is, in the past, library patrons might have had to choose whether to go to the circulation desk or the reference desk, depending on their question. The one-desk model consolidates departments, making it the single point of reference for individuals, whether they are asking to update a library card or needing assistance with a complex research question. The idea seems to be that, because the average library patron does not distinguish between departments or the roles of individuals in the library, it is simply easier for them to walk up to a single desk, rather than guess which desk or staff they need–and then be told that they have to walk to some other desk instead. Such an experience would presumably be off-putting to patrons wondering why someone official-looking sitting behind a desk apparently cannot be bothered to help them, and must make them go ask the same question elsewhere. However, even though the one-desk model seems easier for the public, I do not altogether like it–especially they way it seems to have been implemented in some libraries.
To be fair, it did take me awhile to distinguish between the functions of the circulation desk and the reference desk at my public library. I would sometimes be told I was at the wrong desk and had to walk to the other one. Over time, however, I realized that the circulation desk does largely what the name suggests and so does the reference desk.
For those wondering, the circulation desk handles the circulation of items. Check-ins and check-outs happen at the circulation desk. The circulation staff also handle library account inquiries (such as obtaining or updating a card, or paying money on an account) and do circulation stuff that does not necessarily impact the public’s interactions with them–handling the delivery of items, pulling holds, shelving books, shelf-reading, etc.
The reference desk typically handles…reference questions. That could be something as simple as asking for the location of a book, or asking for assistance with in-depth research for an academic project, a genealogy search, and more, or asking for help with the computers or printers. The reference staff are also often the ones in charge of planning programs for adults. The reason why someone at the reference desk might not help a patron with a circulation question (or vice versa) is simple–the staff there might not have been trained on how to answer that question. It is not their job function.
The one-desk model seems like it could be an easy solution to all the walking back and forth of confused patrons. (I had a memorable experience where the circulation desk and the reference desk kept sending me back and forth, both swearing that they had no idea how to help me and that it was the other department’s job. I think I finally just answered my question myself and left.) Just train staff in both departments on how to do both jobs! Or, maybe, staff the one desk with someone from each department at the same time. The reference staff member could sit on the right of the desk and the circulation staff member could sit on the left. However, in practice, I have seen this model fail to work for a key reason: only one person is assigned to staff the desk.
Again, in theory, libraries might just train the reference and circulation departments on how to do each other’s jobs. Problem solved! However, one must really question if this is being done. If you peruse library job listings, reference librarians are often asked to have more qualifications than circulation staff–they might be required to have, at minimum, a Bachelor’s degree, but sometimes an MLIS. Circulation staff might only be required to have a high school diploma. Reference librarians thus presumably in many cases already have more background than circulation staff, if indeed they have a Master’s in Library Science.
Are the circulation staff being asked to do training that is equivalent to the reference librarians’ education? Are they being asked to get any kind of certifications that reference staff without an MLIS might be asked to get? Are they taking the same kind of training–webinars or otherwise? What if someone asks a kind of obscure question about the law or needs help with something like unemployment? Are circulation staff really as knowledgeable as reference staff in answering reference questions when that is neither their background nor their primary job function?
The obvious answer might seem to be that any individual in the circulation department might conceivably be as good as or even better than someone in the reference department. After all, a degree is not everything. Years of experience could factor in, as well as any innate intelligence and general desire to learn. But then the question is–even if someone in the circulation department can do an equal job to the reference department, should circulation staff actually be asked to do the job of reference librarians? Because, since reference librarians often are required to have more experience or education for their roles, their job listings often indicate that they are being paid more than the circulation staff. Consequently, if the circulation staff sitting at the one desk in the one-desk model are doing the work of the reference librarians…shouldn’t they be getting paid at the same rate as the reference librarians?
To me, the one-desk model seems like another instance of job creep; librarians are being asked to take on additional duties without additional pay. In the past, the reference department would have focused on reference questions and the circulation on circulation duties, but now their job functions are being blended. Maybe the public does not know the difference. Maybe anyone official-looking sitting behind a desk is the same as another to them. But library staff in different departments do have different backgrounds, different training, and different job functions. That may or may not come across in how effectively any one individual is able to answer a question that is not technically part of their job description. And maybe patrons and administrators are willing to let little bits of customer service slip in order to get the bigger gain of a one-stop shopping experience. But I think we should seriously consider if asking staff to take on more job functions should result in a pay increase–especially if staff who are lower on the pay scale are now effectively functioning the same way as staff who are higher up on that scale.
What do you think? Do you like the one-desk model at the public library?
It took me about a year, but I read all 56 of the original Nancy Drew Mystery Stories, the classic titles available with the yellow spines. Although I had grown up with Nancy Drew, I had never read the entire collection (I think I read 46 of them). And I certainly did not remember everything I discovered during this year re-read. Below are some my observations about reading Nancy Drew as an adult.
To begin, it is difficult now not to see the classism inherent in the Nancy Drew books. I knew as a child, of course, that Nancy was rich, popular, and attractive. She had her own car and enough of her dad’s money to go on as many vacations and trips as she could ever wish. But I did not realize just how often Nancy and her mysteries favor the wealthy. Nancy helps poor, people, of course, but the books generally depict only two types–the genteelly poor (those who used to be rich, but have fallen on hard times and need Nancy to find their lost inheritance so they can regain their former social status) or the “rough” poor–the criminals in the stories. Basically, anyone in Nancy’s world who is badly or gaudily dressed, wears too much makeup, lives in the “wrong” part of town, and has bad manners has to be the villain. Sometimes, “nice” poor people can be objects for Nancy’s charity, though.
The Nancy Drew books are also frequently discussed in terms of the way they depict race. Though many of the earlier books were revised in an attempt to remove the racism that even readers at the time were denouncing, this project did not altogether succeed. Often, the books simply remove any characters who are not white. Other times, the books tend to stereotype other cultures, depicting Others as superstitious, backwards, or just plain “strange” because they are different. The Nancy Drew books love to have Nancy travel to other countries, too, and these books often prove opportunities for the author to drop knowledge that sometimes seems of questionable origin.
And we can’t forget the fat shaming! When I was growing up, I was aware that Bess is the “plump” one, George is the boyish athletic one, and Nancy is the popular and smart one. Well, I certainly did not realize exactly how many times George (usually) makes fun of Bess for eating. It comes across as particularly nasty since it’s coming from Bess’s own cousin and supposed best friend. And it is frankly baffling because the illustrator usually depicts Bess as about the same size as George and Nancy! And, when the books describe what the trio is eating (which the books love to do), the three typically eat the same meal. Sometimes Bess has an extra slice of dessert. I would, too.
These are, of course, the really bad things that I now notice about the Nancy Drew books, that I somehow managed to overlook when growing up because all I really cared about was solving the mystery. Who the villains were and what Bess was eating really did not matter to me. However, I also noticed some benign quirks of the series–things that become more evident when one reads the books all in a row.
For example, Nancy’s world is really interesting to me because it is at once very vague (no points for worldbuilding here) and full of stuff. Somehow, Nancy’s small Midwestern town is located next to a lot of prime castles, mansions, and abandoned manors. Usually once owned by some eccentric who left clues and puzzles in the estate. It also seems to be a really bustling place because Nancy has been trained in dancing, acting, and art. She can ski, too, and ice skate and trick ride like a professional. She seems to live in a small town with all the amenities of a city. And her father the lawyer? He has no defined specialty, but takes on a variety of weird cases, ones that usually seem to require a detective and not a lawyer at all. I have no idea what is going on in River Heights, but it always makes for a great story.
And the Nancy Drew formula is not to be missed. It changes over the course of the series, but the early books in particular almost always seem to have Nancy’s car narrowly being missed by a falling tree–or perhaps she will get caught in a bad storm or almost be driven off the road. The same blue roadster that gives her independence also brings her danger. (She also gets several new cars throughout the series.) The ending usually involves Nancy being knocked out and kidnapped, before being rescued by her friends–though sometimes she rescues herself. When this formula changes near the end of the 56 books, it almost feels like a tragedy. Are we even reading Nancy Drew?
In the end, I enjoyed revisiting the Nancy Drew books, even though I cannot overlook their flaws. They provide a fascinating glimpse into a period of history when questions of femininity were being debated and discussed–just as they still are today. Nancy walks the line between domestic and independent, showing that a woman can be smart, assertive, and bold, even as she can be charming and polite. Nancy Drew inspired me when I was growing up, telling me that I could do anything if I had enough daring. And that is something I cannot forget.
In the past, book blogger posts about public libraries seemed to be more common, and they would get plenty of comments from other enthusiastic library users. Recently, however, I have seen a bit of a troubling trend–the idea that no one needs to talk about or talk up libraries because “everyone already knows about libraries.” Sometimes, this truism is shown to be obviously false, such as that incident in which Forbespublished an article claiming that library services are obsolete and taxpayers should fund Amazon instead. Clearly, even educated individuals do not always understand all that libraries offer and the unique way they work to provide equal access to information and materials. And sometimes, even avid library users do not always know everything that is available to them.
I use the library all the time, and I am still finding new services and resources. Often, I am able to pass on this information to friends, family, and coworkers–some of whom never visit the library for the simple reason that it never occurred to them. Other times, however, the people I talk to already do use the library, even frequently, but they still had never heard of some of the services available. There is always something more to learn!
Below are just a few examples from my personal life and from my internet browsing that demonstrate that knowledge of the public library is not exactly common for everyone. Some people never go into the library because they are wealthy and well-connected enough that they do not need to. Some people do not use the library because their family never did, and they don’t know how it works–and they might be too scared to ask, or they might assume there are barriers such as membership fees. Some people do use the library, but not to its full extent. For instance:
A friend of mine lived in a city her entire life and had no clue there was a public library in that city.
A friend regularly used the library and read e-books, but did not know the library offered e-books to borrow until I mentioned it.
Family members without internet did not know that the library offers WiFi hotspots.
Family members keep offering me advice on how to find cheap DVDs, even though they could get completely free movies from the library. Some of them frequent the library already.
A friend told me she asked the members of her book club how many used the library–none of them do.
A teacher friend admitted that she had no idea what the library could even offer her or her class. I’m pretty certain she does not hold a library card.
Another teacher friend who uses the library all the time to find materials for her classroom was unaware that students can access tutoring at the public library.
A friend who goes to the library did not know she could join the Summer Reading Program as an adult.
Several people have asked me how much it costs to check out books at the library.
A friend’s coworker was talking about the difficulty of finding movies during the pandemic–she did not know that the public library offers physical DVDs and streaming.
At least two people have asked me if they needed a membership card just to walk in the library door.
Academic librarians on Twitter have complained that their faculty think the library is obsolete because “everything is on the Internet”–even though the faculty use digital resources available to them on the internet only because the library pays a subscription for those databases.
Writers of major U.S. periodicals have divulged that they only recently learned about library resources.
Individuals in publishing periodically spread misinformation (inadvertently) on Twitter about libraries and they way they work (presumably because, even though they are book lovers, they do not use libraries).
College-aged book bloggers sometimes think they can only use their college library and not the public library if they attend school away from home.
As you can see, knowledge about library services and how they work is not always common knowledge. Even people who are highly educated, who use library services already, and who are book lovers or who are involved in literary circles do not always know everything about the library. So when we stop talking about the library because we think it is overdone or not necessary, some people miss out. They never hear what they need to know–that they will not be asked to pay money to join, that they can find services of use even if they do not like to read, that the public library is still relevant to them personally.
What You Can Do
Talk about the library! Hype it up! Post about it! Tweet about it! Take Bookstagram photos of library books and announce proudly that they are from the library! Some ideas:
Write about your favorite library memories.
Write about your favorite library resources.
Share your secret library tips.
Post photos of any library swag you have.
Share your library holds list (a spin on the popular TBR list post).
Write a book haul post featuring library books or books from the library book sale.
Tweet about a library service you have used lately (ex. Libby/Overdrive, Hoopla, Kanopy, Ancestry, etc.)
Share photos of your library books or crafts you have made at the library.
Share tours of libraries you visit.
Introduce your friends and family members to relevant library resources.
Invite a friend to go to the library or a library program with you.
Libraries in the U.S. are always being threatened with reduced funding because so many people erroneously believe that public libraries no longer matter. Often, however, people just do not know what libraries offer! So let’s keep talking about libraries. There’s always something new to learn and celebrate.
I’m against pirating books in general, and I’m not writing this post to debate that. I’ve been called “elitist” in the past for suggesting it’s unethical to steal books, but I stand behind that statement — and personally I think it’s elitist to imply that only “poor” people pirate books. They don’t. In fact, some polls have suggested that the majority of pirated e-books are stolen by people who CAN afford them, older people with good incomes and college educations. They just don’t feel like paying for books they have the disposable income for, or they don’t feel like getting an e-book from the library or physically going to the library (even though we are talking about people who DO have a library and CAN access it easily, not people without a library or who cannot get to the one near them).
But today I want to tackle an argument I see people make often: that they steal books from authors they “don’t want to support,” presumably because they believe these authors are problematic in some way and therefore don’t deserve to earn money.
Choosing not to read an author’s books because you believe they hold terrible beliefs is fine, and choosing not to give money to people you don’t support makes sense, but I find the idea you would read the books anyway but simply by stealing them instead of going to the library or buying the books ridiculous.
First, there’s an implication here that the author’s books are actually SO GOOD you literally cannot stop yourself from reading them, even while arguing the author is a terrible person who should not be supported. Apparently, their writing is excellent and their books are unputdownable — an implication that looks a lot like “supporting” their work to me.
Which brings us to the point that “supporting” an author is not always a direct financial transaction where you pay $18 for a YA hardcover, and the author gets some percentage of that money (assuming the book even earned out and the author is even getting royalties at this point; they might not be).
You can “support” an author whose book you read but didn’t buy by doing things like:
talking about the book in person to friends
talking positively about the book on social media
rating the book well on sites like Goodreads, Amazon, etc.
marking the book as “currently reading” on sites like Goodreads and drawing attention to it
writing a review of the book online
YOU might not have directly given the author money or a sale, but if you mention the book in any way, particularly positively, to other people, including saying that you love the author’s work so much that you read it IN SPITE OF claiming to “not support them,” it is very likely you are inspiring someone else to read the book or to give the author a sale.
The only way to really “not support” an author is to pretend they don’t exist, to not read their books and to not discuss their books, to give them no mention and no publicity at all.
I understand that people pirate books simply because they don’t want to pay for them, and I haven’t seen any argument anyone brings up ever persuade someone who steals books to stop stealing them. I’m not expecting this post to change anyone’s mind. But I do hope people will reconsider whether saying, “I only pirate books from authors I don’t support” makes sense or makes them look like some kind of ethical thief who only steals from people who “deserve” to be stolen from — because, frankly, it doesn’t.
Public libraries have received a lot of negative publicity in recent years from publishers claiming that they hurt authors. Libraries, admittedly, have not collected much data on all the work they do and all the ways that work–from hosting author visits to providing free social media marketing–can support authors. The reality is, however, that libraries actually do perform a lot of work that promotes authors and their works. All that remains is for them to quantify it! In the meantime, however, here are some ways that libraries support authors.
Once authors earn out their advance, they earn royalties from book sales. That includes sales to libraries! And libraries play an important role in supporting midlist authors. While some booksellers might focus on stocking bestsellers, libraries often buy books that receive less marketing attention from publishers. Libraries also purchase books individuals might not readily buy: academic works, expensive nonfiction titles (such as those used for school reports), lengthy manga series individuals might balk at purchasing because they read the books so fast, and paperback romances that many people prefer to buy used because they read these books so fast. Little data seems to exist on how much libraries purchase and if they might conceivably be thought of as an exciting, unique market for publishers to engage with. But the fact remains: libraries buy books and they buy books the general public might not have been aware of or that the general public might not spend their book buying budget on.
“35.9% of respondents bought a book online that they first found in a library, and this percentage is higher for avid book engagers (those who engage with 4+ books per month). 51.6% of avid book engagers bought a book online that they first found in a library. Library discovery is also leading to book purchases in brick-and-mortar bookstores: 31.1% bought a book in a bookstore that they first found in a library—44% for avid book engagers.”
Libraries provide free exposure to books through a variety of means: book clubs, displays, programs such as book parties or author visits, librarian recommendations, and (of course) their shelves–browsing for books is still a vital means of discovery for book lovers!
And, again, the exposure libraries give to midlist authors should not be under-valued. A Publisher’s Weekly article form 2019 indicates that bestsellers are now making up most of publishers’ sales and that publishers consequently put most of their marketing power behind those bestsellers. Readers may only hear of some midlist books if they see them at the library.
Libraries exist in a complex ecosystem along with other means of acquiring books; often booksellers and libraries can end up mutually supporting each other, and do not need to see themselves as at odds.
Libraries do a lot of marketing for authors, though they may not get recognition for it. Some of that marketing, of course, comes from book displays or librarians talking up a book to a patron they think would particularly enjoy it. But libraries also do a lot of marketing through more modern channels. They might post book talks on YouTube; hype new releases on social media; host podcasts highlighting books; run blogs with book recommendations; or send out newsletters to their patrons, advertising their latest purchases. Some libraries even host author festivals where authors can sell their books directly to fans. All of this marketing is done by libraries free, or sometimes even at cost–libraries usually pay authors to make appearances and give talks.
Local Author Collections
Libraries can also provide important exposure for self-published local authors. Many have local author collections where a writer can submit their work, and many will host events highlighting local authors and their books. It can be difficult doing one’s own marketing for a book, but libraries are often happy to partner with authors.
The Creation of Life-Long Readers
Libraries create life-long readers by providing easy, free access to a multitude of books in a space where judgment about one’s reading habits is reserved and librarians work hard to create happy memories around books. Life-long readers typically do not only use the library; the Panorama Project’s Immersive Media & Books 2020 Consumer Survey indicates that readers engage with books in a variety of ways. That is, library users also purchase books. So anything that creates more readers, and more avid readers, is a good thing for authors!
Libraries are not the enemies of authors. Some publishers tend to suggest that libraries are the primary reason authors do not earn as much as they might (though one would think that the publisher has some control over author salaries, too). In reality, however, the book market is very complex. There are various factors at play: the rise of Amazon and its shady pricing tactics, the used book market, the ability for self-published authors to sell their books more easily, and the ease with which individuals can now pirate books. The library is just one part of that market, but all parts must be considered when publishers analyze their profits reports.
Since libraries do play such a vital role in exposing readers to new titles, and because they do pay for their books, it seems unlikely that they are the main reason authors are not making money. Indeed, recent data suggests that avid readers engage with books in multiple ways, and that those who use the library also buy books. Creating more readers (as the library does) increases the number of people who will buy books. Libraries should thus be seen as an important way for authors to gain exposure and more readers.
April 3-9 is National Library Week! We’re celebrating all week long with library-related posts. Today we explore an ever contentious topic: the practice of libraries periodically removing books from their collections (a process called “weeding.”) The Twittersphere gets outraged over this practice every few months, decrying libraries as monsters who destroy the Sacred Books instead of storing them indefinitely. The anger is so intense that library twitter has reported the need for clandestine book weeding and disposal, so the public does not unleash their wrath upon hapless staff members. However, weeding books is actually a library best practice, one that every library engages in, and one that has good reasons behind it. Here is why your local librarians weed certain books out of the collection.
The Book Contains Outdated or Inaccurate Information
Non-fiction books need to be weeded regularly because information changes. Health advice from a few decades back could actually be harmful if followed, so librarians are not going to leave outdated texts on the shelves for unsuspecting individuals to consume. But this idea applies to other nonfiction books, too. Would you want to read a book about how to use computers from ten years ago? What about a book on social media marketing from even five years ago? How about a travel book that has not been updated with new locations and information? An SAT prep book that has information on test questions that are no longer used or a format that has changed? It is crucial for nonfiction to be up-to-date, or it is not useful. Some books just have limited lifespans, and so they need to be weeded. But non-fiction titles relevant to the community’s needs will likely be replaced by newer versions; they have not just disappeared forever!
The Book Is in Poor Condition
Moldy or mildewed books will spread their mold to other volumes in the collection, and ruin them, as well. There is no way to save a moldy book, and any such book has to be thrown in the garbage. That’s true even for private individuals who have mold on their books.
However, books might just be in general poor condition–they could be dirty, torn, bent, and even odorous. Most people probably are not going to want to check out a book that looks like it has been thrown in a mud puddle and run over by a truck, so there is little reason to keep it on the shelf. But rest assured–if the book is popular, staff will probably replace the damaged, weeded book with a nice, new copy.
There Are Too Many Copies of the Book
Libraries often buy several (or many) copies of books that are projected to be bestsellers or that have many holds on them (in an effort to keep the wait time for a book somewhat reasonable). Eventually, however, all 20 copies of that book will stop circulating and they will congregate on the shelf. In this case, staff will usually weed the bulk of the copies, but perhaps leave one or more if there is still interest to justify that.
The Book Has Stopped Circulating
The reality is that not every book circulates. Some books might have been popular years ago, but their time has passed. Or a book might not have ever been checked out at all. Library policies usually specify that if a book has not circulated in a certain time frame, it should be weeded to make room for books that the community is interested in and will use.
This is the type of weeding that seems to rile the passions of book lovers the most. Many people seem to see weeding as libraries desecrating the very books they are meant to honor and preserve. However, there are a couple of factors at play here. One is that public libraries serve a specific function: to provide materials of relevance to their community. They do not serve as archives or specialized libraries or academic libraries–other places may likely keep the niche, specialized types of works that people are not looking for or checking out at the public library. The other factor is space. The building is only so big. Libraries literally cannot keep every book they ever bought, because there is nowhere to put them all. The most judicious use of their funds and space, then, is to keep the materials people are actually using.
The public should also be aware that most libraries do not weed solely on circulation stats alone. Most libraries have policies that explain how weeding should be done. These policies often clarify that books that fill a gap in the collection should be kept, even if they are not circulating. In other words, staff will likely keep a book if it is the only book on a certain topic currently in the collection, or if it is difficult to find a lot of new books to purchase that fill a need in the collection (for instance, holiday books that are not about Christmas, fiction books featuring protagonists from diverse backgrounds, etc.). Good weeding is not done indiscriminately, but with an eye on the needs of the community.
What Libraries Do with Weeded Books
Contrary to popular belief, most libraries do not just throw weeded books into the trash can, but instead find ways to pass them on so others can read them. Here are just a few ways libraries might try to keep weeded books being read:
Selling them at their book sale to raise funds for the library (and to buy more books!)
Sending them to Better World Books (a business that says that they may then generate funds for the library while also passing on profits to literacy initiatives)
Stocking Little Free Libraries
Donating them to schools, day cares, & other partnerships
Books may have to be recycled or thrown away as a last resort. However, libraries do truly try to keep books in the hands of readers whenever possible!