Friday, July 17, 2015

Awkward Situation of the Day

Yesterday was my first official day working the children's desk as a library assistant, and though it was initially slow, later on it got really busy (of course after the librarian went back to her office and left me on my own).  But relatively uneventful; just the usual reminding noisy tweens/teens to keep it down or they don't get anymore computer time, dealing with the *ALWAYS* malfunctioning games computers, and straightening up the DVD shelf for the billionth time, plus the usual questions, check-out assistance, and phone calls.  All in a day's work :)

But one awkward situation did come up, thankfully while the children's librarian was still at the desk with me.  A little girl approached the desk and asked the librarian where such and such book was.  When she could not find it in the catalog, the librarian asked if she knew the author, to which the little girl replied "My Mimi wrote it", but she couldn't provide the name.  We were both inwardly cringing, expecting what we were about to hear, as the mom explained it was a book her mother-in-law had written, [self-]published, and "donated" to the library about a month ago, and she would think it should be on the shelf by now. 

I held my breath, my mind whirling with possible explanations, and wondering how much we should, or could, even tell them since *they* weren't the author.  If it was actually sent in as a "donation", it would have gone straight to the Friends for selling in the bookstore or to be recycled if deemed not sellable.  If it was sent in through proper channels as a submission for consideration to be added to the collection, then it would have to be reviewed by the youth services manager and children's librarians for each branch to determine if it met selection criteria.  Most of these self-published books end up being politely rejected.  Of course at that moment, we had no idea what had happened in this specific case, and you don't want to tell a little kid that Mimi's work might not have been up to snuff or could have been discarded like trash!

In the end, the librarian made the best possible choice in the situation and just truthfully said she didn't know what had happened to it, or where in the process it might be, and "they" just may not have gotten to it yet, without going into the possibilities, which is what I would have done as well.

But, it got me to thinking how others might have handled it, and how self-published books are handled in general, so I posed the question to an online group of children's librarians and other youth services professionals, and got a variety of answers.  Many commiserated with the uncomfortable situation of dealing with self-published books that often are not very good; it seems everyone thinks they can write a children's book these days.  Others felt torn, wanting to give new authors a chance, especially local ones, but were uneasy about adding such books to the general collection.  And a couple took a different tact, feeling that all local authors should be celebrated and promoted, by displaying their books prominently on a special shelf for local authors.

I do like the idea of having a local author shelf and helping to promote local talent, or at least give them a chance, then letting the public decide what stays and what goes via circulation.  I think this is a great idea for small-town libraries, but I wonder if it's feasible in larger libraries/systems?  How local is "local"?   And should there be *any* standard for inclusion?  After all, not all self-published authors have talent just waiting to be discovered like Christopher Paolini (whose self-published book Eragon was brought to the attention of a publisher by author Carl Hiaasen after his son read and enjoyed it); some are real stinkers!  I fear our system would be quickly over-run if we put every book written by any author in the greater region we serve on the shelves; there are already so many new picture books published by the major houses every year.  Maybe e-books would be a viable alternative?  

Any thoughts??

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