By Paula Margulies
From the time I was old enough to hold a book in my hands, I've been a huge fan of public libraries. Some of my earliest and best memories are of trips with my mother to our local library, where I could pick up to seventeen books at a time (the maximum allowed then) to take home and read. I was seven years old when I got my first library card, and I still remember my initial selections: a couple of Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries, a Zane Grey novel (pushed on me by my mom), a collection of Greek mythology, and what was to become one of my all-time favorite books, Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. I was a voracious reader and blew through so many books that sometimes we made two trips to the library in one week.
When my children were little (they're both teenagers now), I continued the tradition and brought them on outings to our public library branch here in San Diego. We checked out all their favorites and read every book that had a series, including Curious George, Dirty Harry, Dr. Seuss, Corduroy, Babar the Elephant, and Madeline. As my kids got older, we graduated to Harry Potter and the Narnia series. My son doesn't read as much now as he used to, but when he does, he goes for fantasy and video-game related novels. My daughter enjoys young adult fiction and will often blast through a book in one day.
When I'm away at an artist residency or on vacation, my first priority is checking out the local library. One of my most treasured possessions is my Hawaii state library card, which is good on any of the islands. Last year, while staying on the Big Island for a residency, I visited five branches during my trip. Some, like the Na'alehu branch, are housed in tiny trailers. The Hilo branch has a huge central open-air courtyard encased by windows and visible from all four sides of the stacks and Internet carrels that surround it. I've been to some equally gorgeous and unique libraries in California, Oregon, Florida, Hawaii, and Vermont, and can’t wait to pick up library cards in trips to future states.
Now that I'm an author and publicist, I confess that I don't get to read as much as I would like. But I still visit my local public library and do my best to get my kids to go with me (harder to do now, with their busy schedules). The branch that I frequent doesn't open until 12:30 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. On those days, I'm often one of the twenty or so individuals congregated outside the door in the sunshine, eagerly awaiting the moment when the librarian slides the Closed sign to Open and lets us in.
The crowds outside the door at my library are not unique to San Diego. Despite the preponderance of reading content available on the Internet, the American Library Association (ALA) reports that public library card registration is at an all-time high. Poll data released by Harris Interactive in September, 2008, confirms that in-person visits to libraries are up 10 %, compared with a 2006 ALA survey. The report also says that three quarters (76%) of Americans with a library card have visited their local libraries in the past year, compared with 65.7 % two years ago. And 68% of Americans own a library card, which represents a 5% increase since 2006.
This upswing in public library usage is gratifying, particularly since so many of us can now easily purchase books from online sites like Amazon.com. Whether it's due to our struggling economy or appreciation for one of the greatest public services offered in this country, Americans love their libraries. In fact, the Harris poll states that a whopping 92% of Americans say they view their local library as an important educational resource.
As a book publicist, it's no surprise that I urge my clients to hold signings at public libraries. These institutions offer terrific opportunities to reach an entirely different audience than those at bookstores. Many libraries are willing to order books for signings and do great jobs of promoting events through newsletters, flyers, press releases to the media, and email outreach. Some libraries will showcase authors, placing books, posters, and signage in their lobbies or designated areas for announcements or featured items. And they’re open to all types of writing, embracing traditionally published, self-published, and print-on-demand authors equally.
Many libraries have dedicated sections for local authors, so every writer with a published book should be sure to get it housed in at least one branch in the local system. Authors can introduce their books to other libraries across the country by sending email inquiries and/or visiting the library websites for submission requirements.
A great resource for locating libraries across the country can be found at http://www.publiclibraries.com. Other links of interest for library lovers include: www.publiclibraries.com/world.htm, for a listing of libraries by country; http://www.loc.gov/, the Library of Congress website; www.librarysites.info, for all things library-related, including U.S. libraries, presidential libraries, and library associations; and www.bookwire.com/index/US-libraries.html, for web links to U.S., international, college, and specialty libraries.
Paula Margulies is a book publicity and promotions expert in San Diego, California. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit her website at www.paulamargulies.com.
Photo of the reading room in the New York Public Library courtesy of stephenk1977.