WHY WE FIGHT: SAVE OHIO’S LIBRARIES

These are grim times to be someone who makes their living with words.

I’ve already stood witness to the decimation of the newspaper trade. I’m watching the New York publishing industry repeat many of the same mistakes their newspaper brethren made the past five to ten years. Print journalism was pushed to the brink of financial self-endangerment well before the economy went south.

As I write this, Shaman Drum, a terrific bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan, is counting down the minutes until its shuttering. Many, many independent bookstores have closed and many more are on the bubble. The publishing industry seems be fretting over one of the nation’s three major bookstore chains and booksellers everywhere are turning a hopeful eye to Dan Brown to deliver a solid fourth quarter.

Now, the Ohio library system is facing a 50-percent funding cut that will certainly result in the death of many, many Ohio libraries if the budget is enacted. This proposed cut is in addition to the 20-percent budget reduction originally projected for 2009. Ohio Governor Ted Strickland’s proposed budget will be going before legislators in a few days.

The critical objective now is to compel this governor, who has always talked about his commitment to education, to continue funding the state’s libraries which are a vital aspect of the education of not just Ohio’s youth, but its adult and senior population, as well.

Libraries remain a vital component of our cultural and educational experience. As the father of two young girls, I’m spending this summer trekking from library branch to branch as they both pursue the quest to complete multiple summer reading challenges. Each of the girls has their own library card and their pride in having those cards is palpable.

I certainly remember the feeling. My daughters’ cards are hard plastic and bar-coded. My library card was a flimsy piece of cardboard with an inset metal plate with reverse numbers that passed through an inking-stamp system…you know, back in the day when library books had pockets with inserted cards that allowed you to track every previous reader of that particular edition.

Was a time, I could have told you my library card number; was a time, I lived in fear of forgetting to take the thing from my pocket and having it pulped in the washing machine.

It was an adventure being taken to the library by my aunt and trying to systematically work my way through the Grove City Public Library’s entire collection of dinosaur books and “Alfred Hitchcock and The Three Investigators” titles.

During my middle school and high school years, I worked as a library page. My first paying job was working in the Grove City library where I spent so many hours reading and looking for books.

As all commercially published novelists and nonfiction writers know, a substantial percentage of nationwide book sales are owed to library purchasing. If you are a career author, you must realize that libraries continue to matter to you on several deep and personal levels.

So, the drive is on over the next few days to shame Ohio politicians into doing the right thing and rescinding/rejecting a proposed budget cut that no conscientious and right-minded public representative should have ever contemplated making, let alone proposing.

You can email Ohio Governor Ted Strickland’s office here to voice your support for Ohio libraries.

If you’re the more pithy type, drop Ohio’s governor a note via his Facebook page.

Subscribing to the proposition that all politics are local politics, you might also consider writing your personal Ohio representative.

You can also learn more about ways to strike a blow for Ohio libraries here.

And, if you’re on Twitter, you can show support by using the image above as your own Twitter icon and using #saveohiolibraries tag to improve “trending topic” weight and assist in the effort to gain increased media attention for the campaign to save Ohio’s libraries.

This is a GOOD FIGHT; join the cause.

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Comment by Craig McDonald on June 25, 2009 at 9:05am
There's probably a tipping point here.

That is to say, in the early going, library sales are critical to your survival as a start-up author. I've heard statistics to the effect there are about 250 libraries in the state of Ohio. There are upwards of 9,000 central libraries in the U.S. (that doesn't encompass branches). One sale to every "central" library in the U.S. can sustain a writer's career. That said, when you reach a certain level of success, that library proposition perhaps becomes undesirable from an author's perspective (a very nice problem to have).

Obviously, I'm all for more compensation for authors, and in some ways, that two-month delay sounds enticing...almost a mirror of the film system of theatrical release, then DVD release, followed by pay-per-view distribution. However, having run this delay concept by a few in the library industry, I'm told it wouldn't work as we might wish to think. The likely result, I hear, is that library purchasers would:

1. Lose the appeal for patrons in terms of offering current releases;
2. (And this would be a killer for many in our writing community) Place more weight on reviews and critical/market reception of individual titles in making library purchases. Under the present system, many titles are purchased per force of publication. That wouldn't be the case in a library-delay-purchase world.

And not to put to fine a point on it, but again, there are several publishers whose entire marketing plan is directed to library purchase (predominantly cozies — I don't read 'em but I don't wish 'em ill). As individual library's fail, so will those publishers and their respective authors.
Comment by I. J. Parker on June 25, 2009 at 8:06am
I see no reason why we shouldn't have the Canadian system. I can't survive in print on library sales. And I also see no reason why they shouldn't delay their purchase for 2 months. Let's be fair here.
Comment by Craig McDonald on June 25, 2009 at 12:24am
Naomi:
Indeed, and as the author book tour moves closer to apparent extinction, I'm seeing more novelists in the Midwest moving into area libraries to promote and sell their books.
Comment by Craig McDonald on June 25, 2009 at 12:20am
I.J.:

But from another perspective, particularly for first-time authors in the age of BookScan which can kill a writer dead within a book or two, library sales can and do comprise a significant portion of an author's per-title sales.

Also, as so few books remain in print, libraries become the de facto repository of many an author's backlist. (In fact, many mid-list authors are signed with publishing companies that exist pretty much just to service the library market...those titles never see a bookstore shelf.)

Accepting your premise for the need for increased compensation for authors, the fact remains in Ohio, the bulk of libraries receive ALL of their funding from the state budget and they're already on the ropes from a drastic cut made earlier this year.

Strickland's proposal, if enacted, will ravage Ohio libraries.
Comment by I. J. Parker on June 25, 2009 at 12:10am
The libraries need to pay authors (and publishers) for use. We lose innumerable sales every year. They also need to allow at least two months after release of a book for the book to make a few sales before it appears on the library shelves. Nobody argues that libraries aren't great for this country, but in other countries authors are modestly indemnified for their loss of sales.
Comment by Craig McDonald on June 24, 2009 at 10:46pm
Joe, thanks so much for the great link, and thanks to Lesa Holstine for that post.
What's been dismaying to me is how few authors have weighed in on this issue. (Neil Gaiman being the exception I'm aware of.) Ohio has produced a number of high-profile authors who should be stepping up in this campaign, but so far...

And there's the other thing: if Ohio's governor pulls off this cut, you can bet others will follow him down this sorry path, decimating library systems across the country.
Comment by Joe Barone on June 24, 2009 at 9:02pm
Here's another post on this same subject--

http://lesasbookcritiques.blogspot.com/2009/06/save-ohio-libraries-and-maybe-your-own.html

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