Librarian-Bookseller Panel Urges Programming Partnerships

June 27, 2011

You can’t go wrong if you attend a program that America’s favorite librarian Nancy Pearl has anything to do with, and the early risers who showed up for “Libraries and Bookstores: Strange Bedfellows?” this morning at the ALA Annual Conference in New Orleans weren’t disappointed.

Joining Pearl on this panel of librarians and booksellers were Salt Lake City Public Library Director Beth Elder and Betsy Burton of the King’s English Bookshop in Utah, Becky Anderson of Anderson’s Bookshops and Sarah Hill of Paris Cooperative High School in Illinois, and Ruth Liebmann of Random House.

Elder and Burton shared success stories based on the observation by Elder that libraries and bookstores share similar ambitions. “We care about the literary life of the community.” The duo posited that their common goal is “putting books in the hands of the people in our community,” largely through library programs featuring authors.

Anderson, who works with the Naperville Public Library, explained that their goal from the onset was “a live author instead of a dead one at the end of the program.” She urged librarians to partner with school libraries and other community literary and literacy initiatives. The library-bookstore cooperative programs have fostered author programs in Naperville with the likes of Jamie Lee Curtis appearing in person.

Liebmann said publishers are increasingly interested in working with libraries and bookstores that are not in major metropolitan areas. “The bookstore customer is the library patron; they do not compete with each other, and we know that is true,” she said.

Pearl said, “The limits of collaboration know no bounds” and asked the panelists if there is an obvious difference between bookstores and libraries, the bottom line notwithstanding. Anderson said, “We’re in the same business; I’ve never felt any problems with the relationship.” Liebmann noted “one cultural difference: Traditionally the booksellers have better access to the publishing community,” but she also said times have changed. “Salespeople are trying to connect better with libraries, and not just to write sales,” she said. “We need to get closer to the readers, which you guys are doing every day.”

Pearl urged librarians to reach out, first to the publishers and then contact bookstores, especially if they are dealing with large chain stores. “We need to step forward and say we would like to do this—that we would like to do collaboration with the publishers and think big and think outside the box.”

Liebmann cited studies that have shown that readers do buy books, especially as gifts. “They want to share.” She agreed with Pearl that “it is important to track success and then write to the publishers and tell what you can offer their author.” Liebmann went so far as to say that “most of our best ideas don’t come from the marketing muckety-mucks in New York.”

Pearl urged collaboration with local Rotary or literacy organizations. “Most organizations are looking to better the community,” she said, “and they believe that the library is the heart of the community and everything should happen there.”

Liebmann further encouraged librarians to take the lead: “Everyone’s second language is Excel in the publishing world, and libraries are important to publishers economically. You should feel that you are a big voice at the table, not just for cultural reasons but economic as well.”

In the end, the panel rejected the notion that libraries and bookstores are “strange bedfellows” and concluded that mutually beneficial partnerships for reading promotion are the only way to go.