January 16, 2022

SELF-e Comes to Cuyahoga | Self-Publishing and Libraries

LaRue_color_newSELF-e is the partnership between Library Journal and Charleston, SC’s BiblioLabs. A BiblioLabs product, Biblioboard, is a platform that seeks to bring (among other things) self-published works into the library ecosystem.

I spoke recently with Hallie Rich, Cuyahoga County Public Library’s communications and external relations director, about the library’s pilot project with the platform.

It all began when LJ reached out to the Cuyahoga team about a year ago. In October of this year the library did a soft launch, then rolled out a call to local writers and writer groups. It culminated in a talk by BiblioLabs’ Mitchell Davis, and a discussion panel of local authors.

Mitchell Davis of BiblioLabs speaks at the Cuyahoga Public Library SELF-E launch event

Mitchell Davis of BiblioLabs speaks at the Cuyahoga Public Library SELF-e launch event

I asked Rich why the library was interested in the pilot. Her answer: “we have been looking for technology to help support a really strong local writing community here. We’ve been keeping an eye on the growth of self-publishing, and know that our writing classes fill up instantly. We particularly liked the idea of LJ‘s ‘quality assurance’—and the opportunity for local writing to be recognized by the LJ seal of approval.”

I asked her how the new platform works for a local writer. In brief:

  • The local author (someone who has or claims to have a local library card) goes to the library website and uploads an EPUB or PDF.
  • BiblioBoard staff briefly review the content to check that it isn’t illegal—for example, child pornography or plagiarism. However, beyond that, there are no other filters. (In a future column I’ll address the potential for mischief here—imagine a file that is part plagiarized work, part link to pornography, and part malicious code. You know it’s coming.)
  • Authors may indicate that they wish their works to be considered for LJ curation. This gives authors the opportunity to find a nationwide library reader audience.
  • Alternatively, authors may indicate that they only want their works to be made available locally: local authors for local readers. In this case, it seems that the title will probably be accepted by the library as a matter of course.
  • BiblioBoard will eventually provide MARC records. At present, the 50 titles submitted in the first month to Cuyahoga will be distinct from the ILS, or regular catalog. Cuyahoga is waiting for a “critical mass” before they import the titles to the general catalog: 50 wouldn’t be a problem; 5,000 might be.

The project is still new enough that none of the titles has yet been made available to readers (though when they are, they will be more like a “streaming,” or in-browser book, than a download). So far, most of the submissions by local authors seem to be fiction, with a smattering of poetry, self-help, and health and fitness.

So far, that strong writing community is keenly interested in this initiative. While authors don’t get paid for the books they upload to SELF-e, they do get (potentially) national exposure at precisely the moment when many library users are scrambling for enough good digital content.

Local authors speak at Cuyahoga Public Library's SELF-e launch event

Local authors speak at Cuyahoga Public Library’s SELF-e launch event

Some authors have asked, What happens if their books really take off?

Since BiblioBoard runs on an unlimited, simultaneous use model, libraries themselves won’t need to buy more copies if they find they have a hit on their hands. However, authors can sell their later books to libraries through other means. They can even remove their BiblioBoard submission at any time and sell it, too, elsewhere. Since BiblioBoard distribution is nonexclusive, they can even simultaneously use SELF-e and try to drive library purchases through print-on-demand via other platforms.

At present, the main value proposition to authors and readers is that this is a platform to greatly expand discovery, eventually leading to purchases of these and later books, not just by libraries, but by new fans who find the books through the library. The value to libraries is that it encourages librarians to begin to get their arms around a whole new channel of content.

I asked Rich if she thought there would be local consumer demand. “Oh yes,” she said. “It’s kind of fun to read what your neighbor wrote! And I expect to see some works about local history, or of local interest.” We also talked about the possibility of the library teaming up with local media to offer longer nonfiction writing—say, a 25,000-word piece of local investigative reporting.

Thus far, she said, there have been “no hiccups relative to the technology.” Of course, she cautioned, it’s still in beta, and she fully anticipates that there will be questions to which library staff won’t immediately have the answers.

Meanwhile, Rich said, she’s “excited to have the opportunity to pilot with BiblioBoard and LJ, because we think it will be of such tremendous value to our writers and readers.”