Getting Your Self Published Book in a Library Part Two: Donating Your Book to a Library

This is the third in a series of posts by Eseme. The Intro; Part One

Getting Your Self Published Book in a Library Part Two
Donating Your Book to a Library

Thanks for reading Part One, and thanks for coming back. I will warn you now, this is REALLY long. Sorry, but there is a lot of stuff here.

When we left of, I was saying that it is hard to get a library to buy your book. But there is another way to get your book into a library: donate your book to the library.

This is in some ways easier. The library doesn’t have to buy your book. They don’t have to justify it on their budget. This makes it much easier for the library, which makes it more likely to succeed. However, I will admit that this is clearly not easier for you, the author. You have to get a physical copy of your book, which means that you need to pay for it. And then give it away. So this is not for everyone. However, I would consider it marketing expense, the same way that getting review copies to reviewers (either at a local paper or a book blog) is a marketing expense. Your intent is to find new readers. So plan this the way you would any other advertising. Start local, with your local library. Maybe visit a library in a larger town nearby. Find out if your state library has a fiction collection of in-state authors. I know that the state library in Maine tries to get copies of books written by state residents (though I do not know if they consider
self-published books).

And that brings me to the first problem with donating a book to a library. The library does not have to add it to the collection. Many libraries simply put all donations into their book sale. Some libraries pull only the books that are current, popular, and in good condition for their collection. Libraries also may apply their regular Acquisition Policies to donated books (if they would not buy it, they don’t take it as a donation). This varies library to library.

And I will also admit that some librarians simply don’t like self-published books. Like bookstore owners, librarians have seen a lot of self-published books, and have likely seen the wide range in quality. I know I have. Yes, we know about vanity presses like Publish America. Libraries are a lot less likely to take a book from the Publish America’s out there, but I’m assuming you know about those scams. If not, visit Writer Beware or Absolute Write’s forums. You can google them.

While a lot of more recent self-published books are vastly improved, the stereotypes you are battling have had time to form at libraries. At least one library I have worked for would not take donations of self-published books (they went right in the recycling or the book sale). Granted, that was about five years ago, and my current employer is much more open minded, but those prejudices are still out there. So, just like policies regarding donated books, this will vary library to library.

Fortunately, you can find out what your local library will do with a donated book, or whether they accept self-published books simply by asking. Go in and explain that you are a local author, and that you would like to donate a copy of your book. Use this opportunity to ask what the library does with donated books, and books by local authors (some libraries are more likely to buy a book by a local author, and see Part Four for reasons why). The worst thing that happens is that they explain that they cannot take your book, or that it would go in the library book sale. You can then decide what to do.


If possible, go during normal business hours. The people who are working the circulation desk may or may not be the people who make decisions about adding books to the collection. The people who make those decisions are more likely to be in the building during normal business hours. However, more likely is not a guarantee. They may be in a meeting, or working the night shift and coming in later, or running a program, or the person on the circulation desk who is busy right now. If you can’t go in person, you can call during business hours.

Try not to show up in the middle of a program, or on a very busy Saturday. You want someone to be able to talk to you for a couple of minutes, so if you check the library website and there is a program scheduled when you planned to go in, change the time.

Don’t lie about the book being self-published. You probably don’t want to lead with that, but if the librarian asks, tell the truth.

Have an insert for your book – a sheet of paper with the title, genre (if it is not otherwise clear, and it’s worth it to write it down even if you think it is clear), your name and contact information, and a plot summary (the whole thing, with spoilers). I’ll tell you why this is useful later. The other thing to have is any reviews your book has gotten, even if it is off a blog or website. Having some idea of how readers react to your book helps librarians make a decision.

Don’t be pushy. You want to make a good impression. A lot of these tips are pretty common sense stuff, but it is easy to get excited about your book, and that can sometimes come across as pushiness.

What will probably happen is that the person you want to talk to is busy, and the person working on the desk is busy too. They will explain that they can take the book, but that someone else will decide if it is added to the collection. If you don’t want your book in the book sale, you can decline. Even if you do speak to the person who ultimately makes the decision (they may be the library director or the librarian who manages that section – for example I would make the decision if a donated book was science fiction or fantasy) they may well say the same thing. Librarians like to get more info about a book, and tend not to make snap decisions. But talking to you, learning more about the book, and most importantly, learning that you are a local author, can sway that decision. Some librarians will make the decision quickly and tell you. Others won’t, to avoid saying no and hurting your feelings.

Personally, I’d say to leave your book, even if it ends up in the book sale, as it is likely to find a reader even then. You may not want it in the book sale selling for a quarter. It’s your call. You may be able to get a sense of whether the person who makes the decision seems likely to add it.

If you decide to drop off your book, be patient before you head into the library again and look for it on the shelf (or go to the website and search the catalog). Because the next hurdle your book has to face is getting into the library database. This is done by a cataloger, and adding your book is inherently harder and more time consuming than adding a book put out by Big Publishing.

There are two basic types of cataloging. The first is called copy cataloging. It is basically what it sounds like – a librarian adds a book to the local database by copying a record from another database. Computers allow one library to buy a book, make a record for it, and then other libraries can copy that record. It’s much faster than everyone making their own record, and it’s how nearly all books from Big Publishers get into the databases of libraries.

Your book is almost certainly headed for the other type of cataloging, called original cataloging. As a self-published author, there is probably not another record for your book for the cataloger to copy. So the cataloger has to make the record themselves. This will take anywhere from thirty minutes to an hour. There is a lot of information in a good library record, and it has to be typed up by a person who will have to find all the information they need, and then check it two or three times for typos and other errors. So the cataloger may very well put your book aside, and work on the big pile of other books and movies and audiobooks that they can work through quickly. They’ll wait until they have a lull in new materials, and then they will take their stack of oddball books that need original cataloging and work on it. This can take weeks.

Sorry – catalogers are busy people whose work is never done (there are always more items to catalog) and they often have other duties and help out at the circulation or reference desk. You could call, and ask. Just remember that libraries get a lot of donations, and they don’t write down what happens to each one. If it is on a cataloger’s desk, it can probably be located (though catalogers’ desks are giant piles of books…) but if it is in a box for the book sale, the staff doesn’t have time to go looking.

When the cataloger does get to your book, what do they need to know? They need the title, the author’s name and possibly date of birth (more on that later), the ISBN, the publisher, the place of publication, the year of publication, a physical description (number of pages, illustrations (if any), and height (yes, I have a tape measure in my desk)), a summary one to two sentences long, any pertinent notes (like the fact that you are a local author), and one two three subjects. Yes, all that, and some other things we have to add to the computer file. So a summary of your book (with spoilers) will help the cataloger figure out a subject. The genre will help the cataloger when it comes to subjects too. And being able to contact you helps a lot.

You see, every author in the library database has to be unique. If two authors have the same name, like Bruce Smith, it makes a mess. Bruce A. Smith writes true crime novels with crime scene photos. Bruce B. Smith writes books for kids. If the library owns the first Bruce Smith’s books, and he is listed as Bruce Smith because that is the name on his books, and you are the second Bruce Smith, you don’t really want your books mixed in with his in the catalog. And the library doesn’t either. The first guy gets to be Bruce Smith. All other people with that name who get added later are designated by their middle initial (only if used on the book cover) or birth year, so you would be Bruce Smith, 1980-. This indicates that you are a different Bruce Smith, and there will be something called an authority record that lists your name, birthdate, and the name of one of your books, and it exists to prevent your books from getting mixed up with another Bruce Smith.
So leave an email address, because we catalogers care and we want to get it right.

Then your book goes on the shelf, like all the others. It should be on the new book shelf, but not every library will put it there. If it isn’t, you’ll love Part Four, which will talk about Author Events at libraries – yes, there are ways to help people find your book even if it is not on the new book display. And if the library didn’t add your book to the collection? An author event can still help you out. But next, we’ll have a brief diversion into the world of eBooks in libraries.

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8 thoughts on “Getting Your Self Published Book in a Library Part Two: Donating Your Book to a Library

    • My married IRL name, for many years, only showed me when you googled it. Husband’s last name is rather uncommon. That’s one reason everything I do writing-wise is under a pen name. (There don’t seem to be many Lyn Thorne-Alders out there, either). Eye-opening was what I hoped for when I asked Es to write these, yes 😀

    • Glad you like it! I’m hoping this will help authors understand some of what they may hear from library staff. We do have sane reasons for not accepting every donation – one I forgot to mention is space. Libraries do not have room for everything!

    • Sadly, there’s a bunch of “Deirdre Murphy”s out there! I think I’m the only Wyld_Dandelyon, though.

  1. One thing I forgot to mention – don’t just copy your reviews into one Word document and print that. Please also include the name and address of the website that reviewed your book, or a photocopy of the print magazine it was in (with the title of the magazine written in if it does not appear on the page). We want to look up the reviews. Sadly, people have been known to fake reviews, but even if they did not, we want to see other reviews by the person who reviewed your book, so we can get an idea of what their viewpoint is. It helps us see your review in context.

  2. Доброго времени суток! Не вижу условия использования информации. Можно ли копировать написанный вами текст на свой блог, если ставить ссылку на эту страницу?

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