So yesterday I was at the library, waiting on my kid's book club meeting to wrap up (yes, I've passed the love of literature on to the next generation--so proud :). I decided to partake of the Quiet Zone, try to get a little writing in while I waited.
When I was a kid, the entire library was the Quiet Zone, but times have changed. Libraries have changed. Of course we still need to be respectful of those there reading, studying and so forth, but it's no longer a place where letting out a laugh over a funny story will earn you a harsh look and a shhhh! from a matronly librarian--unless you're in the Quiet Zone, or being obnoxiously loud.
And that's far from the only way modern libraries differ from their back-when selves. I remember the only seating available being straight-backed wooden chairs, like the ones paired with school desks, so uncomfortable that the constant fidgeting would keep you awake while the teacher droned on about The War of 1812 in a dry monotone (everybody had a teacher with that voice, right?).
Now, you'll find cushy living room style chairs in conversational groupings around coffee tables--and you're even allowed to drink coffee. At my local library, you're welcome to bring your own in a travel cup or partake of the offerings from the Starbucks vending machine. Some libraries even have their own coffee shops, such as this one in Elmhurst, Illinois and this one in North Little Rock, Arkansas. They even serve food--I'm not sure as to those libraries policies in regard to eating near the stacks, but my local library allows it, at least with vending machine sorts of fare.
So what's the point of relaxing the once-rigid rules? Making the library a place to hang out rather than simply checking out books or making use of reference materials and being on your way, all part of the modern library's effort to retain and attract patronage in an age when so many entertainment and leisure time activities are vying for everyone's attention. See this Wall Street Journal article discussing how far some libraries are going, offering classes and clubs and demonstrations far beyond the usual norm.
I've heard it said that libraries are dying, no longer relevant and so on, but according to statistics from the American Library Association, thankfully, that isn't the case.
For me personally, I don't even need the coffee and comfortable seating. The mere presence of so many books, the smell of the paper and binding, the sense of wonder...all still as magical as it ever was. Simply being there, I feel like a kid again, thrilled to be in a place where I can travel anywhere via the pages of a book, with a seemingly infinite number of worlds to explore.
And I still feel nervous when the librarians walk by, thinking I'm about to be scolded for something. You'd think that nervous couldn't possibly be a good feeling, but that sort is, due to the memories it invokes, taking me back to all the hours spent in my local library as a kid, the joy of getting my very own library card, searching through the shelves for each book that would become part of the towering stack I'd take home, that would be mine all mine, at least for a few weeks. Even back then, I wondered if I might write something that would find a home on those shelves someday.
Which brings us back to the present, and a subject I realized I'd never researched: how is it that self-published authors get their books into libraries? Since self-pub is the route I'll ultimately take with longer works, definitely an important subject, and I'd always imagined that I could just donate a few copies that would find their way onto the shelves.
Nope, at least not via my local library's donation policy, which seems fairly representative of the whole. The American Library Association states here that "Most public libraries in the United States accept gift books with the proviso that the library is free to decide whether to keep the book in the library's collection, put it in a book sale to raise funds for the library, or discard it".
I've checked quite a few specific library's policies, and haven't found one yet that routinely puts donated books on the shelves. I'd imagine they might make an exception for established bestsellers, but otherwise, donations end up in the "Friends of the Library" sale area (or whatever it's called in that particular system), or the recycle bin. To have a shot at finding a book a proper library home, those I've researched require the equivalent of a query letter listing the book's identifying info, a synopsis, any reviews from recognized review sources, sales data...specifics might vary, but overall, that's the gist.
Quite a bit different than what I'd envisioned, but it makes sense. No library has unlimited shelf space, after all, so they couldn't possibly accept every donated item that finds its way through the door. And their requirements don't exactly present an insurmountable challenge, if your book sees some success.
Regardless of whether or not anything of mine ever finds its way onto the hallowed shelves, I'll always see the library as a magical place, the place that facilitated my love of reading and helped to nurture my love of writing.
If you haven't visited a library in awhile, go. Even though they appear to be adapting to the changing times, they still need our support, and we can always benefit from a dose of magic.