I’ve had a lot of fun interviewing indie authors over the last two years. I hadn’t done many interviews, unlike other book bloggers, because I had to put in a lot of purchase requests to get my library to buy just a few.
But once I figured out the library would buy some carefully curated indie MG titles, I focused on those I thought sounded like genuinely good reads, or filled a niche I hadn’t seen in traditional publishing.
The result was a wonderful two years of interviews and getting to meet new and different indie authors. I genuinely am impressed by how much work they put into their books, covers, formatting, marketing and more, and with what they’ve been able to accomplish.
Then in June it all came to an end.
Basically, my local library can no longer purchase indie pubbed stuff. Period.
I wrote an email, asking why a request to purchase the prequel to Douglas Meredith’s wonderful science-based Mars colony MG Generation Mars series, Scratching the Surface, had been denied, with a note that the library’s vendor could not acquire the title.
Especially since my library had already acquired two others in the series, books 1 and 2, Air and Shelter, a few months prior, in March.
Here’s the response I got:
"PCPL is required to purchase materials from vendors with whom we have contracts. Every 3-5 years we have to go out for bid, there is a whole process with Pima Co Procurement because the library’s book budget is so large. Previously we have had Baker & Taylor, Ingram, and Brodart all at the same time, which was great to be able to check multiple places for the same item, especially for independently published titles. Each company carries slightly different materials, may have different quantities in stock, etc.
Unfortunately, this is where I have bad news for you. Contracts were up this year, the bidding happened, new contracts awarded…and we don’t have Ingram anymore. We only have Baker & Taylor and Brodart. Both Air and Shelter by Meredith were bought from Ingram. Even though Scratching the Surface is slightly older, it’s part of a series and we would have tried to get it.
Losing Ingram as a vendor is going to be a big adjustment for both staff and customers. You can keep asking for Ingram titles and we will check our current vendors, but be prepared for them to be denied. I’m sorry. "
Now, I’m dedicated to reading and reviewing books from my library. It’s an equal access thing. As a former teacher, I know many kids don’t / can’t buy books. If they do, they usually have to go through some sort of wallet / $$ gatekeeper – a parent, teacher or a school librarian – to even get to a book.
The public library is bigger than a school library and kids have access to more and more varied titles than they do in a school setting. To be clear, I’m not dinging school librarians, who are absolute warriors in this latest round of book challenges and removals from school library shelves. But the titles they purchase may be / increasingly are being moderated and gatekeeped by school boards, principals, etc.
At the public library, with library cards in hand, kids can checkout at automated stations, no one looking over their shoulders, and walk out with the books of their choices. There are multiple branches they can walk / bike to, instead of just their schools'. That's super important in a city like ours, with many charter and magnet schools. Where I live, kids don't always live in the neighborhood near their school, but chances are, there's a public library not too far away. Or, they can use their phones to check out ebooks, totally on their own, independently, at any hour of the day / night. They're not limited to school library hours.
But most importantly for kids, checking out books is free. They don't have to spend a penny, which is super important in a city with as much poverty as mine. (Note: Public libraries are not free. That’s a common misconception. They’re supported by taxpayers and homeowners like my husband and I, but it’s a tax we’re more than willing to pay.)
So I’m going to have to think long and hard about what I’m going to do going forward. As I see it, I have a couple of options:
1. Purchase indie books for review (something kids can’t do)
2. Sign up with a review service like NetGalley for free ARCs (another thing kids can’t do)
3. Switch to requesting my library purchase more small publisher books and interviewing those authors on the successes / pitfalls they’ve encountered.
I haven’t decided quite yet, but for the moment #3 is looking good. I have a few authors published by small presses in mind, already. Now I just need to do the reading and make contacts.
I’m really sad about this, but there’s little I can do.
The only thing I would’ve done differently is perhaps attended the county board meetings where the RFP parameters were set, if there were such meetings, and voiced my concern. Sadly, often those things are decided entirely only by county budget / procurement staff, with input from library staff, so I’m not sure that would’ve been an option.
And I've been unable to figure out if Ingram even responds to RFPs, like my county's recent one. I'd have to do more digging, which I haven't had time to do.
So at this point, the best I can hope for is this issue is considered / brought up at the next RFP. In 3-5 years.
I’m supremely sad there’s a TON of fantastic MG lit kids in my city will be totally cut off from.
Really, really, really sad.