If Content is King, Then it’s Time to Bow Down


Smart libraries have policies and procedures they follow when it comes to collection development. That’s nothing new and it’s a generally good thing. The very smart libraries are able to adapt those policies to a changing world, and folks, the world is changing pretty quickly.

Let me point you to a fairly regular policy in collection development that many libraries follow. See, a lot of libraries will not buy self-published materials for their collection. They want materials that have been reviewed, edited, published by big firms, get starred reviews in various journals, and that kind of thing. That’s okay, I completely understand that. As libraries, we cannot stock everything and, indeed, we should not stock everything. I’m sure your average community doesn’t need a book on the shelves bearing the title The Harcore Gentleman’s Guide to the Golden Age of Anal Sex. While that might be a thrilling read, it’s probably not your standard library material.

However, there’s a big change afoot in the publishing world and libraries would do well to take notice of it. Right now, four self-published authors are on the New York Times Bestseller List.

Okay, but your library doesn’t buy self-published books so… now what?

The thing is, self-published books can meet every single collection development criteria save two, the starred reviews in library related journals. Take a look at the self published books on NYT, indeed, let’s look at two of them, Slammed and Point of Retreat by Colleen Hoover. (As of this writing, they’re sitting at #8 and #18 on the NYT Bestseller List, resepectively.) Look at the publisher — it’s Colleen Hoover. It’s not Random House, not Penguin, not Simon & Schuster, and not HarperCollins. Colleen Hoover did that. So okay, it’s not published by a big publishing firm.

Now then, I can’t rightly speak to whether or not this book has been reviewed in library journals, but I bet it hasn’t, or it least it wasn’t until it hit the NYT. Why? Because library journals tend to follow the same criteria of not reviewing self-published books. This isn’t just short sighted, but it perpetuates the cycle of libraries not buying self-published items for the collection. After all, if the book needs to be reviewed in a journal, but the journal never reviews those kinds of books, it’ll never be bought. We live in an age where you can get reviews, up to the minute and just as current as your coffee is hot, yet many of us still rely on dead tree knowledge to make a decision. Funny that, since we’re regularly pushing online sources and databases to our patrons.

So no reviews in major library related publications and no big publishing firm. Okay, but are they reviewed? Well, they certainly made the NYT, so someone reviewed these things somewhere along the line. Has it been edited? Now that one irks me, because as an avid reader, I’ve found plenty of typos, mistakes, and general screw ups in professionally edited books published by every major publishing house in the United States. Folk, “professional editing” doesn’t mean “free from errors.”

But let me propose something radical, something that libraries need to look at as an addendum, amendment, addition, or overarching change to collection development policies. When faced with an item, any item you’d normally carry in your library; be it book, eBook, DVD, audio CD, or whatever; you need to ask yourself one big question before moving on to the other questions.

Do our patrons want this?

If the answer is yes, then that needs to carry a heavy weight over the next questions you ask. We talk about marketing our services and providing for our patrons, then the first thing we need to do is give them what they’re asking for. That’s why they come to our libraries in the first place. Jill didn’t get to see The Avengers in the cinema, but she’s got the DVD on hold. Rodger doesn’t want to just nip out and buy Fifty Shades of Grey, but he still wants to read it. Alicia is a fan of foreign films and wants to see the original Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. That’s what your patrons want and if you want them to use the library, then you better have that stuff.

If you don’t have it, someone else does.

And libraries wouldn’t even balk at that. There was minor controversy over Fifty Shades of Grey, but you know how that controversy ended? It ended when patron after patron, person after person, customer after customer, and reader after reader came into the library and asked “Do you have that Fifty Shades book? I really wanna read that.”

We’ve arrived at a new era in publishing where it no longer matters who published the item. As librarians, we’ve often hammered on the concept of “content is king.” Well if content is king, then delivery is secondary. That nobody self-published author that you’ve never heard of? They’re  suddenly a sensation. Are your patrons clamouring for that author’s books?

You damn well better have them on the way, or you lose yet another person to Amazon.


  1. I should send your post to the director of my library. Over 2000 people waiting on Overdrive for Fifty Shades, tons of book requests, and she still refuses to buy it or even accept donations.

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