Six Degrees Left: Tightening the Bond Between Libraries and Small Presses, Part Two


Last week, the discussion covered the need for small press/indie books in libraries and the goal of the library. Read last week’s conversation. This week, we begin to get further into exactly what libraries are looking for, how they should be contacted, and the kinds of events where small presses and librarians can meet.

Thanks to Jefferey Lependorf, Executive Director to CLMP (Council of Literary Magazines and Presses) and SPD (Small Press Distribution), Sarah Houghton, Director for the San Rafael Public Library and author of, Karen Gisonny, the Helen Bernstein Librarian for Periodicals at the New York Public Library, and Jamie LaRue, the Director of Douglas County Libraries for participating.

 A child's garden of verses (1905)

The following conversation is conducted by Atticus Books publicity assistant Abby Hess.


Who is the best contact to reach within a library when a small press would like to market their books?

Sarah Houghton: Head of Collections or, in a smaller library, the head of Children’s or Adult services (depending on the audience ages for the titles offered).

Jamie LaRue: At our size library (serving a population of 300,000 people, and an annual collection budget of $3.5 million) contacts should go to our Acquisitions Manager (same as Head of Collection).

Karen Gisonny:  Contact should be made with Collection Development Librarian.


How much of a librarian’s allotted budget for books goes to newly found books, that is, books that have not been specifically requested by patrons, books that are in high demand, or books that are wanted as replacements for older copies?

Sarah Houghton: We do not set a specific amount for this. I would be surprised if any library did, quite frankly.

Jamie LaRue: No, we don’t either. It’s more dynamic. We’ve worked out a rough ratio of format: a third adult print, a third children’s materials, a third media. And now eBooks, so all of those have to be refigured, too. (Sigh)

Karen Gisonny:  There is no set amount either but the majority of NYPL’s book budget is for new books.


How does a consortium help a library?  Would it be easier or more difficult for small presses to market their books to consortia?

Sarah Houghton: Consortia help us in consolidating resources, purchasing things together and sharing services.  For example, our consortium provides us with a shared catalog and automation system, we share databases and eBooks collections, and we share an inter-library delivery service throughout our county.   Selection is rarely done on the consortial level, however, so marketing individual selections (like books, as opposed to large aggregate eBooks collections) would be harder to accomplish at the consortium level.

Jamie LaRue: I think the greatest value of consortia from the small press perspective is that it simplifies both negotiation and acquisition. For instance, a “deal” (price, sales) might be offered and promoted to the consortia, who might then aggregate the various orders for purchase. Many libraries try to hold down the number of vendors to deal with (to reduce order hassles, overhead, billing issues, etc.), which is why so many of us only purchase through a big distributor (Baker and Taylor, Ingrams). Another opportunity, perhaps often overlooked, is for small press publishers to push author programs. If an author is in the area, why not book them in several libraries, or combine library audiences? This can generate enormous enthusiasm in an author’s books. The public won’t care whether they’re big commercial or small press authors if they have an interesting topic.

Karen Gisonny: Consortia is very important to libraries, most significantly to ease space and budget issues. NYPL has a shared storage space and several collaborative collection development pilot projects underway in electronic resources and foreign language materials. I don’t see a big difference in marketing to individual libraries or a consortia.


A child's garden of verses (1913)What steps can small presses take to open up communication with libraries?

Sarah Houghton: Send email or printed materials, highlight reviews, highlight what it is about your title(s) that you think will appeal to our specific user groups.  We get so much marketing material every day that unless it stands out in some way, it goes into the trash.

Jeffrey Lependorf: One way is through a publishers distributor. Distributors such as Small Press Distribution and Consortium Book Sales, both of which focus on small press literary titles, specifically reach out to librarians. I suspect that most librarians would not have the capacity to be able to communicate with every individual publisher (and by extension, author), and probably prefer to work with a distributor (or, more specifically, a “jobber”: the customary middleman between a distributor and a library). When it comes to these smaller, literary-focused distributors, many libraries will take part in what are know as “approval plans,” where a certain number of books on certain topics or of certain genres will be sent to them automatically on a regular basis as they are published and available. These can be tailored to the specific needs of any individual library and are quite popular. Information for approval plans for librarians with SPD can be found here. I also invite all librarians to sign up for SPD’s free “SPD Recommends” e-newsletter, which comes out twice a month and highlights the very best new small press books. Sign up here (or simply go to and click “Sign up here” on the Newsletter tab on the left).

Karen Gisonny: NYPL has worked with SPD for close to 20 years now extremely successfully. Our approval plan with SPD is the backbone of our independent, literary press collection. NYPL is also partnering with SPD this year on an NEA project “Using Metadata to Reach Readers”  which will look at ways to increase the reach of independent literary publishing by identifying the digital book information most needed by librarians in deciding what books to buy. I’d also encourage small presses to reach out to librarians to create collaborative programs around small presses and collections.

Jamie LaRue: Not much to add to the above, except to underscore author programming as a way to get some visibility. I wonder, too, if it might be possible to plan together on some interesting display ideas. Can publishers team up to offer rotating collections and displays?


What steps can libraries take to open up communication with small presses?

Jeffrey Lependorf: In addition to receiving SPD’s newsletter, and then communicating directly with publishers that might seem of particular interest (or simply visiting their individuals websites), here are a couple of suggestions:

1) If possible, attend the AWP (Associated Writers & Writing Programs conference). It features what has become the nation’s single largest gathering of small press publishers, many of whom have booths featuring their wares, their catalogues, and their publishers (!) in the Book Fair portion of the conference. It’s free to the public on the Saturday of any given conference as well.

2) Peruse the free, online Directory of CLMP Members online, and click away to view the homepages of small publishers.

Sarah Houghton:  I have no idea, but I like Jeffrey’s ideas.

Jeffrey Lependorf: Thanks, Sarah!

Jamie LaRue: Yes, all good ideas. I think it’s two way: can we invite some topnotch small press speakers to our conferences? Can they invite some of ours to theirs? Can we buy exhibits at each other’s conferences?

Jeffrey Lependorf: That’s a terrific idea. There’s really only one conference that the majority of indie lit publishers attend: AWP (Associated Writers and Writing Programs). Few small publishers have the funds to attend any more than that. The AWP conference boasts a rather gigantic trade show component that has become the country’s largest annual fair of small press books and literary magazines. The Council of Literary Magazines and Presses hosts a “conference within a conference” there, with panels of interest to publishers, writers and librarians as well. In fact, we’re already planning a panel together with Karen Gisonny for the 2014 conference in Seattle (the 2013 conference will take place in Boston). I urge librarians to attend the conference to discover small press materials. For those on the east coast, I also want to mention that the Brooklyn Book Festival has a particularly strong focus on independently produced literature. Both SPD and CLMP historically attended the ALA conferences, but unfortunately the cost has prevented us from maintaining our presence there.

Karen Gisonny: Yes Jeffrey, AWP is an awesome place to discover small presses and literary magazines.  I attended in NYC several years ago and the book fair was pretty unforgettable.  Looking forward to Seattle!  Below are some other favorite resources for connecting to small presses and opening communication.

Organizations: CLMP (includes a member directory), Poets & Writers (lit mag database).

Websites: New Pages, Luna Park Review, The Review Review and LitLine.

Book Fairs (NY):  CUNY chapbook festival, Brooklyn Book Festival.

Independent Bookstores (NY): McNally Jackson, Book Court, Greenlight Bookstore, and Word. Attend readings, events, and lectures in the community.



Tomorrow, the discussion spans the impact of ebooks,  the role of the library, and more on marketing materials specifics.


Jamie LaRue has been the director of the Douglas County Libraries, headquartered in Castle Rock, CO, since 1990. He is the author of The New Inquisition: Understanding and Managing Intellectual Freedom Challenges, and wrote a weekly newspaper column for over 25 years. He was the Colorado Librarian of the Year in 1998, the Castle Rock Chamber of Commerce’s 2003 Business Person of the Year, and in 2007 won the Julie J. Boucher (boo-SHAY) Award for Intellectual Freedom.


Jeffrey Lependorf serves as the shared Executive Director to our nation’s two national nonprofit organizations serving the community of independent literary publishers: CLMP—Council of Literary Magazines and Presses (—providing technical assistance and advocacy, and SPD—Small Press Distribution (, the only nonprofit distributor of literary books in the country. Also also active as a composer and performer, his Masterpieces of Western Music audio course is available through


Karen Gisonny is the Helen Bernstein Librarian for Periodicals at the New York Public Library.  Her collection development work centers on the Library’s extensive collections of books published by independent literary presses, small and alternative press periodicals, and zines.  She curated the NYPL exhibit New American Literary Magazines and for over ten years has collaborated with the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses to host Periodically Speaking and Magathon at the NYPL, programs which highlight these collections.


Sarah Houghton is best known as the author of the award-winning  She is also the Director for the San Rafael Public Library. Sarah is a big technology nerd and believes in the power of libraries to change lives.  Combined, they make a fearsome cocktail.  Sarah has been called an iconoclast, a contrarian, a future-pusher, and a general pain in the ass.  She takes great pride in each. Her first book came out in 2010: Technology Training in Libraries and she is a frequent speaker for online and realspace worldwide events for libraries and other institutions.


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