Please welcome back Jeanne of the Bookblog of the Bristol Library as she addresses what can be a thorny issue for your hometown library system…
What is Local?
After a recent post, a commenter was very upset that her local library didn’t support local authors and she wanted to know why.
The answer: I don’t know.
Every library is different and has different policies. At Bristol Public Library, we have hosted a number of book signings by local authors and we are currently planning a display featuring local writers. I know a number of libraries in our region who do the same thing. On the other hand, one library stopped hosting a Local Authors Fair because, according to my informant, nothing the library did seemed to be enough. They felt the staff time put into the event was unappreciated by both the authors and the general public and they were unfairly criticized. This experience is at odds with other libraries who have had very successful such events, and who routinely host local authors. It just depends on the community, the library, and the authors.
As for more permanent ways to showcase local authors, we’re giving it some thought. We don’t currently have a separate section or classification for local authors but that’s a possibility. Before we can do anything, we need to decide one basic question:
What is local?
That would seem to be a simple question, but it turns out to be more complicated. Is a local author someone who lives within a 25 mile radius? 50 miles? What if it’s someone who lived here once but moved away? Do we change the classification? What about the granddaughter of a long-time resident? To her grandmother, she’s a local author, too. Then there’s the retired doctor who has written a couple of books about his practice a county over who now lives on the other side of the country, but we have a patron who calls to request his books because “he’s a local author.”
Our readers also seem to equate “local author” with “local setting,” which isn’t always true. We’ve had patrons request books by author X because she’s a resident, but who are disappointed to find her books are set in another country altogether.
Finally, there’s the question of utility in the classification. Over the years I’ve had very few patrons ask for a book by any local author. Either they know the author’s name or else they’re interested because the book is about this area. The questions we get are mostly for “books set around here,” regardless of where the author resides. They’re not interested in the local author who writes fantasy set in the big city; but they’re fascinated by the author who lives in New York and writes fiction set in this region or the thriller author who wrote a book with a local setting because his mother grew up here. Again, that may just be a quirk of our area.
Many readers also tend to have a very broad view of the region; i.e., they would (and do) consider a book set in a town 60 miles away to be local. One reason is that Bristol is one of the larger cities in a largely rural area, so people from the surrounding small towns migrate here. This means that the 60 mile away town could be home to a number of our residents and therefore, “local.”
So that’s a look at how one library is dealing with the topic of local authors. It’s a definitely a work in progress. We’ll figure it out eventually. In the meantime, we’ll create bibliographies to hand out with headings such as “Local Cooking,” “Shop Local, Read Local,” “This Place Sounds Familiar,” and “Local Lore” to help our patrons find authors and books of interest. I’m sure our patrons will let us know how we’re doing.
Update: I mentioned this topic in our library bookclub and was peppered with many of the same questions I tried to address here. There were as many definitions of local as we had attendees!