Get Past Library “Gatekeepers”

by Nancy Humphreys on July 16, 2012

Knowing your target audience is key to selling successfully. Librarians need your help to buy your book(s).

Are you a new small press publisher or self-publishing author? If so, you have a major handicap in terms of getting your book into libraries. Your book(s) are not eligible for the free service from the Library of Congress of Cataloging-in-Publication CIP). Read on and you’ll see why this is a barrier and how you can get around it.

What is Cataloging-in-Publication (CIP)?

You’ll find cataloging-in-publication data (CIP data) on the “verso,” i.e., back of a title page of a book put out by a publisher. But this isn’t the whole story. Behind this small paragraph in a published book there is a large electronic version of the catalog that is sent to any library that buys that title.

Cataloging is a very labor-intensive, i.e., expensive, process for libraries, but it aids library users to find exactly the tome they need. And if is important for you because books that aren’t cataloged wind up on shelves in out-of-the-way corners and back hallways or in boxes or file cabinets that most library patrons will never pass by.

Also, browsing is facilitated by the way catalogs books are organized on the shelves. Library patrons often find a book they love by “serendipitous” searching. Call numbers for books facilitate this – they keep books on the same subject together. Word-of-mouth is the way most books are bought. You want a catalog record because you’ll want library patrons to see your book and tell others about it.

Local cataloging, an alternative to CIP

Cataloging and shelving a book costs a library way more than the book itself. Some libraries will buy a book and create what is called a “local catalog record” for it. They share that local record with other libraries. They will bear the expenses of cataloging. But if you provide your own catalog record, you can save the first library money that buys it and must catalog it.

This may seem like a small matter to you. You may feel sure your POD (or self-published book by a traditional printer) will eventually get into libraries and be cataloged. That may be true, but CIP data is created before a book is published. This means that book reviewers will see this data if you send them a pre-publication copy of your book to review.

Book reviews are crucial for getting your book purchased by a lot of libraries. These are not any book reviews. They are book reviews that librarians use to justify book purchases. How to get into the right book review sources is the subject of much of my new PDF book, Marketing Your Book To Libraries: An insider’s Guide.

Private cataloging, an alternative to CIP

PCIP (Publisher’s Cataloging in Publication) is service from the Donohue Group, Inc. Accredited librarians at Donohue creates a catalog record to use on the verso of the title page of your book. This catalog record will be accepted by libraries and by the digital system that allows libraries to share catalog records electronically with other libraries.

New publishers

So, if you are a new publisher who is serious about putting out quality print books that libraries might wish to make available for their patrons, PCIP will help make your reputation for you and your authors. Trained librarians at the Donohue company will create a catalog record for your books.

The Library of Congress works with many small publishers to provide them CIP data and electronic records, but they must have a proven track record of publishing the kinds of books libraries readily purchase. This usually means a long waiting period, and some publishers may never qualify for the Library of Congress’ program.

POD book authors

What if you publish a POD book? You have an even bigger hurdle to cross than a new small press publisher. Librarians traditionally distrust POD books. POD companies have a reputation for printing poor quality books. The Library of Congress will not spend the money to provide you with a CIP data or electronic record.

Established small publishers, on the other hand, receive 40 percent of the CIP data records produced by the Library of Congress.

Can you purchase a PCIP record and have a POD company print it in your book? Yes, but only if you don’t alter the book’s “metadata”. This is information such as the books title, author’s name, format, ISBN (International Standard Book Number), etc. Nor can you make significant changes to your text. If you do, then you’ll need to get a new ISBN and this means you need a new PCIP record.

Donohue will also send and electronic form of the PCIP record for your POD book to OCLC, the cataloging consortium in Ohio that shares catalog records with libraries.

But don’t forget distribution!

Here is one thing to keep in mind before signing on with a POD company or publishing through a traditional printer. Libraries have a separate distribution system for purchasing books that they have used for decades.

The only distributor that libraries will buy POD books from is Ingram. Ingram is the largest book distributor in the world, and it has a well known catalog that libraries receive. There are smaller library distributors too such as Baker & Taylor and for e-books, Ebsco. These two companies and smaller specialty ones for the college and public libraries focus on distributing books from publishers rather than self-publishers.

If you are a self-publishing author, keep in mind that you’ll need to have a POD company or traditional book printer that can distribute your published or self-published book through Ingram. If you’re a new small press, look for a printer or distributor that has connections to these library book distributors.

You’ll also need to meet the quality standards that Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and libraries too demand from print books. For complete information about the standards libraries require for books they purchase, please see my book, Marketing Your Book to Libraries: An Insider’s Guide, available at is my web site devoted to quality production of books created especially for the library market. If you are a new author, new publisher, or you regularly work with authors to create quality books, Authormaps Tips is a newsletter that you may wish to sign up for. It too is at Authormaps.

Marketing Your Book to Libraries Marketing Your Books to Libraries: An Insider's Guide for Authors by former librarian Nancy K. Humphreys includes: 
  • How to tell what kind of library to target
  • Types of librarians and books they order
  • Strategies to get past the "gatekeepers" who influence librarians
  • Right ways to approach librarians most likely to order your book

Learn more »

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Alexandra Ares February 25, 2013 at 1:37 pm

Excellent guide. It would have been even better if it had a list of email contacts of all the libraries, so authors can contact them. Maybe in the next edition? Even so, very good read, I recommend it.

Nancy Humphreys March 26, 2013 at 12:46 pm

Well, for one thing, there are 122,000 libraries in the US. That means there are millions of librarians and library assistants who order books. Not only would emailing all of them be prohibitively expensive, it would not be very productive. Librarians receive tons of book notices every day. They won’t pay attention to a generic message from an author they don’t know about a book that isn’t one they are positive their patrons would want to check out and read.

What librarians will appreciate is a brief personal communication that gives helpful information about a quality book that they would be likely to purchase for their particular library. “Quality book” means that if a book is bound, it can stand up to heavy library use. Quality books will have glowing book reviews from book-review sources that librarians trust. This kind of precisely-targeted marketing to library book buyers is what my guide shows authors and publishers how to do.

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