By Beth Groundwater
This is a question I often get asked by readers, and I'm happy to answer, "Yes!" However, I usually go on to explain how readers can get their hands on a copy of one of my books at their local library system. Libraries are increasingly strapped for funds, and as a result, are reducing inventory on their shelves.
Instead, libraries are participating more in interlibrary loan systems where they share materials with other libraries. So, if a reader can't find a copy of one of my books on their local library's shelves, I tell them not to give up, but to search for the book in the electronic catalog. If the local library has a copy and it's checked out, the reader can request a hold. Otherwise or instead, the reader can see if a copy is available via interlibrary loan and request a copy that way.
For instance, my small local library in Breckenridge, Colorado, is one branch of three in the Summit County Library system. And the Summit County Library (SCL) belongs to the Marmot Library Network that has municipal and educational library members throughout western Colorado. After I find and reserve a book from the SCL on-line catalog, when I actually receive the book, it could be stamped as belonging to the Eagle Valley Library District, Colorado Mesa University, or one of the other member libraries. Then when I return the book, it gets sent back to the owner library.
I looked up my own name in the SCL catalog, I find that collectively there are a mix of trade paperback, large-print, and ebook copies of all five of my published mystery novels in the Marmot system that are available for checkout. If I was just browsing the shelves of the library branch in Breckenridge, though, I might not find any.
The most extensive interlibrary loan system is WorldCat, the world's largest network of library content and services, which, as of November, 2011, included 72,000 member library systems from 170 countries and territories. SCL is a member of WorldCat, so even if the Marmot system does not have a copy of a book I am looking for, a librarian could find a copy for me and borrow it through the WorldCat system. So readers should never despair if they don't find a book they're looking for in their home library--even if you're a bookworm and check out the maximum allowed number every week as I did as a child!
The WorldCat system has another use for authors. It's a great way for gauging the extent of your library sales. For instance, when I searched for Deadly Currents, the first book in my RM Outdoor Adventures series, I found copies in 419 different library systems (some of which can contain tens of branches), including in countries as far away as Australia, New Zealand, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Having either a large-print edition or an ebook edition, I've found, results in even wider library distribution. One thing to remember is that the number (419) is the number of library SYSTEMS that have copies of the book, not just the number of libraries or the number of copies.
I even used WorldCat to research publishers when my agent and I were looking for a new publisher for my mysteries that would produce trade paperback and ebook editions. At that time, I was with a publisher that produced hardcover and large-print editions, and the two books they had published for me had wide distribution in WorldCat. When Midnight Ink offered a contract, I looked up some Midnight Ink titles in WorldCat, and found that they, too, had wide distribution. So, I wouldn't be giving up library sales by going with them, and I'd be gaining retail bookstore sales.
I encourage both authors and readers to use the on-line catalog resources available to you to search for books and see where you can find copies in libraries. So, Inkspot readers, I have a question for you. What's the rarest book you were able to find and read from a library? Let us know!