Editors Note: When we first signed up the great Nancy Pearl to helm the “Check It Out” library column for Publishers Weekly, she agreed to do it for a year—and then she gave us two great years! But Nancy is moving on, and we’re handing over the column to new blood. It’s not goodbye to Nancy—she’ll remain an advisor and a contributing editor at PW. For this month’s column, we’re delighted to have Michael Kelley. Michael certainly knows his way around the library world—he is the former news editor and editor-in-chief of Library Journal. And this month, he brings us a library program well worth checking out.

We’ve heard lots of talk recently about libraries serving their communities by becoming publishers. Well, here is one that is walking the walk: this month, the Provincetown Public Library is poised to release its first group of e-books under a publishing imprint the library founded in January.

After winnowing 30 submissions received between April 1 and June 30, the Provincetown Public Press will release five digital titles by Massachusetts authors, demonstrating that even small libraries can animate the broadening conversation around libraries as publishers.

“This is invaluable in that it showcases our local talent, honors our history as an arts colony, and meets a unique need of the people,” says Cheryl Napsha, the library’s director.

Napsha tells PW that the library hopes to make the titles available through its consortium, Cape Libraries Automated Materials Sharing, if authors agree to share them at no cost, even though some of the distribution channels being used—such as Amazon—do not allow library acquisitions.

Matt Clark, the library’s director of marketing and program development, explains in the “Library Publishing Toolkit”—a Web-based project created by librarians to identify trends and best practices—that it was important for libraries to get involved in publishing—“before an ideal infrastructure is in place because it gives us a chance to determine how this next chapter in publishing history will unfold.”


The priority of the Provincetown Public Press is to aid authors in producing and uploading their work into the most visible distribution channels available for digital publishing. This allows authors to focus on creating superior content while the library helps navigate technology and design issues.

To pull this off, the library established accounts with the Apple iTunes Store, Amazon, Ingramspark, and the Kobo bookstore. In addition, the library is negotiating with BiblioLabs, which would make the books available to all libraries that subscribe to that company’s Biblioboard service.

“At first glance, it seems very easy: sign up, click upload, and your book is online,” says Clark, who provides free technical and design support to the authors. “The truth is that this process is much more in-depth, with several levels of quality control that must be passed for each individual distributor. Other factors, such as payment options, come into play as well.”

Before launching its freshman class of authors, the press did a test run of sorts in April, partnering with a local author, Laura Shabott, to upload her self-published book, Confessions of an eBook Virgin, to the iTunes Store. Shabott had already published her book via Amazon.

“Laura’s book is a self-published book about how to self-publish a book. What better way to begin our endeavor than with a work so close to our hearts?” Napsha asks.

Napsha also attended the uPublishU conference in New York in June, a part of BookExpo America, to learn more about the costs of self-publishing.

The Fine Print

The Provincetown Public Library has a $300,000 operating budget, and the initial cost for a Mac with publishing software (primarily iBooks Author and Adobe Creative Suite) was about $3,000, which was covered by a donation. The library also purchased 100 ISBNs and 21 barcodes for $1,415. The remaining costs are all in staff time, and the library has partnered with the graphic design department at Cape Cod Tech, a local vocational school, to help with cover designs.

Each author is responsible for copyrighting his or her own work ($135), and the library sells the ISBNs at cost ($9.95 each), with a separate ISBN required for each platform. If authors choose to monetize their work, they receive 85% of the proceeds and the library gets 15%.

“We want the authors to own their works. The Press is an imprint, not a publishing house, so our biggest hope is that the exposure we are able to provide authors and artists will lead them to bigger and better opportunities, such as print or republication through major publishing houses,” says Napsha.

The largest challenge has been time management. Clark may spend anywhere from 10 to 30 hours a week on the publishing project.

Napsha herself took several weeks to review the 30 submissions (some were more than 300 pages long), quickly eliminating those that did not follow the submission guidelines or had too many spelling or grammatical errors. After the preliminary weeding, Napsha, two directors of local art organizations, and two freelance writers evaluated the remaining titles.

The selection committee chose a memoir; an art book about Parisian graffiti; a book of poetry; a short novel; and an anthology of prose and poetry. Napsha served as a copy editor before the books went to Clark for production. The library provides an introduction to marketing and promotion, but authors are responsible for further promotion beyond the library’s press releases.

Joan Barnes, a member of the Dune Hollow Writers group, an affiliate of Amherst Writers & Artists, proposed that the group submit an anthology of its writings to the press after Barnes saw an ad in a local newspaper.

“I knew that it would give us a chance to get some of our writing into publish-ready form and would be a good learning experience even if we were not chosen,” Barnes says. “When they e-mailed us to say that we had been selected, we were ecstatic. What an opportunity and what validity for us as writers.”


Jamie LaRue, the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Colorado and one of the leading advocates for libraries as publishers, applauds the Provincetown effort, saying these types of projects are essential for figuring out collection development in the 21st century.

“I love what Provincetown is doing. They’ve stepped right into the heart of things, and it sounds like the staff itself is picking up many of the functions of traditional publishing—where wading through the slush pile is step one,” says LaRue. “They’ve found some gems in their community—as I suspect most of us will. This is an exciting direction for libraries, and I commend them for their experiments. It sounds like they are having fun, too.”

Over the past couple of months, LaRue’s library has converted some of its Veteran’s Project oral histories to the ePub format and added them to its collection under a Creative Commons license (i.e., they are available as free downloads to anyone).

Douglas County also has a quarterly panel and signing session for local authors and a team of about 60 community members to advise on locally produced, self-published content. The library plans in October to add the works of local authors to the 10,000 Smashwords titles already in its collection.

The Los Gatos Public Library in Los Gatos, Calif., while sharing Provincetown’s enthusiasm for encouraging local authors to e-publish, has opted for a co-branding partnership with Smashwords (slideshow and webinar).

“Instead of embracing specific local and nonlocal authors like Provincetown is doing, we are doing the opposite,” says Henry Bankhead, the director. “We are saying, ‘Go publish your book on Smashwords and maybe we will take a look.’ ”

“What Provincetown is doing seems to be incredibly challenging but I wish them well. What we are doing is promoting an idea by cobranding with Smashwords. It was incredibly easy and efficient. All I had to do was create a graphic. No heavy lifting on our end.”

Provincetown’s next submission period ends on Sept. 30.

“Provincetown Public Library wants to redefine public libraries,” Napsha says, “and show that size is not a factor in seeking excellence.”