Book Discoverability at the Library – Part 1

Book discovery is currently a primo concern at publishing houses and bookstores. Libraries too have been dealing for centuries with the challenge of making print books and ebooks in their collections discoverable.

Back in 1876 Charles Ammi Cutter laid down the rules for a “card catalog” with his book, Rules for A Printed Dictionary Catalog. Prior to that invention, there was no universal way for libraries to ensure book discoverability. Some librarians had arranged books by shape; others by spatial co-location; and yet others used various classification schemes of their own making.

library card catalogCard catalogs, along with Cutter’s systematic ways of arranging books by author, title, subject and category (e.g., genre), brought about a major advance in terms of improving book discoverability at the library.

Librarians also employ display cases, empty walls, and book stands to make selected books in their collections more visible to people who visit that library.

Today I’ll be covering both  traditional ways libraries have made books discoverable and suggest how you may be able to improve the discoverability of your book at the library.

In part 2 I’ll introduce  you to several newer library discovery services that you may not have heard of and explain their implications for book-selling.


Most libraries provide handouts about specific topics in the collections, e.g., mystery books, newly-received books, or current events people might want to learn about.

The online web sites of libraries are another place where librarians display what is in their library.

Library web site pages are where you’ll find out about ebooks, audiobooks, rare books, and special collections such as local history books or maps. You may even find a display about a library’s cookbook collection, car repair manuals, or other how-to-books.

County_library home page


Publicity at and by libraries is a major reason to make sure your book gets bought and displayed by a library.

How do you ensure your book will be discovered at a library?

First of all, remember that your cover is you primary sales tool for your book. Make sure you have an interesting, professionally-done cover. If you have a publisher, negotiate to get a attractive cover that will draw attention to your book. If you will use a thumbnail of your cover, make sure the tiny image can be clearly seen.

Also, check your print-book or CD-case spine for readability. Remember that many libraries will put a label at the bottom of the spine with the book’s call number to use when shelving it.

Secondly, have a brief description of your book with a good “hook” to arouse reader interest. Even a brief tagline with a promise of what your book can do for the reader will help librarians explain why patrons may want to know about your book, e.g. “Expands your child’s understanding of world events”.

Third, use the targeted direct marketing campaign I’ve laid out at the end of my book, Marketing Your Book to Librarians: An Insider’s Guide for Authors.

Warning: targeted direct marketing to the librarians most likely to buy your book is the only way to go – spamming librarians using all the names and addresses in a directory someone sells you will accomplish nothing. Your book’s promotion will land in the trash!


Book talks by authors are another way libraries publicize books in their collections. Many authors sell their books or ebooks at these events. If you’re considering doing this in your area, I recommend reading Barb Techel’s book:

Class Act: Sell More books Through School and Librrary Author Appearances (© 2011, available in paperback and Kindle editions)

Library book talks are a self-publisher’s alternative to author talks at bookstores. If you have a publisher, they may want you to do bookstore appearances. Note though that publishers often deduct the cost of these tours out of author’s royalties. If you have the funds, you may wish to fund your own book tours and deduct expenses from your taxes.

If you are a good speaker and do not want to travel, consider alternative ways of offering book talks. Some authors give talks at libraries via Skype. Librarians and teachers that regularly program author talks may have the equipment to set up a video Skype session.

If your book is a how-to-guide, it’s possible to use Twitter along with a teleconference call program. Listeners can post short questions at your twitter hashtag while you are giving your talk, and you can answer them.

Other authors with a flair for the dramatic make video book trailers – similar to movie trailers, and put them up on You Tube. This promotional method doesn’t allow the audience to ask you questions, but they can share comments about your book with each other. It’s a good way to get feedback about your book and your book talk.

When you give your book talk, don’t forget to make your book easily available to buy. You may want to use your web site to take orders for your book and offer a special discount for a limited time only to those who show up at your event.

See part 2 of Book Discoverability at the Library by clicking here!


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