Honoring local authors in their hometown libraries: This is how San Jose PL does it

Wouldn’t it be great if your library could host one author event after another, with every event well attended by both authors and appreciative readers? San Jose Public Library (SJPL) has a strong record in this area, and in this article we will look at how they do it without working themselves to death in the process.

Serving a diverse population of nearly one million, SJPL comprises fourteen branches. Located in the heart of Silicon Valley, The King Library was named after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and occupies a corner of the San Jose State University campus. It is SJPL’s main branch and consistently produces top-flight local author events. This large, nine floor library provides services to residents of San Jose, as well as to the students and faculty of San Jose State University, home of the renowned SJSU School of Information. I don’t have to tell you that it’s a busy place and that library staff have a lot going on, besides author events.

Librarian Deborah Estreicher manages the author events, and she was kind enough to give me an hour of her time on the phone. Speaking in a calm, thoughtful voice, she explained what she does and how she does it. Managing the author events is not a full-time job for her. The rest of the time she is a reference librarian. She did not initiate the local author events at the library; rather, SJPL had been putting on author events for several years after another librarian started them, but when that librarian left the library,  the events fell to Deborah and her supervisor to take over. These events are not held on Indie Author Day, but rather they are scheduled to fit the needs of the library and the community.

This year and last, they have done three programs. In April of 2016, they sponsored San Jose in Fact and Fiction, which celebrated the city by promoting books that were either about San Jose or that used San Jose as a setting. The program ran for seven days, Sunday through Saturday, with one author per day, except for Tuesday, which had three authors. Titles ranged from a history of the San Jose Police Department to 100 Things to Do in San Jose Before You Die and a novelization of Swift Justice by the city mayor.

As with the other author events, the library provided a venue in the front of the building (to maximize exposure and bring in passers by), refreshments, and staff plus volunteers to keep it organized. And, as with other events, not everything went smoothly. Unbeknownst to Deborah, the police chief who had penned the history of his department had passed away several years before the event, so he could not participate. And another author had moved out of the country, so he could participate only by Skype. Nevertheless, Deborah and her team persevered and the event was a success. In fact, during the part of the program that featured a history of the San Jose Earthquakes soccer team, someone in the audience made a sketch of the author and then presented it to him at the conclusion of the program as a sign of gratitude.

 

Deborah also organized Local Lit: Writers Meet Readers @ King. This one-day celebration brought twenty-five authors into the library–and to hear them came over eighty attendees. Most of the local author events bring eighty or more in the audience, so this was not exceptional. Deborah and her associates had contacted the authors through various professional and writing groups, such as the Silicon Valley Romance Writers Association (SVRWA), a local science fiction writers group, social media, etc.

As with the April series, the library included both traditionally published and indie authors. The authors gave panel discussions by genre, i.e., there was a fiction panel, a nonfiction panel, and a poetry panel. After complaints from authors at previous events in which the panels ran concurrently (so authors had to miss the panels they were not on), Deborah timed the Local Lit panels to run sequentially, and most authors listened to both of the two panels that they did not speak on. After the panels, the authors were seated at tables around the perimeter of the room, so they could meet their fans and sell books. The library provided each author with a nameplate illustrated by graphics featuring his or her book. The authors handled all details of the sales, so that the library did not have to operate as a re-seller.

The third event has become an ongoing group open to any public library or SJSU affiliated person who is a veteran or a member of a veteran’s family. Called VeteransWrite, this group meets on the first Friday of each month and provides writing prompts for the members. They describe writing as healing, and through the Burdick Military History Project, a program of the SJSU History Department, the writers gain an opportunity to publish.

Responses to all of these programs, both from audience members and from authors have been strongly positive. As described above, an artist in the audience sketched an author during a panel and then gave him the sketch. Another author, who first became involved through the local lit event, was inspired to organize an ongoing support group for beginning and wannabe authors.

After the Local Lit: Writers Meet Readers @ King, Howard Dully, author of My Lobotomy: A Memoirhad this to say:

Places like MLK Main Library and programs that you have there that support authors really keep our lives’ blood pumping.

In Deborah’s words:

It is very important for libraries to do this in order to build a community of authors, and librarians will be surprised at what talented people they have in their midst.

How does she manage to do so many events, on top of her work as a reference librarian, one wonders. Does she do these events by herself? Does everything go smoothly? Certainly not, on both counts. Deborah relies on help from some of her colleagues, from the authors, and from volunteers to make these events work. One person could not do everything necessary. For instance, she has volunteers escort the authors to and from each event, since not all authors know their way around the large building. She also has a volunteer to deal with parking tickets and other issues that may come up. She begins planning each event several months in advance, so that there is time to accomplish everything that needs to be done. Sometimes authors have to drop out. Other times there are miscommunication issues. For instance, one of the authors was an elderly lady who did not use email, so she did not receive information about a date change, so the library held a special event just for her. By careful planning and dedication, Deborah and her team come through with one successful event after another.

Will this work for your library? Most towns have at least a few authors in them. If not published authors, then they have aspiring authors who are eager for support and would love for the library to hold an event in their honor. Why not give it a try?