Partner with Indie Authors to Share Diverse Stories
Literacy Nation offers a model for expanding diversity and inclusion in library collections
Despite efforts to increase representation in publishing, the industry remains predominantly white. Authors of color often face a range of challenges, including difficulty finding literary agents, limited access to publishing opportunities, and insufficient marketing and promotion. Richard E. Ashby, Jr. aims to change this through his work with Literacy Nation, which advocates for diversity and inclusion in books and digital resources in libraries.
Ashby and his wife, Charmaine Ashby, founded Literacy Nation in 2011, when they saw a need for literacy resources in underserved communities. Over the past 13 years, Literacy Nation’s mission has evolved, from offering tutoring and literacy services in a donated building, to doing mobile library work (which earned Ashby his nickname of “the sidewalk librarian”), to its current focus on working with independent authors and libraries.
When the COVID-19 pandemic halted Literacy Nation’s in-person services, Ashby began connecting with independent authors on Clubhouse, an audio-based social media app that offers voice-only chatrooms on various topics. He quickly realized that most of the authors were Black women. After learning about the challenges they faced in sharing their work, he saw an opportunity to help.
Through his position at Sto-Rox Public Library, he was able to access OCLC’s cataloging tools to make the authors’ works discoverable through WorldCat. When a library adds a book or resource to their collection using their OCLC cataloging subscription, it automatically appears on WorldCat.org, where anyone can search for it and locate the nearest library with that resource. Now with their own cataloging subscription, Literacy Nation intends to help highlight a diverse range of authors and stories, while also expanding the reach of their stories through advocacy and partnerships.
Coaching authors and promoting their work
While Ashby emphasizes the joy of authors seeing their work shared on a larger scale, he acknowledges that not all self-published books meet quality standards for library collections. Literacy Nation teams up with volunteer beta readers to help authors through the editing and revision process. And once a book meets a set of prescribed quality standards, it’s added to WorldCat with the help of independent catalogers. Literacy Nation also helps authors market their books and sponsors a number of author memberships to the Black Caucus of the American Library Association.
How libraries can help independent authors
Increasing diversity and representation in the publishing industry is a complex undertaking that will likely take many years to achieve. In the meantime, Ashby is working to spread awareness about how libraries can help by connecting with independent authors.
He suggests library staff can:
- Reassess collection development policies and amend them to be more inclusive.
- Catalog independent authors to increase exposure of their work to a broader audience.
- Collaborate with independent authors on programs like storytimes and writing workshops.
- Host book expos or festivals that feature independent authors in panel discussions and book readings.
- Offer space for new or independent authors to promote their work or hold events.
- Expand local author displays to feature independent authors from other regions.
Stories are essential to our human experience, and Ashby has seen the impact of sharing stories that might have otherwise been unheard. For example, when authors started seeing their books on WorldCat.org for the first time, the transformative effect was undeniable.
“We saw the power of WorldCat. I tell somebody, your book is in WorldCat. You can go online and look up your book; your family can look up your book. People are taking screenshots of their books on WorldCat.org. It's like having the Gucci bag of literature, and it's meant so much to everybody.”
Ashby believes that libraries are perfectly positioned to support Literacy Nation’s efforts. The best part? Engaging with diverse independent authors is an excellent way to broaden the range of voices and to build more diverse collections.
Images provided by Literacy Nation, used with permission.
Right to Read-A-Thon Banned and Challenged Books Fundraiser
Join Literacy Nation for their Right to Read-a-Thon Banned and Challenged Books fundraiser on Saturday, June 24, 2023, at the ALA Annual Conference and Exhibition in Chicago.
During this six-hour event, participants will read for five minutes from a banned or challenged book or literary work of their choice. All proceeds will be donated to the American Library Association’s LeRoy C. Merritt Humanitarian Fund as a show of support for librarians who have been prosecuted, terminated, or persecuted for their stance regarding the right to read and open access. Individual and group sponsorship slots are available.
Current sponsors include Joint Council Librarians of Color, Coretta Scott King Book Awards, The Ethnic & Multicultural Information Exchange Round Table of the American Library Association, and the Pennsylvania Black Librarians Caucus, an affiliate of the Black Caucus American Librarian Association.
Giving Indie Authors a Voice—American Libraries Magazine
Self-Publishing, Indie Authors, and Libraries—Public Libraries Online
How Library Distribution Works for Indie Authors—Alliance of Independent Authors
LAPL Writes - Indie Author Project—Los Angeles Public Library independent author resources and information for submitting work for circulation
Information for Self-Published Authors—Toronto Public Library collection development policy example
Arapaho Libraries Writers Resources—Writing resources for authors, and a discovery portal for books by independent authors from Colorado