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Libraries have always been about words.  Whether we’re dealing with our beloved books, research information, teaching, or promoting local events, we deal in words.


Libraries have always been about words.  Whether we’re dealing with our beloved books, research information, teaching, or promoting local events, we deal in words.  Libraries are steadily increasing their involvement in the creation of books, journals, and short-form chapbooks. Libraries:

  • Support writers groups
  • Host joint author/reader events
  • Publish local writers, sometimes under a library imprint
  • Compile patron contributions such as local histories, poetry or short story contests, recipe compilations, etc.
  • Offer programming on publishing tools, formats, metadata creation, and how to get an *ISBN (scroll to the bottom to find out)
  • Reach out to the community of authors to offer support and encouragement
  • Provide tools to help writer such as book collections or supporting use of Pressbooks through MLPP (more on this later) 

The steady growth in library services centered on creating with words parallels a major change in book publishing.  Bowker announced that ISBN requests from self-published authors increased by 8.2 percent in 2016, and 786,935 books were self-published last year.  Libraries are getting involved early in the writing process, and the Minnesota library community is collaboratively supporting these efforts on a statewide basis.  

This article looks at some impressive examples of local and statewide efforts by public libraries to support those who create with words.

Anoka County Library

Anoka County Library has a long tradition of supporting authors and readers. Drew Wylie and Kari Weber from Anoka County Library recently told me about some of the many writing events they regularly host. These events include:

  • Local author programming.  An example: Tom Rademacher recently spoke about his UMN Press book “It Won’t Be Easy: … a Love Letter to Teaching”
  • Classes in writing and illustrating picture books for young children
  • Songwriting workshops for children and adults.  Anoka Library Staff ask, “Do you have a song in you?”
  • Annual Local Author Fair which took place September 30, 2017 which drew 20 authors and over 100 attendees. Anoka County Commissioner Mike Gamache said, “This free event is a great opportunity to connect the community’s passion for good books with the authors who provide the passion and talent right here in Anoka County.”  It’s all about that local focus!

In addition to programming and author fairs, Anoka is actively engaged with MN Writes MN Reads, a self-publishing initiative available through public libraries statewide, with leadership from Ken Behringer at MELSA.  Anoka County Library adds, “Local authors are an important part of our community and too often, they are underappreciated and underutilized. Beginning this fall, Anoka County Library will help connect local authors with local readers through an exciting new service called MN Writes MN Reads. The new service will allow the Library to put a new spin on traditional e-books. Local authors will be able to design and export their own e-book using Pressbooks, then upload it to a statewide collection using SELF-e. Finally, using Biblioboard, readers will be able browse these books and check them out to enjoy on their e-reader, mobile device, or PC.”

MN Writes MN Reads logo.

Marshall Lyon County Library

Support for writers isn’t confined to urban areas.  Michele Leininger, Marshall Lyon County Library Director, is hosting a wide-ranging series of writing/author events as part of their Writer’s Café.  Michele discovered during her first months on the job that there was an inactive, but large, creative community of artists and writers in Lyon County.  Paying attention to this community strength, the library added this line to their strategic plan: “Readers (listeners, watchers and writers too), whether for learning or pleasure, are inspired to explore, discover and discuss what they encounter.”  Does your library plan support local authors?  Michele has created an informal advisory group of successful local writers and tweaks the library’s events based on input from the group.
Marshall Lyon programming is geared toward assisting writers from the amateur (or "scribbler," as Michele likes to say) to the professional writer.  Local writers taught courses in the library during October in preparation for National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo. Marshall Lyon offered several “No Novel, No Problem” workshops to encourage all types of writers to participate, not just those writing fiction.  In early November, the library held a planning party for NaNoWriMo writers to commit to setting up a writing plan.  Those who drew up a plan were entered into a drawing to get “the key” to a study room for a month that only he or she can use – a private writer’s room in the library.  The library has also been building up the book collection of resources for writers in preparation for NaNoWriMo.
Over three Saturdays in November, they hosted “Write Ins” with support services, snacks, and resources for writers.  They extended hours on those days.  As a follow-up to NaNoWriMo, they are going to offer training for writers to create final versions of their books using Pressbooks via MLPP.  Other programming includes information on finding an agent, working with a publisher, whether to self-publish, and the like.
Finally, Marshall Lyon has launched a Writers Café Salon, a weekly writing group that will continue beyond NaNoWriMo.  Those meetings include a brief presentation of a writing topic, time to write, and time for sharing an author’s work or getting help with a plot problem.  Not every library can dedicate so many resources to supporting writing, but Marshall Lyon chooses to focus on this demographic as part of their planning process, and the results are impressive. 

NaNoWriMo in Minnesota

Minnesota public libraries are a strong annual supporter of NaNoWriMo.  Other participating libraries include: Atwater Public Library, Brainerd Public Library, Douglas County Library in Alexandria, Duluth Public, Grand Rapids Area Library, Hennepin County Library in Minnetonka, Meinders Community Library in Pipestone, Riverview Library in St. Paul, Rochester Public Library, Rock County Community Library in Luverne, St. Cloud Public Library, Watertown Library, Willmar Public Library, and Zumbrota Public Library.  Academic libraries have been involved too, including the University of Minnesota Duluth.  If you have offered innovative programming at your library, please contact me at to let me know.

The NaNoWriMo website lists resources Minnesota libraries offer.  Here’s one example: “Syrena Maranell represents the [Come Write In] space at Willmar Public Library.  Resources available: Wi-fi, power outlets, outside food and drink permitted, food and/or drink provided, space is accessible, free parking, accessible by transit.”  

I’ve enjoy Winona’s NaNoWriMo tweets; here are a few examples:

  • Winona Library Oct 28 Get ready for #NaNoWriMo by learning how to plot your novel w/ Author Ashlynn Monroe on Sunday @ 12pm @ Cabin Coffee in La Crosse. #writing
  • Winona Library‏ @WinonaPublicLib Oct 30 Author @LauraPSalas is at the library on Friday at 3:30pm to talk about the nuts & bolts of writing for kids. #creativewriting #nanowrimo
  • Winona Library‏ @WinonaPublicLib @NaNoWriMo Local Author Fair & Creative Writing Workshop on Sat, Nov 4th from 10AM-1PM. Authors, write-ins, & workshops, oh, my...

Minnesota Libraries Publishing Project logo.

Minnesota Library Publishing Project (MLPP)

The academic library community has a lot of writing/publishing activities in the works.  The main activity of MLPP centers on providing a clean version of Pressbooks (no hidden costs, no watermarks, etc.) to any writer in the state.  We’ve made a one-minute YouTube video that explains the project.  The MLPP website's "About" section also offers a good description of the project.

Minnesota’s public libraries are using the MLPP version of Pressbooks as part of their MN Writes MN Reads project.  MN Writes MN Reads (pronounced "min writes min reads") provides Minnesota residents with tools to create, share, and read locally written ebooks.  Public and academic writers can share their work with readers across the state, and potentially across the country, through this program.  Academic libraries who want to encourage their patrons to read self-published works available through MN Writes MN Reads can link to the project's online collection.


The Minnesota Library Publishing Project and MN Writes MN Reads are innovative statewide library projects for writers.  Minnesota's statewide approach is unique in the country.  Other states, such as Illinois, are now looking to imitate what our library community has built.  That said, we’re still in the early stages of defining a comprehensive infrastructure for self-published authors, so expect more to come.

Keeping the library at the forefront of service to Minnesota writers is our goal.  While there are still many hurdles to overcome before the system is seamless, we are leading the nation in finding a way to support self-published Minnesota authors.  There is a role for every library in helping our communities create with words.  Please explore these new projects and see how they fit with your library’s mission.

*How do you get an ISBN? The designated source the United States is Bowker, and there is a cost. Visit their website for details. Joel Friedlander's post on The Book Designer blog offers a good explanation of why you need one.

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