Yesterday, as my husband, one of my daughters, and I were riding in the car, we were talking about self-publishing and Amazon. My daughter (both of my daughters, actually) is a writer, and we were discussing the merits/drawbacks of having a distributor like Amazon sell an author’s work in direct-to-ebook format rather than having a publishing house buy the work and distribute it in whatever format.

I used this discussion as an opportunity to educate both of them about the difficulties libraries are having with ebook lending and publishers. I explained to them the pitfalls of DRM and vendor/publisher restrictions. My husband said this:

“Well, why can’t the library act as publisher?”

I told him he was fairly awesome for saying that and explained that the library as publisher is a trending topic right now in the profession. I have to admit that for me, personally, of all the alternate realities that have been suggested for libraries going forward–community center, learning center, information commons, technology lab, coffee house, etc.–library as publisher is the opportunity that excites me the most.

When I think about the library as publisher, I think about Jamie LaRue. Douglas County Libraries in Colorado have been pioneers in this area, buying their own Adobe Content Server and hosting independent authors without DRM restrictions, although I believe the hosting comes with a promise to the author to try to sell their work at some point.

The main arguments that I’ve heard against this possibility are these: First, much of the self-published, library- (or Amazon-) hosted works are not copy edited and somewhat unprofessional as compared to polished, copy-edited, formally published works. In other words, there’s a lot of junk out there. Second, I have heard librarians in my own system complain that patrons would not be interested in borrowing the works of unknown authors. They simply want mainstream, popular fiction by known, established authors.

I see merit in both arguments; however, I see such great potential for the future! Imagine a future where most work is self-published. If libraries could get in on the ground floor of this phenomenon and host, promote, and lend local and other author’s work to users, well, that could be a beautiful thing. Libraries are about books. Even as we try to deny it, it is true. Librarians love books and authors and discovering new books and new authors. People still love coming to the library to find new books and new authors. The library acting as publisher would represent a beautiful marriage of common interests and would give the library a whole, new purpose in life.

It makes sense to me. I’ll be watching Colorado closely. Just because something like this would not immediately take off in some (most) of our communities doesn’t mean that it couldn’t take off spectacularly some day.

Library as warehouse for books (print or digital)? Hardly. That’s a dead-end. Library as publisher of ebooks? Absolutely! That’s a formula for creativity, relevancy, and longevity. Combine the concept of library as publisher with creative uses for our physical space and continuing outreach to our communities and you have the potential for a whole new world for libraries.

Hey, if my husband, who is not a library user or advocate (except as it relates to me), can come up with that idea without reading any library blogs or professional literature then I say that is an idea with merit. And an idea that makes sense. And maybe an idea whose time has come