They tell you not to judge a book by its cover, but a book cover can make or break a book’s success. While browsing a used bookstore decades ago, I fell utterly in love with the covers of a book series I’d never heard of before – DragonLance, by Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman. I had to buy them, even just to look at the covers. The cover paintings were done by Larry Elmore, one of the premiere fantasy artists of the time. I’d never gotten too much into sword and sorcery books, but I devoured these. The second trilogy was still being written, and it was agony waiting for the next book in the series. I love those books to this day; they influence my own writing and imagination, and all because I had to have that book cover.

And nothing, of course, is more infuriating than when they change that book cover you know and love, and not usually for the better. Have you read this book? The title looks familiar, but not the cover … and then you start to read and find out yes, you’ve read it before, they changed the cover on you. Why?

There are many reasons a book gets a new cover. It may have changed publishers. It may be the paperback edition of a hardcover, or a school edition, or an audiobook – and audiobook companies, who often have a middleman, don’t always get permission to use the same cover. It may be a new printing – if a book contract agrees to a run of 5,000 copies, and 6,000 are ordered, the book may get a new distribution run, resulting in a new cover. The book may have been sold to a new publisher – such as Bantam Books being sold to Random House. Random House will then reissue a strong seller with their own brand of cover. If a movie or TV series is made from the book, a new edition will be released with a cover that reflects the new media, as happened with Lord of the Rings and Ready Player One. Sometimes the publisher gets flack because the cover has absolutely nothing to do with the story, and they rework it.

Sometimes, it’s hard to keep up, and sometimes, the cover art makes you scratch your head. Take, for example, the book Alas, Babylon, a 1959 novel of nuclear apocalypse that, if it’s not still my absolute favorite novel, it’s in my top three. First below is the cover I read it with – sensible, with the red/orange color of disaster and warning and nuclear fire, and people walking out of it. Compare that with the many covers it’s had since 1959:

The current one, number two above, a fourth edition by Harper Collins, to me, is puzzling – small font, an empty boardwalk, and a hand? This is not a cover that invites me to read, tells me a single thing about the story. Perhaps, after so many editions, they run out of ideas. Another fact: it’s very rare an author gets to choose the cover of their book – or have any input at all. You may submit your perfect dream cover along with your manuscript, and the publisher will toss it and give the work to one of their contracted artists. This is how you wind up with a blonde, blue-eyed heroine on the cover when the main character has short black hair.

Book covers also reflect what seems to be popular – a few years ago it seemed every book had a girl rolling around on the ground. If one sells, then everyone wants to copy that success. The bottom half of a face? Those are popular. Romance novel covers were almost interchangeable – how many were based on the model Fabio?  This year, pink is supposed to be “in” for covers again, as well as layered graphics and bold lettering.

Don’t like a book cover? Let the publisher know! Editors read the books, not the artists, or the publisher. If they’ve missed the mark, tell them. Authors depend on good covers to grab readers; if the cover isn’t intriguing, it’s wasting money.

What book covers have hit the mark, reached out and grabbed you so you had to read it?

What types of covers make you walk away?

Has a book cover ever made you angry?

Let us know!

Looking Back…Moving Forward

by Beth Crowley, Library Director

If you have lived through a number of decades as I have you can respond to the perennial question “Where were you when (insert significant event) happened?” For me it has been the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion, 9/11, and the Sandy Hook school shooting. We note these tragedies over other moments not just because they were horrible but because their impact left clear boundary marks dividing time into “before” and “after” the event. Often the “after” time has resulted in a reduction of our sense of peace, security and belief that life is good and things will go as planned. Two years ago this month, on March 13, 2020, I experienced another of these defining moments when we shut the Library doors to the public due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

We found out on March 13 that we would be closing that same day.

Covid-19 didn’t strike in a single, sudden devastating event like the others I have mentioned but it clearly left a divider between pre- and post-pandemic life. Earlier in the week of March 13, 2020, I along with my fellow Town department heads attended a meeting with the Chesprocott Health Director, Maura Esposito and her staff. There we asked questions about precautions we should take to mitigate the spread of the virus among our employees and residents. I asked if the Library should put away the toys and craft materials in the Children’s Room. I was told there was no need and that the goal was to keep things as normal as possible for our patrons. By the end of the week, the Cheshire Public Schools sent all students home early and I got the call from the Town Manager to close the Library. Despite the sudden change in tone and urgency, we looked at the closing as a temporary measure perhaps lasting two weeks at most. None of us could have predicted the path we were about to take or where it would lead. Face masks, plexiglass barriers, social distancing, hand sanitizing stations, virtual programs, and mass vaccine clinics were still only shadows of things yet to be.

Leading an organization during the pandemic has been the biggest challenge of my 24 year career. Before Covid-19, I would try to calm stressed nerves by reminding staff that while library services are important to our customers nothing we did was in the “life or death” category. Now I was faced with making policy and procedural decisions that if wrong could result in serious illness or worse. For library employees, whose entire profession is based on access to accurate and trust-worthy information, the constantly changing messages and lack of clear guidance from national health and government leaders was frustrating. As library directors often do when struggling to solve a problem, I turned to my colleagues to compare notes. However, it soon became clear that based on varying rates of infection in different towns, conflicting guidance from health districts and that library buildings come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes it made sense to focus on what would work best for the Cheshire Public Library. I reached out again to Maura Esposito. She patiently walked me through every step I needed to consider and gave excellent and sound advice. Her guidance cut through the national noise allowing me to narrow my focus and plan for the immediate safety concerns with an eye to the future.

Providing library services during the pandemic was challenging but there were silver linings. Despite the disruption to my employee’s daily lives and work place, I soon discovered how resilient and innovative they could be. Faced with a closed library and working remotely, I was amazed at how my librarians quickly planned and delivered programs virtually. Until Covid-19, I thought Zoom was a TV program I watched as a kid! Our library clerks assisted with calling hundreds of Cheshire senior citizens to check on them and refer them for help if needed. To provide reading and entertainment materials for residents during the lockdown, we reallocated funds meant for buying physical items and added more digital content that users could freely access through our website. A number of patrons have told me this was the first time they tried our eBook collection and they were surprised by how much they enjoyed it. Since 2019, use of these resources has increased by 42%.

When we returned to a still closed building, staff coordinated and launched our first ever curbside “Grab and Go” service. At the program’s height we were filling an average of 60 bags with library materials every day! In order to help library users discover new materials while we were closed and browsing was impossible, we launched our Matchbook reader’s advisory program. We created an online form where patrons could tell us their reading interests and librarians would “match” them with books they may enjoy. The feedback from this program was so positive we have continued it and plan to keep it in place post-pandemic.

Now, almost two years to the day we shut down, we are finally able to relax most of our safety protocols and hopefully begin a permanent return to pre-pandemic times. But as with other life changing events, we can never truly go back to how life was before Covid-19 struck. For one the immense loss of life, at one point the equivalent of a 9/11 tragedy every day, has forever changed the lives of thousands of families. For students who graduated and began college during the pandemic, their experience of these milestone events was far from typical. How long will it be before we truly feel comfortable standing close to a stranger or giving a friend a hug?

Despite the difficulties and tragedies of the past two years, we must go forward. This month at the Library masks are now optional, we are resuming in-person programing including children’s storytimes, we’ve added back more public computers, increased capacities of our study rooms and reopened our Teen Space featuring new furniture purchased with American Rescue Plan grant funds.

No matter what life-changing events occur, the one thing I know about the role of the public library in a community is we can help our residents recover from hard times. Providing a peaceful place to read, work or relax can be a salve in scary times. Books, music and movies can be a welcome escape from the more difficult news we are bombarded with. Connecting with others to learn or discover through a program is an uplifting and renewing experience that can help buoy us after a hard day. It has been my honor to work with the amazing staff at the Cheshire Public Library during this challenging time as we tried to support and meet the needs of our residents. Since reopening our doors to the public in September of 2020 we are almost back to our pre-pandemic borrowing numbers and our library visits are continuing to increase. We hope with the return of more of our regular services and the addition of some exciting new ones (stayed tuned!) that we will be welcoming even more library users of all ages and we particularly look forward to seeing everyone’s smiles!

Meet the New Head of Adult Services!

Lauren Gledhill is the new head of Reference and Adult Services at Cheshire Public Library, following the retirement of Bill Basel last July.  Many of you may already know Lauren from the children’s department, where she’s been CPL librarian for several years, keeping watch over much of the children’s media selections. If you haven’t met Lauren before, come on downstairs to the Reference Department and get to know her!

Lauren got her Library Degree from the Dominican University in Chicago, a big change from the rural Pennsylvania area she grew up in. Cheshire certainly falls between the two!

Children’s Librarian to Reference Librarian is a big change.  What does she prefer to read?  Lauren likes horror, graphic novels, and non-fiction science. Her favorite book as a child was Ferdinand the Bull. If you haven’t read it, Ferdinand is a sweet classic children’s story from 1936 about a bull who prefers to smell flowers rather than fight in the bullring – and not surprisingly was banned as subversive by both Hitler and Francisco Franco!  Today, Lauren’s favorite author is Barbara Kingsolver. Her favorite movie? She loves Spirited Away, the animated feature by noted Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki. Given the chance, she much prefers to listen to audiobooks over print. (Did you know that audiobooks alone make up almost 10% of Cheshire’s offerings?).

Librarians often get the chance to meet world-famous authors at book expos and conventions. Two authors Lauren would love to meet are Neil Gaiman, the multi-award winning author of tales such as Sandman and Coraline, as well as Hugo-award winning author Ursula Vernon, who also writes under the pen name T. Kingfisher. (I hate to mention it, Lauren, but Neil was a guest at Noreast Con 4 the year I went. If I remember right, he emceed the Costume Call.)

Lauren promises to bring new and exciting ideas to the Adult Services Department, so stay tuned and keep checking back to see what’s up!

Cheshire Library in 2019

Ever wonder how many people visit the Library each year, how many items are borrowed, or even how many items the library has altogether? Consider your questions answered, here’s a numerical look at Cheshire Library for the past year:

Why do I have to wait SO LONG for library ebooks?

Why do I have to wait SO LONG for library ebooks?

It’s been an increasing source of frustration for many library users: waiting weeks, sometimes months to get to the top of the waiting list for a popular eBook or e-Audiobook.

As I write this, the ebook for Michelle Obama’s 2018 memoir, Becoming,  has over 200 people waiting for their turn at one of 16 eBook copies. If each of those 16 copies is checked out for the full lending period of 21 days, well, that’s a very long wait if you’re at the bottom of the list. (Take heart, if you’re using a Cheshire library card, your wait won’t be quite as long.  We have purchased 2 additional copies for Cheshire cardholders exclusively, so CPL users will move through the hold queue a little faster).

Why does it take so long? After all, it’s not a physical object, it’s a digital file that lives in the “cloud”, why can’t multiple people access it simultaneously instead of only one at a time? Barring that, why doesn’t the library just buy more copies so that the waiting list is shorter? Getting people access to books and information is what libraries are all about, but the struggle to acquire lendable e-content is very real, and it’s getting harder all the time. Why? What’s the big hairy deal? For that answer, you have to look to the “Big 5” Publishers, who are responsible for close to 80% of trade book sales.

First, a little background. When Cheshire Library started offering eBooks to their patrons in 2006,   lending of downloadable items was in its infancy.  Publishers were extremely wary about allowing library users virtual access to their books. After all, digital copies of books never wear out or have to be replaced, and are more vulnerable to unauthorized copying (“pirating”). Publishers were afraid if they allowed libraries access to their books digitally, they would be losing money. Individual publishers came up with their own sets of rules for libraries to access their e-content, and they have been tweaked many times since 2006. The graphic to the right outlines the current purchasing & lending restrictions for libraries purchasing e-Books from the “Big 5”. Over the years, all 5 publishers have gone to a “metered access” model, meaning that titles expire after a set number of uses or months, at which time the library has to purchase the item again if they want to keep it available to their patrons.

And, unfortunately, the prices libraries must pay for ebooks and e-audiobooks are very high. Libraries must pay up to 4X the retail price for digital versions of books (which only one user can have access to at a time).  Meeting the library patron’s needs for downloadable content is a very expensive enterprise, indeed! Take a look at this comparison of the prices for various versions of the same book:

e-Audiobook publishers have used a “perpetual license” model in the past, (meaning a title only needs to be purchased once, regardless of the number of uses or months) but that is starting to change. Many are converting to a “metered access” model like the eBook publishers, which will have a significant impact on how many titles a library is able to purchase.

Recently, another way for libraries to offer digital content has emerged, the “pay-per-use” model. Platforms like Hoopla, Kanopy, and Freegal, are examples. These platforms offer libraries a pre-curated collection of digital items that have no limit on how many people can check them out at the same time. Rather than buying individual titles, the library pays a fee each time an item from the collection is checked out. For a while, this sounded like a good solution to the long waiting periods users experienced on traditional platforms. The drawback? The service can become so popular that the monthly fees quickly become unmanageable. This is what happened at CPL when we tried Hoopla.  The monthly fees kept skyrocketing,  even when we lowered our checkout limit to 5 items per month. It became impossible to sustain the expense without reducing the service even further, so we discontinued Hoopla and looked for something better.

Since discontinuing Hoopla, CPL has added a platform with a new lending model for e-Audiobooks that we hope will ease some frustration. RBdigital began offering a new service with a core collection of 30,000+ audiobook titles that allow muti-user access (always available, no waiting lists), plus the ability for libraries to add newer and more in-demand titles to the collection (following the one copy/one user model). RBdigital charges libraries a flat monthly fee for the “always available” content, so the library doesn’t have to limit the amount of items patrons check out, and knows exactly how much to budget for each month. We’ll continue to look for ways to bring the most value to the library experience.

The digital media landscape for libraries is constantly changing and adjusting. Here are some articles to check out if you’re  interested in learning more on the subject: