AWP 2013 – Poetry and Librarianship: Collection Challenges talk

The following post is the transcript for a panel presentation I gave at the Association for Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) conference a few weeks ago at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston. The panel was titled  Poetry & Librarianship: Collection Challenges, and featured myself and other poet-librarians discussing the challenges of collecting, archiving, and digitizing literary texts and recordings, including barriers to collecting small press materials and  proposing solutions that will allow libraries to continue to collect literary objects regardless of medium. It was moderated by Jessica Smith and also featured Elise Ficarra, Judah Rubin, and Dan Coffey.

Crowdsourcing Content to Promote Community and Collection Development in Libraries

With the Poetry Center at SF State, I’ve begun to build an open-access digital repository for poetry chapbooks that I’ll be sharing with all of you shortly. The repository is essentially a chapbook exchange: a place for poets to share their current works. Users are invited to share their chapbooks via upload and as such gain access to the chapbook repository. The model is “take a chapbook, leave a chapbook.” Our mission is to provide a space for poets to correspond, convene, and collaborate. The chapbook exchange is a contributor-driven peer-to-peer environment that allows users to exchange chapbooks as a variation on the pay-to-play theme in that in this case, poetry is the currency that allows users to access the site. Yes, you heard that right. Poetry as currency.

As most of us know, the reality is that libraries are underfunded and underappreciated within our capitalist economy.  As collection developers and librarians, the lack of funding remains a primary concern when considering how we can select, promote and advocate for collections while keeping costs down as well as how we can engage our time-strapped, hard-working communities and increase circulation. I would like to discuss ways libraries can augment and reinvigorate extant print and electronic poetry collections to maintain relevancy and reflect the liveliness and vigor of poetry communities. This proposal will discuss crowdsourcing poetry chapbooks from communities as a viable means of expanding existing poetry collections.

Using Crowdsourcing to Develop Poetry Collections

Circulation of poetry collections in public libraries has long been a source of conflict for librarians. The battle between “give ‘em quality” and “give ‘em what they want” continues to rage on the poetry shelf where the books often sit undisturbed in the 811s. Our role as librarians is to navigate that murky line to ensure community access to timely and culturally diverse resources. While poetry collections may not be in as high demand as genre fiction or children’s literature, poetry is an asset to the overall collection due to its quality of influence as well as its appeal to local writing communities. Librarians scaling back on poetry purchases cite a lack of patron interest that seems contrary to the evidence.

As poet/librarians, we witness a dissension between the kinetic, masterful poems we hear at readings or in the street and the often archaic and drab library collections displayed for public consumption. So, what’s missing? Pith. Urgency. The moment. All of which can be found in chapbooks.

Deploying Chapbooks as Community-Bonding Tools

Chapbooks have a long history of communicating impelling messages to communities. “From the 16th to early 19th centuries, chapbooks were mass-produced, cheaply made booklets sold hand-to-hand by traveling salesmen, or chapmen in Western Europe and North America.” (Craig, 2011) Today’s chapbooks are regarded as essential to the evolution of ongoing dialogues around poetics and poetry. “…[They’re] part of ongoing poetic conversations, as well as a practice of exchange that is ever present in the maintenance of community” (Craig, 2011). They are often handmade and sold cheaply or given as gifts.  The message within outweighs financial compensation for the author; often, what fuels their tenacity is a desire to contribute to a powerful lineage of poets as well as a commitment to correspondence and collaboration with peers.

“Giving a chapbook to another poet…serve[s] a similar networking function to the exchange of business cards…In this ongoing conversation, the offering of work is time-sensitive – less because of the content of any particular group of poems, and more because continued participation and membership can be marked by ongoing exchange.” (Craig, 2011)

To augment existing print collections as well as build a virtual poetry collection sustained by global and local poetry communities, the Poetry Center seeks to engage writers by making available virtual hubs for collaboration and exchange of e-chapbooks. The Poetry Center will maintain an instrumental role by providing and moderating key access points to this portal to engage local writers. The open-access format will be conducive to quick and efficient chapbook sharing, and will serve as a forum for writers and other patrons to communicate and share ideas. Writers will also benefit by gaining access to greater communities of fellow writers as well as improved networking opportunities. As such, the chapbook exchange will do much to foster community building as well as promote collections.

These e-book collections will be freely available to the public through our open-access digital repository that we built using Omeka: a product of the Ray Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media.

Currently, the site is a prototype of what we hope will be a lively and vital cooperative space for poets to practice the continuum of reading and writing in the creative process. Contributing creative works in this forum also allows users the opportunity to generate creative responses to extant works in the collections. As such, this chapbook exchange might be a model for teachers wishing to employ emerging technologies in the classroom to highlight opportunities for both active and collaborative learning.

As a cooperatively curated site, it is also a self-sustainable method of disseminating the current arcs of various poetic movements and potentially may prove meritorious in engaging users all over the world.

Cooperative Archiving & Preservation

The cooperative archiving model also has the potential for preservation, and employs the LOCKSS system, which is also known as (Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe), a popular preservation technique to ensure persistent access. Some of you currently employ this process when you store multiple copies of a Word doc or jpg for example in your email, Dropbox, hard drive, thumb drive, work computer, desk drawer, etc. While this is a common preservation method, it is not necessarily the most secure since LOCKSS lends itself to the possibility of copies being whittled down one by one for various reasons (unreadable formats, human error, etc)

Nevertheless, we chose Omeka as our trial platform because of the Roy Rosenzweig and Center for History and New Media’s impeccable reputation with preserving and archiving creative works.

For those of you interested in creating your own digital repository or chapbook exchange, an alternative to Omeka is DSpace: a product of DuraSpace originally created by MIT Libraries and Hewlett Packard. While a discussion outlining the logistics of both DSpace and Omeka are beyond the scope of this presentation, I will show a few slides in a minute showing the specs of both. I would also be happy to answer more questions about their capabilities during our Q&A or afterwards.


Our communities are rife with content creators, and the urge to share our creative efforts has galvanized social media as a primary source of information and communication.

As Tyckoson (2003) a leading thinker and futurist writes:  “The nature of publishing is going to change and libraries are going to play a greater part in the process.” Libraries can provide both the tools and the expertise to help users get projects off the ground.  Outreach to local museums, archives, community colleges, and K-12 schools may also be a way to develop existing collections reflective of the local community. By incorporating works by local poets and writers, public libraries can involve users directly by showcasing selected works to ensure patron’s continual value in the future of library service.

We also have a mailing list if you’d like to receive an email invitation to join our chapbook exchange. Thank you!


American Library Association. (1996). Library Bill of Rights. Accessed May 10, 2012 from

Andrade, Mary. 2012. Crowdsource your next program design. T+D, 66(3), 52-56.

Antonucci, Ron. 2004. A rhyme a day. Library Journal. Retrieved from

Collins, K., Furman, R, & Riddoch, R. 2004. Poetry, writing and community practice. Human Service Education, 24(1), 19-32.

Craig, Ailsa. 2011. When a book is not a book: objects as players in identity and community formation.  Journal of Material Culture, 16 (1), 47-63.

Dymoke, S. & Hughes, J. 2009. Using a poetry repository: how can the medium support pre-service teachers of English in their professional learning about writing poetry and teaching poetry writing in a digital age? English Teaching: Practice and Critique, 8 (3), 91-106

Fallows, D; Horrigan, J; & Lenhart, A.  (2005). Content Creation Online. Washington DC: Pew Internet & American Life Project, February 29. Accessed May 11, 2012:

Holley, Rose. 2010. Crowdsourcing: How and why should libraries do it? D-Lib Magazine, 16(3) 5-23.

Hughes-Hassell, S., & Miller, E. T. (2003). Public library websites for young adults: Meeting the needs of today’s teens online. Library and Information Science, 25, 143–156.

Jones, P. (2002) New Directions for Library Service to Young Adults. Chicago: American Library Association.

Lenhart, A., & Madden, M. (2005). Teen content creators and consumers. Washington, DC: Pew Internet & American Life Project, November 2. Accessed April 27, 2011:

SinhaRoy, S. 2011. Libraries tap into the crowdsource. American Libraries, 42(11/12), 22-23.

Smith, Aaron. (2010). Mobile Access 2010. Washington DC: Pew Internet & American Life Project, July 7. Accessed May 11, 2012:

Tyckoson, David. 2003. On the desirableness of personal relations between librarians and readers: the past and future of reference service. Reference Services Review, 31 (1), 12-16