« Back to Civic & Community Engagement

I Street: A Community & Writing Publishing Center

Sacramento Public Library
Go to Website  |  Watch Video

Innovation Summary

I Street Press establishes the library as the community hub for creativity by connecting people, resources and the means to turn their ideas into a meaningful printed product. In addition, I Street offers classes in writing and publishing and gives people a space and a forum to express themselves.

Innovation Leader: Rivkah Sass, Library Director, rsass@saclibrary.org

Problem Statement

It is no secret that self-publishing has become very popular and many people are printing their books through online retailers such as LuLu, CreateSpace and Author House. We asked ourselves if it would be possible to do one better than these retailers. We wanted to offer self-publishing services with a local, face-to-face component. We wanted to, under the guise of self-publishing, bring together writers of all levels to work together, critique each other and create community. In our community there are multiple writing groups and classes but many of them either favor the well-established or already published writer or they cost hundreds of dollars to attend. We know, based on self-publishing industry numbers, that there are many lay people in our community who are interested in writing and publishing their own books. In fact, many of them have already written their book and are just looking for publishing guidance. This seemed like the perfect fit for the public library because we are so good at providing desired services to all. There were multiple challenges that we identified before we started this project. First, we had to figure out how to charge for a service when we have not charged for anything before, especially for a product. Secondly, we had to figure out how to serve 1.4 million residents who are spread out over 1,000 square miles when the thing that most people are interested in is based in one location. And lastly, how to bring established writers and lay writers together in a way that’s meaningful for people at all levels and experiences.

Innovation

We were fortunate to receive a Library Services and Technology Act grant to create a community based publishing center, which centered around a nifty piece of machinery called an Espresso Book Machine. The machine takes a digital file and in 3 ½-5 minutes, prints out a bookstore quality paperback book. The implications of the project are huge because not only are we the first library or bookstore to have the Espresso Book Machine available to the public in Northern California, we’ve added two additional features to the project. In addition to self-publishing, we’re offering publishing and writing classes and we have access to a catalog of over three million out of print and backlist titles that readers and researchers can print out on the Espresso Book Machine. It is clear that we are providing a service that people want, but adding on a layer of community connection is what makes this project so special. LuLu, CreateSpace and Author House offer a similar product line but they do it through an impenatrable wall; it is nameless and faceless. By offering a face to face service in a way that celebrates uniqueness and creativity, we have tapped into an emotional need that people have. It’s one thing to upload a title to an internet site and receive books in the mail a few days later, it’s quite another thing for a customer to pull their first printed book off the machine and feel that it is still warm. Our intention is simple. We want to celebrate creativity and offer people a place to express themselves through writing and ultimately, through print.

Progress

From November 19, 2011-April 1, 2012 I Street printed almost 600 books. Topics included the status of African-American women in modern society, several fantasy/science fiction books, a memoir about surviving bulemia, another memoir by a refugee from Afghanistan and many more. The interest in I Street has been extremely high. We have offered 10 free information sessions and had over 150 attendees. A reception for the local writing “glitterati” brought in over 200 people and library staff has presented at outreach events that reached about 300 people. In 2012 we began offering free publishing/writing classes. Titles include Editing for Writers, Engage Your 1,000 True Fans, Legal Side of Self-Publishing, Funding Your Dream, Shameless Self-Promotion, How to Plan a Book and Blog Better. The classes are not only at registration capacity, they all have waiting lists. In December, 2011 we coordinated the printing of a book of poetry by a local homeless poet. We have five community anthologies in the works; three collections of writings by children/teens (two from library branches and one from a local writing non-profit), one featuring recipes and one book of poetry from the local Poetry Center. It is clear that we have struck a nerve with the community. In this age of eBooks and technology there is still a strong desire to produce a printed piece of work. People want a tangible item that they can give to their family and friends or something about which they can say, “I made this. This is mine.” I Street Press: A Community Writing & Publishing Center is more than just a book printing machine. It is a safe space where both experienced writers and creative souls can express themselves.