However, I talked to a lot of people, encouraged them to join and spread the word. There are a few observations I made so far and also some plans for the future:
The amount of positive support I get surprises me. It’s awesome to say ‘I’m starting a technical library’ and see immediate interest. Even more cool is that the library gets book donations. For example, thanks to Martin Vidner, it now has a copy of Goedel, Escher, Bach.
Assumptions - correct and the other kind
Hearing comments like ‘I thought about doing the same - something like that is missing in my hometown’ suggest that more people feel the same pain and would like to solve it. So it’s some sort of signal that there might be a ‘market’ - a group of readers.
English vs. Czech
On the other hand, I probably underestimated the level of English required for reading an engineering book. It seems that people are comfortable with conversational English, but they still prefer Czech when it comes to reading, especially about engineering topics.
This observation is based on just a few samples, but I’d definitely like to take it into account and focus more on making the books more accessible - perhaps by organising talks and discussions, or writing short summaries of the books’ content in Czech. If that does not help, I can always fallback to collecting Czech books/translations as well.
E-books and reading online
I’m not sure if it’s not a mistake, but I’m not that worried about online content. I see blogs as simply a different medium, with different purpose and I think they in general cannot match the breadth of a book.
A much more troubling question that I often get is ‘why aren’t you lending e-books’?
Because, frankly, doing that seems almost impossible - e.g. Kindle books can be loaned only once.
I’m not aware of any vendor neutral device or platform that’d allow loaning books, but I admit I need to do more research.
Maybe, there might be a way how to loan the device itself. I wonder how libraries do it and in fact, digging into this deeper might be a good idea.
However, the device would have to be linked to an account without a credit card. There is also a risk that, if the e-books leak to the internet, they could contain traces linking them back to the library - which means trouble.
Keeping it low-key
Equals not charging money, only accepting a refundable deposit. This is, unfortunately, necessary to avoid a huge bureaucratic hassle - starting a non-profit, figuring out taxes, and compulsory sending of reports about any cash received to the Czech ministry of finance.
While this limits me somewhat (I cannot re-invest the membership fees into the library), it’s probably OK to do this as long as there aren’t many readers.
This is something which I always wanted to try, but not on a project where failing means losing money. ‘Crash landing’ this project means that, at the very worst, I’ll have books which I like on my bookshelf, so that’s fine. And at the very best, these books will help someone become a better engineer.
So I’m no longer uncomfortable about pitching the idea and getting people interested. Still, I find marketing the hardest thing to do and do consistently.
For starters, I chose social networks, word of mouth and a blog as the primary channels.
I’d also like to start a blog containing short book reviews in Czech, which should help with aforementioned issues with English fluency.
A friend suggested putting up posters around the secondary schools in Pisek to spread the word and reaching out to the city library to see if we could collaborate - both definitely worth trying!.
Finally, I’m getting a logo and exlibris designed, to have some sort of a brand.
In other words, lots of stuff in the pipeline.
Do you have any other ideas how to promote the project? Experience with running a library or a book club? Let me know!