How a 160-year-old library and a four-year-old startup are building a new sort of book community

How a 160-year-old library and a four-year-old startup are building a new sort of book community

It is no secret that digital disruption is challenging the ways we work in both the publishing industry and the library sector. We have all heard the proclamations of the death of the print book and the demise of the library. But what happens when a 160-year old public library and a 4-year old online publishing start-up put their heads together to create the future of reading and writing?

Melbourne is one of the world’s designated Cities of Literature, a city with an insatiable appetite for literature with a strong local writing scene supported by independent publishers and bookshops, a packed calendar of literary events and festivals, and a robust public library sector. What better place to seed an online writing community?

Over the Australian summer this year, the State Library Victoria, one of the world’s oldest public libraries, partnered with Tablo, a local online publishing startup, to launch the State Library Victoria Tablo community. Our online community is a new social reading and writing platform which supports emerging Victorian writers and connects them with other writers, readers, industry experts and potential publishers.

The State Library Tablo Community is the first of its kind and will feature authors-in-residence and industry experts providing advice, motivation, writing techniques and editing tips. It is also a platform for social engagement around reading and writing, connecting writers and readers with us, other local writers and industry experts. Our aim is to create a space to discuss the writing craft, reader feedback, industry tips and contacts. The community is a discussion space where our members can create and join discussions, discover events, meet likeminded users, share their books to seek feedback, and comment on books in progress.

The community capitalises on the increasing success of self-published works and the rising popularity of digital writing communities such as the annual National Novel Writing Month. It will become a forum to support authors publishing, promoting and selling their own work, challenging the traditional publishing model. It also becomes a new way for libraries, like ours, to connect with our local writers and readers.

The State Library Victoria has been a home to generations of Victorian writers, and as the State’s legal deposit library, we have collected the publishing output of the State of Victoria for many years. Our new digital community continues that tradition and transitions the Library into the digital self-publishing age. One of our aims in building the community is to eventually bring the self-published works written by our community members into the Library’s collection in much the same way as we already acquire printed self-published works such as zines and newsletters.

As well as supporting emerging writers by connecting them with readers, the community opens up a new opportunity for the Library to tap into genre fiction. The current user base of Tablo has a strong focus on young adult, LGBTI fiction, fantasy, science fiction, fan fiction and romance. These publishing areas are not traditionally associated with an institution such as ours, though they fit well alongside the work we do in our Centre for Youth Literature.

We have around 2 million visits to the library annually, and another 4.5 million online. Our users are highly engaged with the library both onsite and via our digital channels. This gives us have a strong base to start building an online writing and reading community. To kick-start our new community we have created a tie-in to an event series we hold in the library, the Thursday night book club. Every Thursday evening this summer and autumn we are inviting people to pull up a beanbag and listen to some of the best writers in the city talk about their work. Each book club focuses on one of ten recently released books, all sharing one theme – they're all set in Melbourne. Each meeting has an onsite Q&A session with the author, followed by an online discussion hosted on our new community platform.

We are looking forward to seeing how this unlikely collaboration will support the rich tradition of literature in Melbourne and grow our local community of writers and readers over the year. Watch this space.