Romance Readers and Librarians

Monday I am going to speak about romance at the Connecticut Library Association conference. My session goals are to both talk about romance to librarians who may be leery or misinformed about it, and to also highlight some excellent books to have in a library collection and share ways to welcome romance readers into libraries. I’m also going to talk about what avid, rabid readers we are, and how much we love libraries with solid romance collections (I just got tingly goosebumps writing that, thinking of all the shelves of romance novels at my local library growing up).

I have a few ideas about that, but I also know that you most likely have a burning set of opinions about how librarians and romance readers and writers can work together. Are there excellent programs you know of that work marvelously for you? Are there books you think should be in every romance collection? If you’ve met a librarian who was exceedingly welcoming to you as a romance reader, what did he or she do? And if the opposite is true, what happened?

Side note: this conference is so cool – not only is there a technology “petting zoo” where librarians can play with the latest technological gadgets, but there’s a session on ebook lending (of course) and one about building video game lending collections, too. DUDE. Awesome.

One thing I love about librarians who are romance-friendly is that they often have excellent book recommendations, and they’re very familiar with new authors who are similar to established supremely popular authors. But that librarian is often a romance fan already, hence all the knowledge. I know there are many librarians and library patrons lurking and not-lurking here, so I’d love to hear what you think. Thank you!!

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General Bitching...

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  1. 1
    LG says:

    I don’t remember ever seeing excellent (or any) romance-related programs at my local libraries, but I did once meet a librarian who asked me what I liked to read and did not show the slightest sign of disapproval when I told her I like romance novels. As it turned out, she liked romance novels too, so we chatted about some, and, even though her tastes in subgenres were different then mine, I walked away with a few books I thought sounded interesting enough to try. That has to be done carefully, though – I once had a person hand me book after book she though would be just great for me, totally not noticing that I really didn’t want to walk out with 15 books. The recommendations work better if I’m the one choosing what to pick up and take home.

  2. 2
    Sarah W says:

    I’ve tried to encourage patrons at my library to tell me if there’s a book or series they’d like to read or even to remind me that the next book in a series is being released.  This is their library system, not my personal collection (or there wouldn’t be much romantic suspense).

    Also, I order for three locations, and the preferences for subgenres are markedly different at each.  Multicultural and paranormal rock at our western branch, historicals and romantic suspense circulate best at our eastern location, and inspirationals and heroes in kilts have a dedicated fan-base at the central library.  I still pay attention to the circ figures, though, and the interlibrary loan patterns, in case this changes.

    I’m proud to say that romances in our system consistently outcirc every other genre except general fiction. Someday . . .

  3. 3

    As a cataloging librarian and romance reader, I took the initiative when I worked at a public library to do full-level cataloging for all romance books – from expensive hardcovers to donated Harlequin series paperbacks. Usually romances are the only books in the collection with bare-bones cataloging (author, title, page count). At the time, full level cataloging included at least 3 subject headings – and I tried to add a short summary of the book as well.

    One of the things that drives me crazy is that people don’t create subject headings, content summaries, or anything like that to help you find specific books in the collection. Romance readers are left to browse.

    Now in a new town, what I have ended up doing to find romances now is to read reviews online or in NoveList, and then try to find the books by author or title. Catalogers of the world: even a quick subject heading like “Fire fighters—Fiction” or “NASCAR (Association)—Fiction” or “Pregnant women—Fiction” will help people to find their favorite series books in the catalog.

  4. 4
    Copa says:

    The library in my town drives me nuts, they have two sections. Non-fiction, and fiction. No sub-categories at all and it makes finding new authors extremely difficult when your staring at hundreds and hundreds of books with not a clue what the genre is unless the book happens to be bright pink. If you can get past that hair pulling frustration and remember to always bring a list of authors to the library you might find something, though I would say a romance novel for every 25 mystery.

    …grumble grumble I wanna go to Sarah W’s eastern location.

  5. 5
    Josie says:

    I dearly love my library, but the few romances to be found there are only in the new paperback section, and they vanish after a year at most. The only ones that make it to the more permanent fiction section are those that were published in hardcover.

    Fortunately for me, interlibrary loan is available. I am perhaps the library patron who makes most frequent use of that service.

    In addition, they have made all my romance purchase requests. (Paperbacks are inexpensive enough to not break a library budget.)

    Perhaps your librarians might do more to make their clients aware of the availability of both interlibrary loans and purchase requests. Not everyone knows.

  6. 6

    My mom was a librarian and I was a page as a teenager…and the library ladies had a definite attitude about the “bodice rippers”.  I managed to become a shameless Romance Whore (or smart bitch, at any rate)anyway, thank goodness. 
    The public library where I live now is awesome…there are tons of romances, and lots of “If you like this author, try this one” lists around, as well as a romance readers book group.  Yay for love!

  7. 7
    Hell Cat says:

    My library has a very nice collection of books since there’s like 13 branches in the county with interloan, so I can request the books. Sometimes I’m waitlisted, sometimes not. Some things depend on popularity, I imagine. The branch I visit has the biggest collect of HQN ever, I think. Seriously, it’s like a 5 rows on one section and about 2-3 on the next section. And there’s a complete section of the library of it, too. It’s kind of awesome. Some of the paranormal is mishmashed in the fantasy area, too. (Now that area could use a nice run through. Oh, man. It’s like 1/3rd Star Wars and Pern books.)

    I usually look up authors on rec now, so I just type it into the search engine and request online. If the system is online, definitely have the librarians tell about being able to place holds online at home (or office, etc) as you want them so you don’t have to wait so long. I notice a lot of people aren’t quite savvy of this technique in my library. Of course, I also get like 8 books at a time out, so it’s practically my whole shelf.

    If it can be coded in, we have a “similar to” like Amazon does. Like I looked up the New York Blades and in one of the books it mentioned Susan Donovan and SEP in the same recs. And there’s a tag cloud system, too. Simple cross-platform ideas work really well.

    I can’t speak of the librarians one-on-one since I don’t really connect as we’re usually busy. I do notice they’re awesome when take back a broken book you haven’t even had the chance to read. You could see the appalled look (well, to be fair, if you saw a year old hardback that was distinctly two books now, that’d be your look, too) and the care for the books.

  8. 8
    Jessi says:

    I am a librarian as well. We don’t offer any romance specific programming. In fact, I often have trouble finding our romance readers, although I know they are out there because of the high circulation statistics. I think that romance reader’s are often self-sufficient about finding their own books and navigating the library. We don’t buy any series romance, unfortunately, but we do have a decent romance collection. However, as mentioned above, we have all the fiction grouped together. This is a pet peeve for me as a library user, but I would like to mention two of the complications for dividing out genres: it is sometimes easier to convince a non-romance reader to give a romance book a try if it is mixed in with the general collection. Also, because of the growth of genreblending (i.e. romantic suspense) it can often be difficult to decide which section to put it in. If the book is in with mystery/suspense romance readers may never find it and vice versa because we may never browse out of our comfort zones. I would love to hear about romance programming though for future ideas.

  9. 9
    Tamara Hogan says:

    In these budget-constrained times, I continue to be very pleasantly surprised at the size of my suburban library system’s erotic romance collection.  They’re shelved with the other romance novels, not labeled as erotic in any way that I can see. These books seem to have VERY long waitlists.
    (That’s what she said.)

  10. 10
    Donna says:

    I am happy to say that the GBPL has almost never let me down in the romance department. The noteable exception being “The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker.” Some day I need to remember to actually go inside and ask someone about that. I’ve never needed to ask for suggestions, but based on the number of books in the section and the fact that, if I reserve early enough, I can get a new book w/in a week of publication, somewhere in the bowels of the
    GBPL is a librarian with varied tastes & a wide open mind to whom my budget & I am truly grateful.

    Spamword: meet29. And if I ever meet her/him I’m giving her a big wet kiss.

  11. 11
    AfroQueen says:

    We don’t separate Romance novels from regular cataloged Adult Fiction, other categories we have are: Mystery, Science Fiction, Western & Large Print (which includes LP versions of the main genre headings), but in the uncatalogued section, we do separate the Romance from Fiction, Mystery, SciFi, Inspirational and Western.

  12. 12
    Donna says:

    it is sometimes easier to convince a non-romance reader to give a romance book a try if it is mixed in with the general collection. Also, because of the growth of genreblending (i.e. romantic suspense) it can often be difficult to decide which section to put it in. If the book is in with mystery/suspense romance readers may never find it and vice versa because we may never browse out of our comfort zones

    I grew up in the days before genre seperation. I hate to think of what I might have missed out on because I found a title or cover compelling while I was looking for something else.
    And really, is there a greater pleasure than parking your but in the stacks & pulling down random books?

  13. 13
    DreadPirateRachel says:

    I wish my local library had a decent romance selection. They do have a few romance novels mixed in with the rest of the fiction, but they have one six-foot-wide section of “those” books. One day, I went to check one out (along with several literary fiction books), and the librarian looked at the romance novel and said, “Oh, that’s just a romance novel. We don’t even bother to scan them. Just bring it back whenever you think about it. Or not at all.” Then she gave me this little condescending smirk. Not my library’s finest moment, IMO.

  14. 14
    Bronx Guest says:

    My suggestion has less to do with what’s available than where the books are located in the library.  There are at least 3 libraries within a 1-mile radius from my apartment (and I HAVE walked a mile for a book!), each with different ways of shelving romance novels.  I like to browse, and it’s difficult to do in my local library where the romance novels are on rotating pedestal shelves RIGHT beside the computers where middle-schoolers are doing homework.  I’d rather the 16-year-old boy not see me staring at the “bodice ripper” covers (I’m not a prude, but does my browsing have to be public?).  I’m much more comfortable in the central library, where the novels are on normal shelves and no one knows which books I’m looking at unless s/he is in the aisle with me.

  15. 15
    De says:

    WAY more than anyone wanted to know….

    We have all of our fiction in one place.  The idea of splitting out genres has been discussed, but no one’s in favor of it.  We put genre label stickers on Westerns, Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Mystery though.  The problem with splitting them out is that the people doing to cataloging and processing have to do all the books in a series the same way over sometimes 30 years.  It’s just not going to happen. It also eliminates the stigma of browsing in ‘that section with the silly romances’ or however snobby people want to phrase it.

    I buy pretty much all the buying for my library, print and media, except Large Print, I also do ILL.  Basically if it involves anything that’s not a children’s book or Large Print, I’m in the middle of it.  When I’m buying, I dig around in the circulation system looking at how many times books have been checked out.  In my library a book that has a mystery sticker on it will checkout, sometimes 10 times more, than one that doesn’t. (Comparing books in the same series.)  Books with Science Fiction or Fantasy stickers check out less than regular fiction.  I buy every hardback Western I can find because OMG our patrons are crazy about them.  Romance doesn’ t actually circ that well here, so I don’t buy as much of it.

    Fiction-I buy primarily hardback books.  They last long, they’re repairable, and the print is generally larger.  If I have to, I’ll go with Trade Paperback, they get trashed faster, but the print is still large enough that my patrons can read it.  I avoid Mass Market Paperbacks unless it’s the only possible way to replace a popular title that’s taken a beating.  The print in mass market books is just too small, many of my patrons just can’t read it.  I really am taking into consideration what kind of condition the book is going to be in in 40 years.

    With Romance that means my options are limited because so much is only published in mass market.  I’ll read a blurb and think “that sounds good.”  I keep reading and see that it’s a paperback, and think “nevermind.”  And then I keep looking.  What we see with our population is that they’re not happy with explicit sex, but they leaning more towards Christian romances.  I’ll be looking at a catalog and write GAG next to something, and immediately circle it to order because I know my patrons will love it.  I’ll write !!!! next to something, make a note for myself, and not order it for the library because I know my patrons would be horrified.

    I had no idea how annoyingly frustrating buying books could be until I started doing the ordering for my library.  Buying books is HARD!

    I don’t who does collection development at the Pikes Peak Library in Colorado Springs, but they’re awesome.  When I’m searching for books to fill ILL requests for patrons, most of the time Pike Peak owns it.  I just expect to see them in the list these days.

  16. 16
    Aimee says:

    Last year all 10 library systems in my province (Saskatchewan) amalgamated with one online catalogue, so I have access to an entire province’s worth of romance novels! And what a collection it is, I don’t think I’ve ever looked up a book and not found it. I almost never browse my local library. Instead I read blogs and look on Amazon for books and authors that I might like, and then I search for them in the online catalogue. After I request them, it usually takes about a week (depending on whether or not there is a waiting list) for the book to be delivered to my local library, where I pick it up. It is very similar to interlibrary loans, but I find it much easier to search for and request books in this new system. And the selection can’t be beat!

    can89: If I could I would have 89 books checked out of the library at one time!

  17. 17
    Chelsea says:

    My local library has a FANTASTIC romance section thanks to a lovely woman named Judy who works there. Here are the things that make it fantastic:

    1) It’s the first library I’ve been in that actually has a clearly labeled romance section (the sign has pretty hearts <3)

    2) Each book gets a sticker indicating that it is a romance. It’s very methodically organized—alphabetical by author.

    3) They always have several newish or popular books displayed prominently to catch reader’s eye. Also, they often put out lists of recommended authors on little card or bookmarks, something along the lines of Great Historical Romance Authors…

    There are a few short comings though. For one, many times they put books that I would consider romance other places. For example, the Lisa Kleypas wallflower series found it’s way into the otherwise very serious historical fiction category. Nora Roberts kept getting put in Mystery/Suspense until several patrons spoke up about it. So it can be a bit frustrating to track down favorite authors. I think this comes down to knowing the books, and when your not sure what kind of book it is look it up.

    Another thing I’d love to see subcategories. I’d like it divided into contemporary, paranormal, historical, etc. That might be asking too much, but I can dream.

  18. 18
    Cynara says:

    Mostly, I get book recommendations from LibraryThing or from here.  I order my books on my library system’s website, and they’re brought from any of the 99 branches to my local.  It’s amazing and I love it and them. 

    However, as a consequence, I don’t generally go to my librarians with requests for recommendations.

    My library is really good for current romances, both paperback and hardback, but I’ve noticed that I can rarely find older paperbacks; if you visit my “Unavailable at Library” collection (http://www.librarything.com/catalog/Cynara/unavailableatlibrary), you’ll see a lot of books that got great ratings here.

  19. 19
    Sarah B. says:

    Our Library had catagory romances seperated out, but that was it. Now I think they are all integrated into paperbacks (though they may still have the <3 spine labels.) I’m enjoying the discusison on to break out genre or to not break them out. Our paperback spinners are kind of a defacto romance section, but we do have a lot mixed in with regular fiction as well. I’ve found our readers are VERY willing to come up and talk to us, and our desk staff is very well equiped to handle the discussion. Next year the whole lot of us are planning to go to the RT convention.

    For myself, I got up to speed in two years thanks to the Adult Reading Round Table, a local multi-library readers advisory group. They did a genre study. Once every two months we met to discuss a subgenre of romance. Up to that point I’d read a few chick lit novels and some Jennifer Crusie and didn’t really have much of a clue about other kinds of Romance. Nowadays I consider myself schooled and ready to reader advise. Our library also has just started a genre discussion group for patrons and our first meeting was Romance and it went very well.

    We don’t always have the older books, sometimes they get used too hard and can’t be reordered, (out of print) Sometimes they aren’t read quite enough to keep on the shelf, but we will always try our best to get them from other libraries in our consortium or statewide.

  20. 20
    taylor says:

    Both of my parents are (retired) reference librarians, so I am an AVID library patron.  All three library systems (different cities) with which I am familiar have shelved differently, but my favorite is the Carnegie Library system in Pittsburgh.  They sort/shelve by genre for new books (about the first year) and they sort/shelve HEAVILY!  There’s a section for romance, sci-fi, mystery, international (translated) fiction, gay & lesbian, etc.  But when books are no longer considered “new” they’re all shelved together in fiction (or non, obviously).  I LOVED that system.  It let me see what was new in genres I enjoyed, but then I also discovered some of my now favorite authors because I’d see an interesting looking book next to one I was looking for in the general section.

    As for romance specifically, all 3 systems have had good selections, but I am (unfortunately) embarrassed to ask about romances or romance authors because of librarian attitudes in the past.  Including my mother’s!

  21. 21
    jennifer says:

    I accidentally discovered that my library has a lot of romance audio-books via netlibrary.com (and a smaller selection of releases as e-books); the collection is a bit wonky—heavy on certain authors, or with incomplete series—much like the physical book collection @ the library, but the free MP3 audiobooks are the best things ever—As far as promotion, the only thing I’ve ever seen is a theme-display or new release shelf. I think my library is a bit low-key on the romance side of things…

  22. 22
    kkw says:

    I got addicted to romance novels the summer I biked cross-country, because the small town libraries I stopped in usually had massive romance collections.  I had been used to reading a book or two a day, but I couldn’t carry much with me, so I was pining to read something, anything.  To my surprise I discovered that I loved romance novels.  To be fair, 92 was around the time that romances were going from being guilty pleasures to actually good books (which is not to say that there weren’t awesome ones back in the day and aren’t plenty of horrid ones still).  It’s a good thing it turned out I did love romance novels, because they were usually most of the fiction collection.  I asked a librarian about it and she said she ordered what people read, which was mostly romance, so of course I wanted to see why it was so much more popular than everything else.
    I think back so fondly on those little libraries (they can’t all have been adorable one room brick buildings with yew and rhododendron foundation plantings).
    The collection at NYPL is spread out over so many branches that browsing in the stacks is generally unrewarding, particularly now that they’re re-organizing the main branch in such a baffling way.  I’ve had excellent luck requesting books, although that does require me to know (and remember) titles or authors.  Their ebook collection could use a lot of love, and based on the wait time for everything it’s popular enough that I’m not sure why it isn’t bigger.  Money, presumably.  Any one know if there are extensive elibraries I could join, or am I limited by geography?

  23. 23
    Linda says:

    I’m the buyer at my local public library for mass market paperbacks.  I buy selections of fiction, western, mysteries, a rare fantasy and a large selection of romance.  I buy only new, original titles from established authors and always scope out new authors.  I rely on reading reviews (I especially like Romantic Times Book Reviews) and follow circulation numbers to see what’s popular.  Fiction and westerns are shelved together, mysteries are shelved in another area and romance has a large area all it’s own.  Romance has a heart label on the spine.  I did add paranormal stickers and time-travel stickers.  I stopped the time-travel because I think it prevented some people from looking at the books.  I agree with some of the above comments that some of the romantic suspense might be overlooked too.  However, I have really highlighted, talked up and promoted the romance collection.  I have directed many male readers to the suspense authors and they now peruse the whole romance section.  We have one of the largest, most comprehensive collections in the state of Connecticut.  People from every town request our books.  I’m so sorry I’m not attending CLA to see your presentation.  Hope you enjoy the Connecticut Librarians!

  24. 24
    Cheshire Cat says:

    Welcome to Connecticut! My home state. I often go to my local library.
    My library is really good with books. They have a romance section. Their romance section is alphabetical (and there no sub-sections.) Sometimes romance ends in up in fiction particularly older romances like Heyer, or Inspirational romances.
    They have a ton of Nora Roberts books; some are in fiction; most are in romance; they have one little(by library standards) bookcase with all Roberts books on it. On the bookcase is a brochure explaining how the Nora Roberts books they have are connected in different series.
    They do not have many Harlequin romances or other trade books?.
    But they may have authors that are published by Harlequin.
    They mainly have newer books which surprises some. Fewer heyers; more roberts.
    I have never seen any erotica, but I am unsure.
    They also have the newest JD Robb books but not the originals.
    All in all I think my library is pretty good.

    Grin52: Be nice to the Cheshire Cat.

  25. 25
    EbonyMcKenna says:

    I heart libraries.

    When I was in my son’s school library, my OCD tendencies came out in the picture book section – Dr Seuss should be under S for Seuss but they were in the D for Doctor.

    Other books were sorted by the author’s first name. It’s not a big library, but it would be a massive job just to sort out the picture books.

    So I can imagine libraries with 20 – 30 years of books would have a hard time making changes. Especially as they’re often linked with several libraries doing reciprocal lending.

    Don’t make me come over there and sort them out! :-D

  26. 26
    Elaine says:

    My local library system is AH-MAZING for any (genre) fiction reader. SciFi, Mysteries, Westerns, Romances, General Fiction/Literature and Graphic Novels all have their own stacks. Not just shelves, stacks. Stacks and stacks and stacks that are labelled neatly and clearly. And the catalog is all online, so after I leave reading a review on the Internet at home, I can request a hold (or an acquisition, or an ILL) from my couch to be picked up at the branch of my choice. And eBooks, thousands of eBooks! I <3 my library!

  27. 27
    Shelley says:

    I’m a children’s librarian, but the only regular romance reader on staff. So while I don’t buy the books, I do give my thoughts on what to buy and what to weed. Romance has its own shelving area, and it’s pretty robust. Harlequin categories plus general stand alones. We’ve also done one or two romance novel programs around Valentine’s Day.

    We have a small collection of books for adults in our kids department, which we restock weekly. I’ve had readers advisory sessions with parents and caregivers – it’s sometimes hard to get them to admit they like romances. I think because librarians are supposed to be snobby/literary? Bah to that. Once I draw it out of them, we can have great conversations with recommendations flowing!

    (And I wish I could go to that conference! I just finished leading a eReader and tech petting zoo for my department, and I’d love to get ideas for the next one, but I’m also starting to plan and order our video game collection. I’m so excited for it, but there’s definitely details I want to discuss with libraries who already do it.)

  28. 28
    Emily says:

    I just got an e-reader, and I’m loving how easy it is to get a book – no stigma of browsing “that”  shelf.  I just wish they had a larger selection!

    When I did get actual books, I hated the spinners.  You could not find anything!  It also seemed very much like they were throw-away books.

  29. 29
    maritza m says:

    The best library romance collection ever (imo) is held by the library branches through Urbana-Champaign in Illinois.  I discovered so many authors through their library and read the back list on authors I’d never had access to otherwise. 
    They also had (and this was 10 yrs ago- so it can only have improved) something the chicago public lib have only recently implemented- online registration for book borrowing and tracking your number on the waiting list.
    The Librarians were needless to say were kickass!

  30. 30
    jessamine says:

    I feel like it’s common for libraries to file “good” romance novels alphabetically in general fiction and “trash” in uncatalogued racks. This is annoying for someone who wants to browse a romance section, and also means that it is not possible to search for most romance novels in the database (because they’re uncatalogued). You can’t put a hold on the new book by your favorite author, or check to see if someone good you just read for the first time has other books available, or try to find again something you really liked….
    I think romance sections should be the way really good YA sections are- all the Twilight books and whatnot, but mixed in with other books the same readers will enjoy but just don’t know it yet, like Ursula K Leguin or The Bluest Eye, and other things not commonly thought of as YA but totally accessible and interesting to the same people. Not in a patronizing way- trick romance readers into reading “real” books- but in a useful way- like, give people the opportunity to discover Georgette Heyer (I had to look her up after reading that Susan Elizabeth Phillips book- I had no idea!), have copies of Jane Austen books, maybe some romantic mysteries and Sharon Shinn.

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