[Note from Frolic: We are so excited to have Shanel Wermerskirchen write a series of scholarly articles for us about the relationship between the romance genre and libraries.]
In my previous article, I crawled up onto my soapbox clutching a bull horn and shouted how public libraries and Romancelandia are soul mates. I’ll be exploring how we can set this ‘ship a sail in a series of six articles by combing through research and having conversations with Romancelandia folks and romance-friendly librarians.
The first tip for libraries to be more romance-friendly is a bit of a face-palm, but hear me out! Ready for it? *gEt iNfoRmEd AbOuT tHe GeNrE*
That’s it. That’s the whole first solution. It sounds so ridiculously simple, but it’s also one of the most important steps in developing a more relevant and complete collection, building a sense of community with romance readers, and providing romance genre services outside of just the collection.
I also know that sometimes this can be easier said than done. Libraries are constantly providing more services for their communities and librarians are wearing more hats than ever. It can be tough to suggest another agenda item for their to-do list. Iowa has over 500 public libraries in the state, usually making it a top 5 contender for most public libraries. That also means that some public libraries may be staffed by only one librarian. Efficiency and having a list of go-to tools for staying up-to-date on romance genre news is key. So where should librarians go to find information on the romance genre and its readers?!
There aren’t a ton of formal research pieces about the romance genre as I discussed in my previous article. However, that is changing (FINALLY). For librarians looking to find pieces of academic research and discussions, the Journal of Popular Romance Studies is key. Librarians can browse by issue, date, and author, and can access the journal online for free. It is a “Double-blind peer reviewed interdisciplinary journal exploring popular romance fiction and the logics, institutions, and social practices of romantic love in global popular culture.” It’s a journal that looks at romance from multiple perspectives, and can give a librarian a more robust context for the genre and provide fodder for conversations with patrons.
2. Existing Reference Materials
Sources do exist to help librarians who want to be informed about the genre! There’s the Encyclopedia of Romance Fiction and Romance Fiction: A Guide to the Genre by Kristin Ramsdell–a true goddess in the romance world. Romance Fiction and American Culture: Love As the Practice of Freedom? edited by William A. Gleason and Eric Murphy Selinger is another interdisciplinary approach to studying trends and foundations of the genre. Happily Every After: The Romance Story in Popular Culture by Catherine M. Roach takes another academic look at the romance reader. A Natural History of the Romance Novel by Pamela Regis examines romance fiction through a feminist lens and disrupts the historical misconceptions about the genre. Library Journal and BookList are two resources that have short reviews of upcoming romance novels written by folks in the know. Undoubtedly more exist, but these are some that have most shaped my relationship to the genre and my understanding of it. They not only help with collection development, but also with understanding romance readers and why they love the genre. The issues surrounding the genre are ones that readers are looking to discuss, and having staff who are knowledgeable is going to provide more meaningful interactions with romance readers and a more romance-friendly library overall.
3. Online Resources:
Every librarian has a readers’ advisory resource up their sleeve, and my favorite is NoveList by EbscoHost. There are curated book lists, title and author readalikes, and suggested titles by subgenre. While some of the books suggested are not always romance fiction, it’s a great start to keeping up with popular authors, tropes, and subgenres.
In my humble opinion, there’s no better way to check the pulse of the romance community than Romancelandia. Romancelandia is especially influential for younger romance readers. In 2015, 19% of those under 30 noted that book bloggers were among the most influential sources for romance fiction information. (see the handy Nielsen chart below). This is especially important as millennials are the generation most likely to use library resources.
The RWA Book Buyer Guide from 2017 also provided insights. More people are turning to Romancelandia folks through book review blogs and sites, authors on social media and blogs, and reader forums than the public library for book recs and romance info. Librarians should know where their users are accessing information so that they can have common ground with their patrons and stay relevant.
Romancelandia also provides more diverse perspectives on the genre than top-down reviewing alone. Social media reviewers come from the readers themselves, are more intimately connected to those who will make up the library’s usership, and are adding a unique level of perspective to the librarian’s toolkit. The consideration of Romancelandia reviews and discussions also introduces librarians to more diverse perspectives in terms of identities and backgrounds. According to anonymous responses to a 2015 survey, 89% of institutional reviewers are white, 91% are heterosexual, and 88% are persons without disabilities. While reviewers on social media sites are certainly not immune to a lack of diversity, librarians can actively choose to follow accounts that supply own voices reviews are written by people who share an identity or experience that closely aligns with the characters and/or author of a particular novel.
This doesn’t mean that librarians have to spend hours scrolling through Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. They can set boundaries that are appropriate to their work time and comfortability with social media and blogs. Consulting Romancelandia isn’t meant to replace traditional sources, only to add to the librarian’s toolkit.
Outside of social media Romancelandia, librarians can keep up with romance fiction through a variety of sites that pull from social media and current trends. If you’re here, then you already know that Frolic exists, yay!! Other sites like Smart Bitches, Trashy Books are invaluable resources for keeping informed.
5. Go to the freaking source:
And last, but certainly not least, I challenge every public librarian working reference and readers’ advisory to read at least one romance novel each year! What better way to keep up with romance than by reading new and current romance??
TL;DR=In order to be a romance-friendly librarian, you gotta be informed. Preferably through a diverse set of sources.
Want to read more about ideas that helped to inspire this article?
- Charles, J., & Linz, C. (2005). Romancing your readers: How public libraries can become more romance-reader friendly. Public Libraries, 44(1), 43-48.
- “Millennials Are the Most Likely Generation of Americans to Use Public Libraries.” Pew Research Center. (2017) https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/06/21/millennials-are-the-most-likely-generation-of-americans-to-use-public-libraries/
- Romance Book Buyer 2017: A Study by NBD Book for Romance Writers of America. (2017).
- “Where Is the Diversity in Publishing? The 2015 Diversity Survey Baseline Survey Results.” Lee & Low Books. (2015). https://blog.leeandlow.com/2016/01/26/where-is-the-diversity-in-publishing-the-2015-diversity-baseline-survey-results/
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About the Author:
Shanel Wermerskirchen Slater is a Teen and Information Services Specialist at a public library in eastern Iowa. Before becoming a resident of Library Land, she worked in a cultural museum as an event and program planner and as a political organizer. She believes in espresso in the morning, radical empathy, romance around the clock, and the power of an HEA to cure what coffee and chocolate can’t.