[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.]
I’ve done the research, I’ve talked to some experts, and now I want to absorb the collective knowledge of Romancelandia and map it all out! I was inspired to create a Romance-Friendly Public Library map by Jennifer Prokop’s crowd-sourced Romance Friendly Indie & Used Bookstore Map. She was kind enough to chat on the phone with me about how to best collect information and set goals for the project (thanks, Jen!). I created a survey to gauge how public libraries are serving romance readers, where there is cause for celebration, and where there is work to be done. It is still available here, and I invite you to participate! The survey and map project will be an ongoing one that I am excited to watch grow.
The goals of my map and survey are to act as a resource for romance readers and serve as a tool for librarians hoping to forge connections and improve services. Not all information collected in the survey will be displayed on the map and submissions will be anonymous. I considered several digital mapping tools, and I kept coming back to Google Maps. It’s a system that is familiar with most directionally-challenged people (*cough* me), and can be easily remembered and recalled when information is needed quickly. You can check out the map here.
Embarking on a digital project about public library services for Romancelandia has taken on more urgency since the global Coronavirus pandemic. Many public libraries, wisely, have closed to the public. The needs of readers are still present, likely even more so, during this time of uncertainty and anxiety. The promise of an HEA or HFN has personally, in part, helped me cope with my fear and anxiety. My role at the library has shifted at this time to providing digital services, and you can bet that I did several book talk videos on romances readers can find on library apps. Romance can be therapeutic. It can’t take the place of mental health therapy or universal health care, but it has a solid position in my own self-care practice.
The results of the survey, overall, showed that public libraries may be improving, but there is still plenty of work to be done. Romance collections appear to be valued and most useful to public library romance readers. However, services like programs and events are either not offered or not marketed in a way that reaches romance readers. Romance readers are also split on the expertise and customer service provided by public library staff regarding romance. It should be noted that survey respondents were self-selected social media users who discovered the survey either through Twitter or Instagram. We cannot presume this is a full picture of public library services for romance readers, but it’s at least a peek. Let’s take a look at some of the results.
Overall, the results are in line with the previous research noting that librarians may not be as well-informed about the genre as necessary for their community. However, library staff’s attitudes toward romance readers do appear to be changing in a positive direction. While half are neutral on its readership, more than a third respect it and 10.5% celebrate it. One Romancelandia member remarked that, “The head librarian is dedicated to supporting local authors with book signings, talks, etc. She is also a vocal fan of romance.” That one warmed my little heart SO MUCH.
Only a fraction have no or little respect for romance readers. However, those staff members and organizations that do not have respect for romance readers are greatly disadvantaging their own organization and their communities. A reader noted, “I would love for romance to be taken more seriously. The only time Romance is displayed is usually for a joke or when the staff feel they are being clever.”
The survey results regarding the collection are the ones that surprised me most, in a good way! I honestly expected romance readers to be more under-served in this category, and I was thrilled to find that, largely, reader needs are being met. Most are finding a romance novel that interests them when they visit the physical or virtual library. There are also a variety of formats available for readers to consume novels. I would like to see more multiples kits, but 15% is still more than I initially would have thought available.
Note: I added the question about large print romance novels after most had taken the survey, so the results aren’t a full picture of the libraries.
Services, Programs, Events, and Awareness
Community awareness of services is a topic that comes up over and over again in public libraries (and many other organizations!). That was reflected in this survey as well. The library may be providing a unique collection feature, event, or program, but it may not be marketed effectively for a variety of reasons–tiny budgets and limited staff resources being chief among them. The percentage of folks who were unsure about one or more of the services and programs was alarming to me as a library worker. If you create a stellar program plan, but no one knows about it, you’ll be left disappointed and won’t have served the community. Oof.
Libraries also have work to do in providing other services to romance readers beyond the collection and readers’ advisory (book recommendations). The most frequently suggested program? A book club! One of the simplest and most recognizable library events that doesn’t take a huge bite out of the budget.
Other suggestions for programs, events, and services included:
- Romance book club or reading series
- More self-published romance
- Curated romance novel lists
- Author visits
- Increased digital offerings
- Romance book swap
Romance fiction, romance readers, and the online Romancelandia community have been pillars supporting me as a human living through the pandemic, and connecting me a sense of community through self-isolation. Public libraries are created and imagined for and with their communities. In a time that demands grace, compassion, and connection, we as library workers have the tools and the mandate to serve romance readers. The ones who know there is light at the end of the tunnel, no obstacle too big, and always an HEA waiting. Take care, and be well, friends.
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.