LIBRARIES & ROMANCE NOVELS, PART 2: MAKING ROMANCE ACCESSIBLE

I’m continuing my exploration of the intersections between academic libraries and romance novels this week, because nothing makes me happier than bringing together two of my favorite things. Last week I wrote about the potentially beneficial, sometimes awkward, and often complicated relationship between self-published authors, librarians, readers, and reviewers. Michelle Boule has a great response to my post up at her wonderful blog, A Wandering Eyre, where she goes into greater detail about getting indie books onto library shelves and into the hands of readers who love them.

Today I’m continuing the conversation about making romance novels accessible to library patrons/users by highlighting two recent librarian-authored articles published in the Journal of Popular Romance Studies. I can’t even begin to say how happy I am to have found this journal, and to know that colleagues in libraries are thinking about broader issues surrounding romance novel accessibility at their institutions.

ROMANCE NOVEL ACCESSIBILITY AND RESPECT

Librarian and romance novel advocate Vassiliki Veros wrote a fantastic article examining the implications of cataloging (the process by which libraries organize, categorize, and share their collections) on the “findability” of romance novels in libraries. She argues that although romance novels, as the most lucrative fiction genre, bring in enormous amounts of economic capital (aka $$$$) but very little cultural capital (aka respect). Although she does not explore the many reasons why this discrepancy exists (it’s not the the focus of the article after all) she does go into great detail about how this lack of respect for romance writers and readers has been expressed in library cataloging. Many Australian libraries reduce paperback collections, and as a consequence, romance novels, to numbers attached to a publisher (e.g. Mills & Boon, Harlequin). This makes finding specific romance authors and novels extremely difficult and reduces library users to browsing, which is both inconvenient and inefficient. The whole point of effective library cataloging is to connect library patrons to their intended resource (book, DVD, CD, whatever), but the practices at many Australian libraries seem to work against this intent.

I’m curious: How easy is it for you to find romance novels at your public libraries? I’ve written a bit about the difficulty accessing self-published romance novels via the library, but I wonder if, as Veros writes, readers are encountering additional roadblocks on the way to connecting with a well-loved genre.

BUILDING A POPULAR ROMANCE COLLECTION IN AN ACADEMIC LIBRARY

Shifting gears slightly from public to academic libraries, the latest issue of the Journal of Popular Romance Studies also has a wonderful new case study by George Mason University librarians, Sarah Sheehan and Jen Stevens on their efforts to build a popular romance collection in their library. At a university that hosts the Popular Romance Project and has an English department where faculty teach classes like “Why Women Read Romance Novels” and “Marriage Plots,” this collection is a perfect fit. Sheehan and Stevens describe their efforts to create a collection that is thoughtful and focused. Their approach to purchasing popular romance novels acknowledges the complexities of building a collection in a genre that is heavily entrenched in e-book and mass market paperback sales rather than the easier to preserve, sturdier hard cover format. They address the difficulty of selecting novels that represent the diversity of sub-genres and themes in popular romance and note the challenge of selecting representative works from a particular author or category. As someone who buys ALL THE ROMANCE NOVELS from my local library and bookstore bargain carts, I am in awe at the self control exhibited by these librarians who created a sustainable model for a fascinating collection.

I’m also curious about borrowing statistics for these books and wonder if they’ll primarily be used by students and scholars for class-related reading, or if they’ll find their way into the hands of students, faculty, and staff (both at George Mason and in other academic libraries via Interlibrary Loan) interested in simply reading for fun. Academic libraries have a long history of promoting recreational (aka non-scholarly) reading on college and university campuses, and this collection could potentially meet a need that secret romance readers have been too shy to express. I sometimes wonder if such a collection would find a willing audience at my own academic library.

At the end of the article you can find a list of the novels purchased by Sheehan and Stevens throughout the 2013-2014 academic year. I’m curious: If you were building a popular romance collection for a research/academic library, what titles and authors would you include?

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