Industry Insights - Library Love
To tie in with World Library Day, we invited librarians to share their #LibraryLove. Librarians Ana Coqui, Frannie Strober Cassano, Wendy the Super Librairan, and Stephen Ammidown tell us why we need to keep supporting libraries.
When Ana Coqui is not reading and reviewing romance novels she is a school librarian...
My students are between the ages of ten and thirteen, in grades four through six. As a librarian I love this age, because they are just starting to define themselves as readers, learning what kind of genres they love best. There is a lot of experimentation and openness to recommendations. My fiction collection is almost entirely made up middle-grade books with some stretches into YA for our more advanced sixth grade readers.
I believe it is my duty as a librarian to create an inclusive collection, and I make that my guiding principle in collection development. The choices have been affirmed again and again when my students pounce on books that represent them and the world they know. While the number of books with POC and LGBTQIA+ protagonists is growing, there is a still a need for many more. The MG market is still almost exclusively dominated by traditional publishers and print books. All the kids in my school have access to a Chromebooks and they do a great deal of non-fiction and assigned reading digitally, but do most of their pleasure reading in print.
My ability to acquire indie authors depends on whether they have their books in print, and available through the major school library vendors. I can’t purchase books from Amazon, or directly from authors, unless authors are willing to jump through a lot hoops from my district purchasing department. I don’t generally have students asking for books I can’t provide, however. When I was teaching in a Middle School it would not be unusual for a student to ask me for a book they had heard about on YouTube or WattPad, and it was frustrating to not be able to buy them a copy.
In Middle-Grade fiction there is a fair amount of realistic fiction that has some sort of romantic elements at play. There are many stories centered around friendship, drama, or coming-of-age stories, that grapple with the awakening of romantic feelings or explorations of identity. From popular graphic novels such as Drama by Raina Telgemeier to best-selling titles like Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series to award-winning titles such Hurricane Child by Kheryn Callender, romantic threads are woven through many books.
Although it is not unusual for students to giggle through a book-talk where there is even a hint of kissing or romance, this is also the same age where kids will stop in afterwards and quietly ask me for one of those kissing books. For those students, and others, who will eventually develop a love for books about relationships, I make sure to have a diverse assortment of fiction with romantic elements available. While my library is set up in the traditional manner—fiction is not separated into sections by genre—I make genres more visible through genre labels. Although there are many differing opinions on librarianship about genre labels, I find these help my students to independently browse the library.
My Library clerk—who happens to be a romance reader and writer—and I have created resource lists, accessible in the online catalog and in print, for students interested in romance, just like we have for all our other genres. Romance is not less or ignored in our library, but just one more genre for our students to explore, which means books with romantic relationships, or exploring romantic feelings, are just as likely to be displayed or book-talked as is one about mythology or fantasy realms. My clerk and I also make an effort to request inter-library loans of books that we don’t own (mostly by YA authors) for some of our more dedicated romance readers.
We asked Frannie Strober Cassano some questions...
Hi Everyone! I’m Frannie. The Pink Heart Society invited me to discuss a little bit about the romance genre in public libraries. Much of how we talk books changes as fast as the next platform, but why we spread the love will always be at the heart of what we do.
Are romance novels still popular in libraries?
Romance Novels are SO popular in libraries. They are usually the top circulating books in a library’s collection, or at the very least tied with Mysteries. The talent, the Own Voices, the cross-genres, current events, even mid- and back-list titles are always being discussed in some way. In my experiences, Historical, Small Town, and the occasional Werewolf never goes down in appeal. But Cowboy/Rancher, Royals, Inspirational, Sports, Neuro-diverse heroes/heroines, and professional partner/duo in LGBTQIA+ are some of the many instant hits of the moment.
How does your local library make the books visible?
Making books visible in a public library varies, especially if you are limited on space where the most patron traffic is. It may sound basic, but seasonal displays are always a win, especially if you get super corny with the theme. Punny titles lend themselves so well. More and more patrons are asking for books by trope, so a display by trope is almost a guaranteed check-out. Arranging books by eye-catching fonts and graphics on covers, even well-known cover models, believe it or not works. As for digital collections, the vendors have tools built in to grow visibility. And Canva is always a lifesaver.
Are author days popular?
Authors should come to events to sell their books. But the popularity of author days vary from library to library, community to community. In my experience, author days do not guarantee sales for the author as they might have in the past. Libraries are known for offering free events, so patrons aren’t always coming to buy anymore, like they would if they were coming to a similar/the same event at a bookstore. If there is the chance that the library doesn’t allow sales because of its governing rules, then the library’s Friends Group might step in to run the program. It gets strangely complicated and sometimes the answers to why feel archaic in today’s world. But if an author participates in an author day purely for discovery, then it’s a win-win.
Is there greater demand for more diverse books?
There is a greater demand for more diverse and inclusive books. Readers want a Happily Ever After that resonates with them. Building and fostering meaningful, relevant collections for a community changes like everything else changes. It's keeping tabs on appeals, but patrons still look to the library for the personal connection and what themes have the potential to speak to them. The greater demand for diverse books must start with librarians, the librarians’ access to the titles, and how they bring those stories forward.
There is no reason why, in 2019, we aren't all reading Latina heroines, or Black heroes, or Asian crushes, or boyfriends living with PTSD, the Autistic daughter playing matchmaker, parents with Dementia, hearing-impaired sisters, the butler who steals the Vicountess’s heart, the internal dialogue with the heroine's deity, or why a hero doesn't have non-binary bosses or co-workers. They aren’t “topics” or “trends”; they aren’t sub-genres. They are us and they are our neighbors. So, it's a library's job to contain books that continue to reflect their patrons and their community, those HEAs for all. It's the librarians' job to know authors back and forth in order to say, “Oooh! I have the perfect book for you”, and put them in the readers’ hands.
Are eBooks available to borrow, and if they are, is paper still more popular or are ebooks on the rise??
Ebooks are still very popular in the library setting. But more patrons are looking for paper again, especially now that ebooks and audio are starting to have limited or deferred availability to libraries.
Do you work with Indie authors?
Working with Indie authors depends on the library. The response is usually fantastic, especially when they are local or regional authors.
What can an author/publisher do to help libraries engage more romance readers?
Anyone on social media is pretty excellent at romance reader engagement. We’ve got: Podcasts, Live Tweeting, Insta-Stories, Bookstagram/Book Challenges, SnapChats, Facebook parties, and relevant hashtags to tie things together. Bloggers do more heavy lifting than they get credit for. There’s Avon’s KissCons, Book Con, Book Lovers Con, Apollycon, Shameless, Historical Romance Retreat, and various literacy signings. Romance readers flock when authors appear at bookstores like: The Strand, Books Are Magic, Parnassus, Politics and Prose, Turn the Page, Book Culture, Word, The Ripped Bodice, or the Tattered Cover. Utilizing whichever combinations of all the resources out there is the key to reader engagement.
Building and maintaining trust with the community, authors, publishers, bloggers, fellow readers, and with fellow librarians is what Library Love should always be about.
But I’m just one librarian among many, who is here spreading the love. Tap into as many of us out there. We all have different insight. We always want to help.
Stephen Ammidown is the Manuscripts & Outreach Archivist for Brown Popular Culture Library...
The Browne Popular Culture Library has been collecting romance novels in one form or another since we opened in 1969. And so 50 years later, we have a category romance collection that includes more than 16,000 titles along with thousands of stand-alone titles. We are also the historical repository of the Romance Writers of America, with records dating back to the minutes of the organization’s very first meeting in 1980. In 1997, we began to acquire the manuscripts of romance authors and now have papers from more than 40 authors, from Susan Elizabeth Phillips to Megan Hart.
Our collections are open to the public, but as a special collection we don’t allow people to check materials out, which immediately makes us different from most libraries that have romance on their shelves. We serve multiple audiences, first and foremost being the students and faculty of the University. As a result, our first goal is always to try and help integrate popular culture topics, including romance, into student papers and the wider curriculum.
For outside academic researchers we try to be a sort of one-stop shop, encapsulating the process of creating pop culture works through things like manuscripts, the published works themselves, and the response from both media and fans through publications like Romantic Times and Romance Writers Report.
The final audience, who is sometimes the hardest to reach, is the broader community off campus. I am always inviting folks to visit and sit with a romance novel or a comic book. We’ve had a number of readers reach out to us because we’re the only library that has a particular category romance series they never got to finish! We’ve also worked with our local romance authors, to provide research materials, help them promote their work, and also to make sure their books end up in our collection. The greater Toledo area has a long literary tradition, and romance is no exception!
A big part of my job, as I just hinted at, is merely getting the word out. Even within our local community, we’re kind of a hidden gem. A lot of people I talk with have heard that there is a popular culture library on our campus, but they didn’t know we were open to folks who aren’t affiliated with the university. I use social media to reach beyond our typical audiences, and that’s helped a lot. Twitter has become huge for us—I’ve always felt it just makes sense for a collection like ours to integrate itself into “Romancelandia”, and that community has really responded well. But we’re also on Instagram and Facebook, which helps us reach entirely different audiences.
One of the things we’ve done to try and bring all of our romance-related groups together is to host conferences. We held them in 1997 and 2000, and revived the idea in 2018. It was a fantastic chance to bring together academics, authors and readers in a way that doesn’t often happen. Beverly Jenkins was our keynote, and she was fantastic—she stuck around the whole weekend, participated in discussions, and was so gracious with her time in talking with folks. A big highlight of the weekend for me was Elizabeth Kingston’s presentation on white supremacy in historical romance, which aside from blowing my mind was a perfect example of the sort of perspective that authors can bring to academic discussions of romance.
Looking towards the future, one of our greatest challenges is keeping up with the always-changing landscape of romance. We have not yet started to collect electronic manuscripts and ebooks, though we are working on ways to do that. We’re also trying to diversify the collection to include more authors of color, LGBTQ and #OwnVoices titles. When we talk to our current researchers, these are the most common areas they want to work in, plus adding these titles helps make our collection more reflective of the genre as a whole.
The biggest takeaway for me in doing this work is the understanding that romance needs to be taken seriously as a genre, and I think that’s the area where academic libraries like ours can help. There are academic libraries that have collected mysteries, pulp novels, and science fiction for decades. Meanwhile, the volume of romance sold, and the number of romance readers, demands the same kind of attention other genre fiction has received. This has started to change, and we’ve seen a definite increase in the number of scholars who are solely focused on romance.
I’d like to see publishers open up their archives and talk more about their history as well. Working with both the RWA and Romantic Times archives that we have, I’ve come across so many little tidbits of history that I wish companies like Harlequin and Kensington would talk about more. Even just talking about the editorial process over the years and sharing the evolution of cover art would be so cool to so many people.
For authors, I would encourage them to save their stuff. From notebooks to eBook files and conference swag, this stuff is both your business and your legacy. Don’t just delete it or throw it in the recycling bin! Your process and your work has value. We’re always happy to talk with writers about preserving their work, because even if it doesn’t end up in an archive like ours, it’s something that future generations are going to be interested in.
Wendy Crutcher gives us the cold, hard reality...
This past January I celebrated my 20th year as a librarian and I’ve spent the majority of my career working in the field of Collection Development. In 1999 digital reading wasn’t a mainstream thing yet and libraries were still buying audio books on cassette. When a former employer decided to bring Overdrive, one of the large library ebook vendors in North America, on board, training staff on how to side-load an ebook to either a Sony Reader or Nook (no Kindle compatibility in those days!) largely fell to me since I was literally the only person on staff with a Sony Reader PRS-505.
A lot has changed since then, and rapidly. Say what you will about the monolith Amazon, but they did make ebooks easy. This forced library ebook vendors to spend resources on app development—making it easier than ever to take your public library anywhere so long as you have your smart phone. For many public libraries, including where I work, this has led to a decrease in circulation of physical items and an increased circulation, and demand, for digital.
Let me preface by stating that I work for a very large library system, in a densely populated area. This means that most people who live in my area have options when it comes to broadband, internet service providers, and cell phone carriers. There are still socio-economic factors, but unlike other large swaths of the US, my area has options.
Romance readers who utilize their public libraries are, by and large, fairly conservative. In other words, the highest circulating titles are the books and authors you’d expect to circulate in high numbers. Surprises happen, but are rare. What has changed, drastically, is how romance readers are consuming books. Here are the circulation statistics for the most popular romance titles published in 2018 among my library patrons from January 1, 2018 to March 7, 2019.
What these statistics tell me, and should tell librarians in general, is that change isn’t coming, it’s already here. Our patrons are still reading, they’re simply consuming books differently than they were a decade ago. Also, the audiobook numbers are shocking. Any librarian half paying attention is well aware that audio has been on an upward trajectory for a while. Just with our Overdrive collection, my library has seen an 85% increase in downloadable audio circulation over a three-year period.
The challenge for libraries is, as always, figuring out a way to meet demand with budgets that have either shrunk or largely stayed stagnant over the past decade. Plus, the cost publishers are charging consumers is not the cost they’re charging libraries. That ebook that just released in hard cover that you probably paid $13-$16 for is costing your public library in the ballpark of $65. Also, different publishers have different pricing and lending models. Some publishers grant libraries continuous access (the ebook file will never expire) and other publishers are charging libraries $65+ for a license that will self-destruct after X number of circulations or after a given time frame (example: one or two years). The reality of the situation is that libraries can get multiple copies of a book in print for the cost of one ebook file. As librarians look at their smaller or stagnant budgets, and seen the insatiable appetite among patrons for digital content, this has been a particularly hard pill to swallow.
One thing I’ve learned over the last 20 years is that publishers aren’t in the business of making things easy for libraries. Never mind that retail spaces have shrunk exponentially and the public library is the only physical “book space” in most towns, it’s up to librarians to evaluate how we are utilizing our space and allocating collection dollars. This will mean different things for different libraries, contingent on the community they’re serving. For libraries covering multiple jurisdictions and a smorgasbord of demographics, it’s particularly challenging.
The need to protect libraries as hubs for knowledge and community is well known. These articles prove the selfish reasons too. Supporting libraries is supporting ourselves, our friends, and our genre. Comment below and on social media with ways you engage with your local library.
#amwriting #IndustryInsights #romanceindustry #RepresentationMatters #DiversityMatters #DiversityinRomance #AnaCoqui #FrannieStroberCassano #StephenAmmidown #WendyCrutcher #LibraryLove #SavetheLibraries #ebooks #communityoutreach