I Learned A Lot From Librarians

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by Sarah Wendell, co-creator and current mastermind of a blog devoted to the romance genre. Originally posted May 5, 2011.

I was invited to present a session on romance collections and romance readers at the Connecticut Library Association conference in Stamford this week, and I learned two key things:

1. I was SO wrong
2. Librarians are even more awesome than I thought

I figured that at a state-wide conference of librarians from all different types of libraries, which are STAID and QUIET and INSTITUTIONS of QUIET STAID BOOKISHNESS, I had to be formal. I NEEDED PIE CHARTS. And graphs! And sexy numbers with decimal points when talking about romance.

Note above: I was SO wrong.

Much like romance readers are judged and dismissed according to an antiquated stereotype, so too was I operating under an antiquated stereotype of librarians. How did I learn of my mistake? Flying Peep heads.

In the room next door to mine were two librarians demonstrating science projects for use in hands-on library programming. The “Science Fun @ Your Library” session was led by Janet Murphy and Susan Hansen of the West Hartford Public Library‘s Bishops Corner Branch.

The description was awesome, too: ” Find out how one daring children’s librarian and one geek-girl branch manager plunged ahead with a plan to promote science literacy through hands-on experiments and activities with phenomenal results. Join us in an experiment (or two) and learn how to start a FETCH! Club at your library.”

They had tables. With arts and crafts! And popsicle sticks. (And a projector and a LCD slide presentation, too - I presume without pie charts). Their session, which was at the same time as mine otherwise I SO would have gone, had attendees making either a self-propelled car, or a catapult. 

In the conference session, the catapult involved pompoms, but Ms. Murphy told me that in the library version, they found that the best item for catapulting in the library was decapitated Peep heads. At one meeting, the goal was to modify the catapult so the Peep head would fly from their meeting area all the way across to the circulation desk. Once they did it, and the Peep head landed on the circa desk, Murphy put the Peep head on the phone - only to come back a few days later to find it was still there and was now permanently bonded to the phone.

This, it seems, is how librarians roll.

My presentation was about romance communities, romance readers, and libraries - and how libraries can improve their romance collections and welcome readers into their local branches.

Right up until I found out about the long reach capabilities of your average decapitated Peep head, I was still laboring under the idea that I needed to be professional and as boring as possible. Which leads me to point #2: librarians are awesome.

I was greeted by a roomful of enthusiastic librarians who have healthy romance collections, along with some children’s and youth services librarians who were looking to build their YA library collections. I talked a bit about the romance community online, how active and enthusiastic we are about the genre (and how many of us love libraries) and how to reach out to us online. I gave a selection of programming ideas for romance-specific library plans on a minuscule budget, and I made a little fun of the endless possibilities of a title like “Adult Services Librarian.” Because, DUDE.

The best part was the reader’s advisory panel that erupted at the end. One YA librarian asked for suggestions of middle grade and teen YA romances for those who finished the Twilight series and wanted more (I knew some answers to that, thankfully), and another librarian was hoping to find suggestions for the must-have romances to build her own collection in all the popular genres. Another gentleman (who turned purple when I mentioned the mighty wang and the magic hoo-hah) asked about romances specifically for his mother, who didn’t like the sex scenes in most romances. I was most happy to tell him about Kristan Higgins, who is also a local author for many of those libraries.

The best part of the hour session was how excited these women were about romance, and how they wanted to help each other build better collections. I came prepared to make a case for cataloguing all the romances, and perhaps having a special section for them if there’s already a section in the library for mystery or science fiction, but all of them already catalogued their romance paperbacks, and made them searchable and re-servable online and in person. YAY!

Money quote of the day came from one of the attendees as we were talking about HarperCollins’ efforts to limit ebook checkouts: “Asking for more money from libraries right now is like kicking homeless people.” There were a number of panels on programming and budget stretching - I joked that their budgets were likely a penny, specifically one of those pennies that’s been spread out and flattened at the amusement park kiosk. The HarperCollins ebook check-out limit was also a topic buzzing in the room, with librarians scoffing at the idea of a 26-checkout limit. Most of their popular romances, even the older ones, have more than 75 checkouts, and there were mentions of heroic book repair and restoration that made me weak in the knees.

Most of all, I learned that librarians who love romance are like double-powered versions of romance readers. They love books super-amounts of much, and they were as happy to see romance readers as we are to see healthy romance collections.

If you’ve got a local library with a great romance collection, you might want to find and thank the librarian in charge of it - because wow, were these ladies and gentlemen awesome people to know.

Thank you, librarians everywhere, for being made of awesome.

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