by Kiersten Hallie Krum
I have a complicated relationship with librarians. When I was a kid, we did not get along. I never understood the contradiction of a Free Public Library that charged fees if you were late returning books. I also didn’t like people being able to tell me which books I could and could not take out a given moment. But then, I’ve never done well with people being able to tell me what I could and could not do about anything.
But as an academic and a lover of books, I adore libraries and have spent many, many hours exploring their treasures. Of course, now I know several admirable librarians and have a much better informed appreciation not only of the vast amounts of work they do (and of the regular abuse they receive from unruly patrons), but their extraordinary love of and commitment to their jobs that often makes them ideal partners for writers, particularly genre (romance) writers.
Last Friday I attended the annual Long Island Romance Writers Shining the Light on Romance Editor and Agent Luncheon. Held every year at the lovely Fox Hollow Inn in Woodbury, NY, this networking event allows writers, editors, and agents to mix and mingle and pitch…and drink champagne. This is my fifth year at the luncheon and I make attending it a priority every year regardless of my pitch plans or needs as there is always a riveting speaker with unique insights on the romance publishing industry.
This year’s guest speaker was Bette-Lee Fox, managing director of Library Journal. She is also the recipient of the 2013 RWA Vivian Stephens Industry Award. Ms. Fox’s theme was about how today’s library is not our mother’s library. This is a good thing as I’ve no doubt I’ve pissed off the librarians of my mother’s era beyond repair. Long memories there.
The numbers Ms. Fox shared are compelling. There are 199 million public library users. In 2013, $1.55 billion was spent on acquiring materials for public libraries most of which was spent on print books followed by ebooks and DVDs. 78% of print book borrowers bought books; 73% of e-book borrowers bought books. The most requested genre of books were thrillers, followed by mysteries, which were very closely followed by romance and inspirational. 22% of borrowers bought books they’d already borrowed and read from the library; 54% bought books of an author they’d first discovered by borrowing that author’s book from the library. Ms. Fox calls this “The Showroom Effect”. I love this stat because romance writers are notorious for re-reading beloved books and we also like to own our favorites in order to keep doing so.
Public libraries, Ms. Fox said, are the public echoes of buying trends. To this end, Library Journal publishes a top 10 list of public librarians chosen titles for the month. Called “Library Reads”, this list is found in the issue on the 15th of the month. Ebooks offer a still relatively new way for authors to get books to a world-wide audience that is thirsty for new material and there are plans to create a National E-book Month to encourage librarians to stock more e-book authors.
For the writer, these libraries and their librarians offer innovative ways to stock and promote books because they too read, watch, listen, and play. Ms. Fox highlighted the Library Journal‘s Movers and Shakers program that recognizes individuals at the cutting edge of advancing the role of libraries in patrons’ lives. “If there’s a common theme among their profiles, it’s that as much as the library is a place to go, it is also a place on the go—to wherever patrons or potential patrons are.” These are not our mother’s libraries, Ms. Fox concluded. “They are our libraries and they are taking up into the future.”
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