Friday, May 18, 2012

50 Shades, Libraries And Collection Development 101

Yes, it's come this.  Wendy is going to talk about That Trilogy That Shall Not Be Named.  I know everybody else on the face of the Earth (well, at least on the face of  the Romance Blogging Earth) has beat this horse half to death, and normally with "hot topics" like this one, I don't feel like I have anything else interesting to add to the discussion.  Except in this case, I might.  Why?  Because even though my professional life has morphed just a wee bit in the last 6+ months, I'm still, in my heart of hearts, a collection development librarian.

I have a lot of pet peeves, but the one that gets my blood boiling faster than anything is when librarians lose sight of "good" collection development practices. Simply put, it's a balancing act between giving people what they want and what they need.  And as a librarian, it's not my job to beat them over the head with what I think the difference is between want and need.  My job is to provide materials and information in an unbiased manner and let folks make up their own minds.  So yeah, while I could happily never buy another Danielle Steel book ever again, I still buy her.  And when someone requests one of her books, or grabs one to take to the check-out desk, I don't pull them aside and say "Why are you reading this hack?  Let me give you something good to read!"

I also have serious issues with public libraries that become personal shrines to what the library staff likes to read.  Hey, if I had my druthers my library would be a monument to category romance, historical western romances and suspense novels.  But guess what?  Not everybody likes to read what I like to read.  People actually like to read things besides category romance, historical western romances and suspense novels (mores the pity).  I figure I'm not doing my job as a collection development librarian if the thought of 75% of what I purchase for work doesn't make me want to drive nails up my arms.

The argument bandied about over public libraries not collecting 50 Shades is that the reviews have been "bad."  That it's poorly written.  A flash in the pan.  A novelty.  A series with absolutely no staying power that will fade into obscurity in a few years.

To which I say, fine.  It can sit next to The Da Vinci Code in The Book Obscurity Grave Yard.

Do librarians base their purchases off "good reviews?"  Yes.  Yes we do.  But we also, if we're halfway decent at our job, learn quickly to read between the lines.  "Bad reviews" also sell books to public libraries.  Whether we're talking professional review journals or blogs, reviews are still one person's opinion.   My job is to look at the black, white and gray (tee hee), take out my crystal ball, and figure out if the audience exists for Book X within the population my library serves.

Also, I'll be blunt - as many reviews as I read, there are some books I just don't bother with reading the "critical" commentary.  John Grisham could publish a major turd of a book, but you know what?  I'm buying it.  It's John Grisham.  And it doesn't even have to be a "huge" author to get me to not read reviews.  Folks who are "names" within their genre get a free pass as well.  Ask the average person walking down the street who Julia Quinn is and they probably won't know.  But guess what?  She's a major name in romance circles, which means I'm buying Julia Quinn.  I just am folks.  I don't need to see the reviews.

You know who also gets a free pass?  When the media gets a hold of something.  I often say that a book can get the worst reviews in the history of publishing, and if the author lands on the Today Show?  Guess what, those reviews don't mean squat anymore.  Because as much as I love readers?  Dude, we're sheep.  Something gets enough attention and there's going to be a body somewhere who wants it.  (In the case of something like 50 Shades, a lot of bodies).

 Does this mean librarians should throw their baby expertise out with the bath water?  No.  Because I don't think libraries should solely be in the business of popularity contests either.  It's about finding a way, and the room, to have things like 50 Shades and the latest installment from the James Patterson Writing Sweat Shop sitting next to Shakespeare, Voltaire and that critically-lauded coming of age story translated from the original Swahili.

Is this always possible?  Is this always easy?  No.  No it's not.  There are days I look at my budget, look at the resources at my disposal, and slowly start banging my head against my desk.  Then I fix myself a nice cup of tea, pull up my Big Girl Librarian Panties, and find a way.  There are days when I figure it out, and then there are days when I really suck at my job.  That's the thing about library work, it keeps your ego in check.  The minute that anyone in this profession loses sight of that?  The minute we think we've got it all figured out, that we can do no wrong?  The minute we take collection development and turn it into something "personal?"  We've lost our way.

22 comments:

Lynne Connolly said...

I love you, Wendy.

Janet Schneider said...

Well said, fellow collection development librarian. Thanks!

Marguerite Kaye said...

One of those posts where I was doing my nodding dog impression. I am just back from my local library. We have a new buyer, and it really shows. TV book club stuff, top ten sellers, anything new by any big name. Some of it I wouldn't touch with the proverbial barge pole, but in the last few months I've sampled a whole load of authors and genres I wouldn't even think about buying - or even look at on the shelves - and you know what, I've really enjoyed a good third of them. That's what the library is for me (apart form self-consciously checking how many date stamps are on my own books), discovery. You can taste and try and it doesn't cost you. And the lovely librarians ask you for feedback and give you feedback on what other people have said without condemming you for choosing Viscount Linley's 205th case over Tolstoy. And can you tell I'm a library fan? Yay, yay, yay. And if you ever want to work in Scotland...

Viv Arend said...

*stands and applauds*

azteclady said...

*stands and applauds--and wishes SLWendy could get a hold of the library board/officials over at Florida's Brevard County*

Meri said...

I would like to join Viv and Azteclady in the applause. Fantastic post, Wendy.

Phyl said...

Nicely said, Wendy. Nicely said.

Lil Sis said...

I do read James Patterson from time to time - nice mindless beach read. But I always envisioned unpaid English grads (or monkeys) typing away at keyboards. But the sweatshop image works too. :)

nath said...

Really great post, Wendy! Your patrons are lucky to have you :)

Alie said...

I couldn't agree more, Wendy! It's none of our business what folks are reading and if we think their choices are good or bad. Romance readers often get a bad name, but it's the same for perpetual mystery readers, etc. In public libraries the audience is the public and if they are asking for 50 Shades, they should get it. It's their tax dollars after all!

Tracy S said...

Well said.

Maureen said...

Perfect post Wendy. I am really being good to not vomit all over a patron who comes up and request the trilogy that will not be named because I was one of those sheep & downloaded it & now wish someone just made me into a Lamb kabob cause it was a horrible read. But as a public library we get books that the public wants. Hopefully they will then come back and ask for a better recomendation.

Teeny said...

"Simply put, it's a balancing act between giving people what they want and what they need. And as a librarian, it's not my job to beat them over the head with what I think the difference is between want and need. My job is to provide materials and information in an unbiased manner and let folks make up their own minds." - YES.

Wendy said...

And I love you too Lynne - even if you do poo-poo my devotion to Earl Grey ;)

Wendy said...

Janet: Best job ever, right?

Wendy said...

Marguerite: That's what I like to tell authors - don't think of a library user as a "lost sale:" think of the library as a "discovery area."

Wendy said...

Viv, AL, Meri & Phyl: ::taking a bow::

Wendy said...

Lil' Sis: LOL! I kind of like the image of a 1000 monkeys typing at a 1000 keyboards....

Wendy said...

Nath: Ha! Jury is still out on how lucky they are ;)

Wendy said...

Alie & Tracy: Romance readers are used to dealing with this crap ALL THE TIME, and since I read romance? I know what it's like to have your reading material of choice dismissed automatically. I hate it when someone does it with "my books" - so I try really hard to not practice that bit of nonsense with my library users.

Wendy said...

Maureen: I figure more than half are reading it just because of all the "talk." I'm hoping there will be a small segment though that will come back to the library, and maybe get hooked on more critically-lauded erotica/erotic romance. We shall see though. It's hard to predict these things....

(And LOL re: lamb kabob!)

Wendy said...

Teeny: We may think we do, but librarians do not know it ALL. We can't automatically predict where a reader is going to find "value" in a book, or even in what kind of book. "We" might think a book is crap, but maybe that book got that one reader through a rough patch? Maybe that crap book spoke a measure of truth to that reader about their past or current experiences? We don't know these things automatically.