Friday, June 8, 2012

Anatomy Of A Library Romance Collection

It's been one of those weeks.  You know, where you might look all calm and collected on the outside, going through your life, but on the inside there is a crazed shrieking woman living in your skull?

Anyone?  Anyone?  Seriously, this can't just happen to me.

So yeah, one of those weeks.  I'm chalking it all up to working too many days in a row, being tired, and feeling mopey for no other reason than I'm a woman and dagnabit-all we get mopey every once in a while.  Just learn to live with it cupcake.  However, I did get some good news at work this week and my boss is pleased with me (at the moment) - so I thought we'd talk about The Time Wendy Relocated The Romance Paperback Collection.

Not my library, but you get the idea
The library where I was transferred to late last year used to have all the romance paperbacks in spinner racks.  For the record, I loathe spinner racks.  Also, for the record, I hate it when a library breaks out their shelves by genre.  One, I think it marginalizes your collection(s).  Sort of like putting your genres in a "shelving ghetto."  Also, I'll be honest, I feel the library is the last place on Earth where someone should be, or feel the need to be, "in a hurry."  A library should be a sanctuary.  A place to browse.  A place to wander.  A place to spend some time.  Plus I just like living in a world where you can find Nora Roberts sitting on the shelves a few notches up from Philip Roth.

But, I'm wacky like that.

Well, during a spat of remodeling, my library chucked all the spinner racks save one, and interfiled most of the romance paperbacks in general stacks.  So now the collection was split up in two different areas of the library.  You have some mass market paperbacks in with the hard covers and trade paperbacks, save for a small portion that are still located on one lone spinner rack.  I did not like this, but more importantly, the romance readers really didn't like it.  Circulation numbers took a dump, so when I transferred in (read: Wendy Is Romance Girl) my boss suggested we go back to the spinner racks for the entire mass market romance collection.  As much as I hate spinners, I agreed.  We picked up one unit from a near-by branch that was doing a bit of spring cleaning and then we ordered a shiny new, 5-sided unit.  At the end of April, the collection was moved.  All of our romance paperbacks are now in one area, all by themselves - with hard covers and trade paperbacks still interfiled with the rest of the fiction.

It's now June, so we've got a full month under our belts.  It also means I could finally look at the physical numbers.  Anecdotally, I felt for sure that this move was a good one.  The spinner racks were full after I moved the collection, and it didn't take long for them to look picked over, and for me to find actual empty spaces.  But anecdotal is not hard numbers, which I now have.

In April we checked out 321 romance paperbacks.  In May we checked out 615.  Almost double.  An increase of 294 to be exact.

I was....ecstatic I think is the word.  Until I realized that we might just have robbed Peter to pay Paul.  Librarians know that when you move a collection in this manner, you very likely change your "location" status in the catalog.  It's that bit of information on the catalog record that tells the user where they can find the book in the library.  When I moved the romances out of "general stacks," I changed that location status to "romance."  So did my romance numbers really double?  For that, I would need to look at the stats for my general stacks.

In April, we circulated 5023 items that were classified as "general stacks."  In May, that number was 5014.  That is a decrease of 9.  Which means....

My romance paperback stats flippin' doubled in a month!!!!  

Go Wendy, go Wendy, it's your birthday, go Wendy.....

What does all this really mean?  In the grand scheme of things - probably not much.  But I do think it illustrates a very good point about libraries and communities, which is to say they're all different.  Sometimes you try new things and they don't work.  Sometimes you think something won't work and it does.  What works in one community of readers may sink like a stone somewhere else.  Basically it's about being flexible and finding out works best for your community.  Also, as the librarian, it's about not letting your own opinions stand in the way of experimentation and trying new things (no, I don't mean it like that.....).

As much as I loathe having my mass market paperback romances sitting in Romance Spinner Rack Ghetto, numbers don't lie.  Which means Wendy will learn to live with it.  Also, at this point, I'm just happy to see more fiction leaving the building, as I strongly feel those numbers could be better overhaul at my current work home.  But then, I'm the fiction buyer so of course I think everybody should be reading, and lovin', fiction.  But before I mull over tackling that tall order, I think I'm just going to bask in the glow, a wee bit longer, of this small victory.

25 comments:

JamiSings said...

Yeah, patrons seem to hate it when you interfile. I had a woman who threw a hissy fit when she found out we didn't have a special section for true crime. Like we have the room? We're a small branch, dang it, we're lucky we have room for special shelves for paperback romances and paperback mysteries.

AlohaJan said...

Awesome uptick in stats!

CPL said...

I order mass market paperbacks for my library. We have a separate section for Romance. Our patrons love that! We used to have a separate section for Mystery paperbacks, but recently the decision was made (not by me) to interfile these in with Mystery hardcover. Our patrons hate that! It is really important to listen to our patrons. The increase/decrease in circulation mimics our patrons opinions.

A Library Girl said...

One of the librarians at my library would like to interfile all our AV stuff (DVDs, CDs, etc.). The very idea horrifies me on multiple levels. I can see the pros and cons of interfiling when it comes to fiction, though.

As an academic library, we don't tend to make a big deal of our fiction collection - the classics are interfiled with Nora Roberts, Stephen King, Clive Cussler, etc. We get students coming in who ask if we have any fantasy novels, or romance, or whatever, and at those times it would probably be nice to have at least a recreational reading area or something, to reduce the number of areas that have to be browsed (can you imagine if you had to tell a public library patron that the nationality of the author matters?). The best I can do, without completely changing our shelving system, is add genre headings to our catalog records and cross my fingers that people use them. I do love success stories like yours!

Becky said...

I've been a frequent patron of libraries that used both methods. I have to say I really like it when the category romances are in their own section. When I want to read a harlequin Christmas super romance I don't really want to wander the stacks and I often don't know title or author. Since moving to a new interfiling library I would say my category reading has gone way down and I'm not trying nearly as many new Authors just because it's so hard to filter through all the options on the shelves.

Carrie said...

I like the idea of romances being in one place so I can browse. That's how I find new authors. If the books are all shelved together in "fiction" there is no way to browse the whole library to find new authors. My library system shelves all the fiction together. I didn't used to mind this until our local Border's closed. Now I don't have a convenient place just to go in and "handle" romance books. I do make use of several used book stores that shelve their romances separately.

Which brings up a different problem. While many titles are obviously romance, some books could be shelved in multiple places. Is Linnea Sinclair romance or science fiction? Is Envy by Sandra Brown romance or suspense? If the books have both hard and softcover editions then I guess it would take care of itself. But some books (such as Linnea's books, or Ilona Andrews' Edge series) that are only in paperback and blur the genre lines.

Phyllis said...

I've just been helping at the library used book sale and had a similar quandary. And me without any training! There was a romance section, but there was a TON of romance interspersed with the general fiction. Most of it, I left. I mean, there could have been a whole table of Nora Roberts and some of her romantic suspense is as good or better than the non-romantic suspense, right?

As a library patron, I go back and forth as to which way I want my romance sorted. Most of the time, I request things online and pick them up at my tiny, local branch anyway.

Wendy said...

Jami: You wouldn't believe how often I explain the art of Dewey to people. "Yes, all the books on X subject can be found under X number." Sometimes the light-bulb goes off over their heads and sometimes they still argue with you that they want a true crime section....uh, when we already have one. It's called 364.1 :)

Wendy said...

Jan: It is very rewarding! A real team effort too since about 9 of us ended up working on getting the collection moved.

Wendy said...

CPL: At this point all our other paperbacks are still interfiled. This seems to be working for us - but it's something I'm thinking about revisiting eventually.

Wendy said...

Library Girl: We do full cataloging on all our paperbacks - which is nice. At least we have the subject headings to work with.

Ack - I can't imagine interfiling AV because so often people want THAT particular format.

Wendy said...

Becky: And I know librarians who do that too - interfile single title romance, but keep category on a spinner rack. Here, it's all romance paperbacks together. So you'll see a SuperRomance sitting next to J.R. Ward, for example :)

Wendy said...

Carrie: Which is exactly why I hate separating by genre or even labeling books. It makes librarians nutty. For folks like Sandra Brown and Iris Johansen, if I *know* it's a romance, I put it in romance. If it's one of their more current releases, I tend to keep it in with general fiction. The urban fantasy stuff is also REALLY trying. Some of it would fit nicely in romance, and some of it just doesn't.

Heck, some days I just flip a coin :)

Wendy said...

Phyllis: I have a lot of browsing romance readers here, so separating out the genre has really been a boon for them. I do have readers who want specific titles - in which case they've learned to request things from the catalog long ago :)

So many volunteers come from the school of thought that all romance = Harlequin. I've been to some book sales where all the single titles were in with general fiction, and then the romance section was ALL category romance.

JamiSings said...

Oh Dewey! I am always shocked how many people my own age don't know how to use it. When I was in elementary school you couldn't move up a grade without knowing the basics of Dewey. And it's not that hard to remember.

Becky said...

I will say that one thing the new library does is put stickers on the spines so I do have a shot at more easily spotting whatever it is I'm looking for and I appreciate that.

joykenn said...

Ok, Wendy, I've been a librarian for 40 years (I was a mere child of 2 when I started, of course). In those years I've seen fiction handled every way you can imagine. Genre fiction readers really really like to come in and browse in their favorite genre--period! However you make that possible, they WILL adapt over time. What is MOST important, however, is to have LOTS of it, lots of new titles, and very positive responses to their suggestions of titles they'd like. Save some budget money just to quickly fill the requests for paperback fiction that readers take the time to actually write down cause they really want to read those. Otherwise, just guide, encourage and introduce them to new authors. [Recipe for a happy public garnered from many (many, too many) years experience.]

nath said...

Good work Wendy!

Wendy said...

Becky: We try to do genre labels on the spines, but sometimes that gets tricky too. As staffing tightens up, it's also something that's not always employed consistently. I went back and tackled the romance already - now it's just a matter of getting those mystery labels uniform....

Wendy said...

Joy: As budgets tanked over the years, I think we lost some of our genre readers - specifically our romance readers. Me coming on board with fiction buying has helped - but getting them "back" wasn't an overnight thing. It took a while of me finding the collection "holes," filling them, and them noticing that those holes were no longer there - maybe when they came in to check out books for their kids? But yeah, I LOVE getting requests for popular fiction purchases. LOVE!

Wendy said...

Heeeee, thanks Nathie!

joykenn said...

Yes, you certainly have proven that filling those fiction collection holes has made a difference in circulation. Had you considered writing this up? Or, submitting it to something at PLA conference? To many library patrons the public library is there for fiction reading and their kid's homework. If you increase their satisfaction with the library you're more likely to have library supporters. The "popular reading role" (and, of course, fiction is a BIG part of that especially genre fiction) for the public library is still one of the most effective ones for a public library to fill.

Wendy said...

Joy: That's not a bad idea. Especially if I look at long-term circulation numbers/patterns. Something to consider! Thanks!

Handy Man, Crafty Woman said...

love this blog! Just got into reading romances last year, and I volunteer at a library. And I've worked at libraries in the past. I have a love/hate relationship with spinner racks. Not a big fan myself, but I can see why people like them. Congrats on getting your numbers up.

Wendy said...

Crafty: Oh man, I hate spinners - but a lot of romance readers where I work seem to be "browsers" - and spinners work well for that. So I'm learning to live with them.

One month later, our numbers stayed consistent. I believe we saw 650+ romance paperbacks circulate in June.....