Interview with RWA’s 2010 Librarian of the Year

For several years now, Romance Writers of America has selected a librarian of the year. According to their Web site, The RWA Librarian of the Year is awarded to a librarian who demonstrates outstanding support of romance authors and the romance genre. The 2010 RWA Librarian of the year was Jennifer Lohmann. Jennifer is a librarian in my area—I wrote about her Bookclub here recently—and a friend of a friend of mine. I emailed her, introduced myself, and asked if I could interview her for AAR. She and I met for coffee, sat down, and had an excellent chat about the books she loves, romance, and romance readers.

What appeals to you about romance novels?

What appeals to me about romance novels is the same thing that appeals to me generally about all books – the chance to lose yourself completely in a story. I can lose myself in any good book, but it seems to happen more with a good romance novel. I get wrapped up in the lives of the characters and whatever else is pressing on me for that day goes away. I also like the happy endings. I would like to believe that no matter what is in our past, a happy ending with someone to love is possible for our future.

Is there a typical romance reader you see in your library?

I don’t think so. The women I generally help find books are older and retired, but I know younger women check out romances because I see them; they just don’t think to ask me for help or they don’t need my help. I do have one male patron that I know of who reads romances regularly (he likes westerns and is happy his wife got him back into reading) and I work with a couple of teens who come in for their romance fix over holidays and vacations.

Do you have a favorite or preferred genre within romance? If so, why?

I read more historical romances than anything else, but I also like to read contemporaries. In historicals, I generally like the Georgians better than the Regency romances because I like to imagine the women in the huge panniers and the men in their velvets. I will almost always try to get a historical romance bought and read if it’s set in a non-standard time period or non-standard place.

What’s the best romance novel you have read in the past year? What did you love about it?

The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook. I want to like paranormal romances, I really do, but generally I find that either the romance or the world building suffers. The Iron Duke was perfect. The world building was fantastic and the romance was great. There was not a slip in that book; all parts were equally well done. That alone made the book tops.

What percentage of your library’s books are romances? How does the romance collection compare to other genres in terms of popularity?

The Durham County Library buys a lot of romances and Lisa Dendy, our fiction collector, is great. She is willing to buy new, unknown, and riskier authors — maybe only one or two until we see if the author will be popular –but she is willing to experiment. This means we own some of the male/male and female/female romances as well as the stuff that were popular eBooks before they came out in paper format. We want to buy books people want to read so we are always willing to look at suggestions from our patrons.

Our most popular genre is mysteries and they are the most popular by a long shot with our readers, but romances would be second. The largest collection is general fiction, but that includes historical fiction and inspirational fiction, plus some thrillers, so it’s large because it’s such a broad collection. Second in numbers would be mystery and then romance.

What turns you off in a romance novel?

I don’t like butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-their-mouth heroines. If she’s nice to kids, always pets puppies, is a good cook, never loses her temper, is good at her job, gives money to the homeless, sings, paints, knows karate, etc then I’m going to be annoyed. And I don’t buy the too-perfect heroine when being too perfect is her fault; that’s not realistic either. I also get really annoyed with heroines that are TSTL, but  (said with a smile) who isn’t? I’m also not a fan of silly or goofy.  I like humor in my romances, but humor is so personal. What another person may find funny, I just find goofy and a turnoff.

How do you recommend romances to your readers? Do you suggest differing genres or books for differing groups?

I ask them first if they have subgenre preferences, like westerns or historicals or suspense. Then I usually suggest a few authors to see if they’ve read them and what they thought about them to get a sense of what styles they like and whether they like darker or lighter novels. I always ask how sexy or violent they are willing to read. I don’t usually suggest different genres or books for different groups, but base my suggestions on what interests them and what they say they want or like. If someone keeps coming back for suggestions I can get a better sense of their taste. I have a couple of people who ask me for suggestions because I know what’s out and new and a couple of people I always ask for suggestions because there are a lot of authors and books out there and I miss some goodies (I learned about LaVyrle Spencer from a patron and Morning Glory is one of my favorites).

And by the way, after talking to Jennifer, I immediately read The Iron Duke, which I loved! She’s a wise woman about romance!

- Dabney AAR

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9 Responses to “Interview with RWA’s 2010 Librarian of the Year”

  1. Leigh says:

    Glad there are librarians like Jennifer Lohmann, especially as more and more readers are using the library system.

    I love my local library. . . .(Faulkner County Library System) and all the great people there. They are romance friendly too, like Ms. Lohmann.

  2. DabneyAAR says:

    My library has no romance and I think if you asked them for a romance recommendation, they would feel the utmost pity for you. It’s the price one pays for living in a university town!

  3. Leigh says:

    We have two universities, and one college in town. Not every place is the same. . As your article illustrates, it is the people that make the difference.

  4. xina says:

    We have a huge romance section in the Hennepin Co. library system. Usually, the new books have a large waiting list, but most everything is available. Sadly, I don’t visit the library much anymore now that I use an e-reader. When I did vist the library regularly, the librarians didn’t seem to value the romance novel, although that might have been my imagination.
    As for bookclubs, many years ago when I first started reading romance there were at least 2 romance bookclubs in my library with both men and women attending. I just checked and there aren’t any at this time. Also, my Barnes and Noble had a romance bookclub for a couple years, but that has stopped too.

  5. Meljean says:

    I just clicked on the interview and got the sweetest surprise. I’m so glad you both loved The Iron Duke!

    I am eternally, ETERNALLY grateful for libraries. My first supply of romance novels came from my grandmother’s shelves, and I loved them, but most were of the sweeter category variety. Then one night when I was thirteen and babysitting for a neighbor, I discovered a shelf full of Zebra single-title romances and Johanna Lindseys … but there was no way I could finish them in one night. Thank God for the library, or I’d have probably been arrested for B&Eing the neighbor’s house just to get to those books again.

    I lived in a tiny town at the time (815 people) but the little library had a great paperback section made up of donated books from the community. During the summer, I was reading two – three a day, and the librarians never gave me the stink eye (which I totally expected, because I was still hiding my reading material from everyone else at that point). It was only open three times a week, and the worst days were the ones it wasn’t, especially because I had a five-book checkout limit and I’d sometimes zip through those in a day and a half.

    Later, we moved to a slightly bigger town and they had a great romance section, too. We also lived miles away out in the boonies, I didn’t have a car or a bike and none of my sisters drove, but somehow I made it to the library at least once a week and spent several hours. It’s funny, because I easily recall the library stacks and the layout, the chair where I sat next to the spinning wire racks full of paperbacks, the titles and covers of a lot of the books I read … but for the life of me, I have no clue how I actually got there. Huh.

  6. AARPat says:

    Jennifer, could your perception about genre fiction (mystery surpasses romance) be because your library has no romance section? In all of the libraries where I’ve worked, there is a mystery section separate from the general fiction section, but no romance section per se. Hardback romances are shelved with general fiction, so no real count of their circulation can be found.

    As far as paperbacks, most of those are gifts from patrons and circulated under a general paperback barcode, which again means that an accurate count can’t be taken.

    All of this means that mystery fiction circulation can be counted, but romance fiction can’t be. Therefore, at least in the libraries where I’ve worked (Lincoln, NE; Houston, TX; Fairfax Co., VA; Sacramento, CA) there are no reliable romance circulation statistics available.

    Is this true of Durham?

  7. DabneyAAR says:

    Meljean–

    Can I just take a moment to tell you how good your book is? I found your world building to be on par with my favorite world builder ever–Philip Pullman. And your two leads were phenomenal. I am thrilled to hear you are writing a sequel.

    A great book is an even better gift. Thanks!

  8. Jennifer Lohmann says:

    @AAR Pat –

    Durham County has a true romance section. Our romances (paperback or hardcover) are all completely cataloged and assigned a romance genre label and pink “romance” stickers. Some of our locations separate their collection by genre while others don’t (my location does not). So, while some authors who might be romance get in general fiction (Jennifer Crusie and Suzanne Brockmann for example but not Nora Roberts), our stats are still pretty accurate.

    @ Meljean –
    Your story is sweet and I’m glad libraries could get your started on your romance journey. My friend and I checked out romances from our library, looking especially for the dirtiest ones we could find (we were 15 or so).

    I was SHOCKED when Iron Duke didn’t make it further in DABWAHA. Both my brackets were wrecked. I had you winning (beating out What the Librarian Did, which is also out). I’ve already alerted our fiction collector that you have a sequel so we can make sure we order it!

  9. Carrie says:

    I live in the same county as Ms. Lohmann. I’ve been amazed at the dedication the county has for the library system. In the past 5 or 6 years, it has built large regional libraries to replace the smaller branches. Each regional library has it’s own audio-visual collections, computer stations, and conference rooms. I go to the library 3 or 4 times a week, both to check out books and as a place to grade papers and plan the classes I tutor.

    I’ve home schooled my (5) children for 20 years, and the library has been the main source for our literature and historical fiction. Until last summer when our new regional library opened, I lived two blocks from the branch library, and the kids and I walked there several times a week to check out books. Now we have to drive a little ways, but the larger, modern facility makes it worth while. When I converted from mysteries to romance a few years ago, I was pleased to see how well-stocked the system is with romance books.

    Jennifer~ I still hope to make the book club, but I skipped the April “extra” book (not in the mood for a serial killer) in favor of the May “extra” book, The Outsider by Penelope Williamson. Wow! What an amazing book! I never would’ve read it if it hadn’t been listed for the book club, and I’m so happy I did. I’m finding reading challenges, and now the book club, are helping me expand my reading experience.

    Meljean~ I read The Iron Duke from the library, then bought it on kindle for my husband (he was a little embarrassed reading it with the bare-chested man on the cover). I passed the library copy to my grown daughter. We all listed it as our #1 read for 2010. My daughter and I have both bought print editions since then, because we love to pull books off the shelf and reread favorite scenes. I can’t wait for the next one.

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