Last month I had the chance to attend the Texas Library Association‘s conference, and it was a real eye-opener for me. I’ve attended conferences aimed at writers, and I’ve attended reader-focused conventions, but as much time as I spend at the library, I hadn’t thought about how much goes on behind the scenes in a library.
My panel discussion involved giving an author’s eye view on author programs at libraries and how librarians could plan programs that benefit both readers and authors. One issue that I’ve heard come up among some of my author friends is the way certain kinds of books and the authors who write them tend to be dismissed by some librarians. Librarians who will defend free speech or freedom of the press to the death and do special programming in honor of banned books week may sometimes practice their own kind of censorship in focusing their collections or programming only on the kinds of books they think readers “should” read. Generally, what gets shut out are genre books like romance, science fiction or fantasy — stuff with sex and violence but supposedly without “literary” merit.
I brought up the topic rather delicately, as it’s never easy to accuse your hosts of possible wrongdoing. This is an issue I haven’t yet faced directly, but I have been in a situation at a library book festival where I saw a New York Times bestselling romance author pretty much shoved off in a corner while a self-published memoirist was given the VIP treatment. I was surprised by how many of the librarians in the audience agreed with me about that being a problem. They want to provide the books that their patrons want to check out, which generally include the fun books — yeah, the ones with sex and violence — but they deal with managers who don’t think such books or authors are a worthwhile use of library resources. One librarian mentioned that she couldn’t even get her boss to let her invite a romance novelist to speak in conjunction with Valentine’s Day.
What the librarians told me was that even if their bosses won’t listen to them, they do need to listen to their patrons. If your library isn’t stocking the kinds of books you want to read, you can request books. Rank-and-file librarians in some systems may not get any say on what books are purchased for the collection, but collection managers do have to consider patron requests. If there’s a specific book you want, most libraries have some kind of request form available. If that book then gets checked out frequently, the collection manager may see the demand for that kind of book. You can also get involved with your library system’s Friends of the Library group and make your voice heard.