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Showing Romance Readers Some NoveList Love

Post by Lisa Schimmer
Posted January 08, 2016 in Readers' Advisory News, Special Announcements

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Trigger warning: if cataloging jargon disturbs you, you might want to skip this post. But, please give it a chance even if you’re not a cataloger!

I’ve written before about being the RWA Cathie Linz Librarian of the year here and about my conference experience here. What I haven’t written about is the project that brought me to the attention of RWA in the first place.

Back in 2013, the cataloging team at NoveList launched an initiative to review our genre headings and I got the distinct honor of going first. I proposed a project to enable more straightforward access to the romance titles in our database: I called it “Divorcing Love Stories from Romance and Keeping the Magic Alive.”  

The Library of Congress/GSAFD standard heading for most genre romance has been “Love stories” since the profession decided to start classifying fiction in 1990 (it’s in the process of transitioning to the more recognizable -- although still vague -- Romance fiction.) Other options for classifying romance titles are the headings Romantic suspense fiction and Paranormal romance stories, added to the list of controlled headings in 2000 and 2010, respectively.

I’ve been a romance reader for 15 years and a cataloging librarian for 10. Applying the euphemistic Love stories heading pained me, because although it was technically correct and collocated all the titles dealing with romantic love, it wasn’t really practical. It obscured all the knowledge that romance readers have of the kind of books they to read. We have over 40,000 love story/romance titles in NoveList. That is a lot to sift through without being able to narrow it down beyond paranormal romance and romantic suspense.

My goal was to reflect the terms readers use to describe their brand of romance in NoveList. Instead of broad library speak, create a lingua franca, where neither reader nor non-romance reading librarian has to do much translating. If a reader wants a contemporary romance, you can look up Contemporary romances. If they like category romance from Harlequin, you can look up Category romances. If they like New Adult, you can just look up New Adult fiction. If they like Erotic romance, you can look up Erotic romances. If the reader hates all of those genres, they can be easily excluded from a search because we’ve labeled them distinctly. Less wading, more reading. It’s cataloging blasphemy, but it works perfectly for our purposes: giving readers advisors the tools to effectively and efficiently serve their readers.

These two charts illustrate the disparity between how romance readers describe books they like to read versus how libraries typically classify romance books. Readers are a lot more specific in their preferences!

Today, NoveList uses 24 different romance genres to help readers pinpoint exactly the right book. If loving better access to romance genres is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

I'd also like to invite you to join myself and our panel of romance writing experts as we discuss romance-specific book clubs and how they can help bring readers into the library and engage your local romance community in this webcast on February 10.

I’d love to hear your thoughts -- share a comment below.


Lisa Schimmer is a Senior Cataloger at NoveList, and a 2015 RWA Cathie Linz Librarian of the Year.