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Librarians at MU study romance novels

Study focuses on negative perception of the popular paperback genre.
Friday, May 13, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:26 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 17, 2008

Rippling biceps, chiseled abs and a steamy love affair can be bought when you purchase your eggs and milk.

Romance novels, commonly found in grocery stores and libraries, comprise 48 percent of all popular paperback fiction sold in North America.

Yet an MU study has found the genre faces a negative stigma from library professionals.

“Perceptions of Romance Readers: An Analysis of Missouri Librarians” — conducted by assistant professor Denice Adkins, clinical associate Linda Esser and graduate teaching assistant Diane Velasquez — examines how public librarians and library staff perceive romance novels and their readers.

“We wanted to know if the kind of romance novels women read had changed, whether librarians still have a rather negative attitude toward romances, and about the women who read them — if they were looked at as less educated,” Esser said.

All three of the researchers are avid romance novel readers and have worked in public libraries.

They each experienced a different degree of stigma against romance novels in their respective libraries and were curious why the genre was so scrutinized.

“Comments are still made in ‘library land’ about romance novels that place them in a category that is ‘less than’ ” Esser said. Lisa Meyers, cataloger for the Daniel Boone Regional Library, which sees 7,390 romance novels checked out a month, said escapism is the main reason readers are faithful to romance novels.

“People read them to get away from everyday life. They are quick and easy to read and are pure entertainment,” said Meyers, whose job is to select fiction novels for the library.

“They do have a bad reputation, but they are not just about sex; the novels are more about relationships.”

To gather information for their study, the researchers sent surveys to 126 public libraries chosen from the 2003 Directory of Missouri Libraries, representing urban, suburban and rural libraries.

They received 54 surveys in return.

According to the study, Missouri public librarians are less judgmental toward the literary merit of the romance novels and are more concerned with patron satisfaction.

However, the research found a discrepancy between librarians’ personal opinion and professional ideology.

The responses included statements such as “I wish they’d grow up to read real literature” as well as “we try very hard not to judge by reading preference.”

“It seems that readers, including librarians, either really love them or don’t,” said Pam Verdium of the Southern Boone County Public Library branch.

“But there are many people who are very faithful to their favorite series or genre of romances.”


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