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Creating a Popular Romance Collection in an Academic Library
by Sarah E. Sheehan and Jen Stevens

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 “Who will we be studying in 100 years?”

– question from the audience at the opening keynote panel presentation at the 2013 Popular Romance Author Symposium (Princeton University, October 24, 2013)

Over the past few decades, there has been a growing critical mass of scholarly interest in the study of popular romance as a literary form in its own right. Scholars such as Pamela Regis, Laura Vivanco, Sarah S. G. Frantz, and Eric Selinger, among many others, have begun to publish scholarly and/or literary criticism of popular romance novels in the last two decades. Other indications include the establishment of the Journal of Popular Romance Studies, several symposiums, the Popular Romance Project, and the fact that schools and universities such as the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, DePaul University, and George Mason University have begun offering courses that focus and/or incorporate popular romance novels (“Teaching Popular Romance”).

As Crystal Goldman argues in her 2012 article “Love in the Stacks: Popular Romance Collection Development in Academic Libraries,” access to research materials is vital for romance scholars and students:

With no cohesive vision for which materials to collect and little justification for fiscally supporting popular romance studies materials, vital monographs, papers, and articles are not being preserved by libraries for future researchers’ use and may, indeed be lost from the record entirely (2).

Although Goldman does mention primary sources, her main focus is on secondary materials, i.e. materials about romance and related fields, and the issues that have previously prevented many academic libraries from systematically collecting them. Goldman also identified a list of 37 core secondary sources for popular romance scholarship (17-18). Secondary materials are definitely important, but the systematic collection of primary sources, the actual popular romance novels and short stories themselves, is vital.

Identification of Need

Academic libraries have long had an uneven record of collecting so-called popular contemporary literature. Although historical collections of items such as dime novels are not uncommon, popular contemporary literature is often not collected until it is, so to speak, no longer contemporary. Academic libraries that do collect it have often done so as part of so-called “leisure reading collections.” As Pauline Dewan notes, leisure reading collections have been making a comeback in recent years: [End Page 2]

Three recent trends in university and college libraries have prompted academic libraries to rethink their ideas about popular literature collections….Trend towards user-focused libraries, revitalization of the library as place, and promotion of literacy and lifelong reading (45).

These are all worthy goals and purposes, but they do not necessarily align with the systematic collection and preservation of primary source materials. Leisure reading collections are often leased from companies such as McNaughton. Based on the library’s desired profile, McNaughton sends a selection of books that the library may choose to purchase at the end of the lease period. Materials retained from such collections can be a source for popular fiction such as romance, but as in the University Libraries’ case, this often results in spotty collections – a title from one author’s series, two from another, and so forth. Moreover, materials that might work best for a leisure reading collection (and attract student attention) may not necessarily be those desired by future researchers.

As more colleges and universities begin to offer popular literature courses, there are indications that some academic libraries are starting to change or adapt their practices. In a 2007 exploratory study, Justine Alsop found that a majority of her literature librarian survey respondents did collect some popular contemporary literature. In addition to student “need” for light reading, her respondents cited reasons such as supporting the curriculum (most reported that their institutions offered courses in popular fiction), faculty requests, and preserving primary sources for future scholarly study (Alsop 583). However, there were still many barriers, including “budgetary constraints, the expectation of having ‘canonical authors’ in the collection, and lack of demand,” as well as an expectation that public libraries, rather than academic libraries, should be the ones collecting contemporary fiction (Alsop 583).

Lack of space and money are very real issues for many academic libraries, especially given the vast amount of popular fiction that is published. According to the Romance Writers of America, the romance genre alone generates 1.08 billion dollars in sales from over 9,000 titles in 2013 (“Industry Statistics”; Bosman). In a 1987 book chapter, Charles W. Brownson suggested one way of dealing with the mass influx of popular contemporary fiction for those collecting at a “Research Support” level:

Selection criteria are seldom based on the quality of the literature, so that statistical methods can be used. Wanting a sample of romances, for example, which the industry produces at the rate of about four a day, one might decide to buy those published on the first day of every month. They are alike, after all (or rather, their differences are statistical) (105).

Leaving aside the question of whether romance novels really are all alike, buying materials in this fashion, while it might result in good representation of the romance genre as a whole, would make it very difficult for researchers to study individual authors or even subgenres such as paranormal romance since there would be little continuity aside from date of publication.

However, leaving popular romance collecting to public libraries is not necessarily the best alternative. Public libraries have very different missions than do academic libraries. Aside from public library systems that include research branches such as the New [End Page 3] York Public Library, most public libraries do not collect for the long term needs of researchers and students, but instead, focus on the present reading interests of the populations that they serve. Collection development policies of public libraries should be guided by local reading tastes that may favor certain authors and sub-genres versus others. In Amy Funderburk’s 2004 Masters’ paper reviewing the number of award winning romance novels in North Carolina public libraries, she found that the relatively small number of reviews in standard library review sources of award winning popular romance novels resulted in a smaller number of titles being collected compared to the other popular fiction genres (19). Many standard library review sources, such as Library Journal, only publish popular romance on a quarterly basis. In 2008, the American Library Association publication Reference and User Services did publish an article on collecting romance genre fiction in public libraries, but it only listed five titles per romance sub-genre (Wyatt et al. 120).

In public libraries, as titles become less popular or simply wear out, they are often withdrawn in order to make room for newer titles. Again, the role of most public libraries is not to preserve items, but rather, focus on current patron needs. In fact, the growing adoption of e‑book databases such as Overdrive makes it even less likely that public libraries will be able to offer long term preservation of romance fiction since those e-book database titles are often leased rather than owned. In the early 1990s, collection development in public libraries underwent a shift from collecting “the best” to a collection philosophy of “give them what they want,” as articulated by Charles Robinson, the director of Baltimore County Public Library system. Robinson’s philosophy encouraged public libraries to purchase multiple copies of popular titles, fiction or non-fiction, to meet the current reading needs of the county library’s patrons. These multiple copies would be kept until they wore out or the library needed the space for the “next” hot titles. The expectation that public libraries will have research-worthy collections of popular romance novels just is not realistic in these days of shrinking budgets, public demand, and a now longstanding collection development philosophy (Baltimore County Public Library).

There are a few academic libraries that do systematically collect popular romance materials, mostly through their special collections. A prime example is the Browne Popular Culture Library at Bowling Green State University, which currently holds over 10,000 volumes of category romance series. Another is the University of Melbourne Library in Australia, which began collecting romance novels as early as 1997, with an emphasis on authors from Australia and New Zealand. One of the arguments used for establishing the collection at the University of Melbourne Library was that other Australian libraries were already collecting other genres of popular fiction (Flesch 120). Other schools, such as the University of Wisconsin, have focused on specific sub-genres such as nurse romances. These collections have an immense value in regards to long-term preservation of these materials. However, all three of these collections are housed in their respective library’s Special Collections, which means that the materials can only be used on site. While locating these materials in Special Collections may be desirable from a preservation standpoint (especially in the case of mass market paperbacks), it does limit student and researcher access. Moreover, these collections are set apart from the “main” circulating literature and literary criticism collections.

Circulating collections provide greater physical access for faculty and students as well as researchers and students at other institutions who have Interlibrary Loan access. [End Page 4] They can also enhance access to related secondary materials since most academic libraries in the United States use the LC (Library of Congress) classification system, which results in books both by and about a given author being shelved together.

The authors of this article would argue that there is value in systematically collecting popular romance fiction for circulating academic library collections. As no established collection development model exists specifically for this type of collection, the authors created a strategy using other genre collections such as science fiction as a model, and their skills as established liaison librarians in crafting the collection. Stevens’ long term experience as the English Liaison Librarian and Sheehan’s knowledge of the popular romance genre as both a reader and researcher (she had previously published Romance Authors: A Research Guide, which focused on primary and secondary sources for popular romance writers) was a unique combination that allowed this collection to be created in a relatively short time. In this article, the authors will describe how they established a popular romance collection at George Mason University Libraries, as well as discuss various issues that were encountered.

Process of Creating the Collection

George Mason University is a highly diverse, state-funded, growing institution, and has recently become one of the largest universities in the state of Virginia. The University Libraries encompass four libraries, in addition to a separately managed Law Library. Two of the libraries are on the large Fairfax Campus while the other two libraries serve the research and service needs of our distributed campuses. The Fenwick Library is the largest library and is generally considered the main research library of the University. The majority of the 1.27 million volume collection, including most of the literature and literary criticism books, is located in Fenwick Library.

Like many academic libraries, the University Libraries had sporadically collected romance novels, mostly through a leased McNaughton collection, gifts, and faculty requests. It had also collected secondary sources to support the courses in the English Department and other programs, and had 78 per cent of the core popular romance scholarship titles identified by Goldman (Goldman 17-18).

Sheehan and Stevens decided to begin systematically collecting popular romance novels at George Mason University in response to several campus developments. The first was an English department class: “Why Women Read Romance Novels,” created by Professor Jessica Matthews. Matthews created the course partly in response to the degree and depth of engagement that she observed on web-based forums devoted to reader discussion of popular romance novels (Ramage). First offered in 2011, it was successful enough to be offered again in 2013, with 38 students registered (George Mason University). In addition, Professor Matthews regularly teaches a “Marriage Plots” class that also incorporates several popular romance novels as part of the class’ required readings.

The second was the creation of the Popular Romance Project web portal, hosted by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Part of the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media’s mission is to “encourage popular participation in [End Page 5] presenting and preserving the past” in a digital environment (Roy Rosenzweig Center). In addition to the documentary film Love Between the Covers, the Popular Romance Project included a symposium hosted by the Library of Congress Center for the Book. Given that the Library of Congress is ready to highlight popular romance novels, academic libraries now have an opportunity to acquire resources that may have been previously considered fringe or not appropriate for scholarly study.

After learning about the Popular Romance Project, Sheehan contacted the coordinators and arranged to become a blogger for the site. One of the faculty members involved with the Popular Romance Project turned out to be Jessica Matthews. Over the summer of 2013, Sheehan met with Professor Matthews to discuss ways the University Libraries could support her research and teaching and whether there were specific popular romance titles that the University Libraries should acquire. As a result Sheehan asked Stevens to order several titles by Diana Gabaldon, an author Matthews studies.

Based on these developments, Sheehan and Stevens began discussing how they might best support faculty and students by acquiring a representative sample of additional popular romance titles, with the knowledge that this could never be a truly comprehensive collection. They decided early on that they wanted it to be a “teaching collection” that students and faculty could readily access and check out. Because of the way that Library of Congress Classification (the schema used by most academic libraries) treats literary materials, both the primary and secondary sources for a given author (i.e. books by and about Georgette Heyer) would be shelved together, which would facilitate browsing for secondary sources. Although anthologies with items by multiple authors may be shelved separately, libraries using Library of Congress classification generally shelve literary works by single authors by language, historical period, and then alphabetically by the author’s name, with the aim of keeping all of the literary works by a given author together, regardless of their genre (Literature Classification). The Library of Congress classification does have a specific subject heading, Love Stories, for any titles that involve romantic themes or stories, but that subject heading does not determine the shelving position – it facilitates finding the information in the catalog.

Sheehan and Stevens also decided that the materials should be accessible via Interlibrary Loan in order to facilitate access to students and researchers at other institutions. Libraries can choose to limit Interlibrary Loan access to materials in order to prevent loss; few if any Special Collection materials tend to be accessible via Interlibrary Loan.

After Sheehan and Stevens had a preliminary discussion with the Head of Collection Development, Sheehan wrote and submitted a formal proposal (see Appendix 1). This proposal included the following elements:

  • rationale (the academic programs, curricula, and faculty that would be served)
  • parameters (types of materials that would be collected)
  • who would make the selections and have control of the funds
  • the criteria used to select materials
  • materials and formats that would be excluded.

The proposal was accepted and a temporary fund was created that would allow both Sheehan and Stevens to purchase romance novels for fiscal year 2013/2014. Although [End Page 6] Stevens, as the English librarian, would have signing authority after the first year, selections would continue to be made by both Sheehan and Stevens. This way, the continued growth of the collection would not be dependent on one librarian. Instead of being a short term “special project,” it would become a standard part of the collection development process for literature. Once the proposal was approved by the University Libraries administration and Sheehan and Stevens were given a budget, they began the selection process.

As with literature as a whole, the question of canon is a vexed one for popular romance. The flurry of blogs and twitter posts in response to Noah Berlatsky’s Salon article about the need for a popular romance “canon” is a wonderful example of the difficulty of establishing a one-size fits all collection of popular romance novels (Berlatsky; Crutcher; Selinger). Although this discussion occurred well after the authors’ initial proposal, it exemplifies the types of questions that academic libraries face in selecting in romance and other popular genres. Sheehan and Stevens knew that it would probably be impossible to determine a “single” group of “best” authors for researchers and students, but decided that for the purposes of teaching and research, they wanted a collection that would reflect the historical development of the genre, as well as its range. Judging the quality of writing or story can be very subjective. By using their established knowledge of collection development skills, they anticipated creating a collection that, while not answering the question of canon, will contribute to the ongoing discussion. Sheehan and Stevens also knew this was a long term project, and that purchasing the foundation or historical collection would take many years to accomplish.

Sheehan and Stevens were fortunate, however, to have something of a head start. Since Sheehan’s work on Romance Authors: A Research Guide had itself involved selecting a group of authors to include, she had already done quite a bit of research in the area. Updating the resources was easily accomplished and provided the initial list of authors and in many cases identified works that would help demonstrate the variety and changes found in popular romance novels. Another important source was Jessica Matthews’ “Why Women Read Romance” syllabus (Matthews). As part of the proposal, Sheehan and Stevens had determined that the initial purchases for the first several years would focus on the “classics,” which they defined as winners of the RWA Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award. These “classic” novels represent authors and works that made a long term impact on the genre and continue to be highly regarded by readers and writers. These are the authors that helped define the genre for the last 30 years. Likewise, authors who produced current works that made “notable lists” such as the New York Times Best Sellers list or Library Journal’s “Best Books: Romance” would be collected. In November 2013, the website All About Romance released an updated Top 100 Romances Poll which also helped identify popular titles and specific authors to purchase (Top 100 Romances).

A number of authors overlapped on all the collecting criteria, which suggested places to start. Sheehan and Stevens also decided to focus the collection on individual authors rather than publisher series (i.e. the Harlequin Intrigue or Silhouette Special Edition series), which would help set Mason’s collection apart from what the Bowling Green Browne Popular Culture Library was already doing.

As with almost all other collection development done by academic librarians, reviews from trusted sources played a large role in the decision making process of what to buy. Often times the reviews are written by specialists in the field, such as RWA’s Librarian [End Page 7] of the Year winners, Kristin Ramsdell reviewing for Library Journal, and Wendy Crutcher on her own blog, The Misadventures of Super Librarian. Additionally, online resources such as the well regarded Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, Read-A-Romance Month, and the long running All About Romance websites provide non-traditional (for the academic librarian) resources for identifying upcoming authors and reviews for titles.

Diversity of characters is an ongoing concern in what has historically been the white, heteronormative nature of much of popular romance genre. Recently, there have been several efforts, such as the Love in the Margins and the Queer Romance Month websites, that strive to publicize diverse authors and works. As they move forward with the collection, Sheehan and Stevens will continue to monitor the changing nature of the romance genre, including new sub-genres, and will adapt the collection appropriately. Faculty and students research interests at Mason will also help in crafting the collection based on what diverse authors are being studied.

Considering the prolific nature of many popular romance novelists, Sheehan and Stevens decided to vary the collecting levels for various authors – for some authors, collecting would be limited to a well curated selection, while in the case of other authors, their entire body of work, as available, would be included. In some cases, this was decided partly on a pragmatic basis. For instance, authors such as Jayne Ann Krentz and Julia Quinn had recently published new titles that were from a series of connected books, so Sheehan and Stevens decided to purchase all books in those specific series. Jayne Ann Krentz’s Arcane Society and Harmony series titles have the added benefit of encompassing the three current pseudonyms used by Krentz – Jayne Ann Krentz, Amanda Quick, and Jayne Castle. This allowed the University Libraries to readily collect works across a wide variety of romance genres, i.e. romantic suspense, historical, contemporary, futuristic, and paranormal, within one author’s body of work.

Format is an ongoing issue. For the foreseeable future, Sheehan and Stevens decided to select items in print format instead of e-books. This decision may seem counterintuitive for a 21st century library, but in the case of popular romance novels, few academic e-book vendors actually include romance in their collections (most academic libraries collect e-books as part of larger databases; libraries may purchase or subscribe to individual titles depending on the vendor and the title). In fact, most of the e-book vendors that include fiction, such as Overdrive, are actually based more in the public library market, and often lease rather than sell their collections. While some academic libraries such as Texas A&M (Clark 147) have experimented with using e-book readers for their circulating collections, the University Libraries have not undertaken such a project. That means that popular romance novels available via Kindle, Nook, or self-published on other electronic formats cannot be collected at this time by the University Libraries. The decision to stick with the print format may be reconsidered as technology changes and the University Libraries updates its collection development policies. For preservation purposes, Sheehan and Stevens also decided to acquire hardbacks instead of paperbacks as much as possible. Although paperbacks may be less expensive to purchase initially, they often ultimately cost more because of binding and/or eventual replacement costs.

These decisions, especially the print-only decision, do have larger ramifications for the University Libraries’ ability to collect popular romance genre novels. Many authors and publishers have begun to reissue older (and difficult to find) titles as e-books. Some authors, such as Eileen Dreyer, have even issued titles in e-book format only (i.e. Dreyer’s It [End Page 8] Begins with a Kiss). In turn, hardbacks can often be more difficult to find than paperbacks, especially once they are out of print. In many cases, there is no hardback edition available since the title was only published in mass market format. Fortunately, many publishers are reissuing major authors’ books in hardback.

Informed serendipity also played a role in what authors’ works were collected this first year. In a recent Library Journal’s “Romance Reviews” column by Kristin Ramsdell, Sheehan noted in the “Second Time Around” section that Carla Kelly’s Reforming Lord Ragsdale was being reissued (Ramsdell). A quick look in the online ordering tool GOBI from YBP Publishing Services identified several titles by Kelly, long out of print, that had been reissued. This allowed the University Libraries to then collect those popular romance titles far more easily. While Carla Kelly was not originally on their “short list” for the first year, Sheehan and Stevens decided that her “classic Regencies” would be a worthy and welcome addition to the collection.

Serendipity also played a role in what titles were purchased by specific authors. If a specific title by a given author was available as a hardcover in the online ordering system GOBI, that title was selected for purchase. For author Loretta Chase, the obvious title collected is the number one ranked book on the All About Romance website, Lord of Scoundrels. As Lord of Scoundrels is part of a series of connected books, the titles Lion’s Daughter, Captives of the Night, and The Last Hellion were also selected for purchase. As that series was checked in GOBI, both titles from Chase’s latest series The Dressmakers, Scandal Wears Satin and Silk is for Seduction, were also identified as available in hardcover, albeit in large print format. While that latest series had not initially been a high priority for purchase, the fact that the titles were available as hardcover upgraded its position. The fact that they could be ordered as part of the regular ordering process also meant less work for the Acquisitions department. As the semester unfolded, authors who met the initial criteria and had released new titles, especially in hardcover, were purchased, including Elizabeth Lowell, Jayne Ann Krentz, Debbie Macomber, and Sandra Brown.

The final way that serendipity played a role in building the popular romance novel collection was through gift books. The remainder shelves at local book stores became very useful collecting tools as well. Many popular authors’ current but not latest releases can be found on these remainder shelves for under $5.00 for a hardback book. While this might not be a consistent long-term collection development strategy, it did provide an initial cost effective way to add books to the collection. The books were purchased and then donated to the University Libraries as a gift. Jayne Ann Krentz, J.R. Ward, and Suzanne Brockman’s recent but not latest titles were purchased and then added to the collection as gifts. Several Susan Elizabeth Phillips titles were obtained at thrift stores for $1.00 each in hardcover and then added to the collection as well. Although remainder shelves and thrift stores are non-traditional sources for building an academic library collection, they will likely continue to be utilized in the future as a cost-effective way to add more titles to the collection. Similarly, as word of the collection was shared, fellow librarians and others began asking if their romance novels would be useful for the collection. Nine Kathleen Woodiwiss titles, all hardback, were donated as gift books to the University Libraries by a fellow librarian.

During the period that Sheehan and Stevens were selecting these initial titles, Sheehan contacted another institution that was also building a popular romance collection, the Hoover Library at McDaniel College in Maryland, only 65 miles away from George Mason University. As part of the establishment of the Nora Roberts Center for American [End Page 9] Romance, the Hoover Library received funding to build a collection of popular romance novels. After Sheehan talked to Hoover Library Director Jessame Ferguson, the authors decided to try to avoid duplicate efforts in such a close geographic region. Thus, during the first year of the project, they chose not to purchase materials written by Nora Roberts due to McDaniel’s focus in collecting Roberts’ works. Although they do plan to eventually collect Nora Roberts’ titles, Sheehan and Stevens will probably leave the more exhaustive Roberts collecting to McDaniel. As the collection grows, additional collaboration between the Hoover Library at McDaniel College and the George Mason University Libraries may be appropriate. If other academic libraries choose to collect romance novels, broader collaborative efforts could be useful for avoiding duplication and allowing libraries to collectively acquire a greater number of authors’ works. A complete list of authors and titles collected by the George Mason University Libraries during the first year is available in Appendix 2.

One issue that Sheehan and Stevens also wanted to address was bibliographic access. As mentioned earlier, the Library of Congress classification can enhance “browsable” access to related secondary materials. However, since authors are generally shelved by nationality and chronological time period rather than by genre, they can be difficult to browse for, especially in larger collections. Unlike public libraries, there is no “romance” or even “popular genre” section – instead, romance authors may be scattered throughout the literature collection. In order to make it easier for students and faculty to at least find items in the catalog, Sheehan and Stevens requested that their colleagues in Cataloging add the phrase “Popular Romance Novel Collection” as part of the MARC field record, field 710, so that students and faculty would be able to use it as a keyword search string in the catalog.

Future Considerations

Although it is too early to assess the results of the first year efforts via means such as circulation records, faculty and student reactions have been positive. Sheehan and Stevens also plan to monitor Interlibrary Loan request statistics. One title that had been previously purchased prior to establishing a systematic popular romance novel collection has already been quite popular on the Interlibrary Loan circuit. In 2009, while writing Romance Authors: A Research Guide, Sheehan had needed to consult Laura London’s 1984 The Windflower, a title that had long since been out of print. Since it was not available via Interlibrary Loan, Stevens ordered the title for the University Libraries collections as a faculty request. From 2009 through 2013, The Windflower was requested 14 times through Interlibrary Loan, with five of the requests coming from college and university libraries. The University Libraries was actually unable to fulfill five of the Interlibrary Loan requests because the title was already checked out. Demand for The Windflower may go down in the future since it was re-released in 2014 (RT Book Reviews). However, the large number of Interlibrary Loan requests for The Windflower does suggest that there could be interest in the popular romance collection outside of the boundaries of the George Mason University community.

Future steps for the collection include [End Page 10]

  • Developing a formal collection development policy for the romance collection that includes author selection criteria and preferred formats as part of the overall literature collection development policy. This is important partly for the sake of continuity for future selectors.
  • Outreach to faculty and students. This could include an InfoGuide, similar to ones that the Mason Libraries already has for the Juvenile Collection.
  • Usage assessment via circulation records and Interlibrary Loan requests. Since this collection is intended to serve the long term needs of future researchers and students, it may take some time to see results.
  • Discussion with the University Libraries’ Special Collections regarding the possibility of pursuing primary source materials from popular romance authors (i.e. manuscripts, correspondence, and other materials).

For those who would like to start (or help their librarians start) an academic romance collection, here are some suggestions:

  • Look at your curriculum and programs. What classes and programs might use or need these materials? What authors and/or sub-genres are they focusing on?
  • Assess what you already have. What can you build on? (The University Libraries already had a strong secondary collection with some scattered primary sources).
  • Look at Interlibrary Loan requests data. Have many popular romance novels been requested? Is there a larger author or sub-genre pattern that you can identify?
  • Identify colleagues and other allies that can help you make a case for establishing a collection.
  • Consider what the purpose of the collection would be. What special format issues might come up? Would you allow the titles to be requested via Interlibrary Loan?
  • How can you help patrons access the collection? Are there notations that could be added to the catalog records?
  • Look to see what other libraries in your area are doing (including public library research branches), and how their efforts might overlap, or, alternately, complement yours.


Many academic libraries are already starting to collect literary scholarship on popular romance novels. This is a significant development. However, only purchasing the scholarship and not the primary texts themselves does a disservice to the researchers and students studying the genre. Imagine a library, for instance, that collected literary scholarship written about Eugene O’Neill, but not The Iceman Cometh. Such a situation is currently the case for popular romance at many academic libraries. Although there is a vital place for popular romance Special Collections (just as there is for Eugene O’Neill Special Collections), circulating popular romance collections can also play a vital role in promoting [End Page 11] teaching and scholarship. In effect, it would mean treating popular romance novels like any other literary genre currently in circulating collections. Popular romance would not be the first popular genre to be treated so; over the past several decades, science fiction and other popular genres have slowly become more readily available in libraries as their scholarship has developed. The same should be true for popular romance.

Although it is unlikely that any one research library would have the funds, let alone the space, to comprehensively collect all of the popular romance authors that might be needed by future researchers, libraries can at least collect a limited number of authors based on their own curricular and faculty needs. Alternately, they could choose a few local authors to focus on. Groups of libraries could also work together in a complementary fashion. Doing so will ensure future researchers access and enable future scholarship. [End Page 12]

Appendix 1: Popular Romance Novels Collection Development Proposal

To:       Head, Collection Development & Preservation

From:  Sarah E. Sheehan
Liaison Librarian, College of Health & Human Services

Re:       Popular Romance Novels Collection Development Proposal

Date:   October 30th, 2013

I propose that the University Libraries collect popular romance novels in a considered and systematic way. As with all genre fiction, the study of popular romance novels has been increasingly recognized as a serious scholarly pursuit. Examples of this, include classes taught at multiple universities, consistent and ongoing programing at the Popular Culture Association conference, a scholarly, peer reviewed, open access journal (Journal of Popular Romance Studies), and at least three scholarly symposia held in the last four years.

The English Department currently offers several classes on popular genres including a class on marriage plots and a 200 level survey class on popular romance novels. Professor Jessica Mathews has been very supportive in suggesting titles and is an active scholar studying the popular romance novel genre. As more faculty find popular romance novels a valid area of study, it becomes important that the University Libraries be able to support that research.

In addition, the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History & New Media in partnership with Library of Congress Center for the Book, the American Library Association and others is sponsoring the Popular Romance Project ( The Popular Romance Project will include a feature length film funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, Brandeis University and others, as well as a website supported by the Center for History & New Media. In 2015, the Library of Congress Center for the Book will host an academic symposium on the past and future of the popular romance novel. Moreover, the American Library Association will host a traveling exhibit and a series of programs about the popular romance novel in conjunction with the Library of Congress programming.

Scholarship on the popular romance genre is a growing field and providing the actual romance novels to study the genre is important in moving the scholarship forward. The English Department, the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History & New Media, the Cultural Studies Department, and the Women & Gender Studies Department could all use this collection for faculty and student research.

There is an overwhelming amount of popular romance novels published every year, and some of the most popular authors are highly prolific. Using a well-established criteria and focusing on faculty research are steps that can be taken to establish a collection that [End Page 13] provides a good representation of the genre. I would like to propose that I work with Jen Stevens, Humanities Liaison Librarian, in creating collection development criteria in order to build a research appropriate collection of popular romance novels.

Elements of the criteria will include,

  • Novels published by American and International romance novel authors from the 20th and 21st century.
  • Select novels from all the RWA Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award winners.
  • Collecting influential novels listed on the All About Romance and The Romance Reader Top 100 lists.
  • A limited number of category novels. Category novels are the short novels that are written for a specific book line. An example is the Harlequin Romantic Suspense novels will focus much more on mystery and adventure than other Harlequin lines.
  • Hardback or trade paper formats are preferred, but novels that are only available in mass market paperback may also be added to the collection. [End Page 14]

Appendix 2: Popular Romance Novels Purchased for 2013/2014

Author Title
Amanda Quick Second Sight
Jayne Ann Krentz White Lies
Jayne Ann Krentz Sizzle and Burn
Amanda Quick The Third Circle
Jayne Ann Krentz Running Hot
Amanda Quick The Perfect Poison
Jayne Ann Krentz Fired Up
Amanda Quick Burning Lamp
Jayne Castle Midnight Crystal
Jayne Ann Krentz In Too Deep
Amanda Quick Quicksilver
Jayne Castle Canyons of the Night
Jayne Ann Krentz Wildest Dreams
Balogh, Mary At Last Comes Love
First Comes Marriage
Secret Affair
Seducing an Angel
Simply Love
Simply Magic
Simply Perfect
Simply Unforgettable
The Arrangement
The Escape
The Proposal
Then Comes Seduction
Brown, Sandra Deadline
Led Astray
Low Pressure
Fat Tuesday
French Silk
Not Even for Love
Where There’s Smoke

[End Page 15]

Chase, Loretta Captives of the Night
Last Hellion
Lion’s Daughter
Lord of Scoundrels
Scandal Wears Satin
Silk is for Seduction
Crusie, Jennifer Agnes and The Hitman
Anyone But You
Bet Me
Charlie All Night
Crazy for You
Dogs and Goddesses
Don’t Look Down
Faking It
Fast Women
Getting Rid of Bradley
Maybe This Time
Strange Bedpersons
Tell Me Lies
The Cinderella Deal
The Unfortunate Miss Fortunes
Trust Me On This
Welcome to Temptation
What the Lady Wants
Wild Ride
Dare, Tessa Any Duchess Will Do
Lady by Midnight
Romancing the Duke: Castles Ever After
Scandalous, Dissolute, No-Good Mr. Wright
Twice Tempted by a Rogue
Week to be Wicked
Kelly, Carla Carla Kelly’s Christmas Collection
Double Cross
Enduring Light
In Love and War: A Collection of Love Stories
Marian’s Christmas Wish

[End Page 16]

Miss Billings Treads the Boards
Miss Grimsley’s Oxford Career
Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand
Reforming Lord Ragsdale
Safe Passage
Lowell, Elizabeth Autumn Lover
Blue Smoke and Murder
Dangerous Refuge
Death Echo
Innocent as Sin
Only His
Only Love
Only Mine
Only You
Pearl Cove
Winter Fire
Macomber, Debbie Blossom Street Brides
Back on Blossom Street
Christmas Letters
Christmas Wishes
Good Yarn
Hannah’s List
Knitting Diaries
Shop on Blossom Street
Starting Now: A Blossom Street Novel
Summer on Blossom Street
Susannah’s Garden
Turn in the Road
Twenty Wishes
Miller, Linda Lael A Lawman’s Christmas
A McKettrick Christmas
High Country Bride
McKettrick’s Choice
McKettrick’s Heart
McKettrick’s Luck

[End Page 17]

McKettricks of Texas: Austin
McKettricks of Texas: Garrett
McKettricks of Texas: Tate
McKettrick’s Pride
Secondhand Bride
Sierra’s Homecoming
Shotgun Bride
The McKettrick Way
Women of Primrose Creek (anthology)
Phillips, Susan Elizabeth Ain’t She Sweet
Breathing Room
Call Me Irresistible
Dream a Little Dream
Fancy Pants
First Lady
Glitter Baby
Great Escape
Heaven, Texas
Honey Moon
Hot Shot
It Had to be You
Just Imagine
Kiss an Angel
Lady Be Good
Match Me If You Can
Natural Born Charmer
Nobody’s Baby But Mine
This Heart of Mind
What I Did for Love
Putney, Mary Jo Angel Rogue
Dancing on the Wind
One Perfect Rose
Petals in the Storm
River of Fire
Shattered Rainbows
Thunder and Roses
Quinn, Julia The Sum of All Kisses

[End Page 18]

Rogers, Rosemary Bound by Desire
Bride for a Night
Dark Fires
Lost Love, Last Love
Savage Desire
Scoundrel’s Honor
Sweet Savage Love
Wicked Loving Lies
Singh, Nalini Angel’s Flight
Kiss of Snow
Tangle of Need
Stewart, Mary Airs Above the Ground
Madam Will You Talk?
My Brother Michael
Nine Coaches Waiting
Rose Cottage
The Gabriel Hounds
The Ivy Tree
The Moon-Spinners
The Prince and the Pilgrim
The Stormy Petrel
Thunder on the Right
Wildfire at Midnight
Wind off the Small Isles
Stuart, Anne Black Ice
Chain of Love
Cold as Ice
Fire and Ice
Heart’s Ease
Ice Blue
Ice Storm
On Thin Ice

[End Page 19]

Silver Falls
To Love a Dark Lord
Ward, J.R. Dark Lover
Lover at Last
Lover Avenged
Lover Awakened
Lover Enshrined
Lover Eternal
Lover Mine
Lover Reborn
Lover Revealed
Lover Unbound
Lover Unleashed
Weiner, Jennifer Fly Away Home
Whitney, Phyllis A. Amethyst Dreams
Daughter of the Starts
Feather on the Moon
Golden Unicorn
Lost Island
Seven Tears for Apollo
The Quicksilver Pool
Thunder Heights
Woman Without a Past
Wiggs, Susan Just Breathe
et al More Than Words: Stories of Courage Anthology
Woodiwiss, Kathleen A Rose in Winter
A Season Beyond a Kiss
Ashes in the Wind
Come Love a Stranger
Forever in Your Embrace

[End Page 20]

Petals on the River
So Worthy My Love
The Elusive Flame
The Flame and The Flower
The Reluctant Suitor
The Wolf and The Dove

[End Page 21]


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“Teaching Popular Romance.” Teach Me Tonight: Musings on Romance Fiction From an Academic Perspective. n. d. Web. 22 April 2014.

“Top 100 Romances Poll November 2013.” All About Romance. n.d. Web. 30 April 2014.

All About Romance: The Back Fence for Lovers of Romance Novels. n.d. Web. 30 October 2014.

Alsop, Justine. “Bridget Jones Meets Mr. Darcy: Challenges of Contemporary Fiction.” The Journal of Academic Librarianship 33.5 (2007): 581-585. Web. 2 April 2014.

Baltimore County Public Library Blue Ribbon Committee. Give ‘Em What They Want!: Managing the Public’s Library. Chicago: American Library Association, 1992. Print.

Berlatsky, Noah. “I’m a Guy Who Loves Romance Novels – and Jennifer Weiner is Right About Reviews.” Salon. 21 April 2014. Web. 21 April 2014.

Bosman, Julie. “Lusty Tales and Hot Sales: Romance Novels Thrive as E-Books.” New York         Times. 8 December 2010. Web. 20 November 2014.

Brownson, Charles W. “Contemporary Literature.” English and American Literature: Sources and Strategies for Collection Development. Eds. William McPheron, Stephen Lehmann, Craig Likness, and Marcia Pankake. Chicago, IL: American Library Association, 1987. 102-126. Print.

Burcher, Charlotte, Neil Holland, Andrew Smith, Barry Trott, and Jessica Zellers. “The Alert Collector: Core Collections in Genre Studies: Fantasy Fiction 101.” Reference & User Services Quarterly 48.3 (2009): 226-231. Web. 2 April 2014.

Clark, Dennis. “Lending Kindle E-book Readers: First Results from the Texas A&M University Project.” Collection Building 28:4 (2009): 146-149. Print.

Crutcher, Wendy. “Little Miss Crabby Pants Fires The Canon.” The Misadventures of Super Librarian. 22 April 2014. Web. 22 April 2014.

Crutcher, Wendy. The Misadventures of Super Librarian. n.d. Web. 30 October 2014.

Dewan, Pauline. “Why Your Academic Library Needs a Popular Researching Collection Now More Than Ever.” College & Undergraduate Libraries 17 (2010): 44-64. Print.

Flesch, Juliet. “Not Just Housewives and Old Maids.” Collection Building 16.3 (1997): 119-124. Web. 18 April 2014.

Funderburk, Amy. Romance Collections in North Carolina Public Libraries: Are All Genres Treated Equally? MA Paper. University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, 2004. Web. 18 April 2014.

George Mason University, Banner Registration System. George Mason University. n.d. Web. 18 April 2014.

Goldman, Crystal. “Love in the Stacks: Popular Romance Collection Development in Academic Libraries.” Journal of Popular Romance Studies 3.1 (2012). Web. 24 April 2014.

Love in the Margins. n.d. Web. 30 October 2014.

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Matthews, Jessica. “Why Women Read Romance Syllabus.” n.d. Web. 18 April 2014.

Queer Romance Month: Because Love is not a Subgenre. n.d. Web. 17 November 2014.

Ramage, Lexie. “Students Read Up on Romance In Unique English Course.” Fourth Estate. 21 March 2011. Web. 8 April 2014.

Ramsdell, Kristin. “Romance Reviews: Second Time Around.” Library Journal. 15 February 2014. Web. 8 April 2014.

Read-A-Romance-Month: Celebrate Romance. n.d. Web. 31 October 2014.

Romance Writers of America. “Industry Statistics.” n.d. Web. 24 April 2014.

Romance Writers of America. “NWA Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Awards.” n.d. Web. 24 April 2014.

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Sheehan, Sarah E. Romance Authors: A Research Guide. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited, 2010. Print.

Smart Bitches, Trashy Books: All of the Romance, None of the Bullshit. n.d. Web. 31 October 2014.

Smith, Rochelle and Nancy J. Young. “Giving Pleasure Its Due: Collection Promotion and Readers’ Advisory in Academic Libraries.” The Journal of Academic Librarianship 34.6 (2008): 520-526. Web. 2 April 2014.

Wyatt, Neal; Georgine Olson; Kristin Ramsdell; Joyce Saricks, and Lynne Welch. “The Alert Collector: Core Collections in Genre Studies: Romance Fiction 101.” Reference & User Services Quarterly 47.2 (2007): 120-126. Web. 2 April 2014.

[End Page 23]


“Love in the Stacks: Popular Romance Collection Development in Academic Libraries” by Crystal Goldman


As the field of Popular Romance Studies grows, greater emphasis needs to be placed on how and where popular romance scholars gain access to research materials, specifically in regard to academic libraries. While there is a growing amount of information available freely on the internet, relying solely on web-based sources can leave gaps in research. Libraries provide access not only to proprietary subscription journals, databases, and books, but also to rare and fragile primary source material in their special collections.

Some attention has been given to the collection of popular romance1 works in public libraries in the United States (Adkins et al.), but very little has been documented on the collection development practices of university libraries, which facilitate access to primary and secondary sources for popular romance studies. Unlike the U.S., Australia remains a forerunner in popular romance collection development. In 1997, Juliet Flesch wrote about the University of Melbourne’s Australiana collection beginning to include romance novels written by Australian and New Zealand authors, although they do not seek a comprehensive but rather a representative collection (Flesch 120-121). However, this is vastly more than can be said for academic libraries anywhere else in the world.

Most university libraries actively purchase resources that support departments on their campus—with shrinking acquisitions budgets, this is often all that libraries can afford to collect. Despite Nora Roberts’ donation to McDaniel College to establish a minor program, Popular Romance Studies has yet to gain a toehold as a major department on any university campus in the United States, which means that collections in this area tend to be haphazard, at best (“Nora Roberts Foundation”). In addition, the cross-disciplinary nature of this field makes purchasing new sources difficult for librarians who serve as liaisons to specific academic disciplines and have only the power to buy materials for their assigned departments. Library special collections may collect popular romance materials, despite the lack of a major department on campus; however, this is often dependent on donations rather than a commitment of funds toward a comprehensive collection (Sewell 459; Flesch 121).

With no cohesive vision for which items to collect and little justification for fiscally supporting popular romance studies material, vital monographs, papers, and articles are not being preserved by libraries for future researchers’ use and may, indeed, be lost from record entirely. The question of how to assure ongoing access to resources that are valuable to this field is one that must be acknowledged and addressed as soon as possible.

Defining Library Collections

There are multiple models for who is responsible for collection development in university libraries. The most common model is that each librarian specializes in different academic disciplines and serves as the liaison to that department or set of departments. What this means is that those who are liaison librarians are responsible for all library instruction, reference consultations, and collection development for their assigned departments. Note that with each librarian tied to major departments, collection development becomes problematic for areas such as Popular Romance Studies, which is not a major or minor available at most universities. An exception to this model are librarians who work in special collections, which focus on collecting and preserving rare and valuable items for future researchers, whereas subject liaison librarians typically collect for their library’s general collection.

Collection development may be carried out by different librarians, depending on the practices, policies, and organizational model each library employs; however, the process and goals remain essentially the same.

Collection development is a term representing the process of systematically building library collections to serve study, teaching, research, recreational, and other needs of library users. The process includes selection and deselection of current and retrospective materials, planning of coherent strategies for continuing acquisition, and evaluation of collections to ascertain how well they serve user needs. (Gabriel 3)

The strategies involved in planning for continuing acquisition of library materials must inevitably touch on the deep budget cuts most U.S. universities and their libraries have faced in the last decade. What libraries can afford to spend money on has become increasingly narrow. In the course of collection development, librarians have to ask themselves what the library cannot do without—what make up the core works in each area—so that the library has the essentials for students and faculty to use for their research. The fundamental principle of a core collection is that “certain books and films are standard classic titles that are at the very heart of a library’s collection and form the foundation upon which a library’s collection is built” (Alabaster vii).

However, what has also become an issue in the field of Library and Information Science is the very definition of a collection. While collection development for librarians is a “process of dealing with the collections they acquire, maintain, and evaluate. These three areas of collection development have undergone extensive technological expansion in the past few years and this has lead to a conflict with the more transitory nature of genre literature” (Futas 39). What we see is that collections have been traditionally defined by four criteria: ownership, tangibility, a distinct user community, and an integrated retrieval system (Lee 1106). The proliferation of freely available information online, combined with users from across the globe entering the library through search engines such as Google Scholar, instead of patrons from the home institution finding library sources through the traditional catalog, makes it difficult for librarians to define which users they are serving primarily and how best to facilitate that service so users find the most relevant sources. Compounding that issue are the many electronic refereed journals that are open access, such as the Journal of Popular Romance Studies. It is online and available to anyone to view, so can every library consider it part of their collection, or can none of them? It is not tangible and the library will never own a physical copy to keep on their shelves, so the question becomes as nebulous as trying to define a collection.

Moreover, the research status of a library—very high research activity, high research activity, etc—is partially determined by counting the volumes available in the library, meaning ownership plays an important role in this determination. Unfortunately, this is not an accurate representation of how patrons use the library. Circulation statistics for books and other physical items are going down, and use of online sources such as article databases and ebooks is skyrocketing. However, this kind of content is neither tangible nor owned. In many cases, it is leased, licensed, or rented, but it is not owned as part of a library collection, and if a library gives up a subscription, the back files often go with the subscription, unlike a print journal where the older volumes would still belong to the library.

Without the constraints of the traditional criteria, the best definition for a collection is that it is an “accumulation of information resources developed by information professionals intended for a user community or a set of communities” (Lee 1106). How one defines the community or communities one serves is a matter decided by the administration of each library or university.

Who Should Collect Popular Romance?

With shrinking budgets, librarians must decide what is essential to their collections and spend what monies they have on those items. The audience or community most academic librarians serve is the faculty and students of their home institution. With that in mind, the first priority has to be to buy for the departments on campus. So far, only McDaniel College has a department on campus with a popular romance minor, and thus a mandate to purchase materials in that area. There are other universities who collect popular romance as part of a larger popular culture collection or in their special collections, but those collections are, by definition, special and not always accessible to those who use the general collection. Furthermore, libraries may acquire romance as a subset of the general collection, specifically geared toward leisure reading for students and faculty rather than as material used for scholarly study (Dewan; Heish and Runner).

There are those librarians who advocate for buying best-sellers such as romance novels for research purposes in academic libraries because these works are a reflection of our culture and, if we do not collect and preserve them now, these materials may be lost forever (Sewell 450; Crawford and Harries 216; Moran 6; Hallyburton, Buchanan, and Carstens 109). A study conducted by Justine Alsop confirms that collecting contemporary popular fiction as part of the library’s general research collection has found increasing acceptance among English literature librarians (584), but this movement has a long way to go before it receives the mass acceptance needed for popular romance to be a significant part of academic library collections.

Several factors play into why popular romance may not be collected by university libraries. For example, librarians have variously claimed that popular culture materials: do not relate to their institutional mission, are delivered by public libraries, garner only transitory interest from patrons, place too high a demand on limited budgets, shelf space, and staff time, and are often printed in paperback format, which is a preservation nightmare (Sewell 453, 459; Van Fleet 71; Alsop 581-582; Hsieh and Runner 192-193; Odess-Harnish 56; Hallyburton, Buchanan, and Carstens 109).

Mass-market paperbacks are often printed on acidic paper that becomes yellow, brittle, and unusable over time. The options available for preserving these works, such as performing a deacidification process on the paper or reformatting the books by microfilming or digitizing, are all quite costly, especially considering the volume of romance novels printed per year. Pillete (2003) estimates that the cost for microfilming one book is $125 U.S. dollars, digitizing is $50 U.S. dollars per book, and neither of these methods does anything to preserve the original work. Deacidification, even if done in mass quantities, could still be as much as $16 U.S. dollars per average volume (Pillete 1-5). One might think that ebooks would be a viable solution, considering they are in their native digital format and solve many preservation and space-saving concerns; however, many older romance titles are not yet available in ebook format and the licensing agreements for ebooks with libraries can become a barrier to access, especially since there is no possibility of checking out an item to a researcher who is not a patron of the library that has licensed the ebook, as in the case of interlibrary loan.

Another reason for lack of collection in this area is that liaison librarians tend to depend on review sources to help make collection development decisions. Popular romance is not generally covered by standard review sources, and it becomes a self-perpetuating cycle. Review sources claim there are too many romance novels to possibly begin to review them all, and there is not enough space to deal with them on the pages of the review issues (Fialkoff 118). Consequently, librarians claim there is not enough space to handle romance novels in the stacks of the library, especially when librarians must ask themselves if this is the best use of the space they have. Is this what researchers are going to need or use the most? Is it the best way to spend a limited library budget, especially if they cannot even get reviews of these books in their normal sources to indicate the quality of the work?

This could be seen as a string of excuses, or prejudice against popular culture materials, or prejudice against popular romance, specifically. There has been an ongoing resistance to collecting popular materials in academic libraries, with these items viewed as a “disposable culture” not worthy of preserving (Hoppenstand 236), and libraries are slow to change to a new way of collecting (Sewell 453; Odess-Harnish 56). However, beyond any prejudice is the reality of romance publishing. According to the most recent statistics from the Romance Writers of America, romance makes up 13.2% of the consumer market and produces over 9,000 books per year (RWA, “Romance Literature Statistics: Industry Statistics”). Not only would collecting all of these works take up a lot of shelf space, but it would also require a library to invest a not insignificant amount of money into purchasing the books, and also preserving them. It is perhaps for this reason that even libraries that do collect popular romance materials often rely heavily, if not exclusively, on donations to grow their collections (Sewell 459; Flesch 121; Adkins et al. 63).

Where Should Popular Romance Materials be Shelved?

Despite the budgetary and spatial constraints, there are libraries that have impressive collections of popular culture materials, which may include popular romance. If a library acquires popular romance, a decision must then be made about where these materials should be housed within the library’s collections. The two usual options are a special collection, which can mean the main special collection of a library or a smaller subset, such as a popular culture special collection; or the general collection, which may indicate the library’s main stacks or a subset called a “browsing collection” or “leisure reading collection.” There are clear benefits and drawbacks to both special and general collections. The benefit of a special collection is that special collections librarians actively work to preserve their materials, and the drawback is that sometimes their finding aids may describe their collections, but not the individual items in that collection. If a patron is looking for a specific book, finding out if the library owns it can become an issue. Conversely, general collections usually provide full cataloguing for materials, but there is less concern for preservation. Any patron can check these materials out, not just researchers, and if these books are lost or damaged, they may not always be replaced.

Even within the main stacks of the general collections, it is often unclear where popular romance material will be shelved. The field of Popular Romance Studies is cross-disciplinary, as noted on the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance’s (IASPR) and the Journal of Popular Romance Studies’ (JPRS) websites. IASPR’s Mission page claims that the organization is “dedicated to fostering and promoting the scholarly exploration of all popular representations of romantic love,” and the JPRS’s About page adds that these representations may be in “popular media, now and in the past, from anywhere in the world.” This is an undeniably, and deliberately, broad definition for the field. The JPRS About page goes on to elaborates that

we welcome [ . . . ] contributions from all relevant disciplines, including African American / Black Diaspora Studies, Art, Communications, Comparative Literature, Cultural Studies, Education, English, Film Studies, History, LGBTQ Studies, Marketing, Philosophy, Psychology, Religious Studies, Sociology, Women’s and Gender Studies.

There is nothing wrong with a field having a broad scope, especially when the journal publishing these resources is online. However, libraries are physical buildings that are “highly organized systems which provide information which is, by and large, contained in print materials [ . . . ] that can be only in one place at a time” (Searing 7). Cataloguing materials for the general collection of most academic libraries in the United States involves using the subject headings from the Library of Congress Classification system. While multiple subject headings can be assigned to each work, only one can be primary, which then indicates where an item will be shelved. A small sampling of subject headings assigned to scholarly monographs in Popular Romance Studies include

Love stories — Appreciation.

Love stories, American — History and criticism.

Love stories, English — History and criticism.

American fiction — 20th century — History and criticism.

Authors and readers — United States.

Sex role in literature.

Popular literature — History and criticism.

Popular literature — English-speaking countries — History and criticism.

Women and literature — Australia — History — 20th century.

Women — Books and reading — United States.

Therefore, as with all interdisciplinary fields, even if a library does acquire popular romance, the materials will be scattered throughout the general collection, unless it is placed together in a special collection. There is no uniform approach to handling popular culture materials in academic libraries. How each library chooses to handle this issue is individual to the library and the group of librarians entrusted with managing the collection.

Popular Romance Scholarship Core Collection

While “academic libraries may collect mainstream fiction, it is more often the case that works about a particular author or novel [or film] will be included in the collection, while the specific works (primary sources) are unavailable except through interlibrary loan or a visit to a local public library” (Van Fleet 66). If this is the case, one might ask how likely it is for academic libraries to collect these secondary sources when they do not have a popular romance major or minor program? Secondary sources can also be primary sources, but for the sake of simplicity, this article is going to label secondary sources as those which analyze or examine popular romance for a scholarly audience.

Van Fleet’s statement again raises the issue of the need for a core collection. Which works define the absolute minimum that would be required to say a library had a core collection of romance scholarship? If popular romance scholars cannot define this, it will be difficult for a library unversed in popular romance to do so either. To begin the process of defining a core collection, and to find out how likely it is for those core works to be collected by academic libraries, this article will borrow from a list complied by Pamela Regis and posted on the RomanceScholar Listserv (see Appendix A). Also, the author of this article received a $1,000 U.S. New Faculty Fund to buy monographs for the library collection when hired in 2009 at San Jose State University in California. This fund was used to purchase popular romance scholarship, and a list of those purchases was compared to Pamela Regis’s list. The two lists compiled many of the same works, with the exception of approximately 10 titles (see Appendix B). Combined, these lists make up a rough estimate of the core collection in this area, which added up to 45 titles in total.

To gain an understanding of how likely it is for universities to collect popular romance scholarship, this article examines the two public university systems in California as a case study.

The California State University (CSU) system has 23 campuses, a full time undergraduate enrollment of almost 350,000 students, and an additional 49,000 graduate students. The CSUs are teaching institutions that offer Bachelors and Masters degrees. A few CSUs offer joint or gateway doctoral degrees and several campuses are in the process of opening doctoral programs in education, physical therapy, and nursing, but these programs are the exception rather than the rule (“CSU Term Enrollment Summary – Fall 2010”; “CSU Historic Milestones”).

The second system is the University of California (UC), which has 10 campuses with a full time undergraduate enrollment of approximately 180,000, and a graduate enrollment of 45,000. The percentage of graduate enrollment is much higher in this system because these are research institutions, offering doctoral studies for many of their major departments (“UC Statistical Summary of Students and Staff – Fall 2010”).  It would seem logical that the UC campuses would have more romance scholarship in their collections because they have more money to spend on research materials, but with no major departments in the area, it did not seem likely that many of the core list items would appear in their collections.

In addition to examining the collections of California’s public university systems, this study also took an initial look at how many libraries worldwide owned the popular romance core works. This was accomplished by searching for each title in WorldCat, the largest catalog in the world, which indexes the holdings of about 72,000 libraries in 170 countries (“WorldCat Facts and Statistics”). All of the CSU and UC libraries are represented in WorldCat, so there was some cross over in the results.

For the UC libraries, a search for each popular romance core title was conducted in Melvyl, the union catalog for the UC system, which lists the holding for each edition and format of the volumes in those libraries. The union catalog for the CSU libraries was also searched for each title. It is important to note that this study was not weighted toward any specific edition or format. If a library held a first edition in hardcover in their collections, it would be counted equally with a library that held a third edition in ebook format, for example.

Fig. 1 displays the results for the search of the CSU libraries. Only one campus had none of the books on the list, but it was the California Maritime Academy, which focuses on educating those who want to join the merchant marines. The CSUs at Channel Islands and Monterey Bay are both the smallest and newest campuses, which would attribute to a smaller collection overall and thus lower numbers in this study (“CSU Term Enrollment Summary – Fall 2010”; “CSU Historic Milestones”).

Fig. 1 Number of core popular romance titles held by each CSU library.


The results for the UC institutions are displayed in Fig. 2. Again, the newest and smallest campus at UC Merced returned low numbers, as well as UC San Francisco, which focuses heavily on medicine and the hard sciences and thus would be less likely to collect in an area such as Popular Romance Studies, which, despite its interdisciplinary nature, is still weighted toward social science and humanities disciplines.

Fig. 2 Number of core popular romance titles held by each UC library.


Overall, the CSU average was 17.4 of the 45 popular romance core titles, and the UC average was 28.5 titles. The highest collectors in the CSUs were San Jose with 34 titles, which can be attributed to the selections made with the author’s New Faculty Fund, Fresno with 29 titles, and a tie between East Bay and San Bernadino, each with 28 titles. There are two librarians at East Bay who have most likely contributed to the high number of core titles there. Doug Highsmith, who has published several times on the importance of collecting popular culture materials, and Kristin Ramsdell, who co-wrote an article called “Core Collections in Genre Studies: Romance Fiction 101” (Wyatt et al.). It is unclear, however, why San Bernadino or Frenso would rank above the other CSUs in this area.

The top three UC libraries were Berkeley with 39 of the core titles, and Davis and Irvine, each with 36 of the titles. Other than the fact that these are some of the largest UC campuses, there is no clear reason why they collected more popular romance scholarship than the other UCs. A key question is whether librarians specifically selected these titles for acquisition, or if they came into the library’s collections via an approval plan.

Many libraries do not make all of their acquisitions decisions. Instead, they subscribe to an approval plan through a book vendor, which sends a selection of books based on a profile of the library’s patrons. These approval plans can save libraries money both in staff time as well as through discounts from the vendors. However, the vendors often overlook smaller publishers in their approval plans; therefore, librarians need to fill in those gaps with individual title selection. If the popular romance titles became part of the library’s collections through an approval plan, it is possible the librarians, faculty, and staff on that campus had very little or nothing to do with those acquisitions. If they were individually selected titles, one has to wonder which librarian supported popular romance studies, or which major department she was gearing the selection toward. There are many questions still unanswered, and further research needs to be conducted in this area.

Regardless of how or why the titles became part of library collections, they are still available to the faculty and students of those campuses for research. Of the titles on the core list, which were the most likely to be collected, for whatever reason? This is a broader question than the CSU and UC systems, so it was important to include results from WorldCat as well. Fig. 3 shows the top five titles collected by libraries indexed in WorldCat. There are columns comparing how many UC or CSU libraries also collected these same titles. In WorldCat, Germaine Greer’s work was the most collected and was held in over 3,000 libraries. In the top five, Greer was followed by Janice Radway, John Cawelti, Northrop Frye, and Tania Modleski.

Fig. 3 Popular romance core titles held by the greatest number of libraries in WorldCat.


For the CSUs, we see the same titles, but in a slightly different order, with Frye jumping up from fourth to third. Cawelti, Modleski, and Leslie W. Rabine were in a three-way tie for the final spot. These numbers and their comparative UC and WorldCat rankings are displayed in Fig. 4.

Fig. 4 Popular romance core titles held by the greatest number of CSU libraries.


In the UC results displayed in Fig. 5, a few other titles rose to the top. Greer tied with Lynn Neal and Lynn Pearce as the most collected works in the UC system.

Fig. 5 Popular romance core titles held by the greatest number of UC libraries.


Interestingly, there were sixteen titles held by eight of the ten UC campuses, lending some credence to the idea that research universities are, on the whole, more likely to collect popular romance scholarship, despite the lack of a Popular Romance Studies program.

Fig. 6 Sixteen popular romance core titles held by eight UC libraries.


None of the UC or CSU libraries had a complete collection of the core list; however, only one title was not collected at all, and that was Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches’ Guide to Romance Novels by Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan. One might speculate that this book would be considered the least “academic” of the works listed, and was thus overlooked by academic librarians and not included in approval plans for these university libraries.


There are several recommendations for popular romance scholars that can be given based on the information presented in this article. The first is that, if popular romance scholars want libraries to collect their core list of titles, especially with the vast amount of primary source material produced each year, they need to have a list of core titles. Librarians rely on review sources to help them choose which titles to select, and the review sources neglect popular romance materials. To fill this gap, it is recommended that IASPR put together a committee to compile a true core list of primary and secondary titles for popular romance studies. This list would need to be updated annually to include new titles.

As demonstrated by the comparison of research institutions, the UCs; and teaching intuitions, the CSUs; it is much more likely for research institutions to have the fiscal ability to collect new materials. Therefore, it would seem the best way to have an academic library dedicate the funds towards collecting popular romance materials would be to have a university—preferably a research level, doctoral granting institution—with a major department for Popular Romance Studies. How likely or how soon that is to happen is unknown, but it is a goal romance scholars should continue to strive for.

While it is possible for an academic library to collect every scholarly work on the popular romance core list, it would be an overwhelming expense for any one library to acquire a comprehensive collection of every primary source in popular romance studies. Therefore, a final recommendation would be to identify several libraries interested in collecting in this area and focus on a coordinated collection development effort at a national, regional, or consortial level in order to spread the cost and ensure a broader coverage of materials. In this way, romance scholars can ensure every primary and secondary core title is held and preserved by at least one library, and that there is no danger of losing valuable research materials forever, which, in the case of romance novels printed on acidic paper, becomes ever more likely with each year that passes.

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Appendix A

Anderson, Rachel. The Purple Heart-Throbs: The Sub-literature of Love. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1974.

Belsey, Catherine. Desire: Love Stories in Western Culture. Cambridge, Mass: Blackwell, 1994.

Betz, Phyllis M. Lesbian Romance Novels: A History and Critical Analysis. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009.

Cadogan, Mary. And Then Their Hearts Stood Still: An Exuberant Look at Romantic Fiction Past and Present. London: McMillan, 1994.

Cawelti, John G. Adventure, Mystery, and Romance: Formula Stories as Art and Popular Culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976.

Cohn, Jan. Romance and the Erotics of Property: Mass-Market Fiction for Women. Durham: Duke University Press, 1988.

Cranny-Francis, Anne. Feminist Fiction: Feminist Uses of Generic Fiction. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990.

Dixon, jay. The Romance Fiction of Mills & Boon, 1909-1990s. London: Routledge, 2003.

Flesch, Juliet. From Australia with Love: The History of Australian Popular Romance Novels. Fremantle, WA: Curtin University Books, 2004.

Fletcher, Lisa. Historical Romance Fiction: Heterosexuality and Performativity. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2008.

Frenier, Mariam Darce. Good-bye Heathcliff: Changing Heroes, Heroines, Roles, and Values in Women’s Category Romances. New York: Greenwood Press, 1988.

Frye, Northrop. The Secular Scripture: A Study of the Structure of Romance. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1976.

Goade, Sally, ed. Empowerment versus Oppression: Twenty First Century Views of Popular Romance Novels. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2007.

Greer, Germaine. The Female Eunuch. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1970.

Grescoe, Paul. The Merchants of Venus: Inside Harlequin and the Empire of Romance. Vancouver: Raincoast, 1996.

Kaler, Anne K. and Rosemary Johnson-Kurek, eds. Romantic Conventions. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1999.

Krentz, Jane Ann, ed. Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women: Romance Writers and the Appeal of the Romance. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992.

Mann, Peter H. A New Survey: The Facts About Romantic Fiction. London: Mills & Boon, 1974.

Mann, Peter H. The Romantic Novel: A Survey of Reading Habits. London: Mills & Boon, 1969.

McAleer, Joseph. Passion’s Fortune: The Story of Mills and Boon. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Modleski, Tania. Loving with a Vengeance: Mass-Produced Fantasies for Women. Hamden, CN: Archon, 1982.

Jensen, Margaret Ann. Love’s $weet Return: The Harlequin Story. Bowling Green,  OH: Bowling State University Popular Press, 1984.

Mussell, Kay, ed. “Where’s Love Gone?: Transformations in the Romance Genre.” Paradoxa Vol. 3, No. 1-2. Vashon Island, WA: Delta Production, 1997.

Mussell, Kay. Fantasy and Reconciliation: Contemporary Formulas of Women’s Romance Fiction.  Westport, CN: Greenwood Press, 1984.

Neal, Lynn S. Romancing God. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006.

Paizis, George. Love and the Novel: The Poetics and Politics of Romantic Fiction. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 1998.

Pearce, Lynne and Gina Wisker, eds. Fatal Attractions: Re-scripting Romance in Contemporary Literature and Film. London: Pluto Press, 1998.

Pearce, Lynne. Romance Writing. Cambridge: Polity, 2007.

Rabine, Leslie W. Reading the Romantic Heroine: Text, History, Ideology. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1985.

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Ross, Deborah. The Excellence of Falsehood: Romance, Realism, and Women’s Contribution to the Novel. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1991.

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Strehle, Susan and Mary Paniccia Carden, eds. Doubled Plots: Romance and History. Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 2003.

Thurston, Carol. The Romance Revolution: Erotic Novels for Women and the Quest for a New Sexual Identity. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987.

Wendell, Sarah and Candy Tan. Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches’ Guide to Romance Novels. New York: Fireside/Simon & Schuster, 2009.


Appendix B

Byatt, Antonia. Passions of the Mind: Selected Writings. New York: Turtle Bay Books, 1992.

Carr, Helen, ed. From My Guy to Sci-fi: Genre and Women’s Writing in the Postmodern World. London: Pandora Press, 1989.

Frantz, Sarah S.G., and Katharina Rennhak, eds. Women Constructing Men: Female Novelists and Their Male Characters, 1750-2000. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2010.

Hollows, Joanne. Feminism, Femininity, and Popular Culture. Manchester, U.K.: Manchester University Press, 2000.

McKnight-Trontz, Jennifer. The Look of Love: The Art of the Romance Novel. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2002.

Salmon, Catherine, and Donald Symons. Warrior Lovers: Erotic Fiction, Evolution and Female Sexuality. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003.

Schurman, Lydia Cushman, and Deidre Johnson, eds. Scorned Literature: Essays on the History and Criticism of Popular Mass-produced Fiction in America. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2002.

Watson, Daphne. Their Own Worst Enemies: Women Writers of Women’s Fiction. London: Pluto Press, 1994.

1 “Popular romance” can also be referred to as “romantic fiction,” and either term can include works that do not have a happily-ever-after ending. Although novels are not the only medium for popular romance/romantic fiction, this article relies on definitions provided by romance author organizations such as the Romance Writers of America, the Romance Writers of Australia, and the UK’s Romantic Novelists’ Association for its definition of popular romance/romance fiction. While the Romantic Novelists’ Association sidesteps a true definition, it does call for a love story within the scope of the work (“What is Romantic Fiction?”). Both of the other organizations’ basic definition of romance includes works that have a central focus on a love story with an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending (“About the Romance Genre”; “Romance Genres”). This article prefers the narrower parameters offered by America and Australia, but embraces the idea that popular romance/romantic fiction need not conclude with the traditional happily-ever-after.