In Interview with Lynne Welch
RWA’s 2004 Librarian of the Year
In February, I attended the Public Library Association s conference in Seattle, WA and met lots of library folks whose names were familiar to me from listervs and library literature. Among them was Lynne Welch, a reference librarian at Herrick Memorial Library in Wellington, Ohio. Imagine my surprise not two months later when I read that shed been named RWAs Librarian of the Year! Lynne is RWAs tenth Librarian of the Year (you can see all the winners here: RWA’s Librarian of the Year; scroll to the bottom). Id heard of the award, and had even met a couple of past recipients, but I wasnt quite sure how RWA went about choosing a Librarian of the Year. To find out, I asked Cathie Linz, Library Liaison, who informed me, Each year, RWA members submit a written nomination for a librarian they feel deserves this award. The [RWA Executive] Board then selects which nominee will receive the award.
RWAs website states, [Lynne] receives the honor for her work on behalf of the romance genre, which has taken place not only on a local and state level, but also on a national level. In addition to serving as a committed advocate for the romance genre at her library, Lynne has given training on Readers Advisory at the local and state levels, and she writes about the romance genre in the professional literature (librarians may recognize her name from her numerous Booklist reviews and NoveList Readalike and Feature articles). You can read the complete citation here: http://www.rwanational.org/pdfs/LibrarianNewsletterApril2004.pdf (p.3) (this is a pdf document and requires Adobe Reader to view).
When I asked Lynne whether shed be willing to have me interview her for AAR, she agreed eagerly, not least because shes also an AAR reader. We e-mailed each other for a few days, and it proved to be an interesting conversation. Library workers will recognize some of the aspects of Lynnes comments (tight budgets, incomplete cataloging of romance paperbacks, a lack of support for romance), and I hope theyll be heartened by her confidence and enthusiasm.–Nora Armstrong
Nora Armstrong: First of all, congratulations! When we met in February, I mentioned something about your being RWA Librarian of the Year in the past, and you said that, no, youd never gotten that award. I must be psychic. Lets start with some basics: How long have you worked in libraries? When did you get your MLS? What positions have you held in your professional career, and how long have you been in your current position?
Lynne Welch: Thanks, Nora! I was honored to have been chosen as this years Librarian, especially in view of my [relatively] short time in this profession. After a number of years in the business world, I decided to change careers and went back to school full-time; I was awarded my MLS in August 1997, and started work here in Wellington the very next week. I do reference, computers, Readers Advisory, training, cataloging, and a little of everything else – were a very small library!
Nora: Next, let s move on to the romance aspect of your job. What does your library do thats romance-friendly? Whats the one best thing? Is there anything youd like to do that youre not doing presently?
Lynne: Id really like to be able to promote all of the popular-fiction genres more through programming. Currently we do very little of this, due to a combination of space, staffing, and budgetary constraints. On the plus side, Im very proud to have convinced our director to buy romances, especially in paperback form (we used to rely entirely on donations), and to catalog them, with series and awards notes and other useful information when we have it, so our public can find them. We also encourage library users to talk with us about their reading tastes, so that we can buy appropriately and offer other materials they may enjoy. Having them feel comfortable approaching one of us to discuss whether or not they liked a story, and to ask for other suggestions or to thank us for previous titles, is a great feeling!
Nora: In their citation, RWA mentioned your role in training at the state and local levels. Can you tell me a little bit about that – what kind of training do you offer? Are folks somewhat anti-romance before the class begins? Have you seen or heard of a difference in how library staffers approach the genre after attending one of your training sessions?
Lynne: My role is more behind-the-scenes at this time. While Ive participated in several RA workshops, many people know me more from my postings to various lists. So they contact me when theyre training at their library, and ask for suggestions they can implement. Locally, I provide continuous training (including training on how to use our RA resources) to my fellow staff members, encouraging them to become more familiar with the various sub-categories of romance so that they can be somewhat comfortable fielding questions from readers. And yes, sometimes they are anti-romance to begin with, but I have a number of success stories as well.
One of my little tricks is to gather up promotional materials I get from authors and organizations, too, and pass them out to my colleagues. I mean things like bookmarks, magnets, buttons, rulers, notepads, etc. Im convinced that they help spread the message. Hey, librarians like toys, too! Plus, I always request lists of forthcoming books for the year from major authors, like Nora Roberts and Debbie Macomber, and get them into the hands of staff who order books and patrons who read those authors.
Nora: So in a way what youre doing is kind of like a bookseller handselling to her customers – only in this case, you re handselling an entire genre?
Lynne: Thats exactly what I do! I also handsell individual authors and books – as appropriate – to both readers and colleagues when Im wearing my RA hat, but when Im training I try to handsell the genre as a whole. A lot of times I cross genres as well – from Westerns to Americana romances, for example, or from SF Romance to Science Fiction. I read a wonderful article by Stephanie Bond several years ago on how to effectively handsell, and Im here to tell you, it works just as well in a library as in the bookstore.
Nora: Are you active on any websites or listservs? If librarians want to get in touch with you, how can they do so?
Lynne: Im very active on several lists:
If someone wants to contact me directly, my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nora: And finally, for a librarian whos starting at the bottom – no money, relying on donated romances, hostile or apathetic administration / co-workers, not sure where to turn – what words of wisdom do you have for her? Where can she start to make her library romance-reader friendly?
Lynne: Its all about attitude. If you greet people enthusiastically and let them know you want to help them find stories that interest them – in whatever genre! – they will work with you and grow comfortable discussing their likes and dislikes with you. And when they ask for you by name to continue the conversation, that makes an impact on administration and colleagues… Get to know your collection, and subscribe to discussion lists and email newsletters which discuss new and forthcoming releases so you can be aware of trends and the big names in the genre. Bookmarking websites for quick reference is helpful too. I put mine in a special Readers Advisory folder so I can find them when I need them. Dont make a lack of money an excuse not to serve your public. There are lots of free resources out there if you look for them. A good place to start is RWAs website (www.rwanational.org ). They have a new feature in their For Librarians area on why romance is so popular and how librarians can justify purchasing, cataloging, and circulating the genre. They will send you promotional items if you request them, and they have links to author websites and other romance resources, many of whom will be happy to help you start publicizing your collection. Remember, youre giving them access to a wider audience than they can manage on their own from individual sales, so they benefit as well.
Nora: Thanks, Lynne – Ive enjoyed the chance to chat with you.
Lynne: It was my pleasure. AAR provides a valuable service to readers and librarians, and I was honored to be invited to interview.