For several years now, Romance Writers of America has selected a librarian of the year. According to their Web site, The RWA Librarian of the Year is awarded to a librarian who demonstrates outstanding support of romance authors and the romance genre. The 2010 RWA Librarian of the year was Jennifer Lohmann. Jennifer is a librarian in my area—I wrote about her Bookclub here recently—and a friend of a friend of mine. I emailed her, introduced myself, and asked if I could interview her for AAR. She and I met for coffee, sat down, and had an excellent chat about the books she loves, romance, and romance readers.

What appeals to you about romance novels?

What appeals to me about romance novels is the same thing that appeals to me generally about all books – the chance to lose yourself completely in a story. I can lose myself in any good book, but it seems to happen more with a good romance novel. I get wrapped up in the lives of the characters and whatever else is pressing on me for that day goes away. I also like the happy endings. I would like to believe that no matter what is in our past, a happy ending with someone to love is possible for our future.

Is there a typical romance reader you see in your library?

I don’t think so. The women I generally help find books are older and retired, but I know younger women check out romances because I see them; they just don’t think to ask me for help or they don’t need my help. I do have one male patron that I know of who reads romances regularly (he likes westerns and is happy his wife got him back into reading) and I work with a couple of teens who come in for their romance fix over holidays and vacations.

Do you have a favorite or preferred genre within romance? If so, why?

I read more historical romances than anything else, but I also like to read contemporaries. In historicals, I generally like the Georgians better than the Regency romances because I like to imagine the women in the huge panniers and the men in their velvets. I will almost always try to get a historical romance bought and read if it’s set in a non-standard time period or non-standard place.

What’s the best romance novel you have read in the past year? What did you love about it?

The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook. I want to like paranormal romances, I really do, but generally I find that either the romance or the world building suffers. The Iron Duke was perfect. The world building was fantastic and the romance was great. There was not a slip in that book; all parts were equally well done. That alone made the book tops.

What percentage of your library’s books are romances? How does the romance collection compare to other genres in terms of popularity?

The Durham County Library buys a lot of romances and Lisa Dendy, our fiction collector, is great. She is willing to buy new, unknown, and riskier authors — maybe only one or two until we see if the author will be popular –but she is willing to experiment. This means we own some of the male/male and female/female romances as well as the stuff that were popular eBooks before they came out in paper format. We want to buy books people want to read so we are always willing to look at suggestions from our patrons.

Our most popular genre is mysteries and they are the most popular by a long shot with our readers, but romances would be second. The largest collection is general fiction, but that includes historical fiction and inspirational fiction, plus some thrillers, so it’s large because it’s such a broad collection. Second in numbers would be mystery and then romance.

What turns you off in a romance novel?

I don’t like butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-their-mouth heroines. If she’s nice to kids, always pets puppies, is a good cook, never loses her temper, is good at her job, gives money to the homeless, sings, paints, knows karate, etc then I’m going to be annoyed. And I don’t buy the too-perfect heroine when being too perfect is her fault; that’s not realistic either. I also get really annoyed with heroines that are TSTL, but  (said with a smile) who isn’t? I’m also not a fan of silly or goofy.  I like humor in my romances, but humor is so personal. What another person may find funny, I just find goofy and a turnoff.

How do you recommend romances to your readers? Do you suggest differing genres or books for differing groups?

I ask them first if they have subgenre preferences, like westerns or historicals or suspense. Then I usually suggest a few authors to see if they’ve read them and what they thought about them to get a sense of what styles they like and whether they like darker or lighter novels. I always ask how sexy or violent they are willing to read. I don’t usually suggest different genres or books for different groups, but base my suggestions on what interests them and what they say they want or like. If someone keeps coming back for suggestions I can get a better sense of their taste. I have a couple of people who ask me for suggestions because I know what’s out and new and a couple of people I always ask for suggestions because there are a lot of authors and books out there and I miss some goodies (I learned about LaVyrle Spencer from a patron and Morning Glory is one of my favorites).

And by the way, after talking to Jennifer, I immediately read The Iron Duke, which I loved! She’s a wise woman about romance!

– Dabney AAR