Sarah Whitten is a librarian at the Bangor Public Library in Bangor, ME. She's known to be the voice for romance fiction at her library, and she has presented the importance of romance in libraries at local and state library conferences as well as on e-mail listservs for librarians. Whitten is the cofounder of a book group called The Not Your Ordinary Book Group, which serves as a romance book group for library patrons. Also, she blogs about romances, making a significant online library presence supporting the romance genre.
RWA will present Sarah Whitten with the 2013 RWA Librarian of the Year Award at the Awards Luncheon at the 2013 RWA Conference in Atlanta, GA.
RWA interviewed Sarah to get her thoughts about receiving the award, being a librarian, and more!
(1) Congratulations, Sarah! RWA authors will want to add your romance-friendly library to their mailing lists. Where can they send congratulations or promotional items (and to whose attention)?
They can send items to: Bangor Public Library, 145 Harlow St, Bangor ME 04401 Attn: Sarah Whitten.
(2) Tell us about your professional journey and how you ended up at the Bangor Public Library in Bangor, ME.
Well, my original goal in life was to be a museum curator. I attended Bates College and studied art history. Instead of attending graduate school right away I started work at Barnes and Noble. Here I could satisfy three of my passions (books, music and coffee) at the same time. After a few years I decide that I need a change and went to culinary arts school. From this I found that I really enjoyed the field of nutrition. I received my nutrition degree from the University of Maine. My husband who I had met at UMaine was starting a graduate program so I need to find a job in the Bangor area. Luckily enough there was a position open at the Bangor Public Library. I had always wanted to work in a library so it was perfect. I thought that it would only be for a few years but here I am happily working away seven and a half years later.
(3) Could you describe the type of events and educational sessions your library hosts to inform the public and other librarians about the romance genre?
There are no official programs. We do read quite a few romance novels for the book group that I help run. Janet Chapman is friends with one of my former co-leaders of the book group and Janet has come and talked to the book group a few times. I also maintain a display of recommended romance books.
(4) How did your The Not Your Ordinary Book Group start, and what’s the response been from your patrons?
A few years ago our library director wanted the entire staff to brain storm on how to bring in more patrons to the library. We were all assigned a different age group to brainstorm about. The age group that I ended up working on was patrons in their 20’s and 30’s. Also in the group was, Jan Delima (whose first book Celtic Moon will be published by Ace this fall), who happened to be an avid romance reader as well. I proposed to Jan that we should start a romance book group, thinking that this may bring in patrons in this age group. Our first meeting had 30 people show up. Like anything, the book group has changed over the years; we have expanded our choices to include many popular non romance titles. We were lucky to receive a grant at the beginning of 2012 to purchase e-readers for the entire book group. This really broadened our choices to include recent publications. Before this, we had to make sure that the titles that we selected had enough copies available through interlibrary loan.
(5) What types of romances seem to be the most popular with your patrons? Do you see a trend with certain subgenres or authors, or does it vary? And does your library have e-books that patrons can check out? If so, how popular are romance e-books?
Right now I think that paranormal romance and urban fantasy are at the top of the popularity list. These would, of course, include such authors as J R Ward, Karen Marie Moning and Charlaine Harris. Then, there are the perennial favorites such as Nora Roberts, Jayne Ann Krentz, and Danielle Steel. With these authors, we usually have a waiting list even before their books are published. The one trend that I notice now is how prolific series are. When I was younger, it seemed like most books were stand-alone books. I personally love that so many authors have series, because each new book brings you back into the world that the author has created. With e-books here in Maine, there is a statewide download library. The Maine InfoNet Download Library is a collection that can be accessed by patrons from over a hundred different Maine libraries. Well, from personal experience on this site, I can tell you that it seems like any romance book I want to read are usually checked out and have holds.
(6) Do you have any suggestions for romance authors who want to develop a relationship with their local librarian(s)? How can authors help you promote romance fiction to your patrons?
I would tell authors to reach out to librarians anyway they can. We have a few authors who follow Not Your Ordinary Book Group on our various social media outlets. This has lead to having a virtual author interviews and guest author bloggers.