Pop culture library has romance fiction covered, features largest collection of its kind

Abby Shifley and Abby Shifley

The BGSU Browne Popular Culture Library’s romance fiction collection is the largest of its kind in an academic library. Nearly four rows of bookshelves in the library’s archives host the 16,000 small novels from the early ‘70s to mid-2000s, Steve Ammidown, manuscripts & outreach archivist for the library, said.

“We’ve become the center of the history of the genre,” Ammidown said.

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The collection contains romance novels of nearly every genre and from nearly every publisher, but also has a more unique aspect.

“It’s the soup and nuts,” Ammidown said. “What I like to call process, product and response.”

The collection has a variety of writers’ original manuscripts, their handwritten notes, reviews and fan reactions. Researchers can observe a writer’s whole process through this romance fiction collection.

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Roberta Gellis is a writer from the 1990s whose original, meticulously handwritten manuscript for her novel “Knights Honor” is on-file in the library’s collection. Ammidown said there aren’t many collections containing resources that detail a writer’s whole process.

The vastness of the collection is possible due to a 25-year-long partnership between the library and the Romance Writers of America, Ammidown said. He won an award from the organization last summer called the RWA Cathie Linz Librarian of the Year.

Linz was the one who reached out to the library in 1995 about keeping a romance fiction archive, and Ammidown said, “To have her name on the award, to win it, it was just a fantastic, overwhelming trip to New York City.”

Today, 24 years after the start of the collection, it is harder to collect newer author’s work because most of their work is digital. The library doesn’t have the electronic capacity to accommodate these digital manuscripts.

Additionally, newer publishers tend to want to rent out books rather than sell them to libraries permanently.

“From a librarian’s standpoint, it’s really difficult because, especially on this floor, we are focused on permanence,” Ammidown said. “We’re trying to keep these things around for a longer time, so that when someone wants to study 1980s romance fiction 50 years from now, we want them to be able to come back here.”

Ammidown said the benefit of having such a large, permanent collection is it allows one to see the patterns and trends throughout multiple decades.

“A lot of authors … come in waves — where certain authors pop up all the time, and then other ones, they do one thing really well like ‘Wyoming Cowboys,’” Ammidown said. The latter kind of author often fades as their specific genre loses popularity.

Ammidown also pointed out how if a popular author wrote one novel in a series, the color of that particular novel would sometimes change, or the author’s name would be the largest text on the spine. If the collection wasn’t lined-up on bookshelves with novels side-by-side, this advertising trend might not have been visible.

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The collection also features a romance fiction periodical called Romantic Times, which is no longer in publication. The periodical would sometimes feature the cover artists of romance novels, which has been helpful in identifying the many artists who did not receive copyrights on the inside cover of the novels. Some of the artists can only be identified by style.

One of the artists for Harlequin Enterprises Limited in the ‘80s and ‘90s was Frank Kalan. His family donated 130 of his paintings to the library and all his side work as well: photographs, sketches, etc. The library has about 60-65% of the books that go with the paintings and is trying to acquire all of them.

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“This is the whole thing of the collection. It’s moving beyond the books to all of the elements that go into creating a romance novel,” Ammidown said.

Ammidown said the RWA gives out grants for people to do research on romance fiction, and a number of the grants have been used to do research at the library. Additionally, the library is hosting its second romance fiction conference in April, which will feature a number of presenters. The deadline to submit presentation proposals is Nov. 1.