Tag Archives: collection development

Too Much

I have just finished reading the novel Fifty Shades of Grey, by E. L. James. Everyone is talking about this book. You can’t open a newspaper or magazine, or turn on the TV, without a discussion about Grey and its two sequels. And it’s being discussed at the Library, as you can imagine. Is it erotica? Mommy porn? Fantasy? Or is it just a hot, sexy romance? Meanwhile, Library customers have placed hundreds upon hundreds of holds on the books, from throughout the County in our shared online catalog.

When I told them at my hairdresser’s, “I am reading Fifty Shades of Grey as a self-imposed work assignment,” they laughed. But really, that’s why I did it. I ultimately feel responsible for all the books we buy at Main, so I thought I should know first-hand what all the talk is about.

Choosing books to include in the library’s collection is a serious responsibility. Books are selected by librarians, and they must meet certain criteria. Check out, for example, the fiction criteria from the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Collection Development Policy. Because of the unprecedented high demand, and because this book is seen as a touchstone of the culture of our times, we did decide to purchase James’s books to fill our customers’ requests.

I read a lot of fiction and about 50% of what I read is some form of romance–contemporary, regency, historical, chick lit, women’s fiction, romantic suspense, etc. I have gotten to an age where life is serious enough, and romance literature has an almost guaranteed happy ending. Clever, thoughtful authors always have something new to say about the condition of love and relationships. To be honest, with James, I was curious as to just how the sex descriptions compared with today’s typical romance novel. Romance novels have gotten increasingly “spicier” over the past ten years. Could Grey be that much different?

Generally we do not purchase erotica for the CLP collection. Certainly, lots of mainstream fiction includes graphic sex scenes and we do have some of the classic erotica like The Delta of Venus by Anais Nin* as well as her Diaries. I remember back in the late 70s when one of our more sophisticated librarians talked her boss into letting her have an Anais Nin / Henry Miller book discussion group. Gosh, that was a long time ago! As I recall, much of the talk was about the “literary” merits of the erotica and florid prose of that writing style.

So, I have read Fifty Shades of Grey, and here is my opinion: Grey’s prose is not florid. It is repetitive, pedestrian, titillating, often vulgar, and clichéd. It’s not fifty shades of grey, it’s fifty shades of black and blue and rosy pink. Here is a short, sanitized synopsis of the plot: virginal college graduate Anastasia meets and falls into immediate mutual attraction with a rich and powerful entrepreneur, Christian, who is not much older than herself. He sweeps her off her feet, literally, and quickly offers her a contract to be his submissive sexual companion. The rest of the story–at over 500 endless pages–is Ana’s conflict of conscience between her “subconscious” (I am not even sure that James is using this word correctly) and her “inner goddess,” for good and ill.

Can Ana negotiate her way to a somewhat normal relationship by redefining Christian’s rules and setting strict time limits on his potential actions while still indulging him in his craven need for dominance in all things? Throughout the whole story Ana is required to call him “Sir,” not out of respect, but instead recognizing his physical and emotional dominance in all aspects of their relationship. Their most honest communications occur in terse e-mail messages. Egad! What has love got to do with this?

For my part, I can’t explain the demand to read these books. The storylines are anti-feminist–though Ana sees herself as an independent woman. And it’s misogynistic. I think you would really have to hate women to treat them in such a demeaning manner. What really makes me feel bad is that a woman is the author of these stories.

So why the popularity? And why now at this time? Is it curiosity about kinky sex? Or maybe it’s a distraction from the bad economy or the difficulties of normal, everyday life? Maybe it’s just the fantasy of relinquishing control to a handsome, rich, devil of a guy? At the end of book one, Ana takes a stand. How will this play out over the rest of the series? Someone who slogs through these books is going to have to tell me, as I just can’t invest any more of my time with E. L. James.

 My hope is that these books, much like the Harry Potter series did, will have folks reading again. I hope that they will discover authors who write about love and relationships that are based on mutual attraction, love and respect, and are well-written! Get lost in the stories of Susan Wiggs, Robyn Carr,  Susan Mallery, Victoria Dahl, Nora Roberts, Emily Giffin, Lauren Weisberger, Jennifer Weiner, Mary Balogh, Julia Quinn, Eloisa James, and many, many more. Just ask a librarian and we can recommend books for all tastes.

For my part, I’ll take romance. Fifty Shades of Grey was just too much.



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Collection Highlight du jour

I’m thinking of a nonfiction category at CLP—Main that contains more than 6000 books. Gardening? A catalog keyword search turns up 1839 titles. World War II? 2234 titles.

Maybe by now you’ve sniffed out my subject area du jour—cookbooks. The 6,303 titles in the stacks on the First Floor don’t even include new cookbooks. Those less than a year old are shelved with other new non-fiction in the main room of the First Floor.

Each month patrons check out between 800 and 1200 of these cookbooks. Individual books borrowed more than 100 times include Classic Indian Cooking by Julie Sahni (1980), Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant (1980), New Chinese Vegetarian Cooking by Kenneth Lo (1986), and The Greens Cookbook: Extraordinary Vegetarian Cuisine from the Celebrated Restaurant by Deborah Madison (1987).

Last week I attended a staff presentation given by our librarians who tend the TXs (that’s Library of Congress classification-speak for home economics books). Joanne and Karen work diligently to select, organize, and promote this grand collection.

Here are highlights of Joanne and Karen’s talk, in no particular order.

Library Journal reported that cookbooks overtook medicine and health for the top spot in nonfiction circulation in public libraries last year. I’m not surprised that cookbooks circulate so frequently. Cookbooks provide welcome inspiration for breaking out of the dinner doldrums. And if your home library has a TX shelf, you know that cookbooks are expensive. Borrowing a cookbook to try a recipe before investing in the volume is smart.



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Freedom to Read

On Monday night, Sept. 27th, I had the privilege of introducing the Banned Books Week program the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh co-sponsors annually with the Western Pennsylvania chapter of the ACLU.  This national event was the idea of the late Judith Fingeret Krug, a Pittsburgh native who served for many years as the director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, as well as the executive director of the Freedom to Read Foundation.

As I never let an opportunity pass without explaining what it is that librarians do, I spoke briefly about the librarian’s role in the development of library collections.  Librarians choose the collections for libraries.  It is not a simple process of reading reviews, then picking one from column A and three from column B.  It is a thoughtful exercise based on several factors, and most public libraries do it in a very similar fashion.

The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh has a collection development policy, which is an open document posted on our website that provides the overarching parameters for selection, namely:  “Our collections support the educational, leisure reading and general reference needs of the community.”  The policy also provides a description of our community, historical information about the collection, the diversity of available content and formats, and the criteria we use to select fiction, non-fiction, reference, journals, e-resources and audio-visual formats, etc.

Our website also affirms that the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh subscribes to the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights.  The new 8th edition of the ALA Intellectual Freedom Manual refers to intellectual freedom as an “enduring and all-embracing concept.”   It also states:

The First and Fourth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution are integral to American librarianship.  They are the basis of the concept librarians call intellectual freedom…which accords to all library users the right to seek and receive information on all subjects from all points of view, without restriction and without having the subject of one’s interest examined or scrutinized by others.

In other words, our librarians learn about, and consider deeply, the collections that they have at hand. In what subject areas are the collections strong? In what areas are they weak? Are classic texts available, or are they missing? What are customers asking for? Are there enough copies to meet the demand for popular items? Do we need to present another point of view on a subject?

Are the materials well-written and produced? Are they also well-made and durable? Are they available in a variety of formats? Can another library supply the item more readily? Will the item be used or just sit there on the shelf? Will the item be provocative or controversial? Will the book clubs love it? Will it be just the book needed to change somebody’s life, that provides humor, perspective, understanding, sympathy, empathy? Will the materials educate, elucidate, edify, enrich, or otherwise entertain?

So many questions to ask! And then comes the hard part: when I was a teen librarian many years ago, I read an article called “Battling the Censor Within,” which described yet another obstacle to collection development. Library workers must ask themselves, does the material under consideration, in language or perspective, challenge our own personal beliefs, political correctness, or popular opinion?

Librarians must remain neutral. I think that, aside from the helping relationships we develop with our customers, it is the most important thing that we do. We choose. We choose smartly. We choose for you.


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New and Featured Horror

As the horror collection maestro in the First Floor: New and Featured Department, I’ve recently pruned the collection a bit to highlight some of the great new releases that we’ve received in recent months. Here are a few of the more recent additions to the collection that should make your summer reading just a wee bit scarier:

Blood Oath: The President’s Vampire by Christopher Farnsworth — Blood Oath adds a new twist to the emerging presidents and vampires horror sub-genre: a 140-year-old vampire serves the president of the United States as a top secret weapon against supernatural forces that seek to destroy the nation. Conspiracy buffs should like this one (was 9/11 an act of supernatural aggression?). And if you like your books to have some cred, then you might like the fact that Blood Oath was recently mentioned in the New York Times.   

Taste of Tenderloin by Gene O’Neill — Each story in this collection of gritty/urban/realistic/dark fantasy short stories takes place in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District. If you like to spend your summers indoors contemplating the dearth of joy in this world, then this book will be right up your alley. If my word doesn’t matter, then consider that the book won the 2009 Bram Stoker Award for Best Fiction Collection, and also received a starred review in Publishers Weekly.

Black Wings: New Tales of Lovecraftian Horror edited by S. T. Joshi — This beautifully bound book collects amazing stories by fantastic horror writers like Ramsey Campbell and Caitlin Kiernan. It’s like a pretty Necronomicon, but just as scary. Indeed, this is a book that you will want to buy for your personal library after you’ve gently perused our copy and carefully returned it within the allotted timeframe. 

This is just a snippet of some of the great new horror books that are available at CLP. In the next few months, you can look forward to the addition of even more great horror, including Caitlin Kiernan’s Ammonite Violin and Others, Stephen King’s Blockade Billy, and Dean Koontz’s Frankenstein: Lost Souls.  

Stay tuned!


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100 best graphic novels

As part of a project to expand CLP’s graphic novel collections, some other librarians and I were asked to compose lists of the 100 graphic novels we recommend as essential to adult collections.  Turns out, it also makes a great reading list. 

The list includes titles that range from biography to horror; quintissential comics creators like Alan Moore, Lynda Barry to prose crossover writers like Stephen King, Howard Zinn and Michael Chabon.   Titles range in style from superhero Jack Kirby creations to indie masterpieces by Paul Hornschemeier to classsic alternative creators like Kim Deitch.  I could go on…

The selections aren’t just my own two cents, either.  I referred to several books, a blogTime Magazine‘s list,  other articles I found through a magazine database search, the infinite wisdom of my knowledegable colleagues, and the experience I’ve gained from what patrons like about the existing Graphic Novel collection (a sample) here at Main.  Why am I rolling the credits for you?  Because these are all also great resources to go to when you’re looking for a good book to read.

There’s another reason, too.  I’ve published the list as a Google Document, which means that anyone can edit it.  (At the moment, you may actually need a Google account to do so, but I’m working on it.)  This way, the list can exist as an evolving resource accessible to anyone and built from collective knowledge of those enthusiastic enough to participate.  Free to the people, indeed.  Check out the 100 Best Graphic Novels for Adults in the chart below or right………………..here!  Happy reading and happy sharing!


author title publisher
Abel, Jessica La Perdida Pantheon
Azzarello, Brian 100 bullets DC Comics
B., David Epileptic Pantheon
Baker, Kyle Nat Turner Abrams
Barry, Lynda One Hundred Demons Sasquatch Books
Barry, Lynda What It Is Drawn & Quarterly
Barry, Lynda, ed. The Best American Comics 2008 Houghton Mifflin Company
Bechdel, Alison Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic Houghton Mifflin Company
Bendis, Brian Michael Powers Image Comics
Brown, Chester Louis Riel: A Comic-strip Biography Drawn and Quarterly
Brown, Jeffrey Clumsy Top Shelf Productions
Burns, Charles Black Hole Pantheon
Carey, Mike Lucifer DC/Vertigo
Chabon, Michael

and Will Eisner

The Amazing Adventures of the Escapist Dark Horse Books
Chaykin, Howard V American Flagg! Dynamite Entertainment
Claremont, Chris X-Men. Dark Phoenix Saga Marvel
Clowes, Daniel David Boring Pantheon
Cooke, Darwyn DC : the new frontier. DC Comics
Crumb, Robert The Complete Crumb Fantagraphics
Deitch, Kim The Boulevard of Broken Dreams Pantheon
Delano, Jamie; Ennis, Garth; Carey, Mike; Ellis, Warren; Azzarello, Brian; and others John Constantine, Hellblazer DC/Vertigo
Eisner, Will Contract with God Trilogy W.W. Norton and Company
Eisner, Will Spirit DC Comics
Ellis, Warren Transmetropolitan DC/Vertigo
Ennis, Garth Preacher DC Comics
Gaiman, Neil Sandman DC/Vertigo
Hernandez, Gilbert and Jamie Hernandez Love and Rockets Fantagraphics
Hornschemeier, Paul Mother, Come Home Dark Horse Books
Hornschemeier, Paul Three Paradoxes Fantagraphics
Jacobson, Sidney. The 9/11 report : a graphic adaptation Hill and Wang
Jason multiple titles. “Hey wait” for ex. Fantagraphics
Johns, Geoff and Judd Winick Green Lantern DC Comics
Johns, Geoff and others JSA: Justice Society of America DC Comics
Kane, Bob Greatest Batman stories ever told Warner
King, Stephen The Dark Tower Marvel
Kirby, Jack Fourth World Omnibus DC Comics
Kirkman, Robert Walking Dead Image Comics
Kouno, Fumiyo Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms Last Gasp
Kubert, Joe SGT. Rock DC Comics
Laird, Roland Owen Still I rise : a cartoon history of African Americans W.W. Norton
Lee, Stan Amazing Spiderman Marvel
Lee, Stan and Jack Kirby Essential Avengers Marvel
Lee, Stan and Jack Kirby Essential Fantastic Four Marvel
Lee, Stan and Jack Kirby Essential Hulk Marvel
Lee, Stan and Steve Ditko Essential Spider Man Marvel
Lethem, Jonathan Omega: The Unknown Marvel
Lutes, Jason Berlin. City of stones Drawn and Quarterly
Lutes, Jason Jar of Fools Black Eye Productions
Martin, Alan Tank Girl Titan Books
McCloud, Scott Understanding Comics Harper Perennial
Michelinie, David and Bob Layton Iron Man. Demon in a Bottle Marvel
Mignola, Mike Hellboy Dark Horse Books
Mignola, Mike B.P.R.D. Dark Horse Books
Millar, Mark Wanted Top Cow Productions
Miller, Frank Daredevil Marvel
Miller, Frank The Dark Knight Returns DC Comics
Miller, Frank Sin City Dark Horse Books
Miyazaki, Hayao Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind VIZ
Modan, Rutu Exit Wounds Drawn and Quarterly
Moore, Alan Watchmen DC Comics
Moore, Alan League of Extraordinary Gentlemen America’s Best Comics
Moore, Alan Promethea America’s Best Comics
Moore, Alan Batman. The Killing Joke DC Comics
Moore, Terry Strangers in Paradise Abstract Studio
Morrison, Grant Invisibles DC Comics
Morrison, Grant JLA: Justice League of America DC Comics
Morrison, Grant Animal Man DC/Vertigo
Morrison, Grant Batman: Arkham Asylum DC Comics
Niles, Steve 30 Days of Night IDW Publishing
Niles, Steve Richard Matheson’s I am legend IDW Publishing
Nilsen, Anders Dogs and water Drawn and Quarterly
Pekar, Harvey American Splendor various
Pekar, Harvey, ed. The Best American Comics 2006 Houghton Mifflin Co
Pini, Wendy Masque of the Red Death Go Comi
Rabagliati, Michel Paul Has a Summer Job Drawn and Quarterly
Sacco, Joe Palestine Fantagraphics
Satrapi, Marjane Persepolis Pantheon
Seth It’s a good life, if you don’t weaken Drawn and Quarterly
Simmonds, Posy Gemma Bovery Pantheon
Spiegelman, Art Maus: A Survivor’s Tale Pantheon
Takaki, Saiko Hideyuki Kikuchi’s Vampire Hunter D Digital Manga Pub
Taniguchi, Jirō The Walking Man FanFare
Tezuka, Osamu Buddha Vertical
Thompson, Craig Blankets: An Illustrated Novel Top Shelf Productions
Tomine, Adrian Sleepwalk: And Other Stories Drawn and Quarterly
various Buffy the Vampire Slayer Dark Horse Books
various Swamp Thing DC Comics
various X-Men. Age of Apocalypse, the Complete Epic Marvel
various The Chronicles of Conan Dark Horse Books
various Showcase Presents: Justice League of America DC Comics
various Showcase Presents: Batman DC Comics


various Showcase Presents: Superman DC Comics


various Showcase Presents: The Flash DC Comics


Vaughan, Brian K. Ex Machina Wildstorm Productions


Vaughan, Brian K. Y: The Last Man DC/Vertigo


Ware, Chris Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth Pantheon


Ware, Chris, ed. Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth Houghton Mifflin Co


Willingham, Bill Fables DC/Vertigo
Willingham, Bill Jack of Fables DC/Vertigo


Winick, Judd and others Green Arrow DC Comics


Wolfman, Marv Crisis on Infinite Earths DC Comics
Zinn, Howard A People’s History of American Empire: A Graphic Adaptation Metropolitan Books


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