Saturday, October 11, 2008

Add a touch of lavender with your orange and black

It's October and perhaps you, like myself, enjoy some seasonal stories that also feature lesbians. Add a little touch of lavender with your orange and black, if you will. Here is a list of some of my favorite otherworldly stories featuring lesbians. Not a list for fans of serious horror stories, many of these books are more lesbian fantasy romance with a supernatural twist. The short story anthologies are more mixed both with gay men as well as lesbians and by degree from little spooky to downright horror. For the most part these lavender pumpkins fall into three broad themes: Stories featuring goddess-worshipping women, stories with preternatural creatures, and stories haunted by ghosts. Then a few anthologies that mix these elements. Over all, it’s a kind of “Caldrons and Critters and Haints, Oh My!” collection.

There are a number of stories that make reference to witches, especially in regard to Wicca/Pagan traditions. Laura Adams (a pen name for Karin Kallmaker aka "the Queen of Lesbian Romance") has some wonderful "witchy" romances. Foremost are the first two titles in her "Tunnel of Light Trilogy." The hauntingly powerful story of Ursula and Autumn touches on Goddess worship of the pre-Christian era, its survival in generations since the fall of Rome. Kallmaker weaves a haunting cycle of magic and reincarnation beginning with Sleight of Hand and followed by Seeds of Fire. Powerful, mythic and erotic, we are still waiting for the conclusion. The finale, "Forge of Virgins" has yet to be released. However, in 2008, Kallmaker released an edited and expanded version of Christabel, her retelling of the Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem, which weaves historic and contemporary lives together with two very touching love stories. This title is well worth a Halloween purchase.

Jean Stewart's Isis Series begins with Return to Isis and is set in a futurist, post-pandemic world. Several of the women of Freeland have worked to develop their psychic gifts and many self identify as witches or wiccan. Stewart's characters are three dimensional and engaging, her plots will have you on the edge of your seat. The most recent entry is Wizard of Isis but you'll want to read them in order.

A witch and her talking dog are prominent in Karen William's Nightshade. Her second novel, Nightshade is peopled with several enticing women and she deals with her characters a bit more complexly than her first novel (see below). Alex's healing is an important element of her finding love in this delightful romance. Cynthia Lamb's Brigid’s Charge is a well-researched and entertainingly crafted story of Deborah Leeds, a woman who immigrates to colonial America and brings her carefully hidden Irish Celtic wiccan faith. Readers who prefer a little more history and a little less magic will enjoy Brigid’s Charge. The title may be difficult to track down, but is very worth the effort.

Ellen Galford brings a goddess-centric island off the Scottish coast to life in The Fires of Bride: A Novel. Maria Milleny, an unemployed London artist is drawn to the enigmatic Dr. Catriona MacEochan and the generations of mysteries of the island people. Out of print, this charming, witty novel lingers like the ghost hidden in its pages.

Monsters are slightly less popular in gothic lesbian lit, although vampires tend to be the exception to the rule. However, there a few titles that can be considered “critter-filled.” Chris Anne Wolfe's Roses and Thorns is a retelling of the "Beauty and the Beast" romantic fairy tale that questions the definition of “monster” and crosses over with witchcraft playing a role as well. Ellen Galford’s award winning Dyke and the Dybbuk has an ancient demon trying to haunt a very modern dyke. The results are a riotous mix of humor. Great fun for those who like their spooks to be more droll than troll.

Karen William's Love Spell is a charming little romance that deals with stereotypes of monsters, witches, magic and love between the local vet, Kate and the mysterious Allegra. Kate struggles to understand all of these issues after she experiences the most erotic night of her life. Gomez’s The Gilda Stories: A Novel introduces a lesbian vampire with a strong morale sense and weaves through history into the future. Ouida Crozier suggests vampires are not undead, but beings from an alternative reality in Shadows After Dark and they need not just human blood, but our help.

Gothic tales of lesbian ghosts weave their way through a number of novels. Rebecca Montague’s A Wild Sea has Katherine dealing with the ghost of loss in more ways than one. In Zanger’s Gardenias Where There Are None the computer becomes a conduit for a different kind of communication for Melanie.

The communication is not merely a metaphor in When the Dead Speak: The Second Brett Higgins Mystery, as Allie and Brett find themselves experiencing strange happenings in their old house. The will of the spirit is overwhelming in House at Pelham Falls by Brenda Weathers. Long out of print, this ghostly story of lesbian love holds classic gothic elements and was the first preternatural lesbian story I ever read. Blayne Cooper’s Cobb Island is a love story that echoes doomed relationship for the past. Uncovering the echo of that relationship, and finding love is the theme of this tale. While Cooper & Novan’s The Road to Glory is a different, but very touching kind of ghost story. On a bit spookier note is Dark Dreamer: a Dark Vista Paranormal Romance by Jennifer Fulton. Rowe Devlin is having a rough patch in her life and falling for a woman who sees ghosts doesn't seem to be the answer. This is the first of a series of preternatural novels from Fulton.

Oh My!
As a fourth category, let’s look at anthologies that feature any and all variations on the Caldrons, Critters and Haints themes. Three Bella After Dark titles are well worth a reading. The first is Bell, Book and Dyke: New Exploits of Magical Lesbians, a quartet of novellas by Karin Kallmaker, Julia Watts (both of whom also edited the stories), Barbara Johnson and Therese Szymanski. All the novellas feature "witches" and range from the wry and ironic "Skyclad" to the touching and powerful "Unbeliever." This is the best overall title of the "New Exploits" collections as all the stories in this one are worth your while. The second Bella After Dark to consider is Call Of The Dark: Erotic Lesbian Tales Of The Supernatural. Call of the Dark lives up to its title with erotic stories that will also send shivers of another kind down your spine. Edited by Szymanski, the collection is varied and well paced for readers with a mix of arousal, humor, and fear. There is also New Exploits 3: Stake through the Heart which features vampire stories from the four authors of the series.

Shadows of the Night: Queer Tales of the Uncanny and Unusual is a mixed anthology of stories by and featuring gay men and lesbians. It reads like a season from the Twilight Zone, and the stories here go from the odd to the down right scary, with some new twists on old ghost tales thrown into the mix. Out of Print and difficult to track down, The Ghost of Carmen Miranda: and Other Spooky Gay and Lesbian Tales is a fun mix of ghost stories. As with the title story, humor plays a role in some of the stories. Yet there are some very creepy entries here as well.

Night Shade: Gothic Tales by Women is a mix of supernatural stories, not all of which are queer. However, Jean Stewart’s story of the avenging hounds of the goddess, “Feeding the Dark” has stayed with me for years. Similarly, and also edited by Brownworth, Night Bites: Vampire Stories by Women is more feminist focused than “queer.” It also contains some memorable gems from the vampire theme.

Two of the best (and the first) anthologies to focus with lesbian vampires were edited by Pam Keesey, Daughters of Darkness: Lesbian Vampire Tales and Dark Angels: Lesbian Vampire Erotica. Both titles have been rereleased. Gomez’s Gilda makes an appearance and from Katherine Forrest, we have Drake in “Oh Captain, my Captain.” Keesey's introductions include an interesting evaluation on the history of the lesbian vamp in literature.

Without doubt, my favorite lesbian Halloween anthology is Kallmaker's 18th and Castro. The 13 stories relate to the residents of a mythic apartment building at 18th & Castro on Halloween night. It’s an address where you'll find intelligent, witty stories that are well-written and charming, and peopled with interesting characters. The preternatural makes at least two appearances. Readers will find something good to eat in this bag of treats!

Let's end this little Halloween reading list off with a tribute to the great lavender literary queen, Oscar Wilde with The Canterville Ghost. While there is very little lavender subtext in this charming little short story, it has Wilde’s trademark wit and wry observations about American and English cultures. And includes touching comments on the nature of love and the world. If you can find it, the Candlewick Treasures hardcover imprint (ISBN-13: 978-0763601324) is a delightful little book for ghostly Halloween gifting.

There you have it, a fine assortment of lavender Halloween treats for your reading pleasure.

Happy Haunted Reading!
-MJ, a queer little devil

BN: I'm not able to list all the authors and editors mentioned above in the labels, please look to the left to see full reviews of the titles mentioned, or reviews of other titles by those authors under the author's name.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Fool on the Hill

Morgan Hunt
$14.95, trade paperback, 190 pages
ISBN-13: 978-1593500276
Alyson Books

Morgan Hunt's second mystery, Fool on the Hill brings back Tess Camillo, a smart-mouth lesbian with a varied and colorful past. Tess is a 40-something computer nerd and breast cancer survivor. Her original love was actually mathematics, and computer programming was more palatable than accounting or teaching math. Hunt has created a strong, quirky voice in Tess. Her whimsical associations, internal musical sound-tracks, and slightly skewed world view are charmingly idiosyncratic.

Fool on the Hill opens as Tess and her housemate, Lana, attend a rock concert of Gabrielle Letheross with Cody Crowne as the opening act. Cody had been a chart topper in the 1980s but is fading in his late middle years. Lana, president of the local Cody Crowne fan club, has been waiting for years to see him in concert. Both women have a fantastic time. The next day brings a shock when his murdered body is discovered by Tess out walking in Open Space. Particularly shocking is the extremely brutal method of his murder. His teeth were removed, his finger tips were cut off, and he was crucified.

The traumatic discovery piques Tess's curiosity. Prompting her to this: "I wondered if [Lana]'d remember to separate the whites for bleaching, but didn't want to nag her. I wondered what Thomas Paine would have thought of our current electoral process. I wondered how many IQ points we lose for each hour of reality TV we watch. I wondered if I should take a personal interest in tracking down Cody's murderers. I wondered a lot of things, then helped Lana with the laundry. Even after your own personal Calvary, you need clean underwear. " (24)

Tess is assisted in her amateur sleuthing by a range of folks. Lana uses her new age touch to help question suspects and acts as look out. Tess's "husband" Roark Jurist -- they met over 20 years ago while both were struggling to survive in that closet called the US Navy, married for cover, divorced after they both left the service, and have remained friends -- now works with the "Immensely Powerful Government Spooks or IPoGS" (34) and provides Tess with an amazing array of valuable information via his connections. Kari, a detective with the SDPD whom Tess dated briefly, provides more official assistance. Hunt has created a fairly traditional mystery in that the clues are apparent to the reader as Tess finds them. The story is fast paced and fun. As secrets are uncovered, another murder occurs, bring the case even closer to home for Tess and Lana.

Tess's San Diego and its surroundings add color and character to Fool on the Hill with various locales playing roles in the plot. Carousel rides, trips to Legoland, Balboa Park, and the historic district give texture to the story, including a charming scene at the Chicken Pot Pie Shop, a San Diego landmark diner. Or as Tess describes, "The decor was Green Acres kitsch. .... A high shelf along the far wall held ceramic poultry of every sort. Rhode Island red knickknacks could be found behind the cash register; macaroni art of leghorns and bantams hung on the dinning area walls. Not exactly Martha Stewart, but with food this good, who gives a cluck?" (159)

Tess's voice is distinct and amusing, although sometimes her over-the-top metaphors are distracting. Occasionally Tess's powerful narrative voice becomes expository, not quite successfully taking the place of dialogue and action, from which some scenes might have benefited. This kind of "telling" of the story has a "thinning" effect to the novel overall. Hunt is a talented writer who has created a cast of quirky characters. Additional constructive editing could help Hunt develop a more robust mystery to better showcase her vivid characterization. She has great promise for future mysteries. This reader certainly looks forward to more of Tess.

The prime example of a metaphor that did not work, for this reader, was Tess's analogy for oral sex. "When we changed positions, her softest layers became the rink in an Olympic competition; my tongue, the skates. I played with figure eight's [sic], smooth glides, and occasional double Axels. Encouraged by her moans, I won the Gold with a triple loop." (143) Ice and blades, even attached to skates, just aren't on my mind regardless of the grace involved. If Hunt needed a sports analogy, synchronized swimming might have worked better.

Perhaps more importantly, the love scene, which was Tess's first sexual encounter since her surgery, seemed anticlimactic, as it were. Certainly the scene failed, for this reader, to resolve in a clear way the anxiety that Tess had previously expressed while anticipating the event, baring her surgery scars to a lover for the first time. It seemed a disservice to Nova's character for her not to be shown reassuring and satisfying Tess's needs. Yet Tess seems much less introspective about the relationship than she is about other aspects of her life. Since Tess's romantic life is the second most important thread to the novel, its light treatment is unsatisfying.

Overall, Fool on the Hill is fast paced, engaging and fun. The characters are interesting and compelling. Tess Camillo is a welcome addition to the cast of amateur sleuths that mystery readers can enjoy. Pick up a copy, Tess is sure to have you humming along with a world spinning round.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Winners vs. Classics

Award season has started. Nominations have closed, short lists are being announced, and excitement and anticipation are building.

Every year, looking at the various lists of winners, I find myself with mixed feelings. The American Library Association's GLBT awards, now known as the Stonewall Book Award and Barbara Gittings Literature Award are the earliest GLBT book awards, dating back to 1971. The Lambda Literary Awards and Publishing Triangle Awards both began in 1988; while the Golden Crown Literary Society is still the new kid on the block founded in 2004. I am proud
that in my lifetime, organizations have been founded to honor books that reflect and validate the lesbian experience. However, invariably there are titles that I would have liked to have seen honored that weren't short listed, let alone granted an award.

This year,
that thought prompted me to consider books that never won an award but have the publishing version of "living well is the best revenge." The titles listed below are now considered classics. All pre-date most such awards. However, as part of that "classic" characteristic, they are still in print, or so frequently so as to be readily available in the secondary market, and they have touched untold lives since their first appearance.

The Price of Salt, Claire Morgan (aka Patricia Highsmith) 1951. Originally produced in hardcover, The Price of Salt appeared shortly after Highsmith’s success, Strangers on a Train. Yet due to the controversial, not to mention illegal subject matter, it was released under a pseudonym. The Price of Salt was the first novel in English (I don’t know about other languages) that ended with the two female leads surviving to love each other. No murder. No suicide. No jail time. No one married the Y-type ... or more correctly, Carol got divorced and went after the girl. Wow.

Spring Fire, Vin Packer (aka Marijane Meaker) 1952. Now credited with launching the lesbian themed pulp genre, Spring Fire was the first of some 20 titles written by Ms. Meaker before Stonewall. As Ann Aldrich, she wrote a series of non-fiction (and controversial) titles printed in from 1955 to 1972. In 1970, Gene Damon (Barbara Grier, co-founder of Naiad Press) in The Ladder (Daughters of Bilitis newsletter) referred to Ms. Meaker as "the evil genius" for her excellent writing about unpleasant and unsatisfactory lesbian themes. Ms. Meaker has written award winning teen novels under the name, M.E. Kerr and in 2003 released a memoir of her two year relationship with Highsmith. Spring Fire has been re-released by Cleis Press in 2004 and is now available in ebook formats.

Odd Girl Out, Ann Bannon, 1957. The first of five novels in the "Beebo Brinker Chronicles" was Odd Girl Out and while the Beebo books have a certain campy quality of the time; they were a relatively positive depiction of lesbians. They granted women an alternative to heterosexual “Susie Homemaker” in the years before Stonewall. Ms. Bannon has said that Vin Packer's novels were an inspiration to her.

Desert of the Heart, Jane Rule, 1964. Perhaps better known for being the inspiration behind the movie, Desert Hearts, Jane Rule's work was groundbreaking in the matter of fact quality of the lesbian relationship. After several rejections as not negative enough toward lesbianism, it was originally released in hardcover. The relationship is touching and thoughtful, but it's not the focus of the novel which has much to say about gambling and capitalism as well as loneliness.

Ruby Fruit Jungle, Rita Mae Brown, 1973. Ms. Brown is better known today for her anthropomorphizing mysteries, the Mrs. Murphy series and Master of the Hunt Sister Jane series. However, Ruby Fruit Jungle is arguably the best selling lesbian novel. First released by Daughters Inc (a now defunct feminist press), it went through numerous editions before Ruby Fruit Jungle was sold to Bantam. With her humor and outrageous adventures Molly Bolt has seen unknown thousands of women out of the closet with a new defiant joy and affection. Reading Ms. Brown’s bio on her website is rather fun.

Annie on My Mind, Nancy Garden, 1982. One of the most banned books in America, Garden dared to te
ll the charming, confusing, touching story of two high school girls falling in love and coming out. Garden has written dozens of books for children and teens and others since Annie have dealt with lesbian and gay themes, most notably The Year They Burned the Books, 1999 and Endgame, 2006. The former was inspired by the controversy around Annie while the latter deals with the violent response of youth to repeatedly hostile bullying. My personal favorite of Garden's lesbian themed books is Good Moon Rising, 1996. However, Annie and Liza’s story (which has even been adapted into a play) still reigns for its groundbreaking.

Curious Wine, Katherine V. Forrest, 1983. Forrest didn't just raise the bar for lesbian romance with Curious Wine, she built a whole new jump course. The story of Lane and Diana is romantic, erotic and quintessentially female and feminist in ways that nothing had been before it. Further, Amateur City (1984) was the first mystery to feature a detective who was a lesbian, Kate Delafield. Ms. Forrest is now the Supervising Editor of Spinsters Ink.

Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley, 1983. MZB re-set the standard in how women might look at our cultural mythos, giving a new life to the divine female. Under the name Miriam Gardner, she wrote lesbian themed pulp novels and contributed to The Ladder. None of MZB's Darkover novels were honored by GLBT awards, nor was The Catch Trap, 1979, which featured two men who starred in the flying trapeze in the circus world and struggled with their love during the 1940s and 1950s.

Toothpick House, Lee Lynch, 1983. This was the first title of a dozen that Ms. Lynch has written, including Dusty's Queen of Hearts Diner, the first of the Morton River Valley trilogy. There is a review for her most recent title, Sweet Creek here. She is perhaps best known for her for her column the Amazon Trail, which appears
in GLBT periodicals across the country. In the 1960s, Ms. Lynch also wrote for The Ladder.

Other Women, Lisa Alther, 1984. Some folks might rather Kinflicks which was released in 1976 or Original Sins, 1981, but I have a soft spot for Other Women, as it were, which focused more on lesbians, in my opinion. And therapy, a favorite pasttime for lesbians. All three books were best sellers and book club selections, which resulted in putting stories about lesbians in the hands of lots of closeted women who might not have found them otherwise.

Yes, many of these authors have been honored with other accolades and successes and obviously, they could not be honored by organizations that didn't yet exist at the time these
titles were originally released. Indeed the existence of these titles without a doubt served to prompt the creation of various GLBT literature award programs. This list is by no means complete and I welcome additional suggestions via comments. Nevertheless, it reminds one that books might not win awards, and can still win the hearts and minds of readers.

-MJ Lowe

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


Emma Donoghue

Harcourt Books

May 7, 2007

ISBN-10: 0151012970

Life is about to change for Jude Turner in Emma Donoghue's novel, Landing. The 25 year old archivist/curator of a one-room schoolhouse museum in her very small town of Ireland, Ontario, Canada, is "celebrating" New Years Eve by flying to the United Kingdom to see her mother, who has been visiting her sister, Jude's aunt. This mysterious request from Jude's aunt heralds illness and loss for Jude. Thus for the first time Jude, the self-proclaimed Luddite, is on a plane. It will be one of many firsts as an unusual incident during the flight prompts her meeting Síle O'Shaughnessy, a meeting that will have long term effects on both women. Síle is a 39-year-old flight attendant of Indo-Celtic heritage with nearly 20 years of experience in her career. A resident of Dublin, Ireland, Síle is a cosmopolitan, high-tech, and high energy lesbian whose fast-paced vagabond life suits her. She was born, after all, at 40,000 feet.

The "LDR" --long distance romance-- that slowly takes off between the two women is witty and charming, though sometimes rocked by the bad weather of miscommunication and time zones, it is carried up like the magic of flight. Themes of distance, travel, and change are woven throughout the novel as the women re-prioritize their lives with each other. Landing is a romance filled with the ache of distance and longing, and Donoghue is wonderfully skilled in her quiet little illustrations of it as when "She conjured up Jude, or rather her absence, a hot ghost for Síle to wrap her body around." (151)

The charm of love's preoccupation is reflected as Jude confesses to a friend, "Daily life becomes this sort of epic: The First Time I Saw Her Face, Our First Walk by the Lake, The First Phone Call, The Night I Stayed Up Making Anagrams of Her Name ..."

Gwen stared. "Anagrams?"

"When I can't sleep ...," admitted Jude. (159)

Donoghue reminds us that life can be messy yet interesting in this story peopled with vivid and surprising individuals struggling to deal with the limitations of their communities, families and careers. Wry observations of the practical, political and legal realities for international relationships, as well as the internal conflicts of national identity and individuality, prejudice and labels, self-worth and love, commitment and independence, are deftly charted and navigated throughout the story. For example, there's Jude's view of history and her efforts at her museum "Uncutesy, I guess," she said, after a second. "In North America we tend to Disneyfy the past into this sugar-coated nostalgia product, all bonnets and merry sleigh rides--" (24) Or Síle's friend, Jael's struggle with herself as a "hasbian" now married with a child and revealing that she's also seeing a woman, "Without it, I swear I couldn't hold it together: the house, the husband, the job, the child. Maybe I need a secret." (298)

Would that most plane flights were as pleasantly distracting, charmingly complicated, and warmly engaging as Landing. Donoghue's writing is a pleasure to read, so much so that pulling quotes, for this reviewer, became a difficult choice. Frankly, I recommend reading the whole book. Please fasten your seat belt and enjoy.

-MJ Lowe

BN: BBC Audiobooks America has produced an unabridged audio version of Landing, skillfully narrated by Laura Hicks. You might check to see if your local library has or can get a copy, it's fun to listen to as well.

ISBN: 9780792748410

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Getting "those books" into your local library

National Library Week is April 13-19, 2008. I'm posting a presentation I made at GCLS 2007 concerning getting queer books into your local public library's collection.

Good luck!

"I may not be an explorer, or an adventurer, or a treasure-seeker, or a gunfighter, Mr. O'Connell, but I am proud of what I am...
I, am a librarian!" From the movie, The Mummy

Why your local public library?

1. Increases Visibility. Your interest in books with les/bi women’s lives illuminated, increases the public library's interest in books with les/bi women's lives and that increases visibility for les/bi women's lives. Further having "those books" in the public library provides visibility/preservation of the literature in the larger literary world.

2. Increases Availability. A library is a wonderful place to reach folks who might not buy, either because they can't afford to, or because they don't feel comfortable doing so.

3. Increases Validation. The collection of a public library should reflect the community it serves. You are a patron of your local library and have a right to expect positive depictions of les/bi women in the library's collection.

What books are already there?
First, find out what your library has. If you don't have one, Get a library card! Check the catalog. Your local library very likely has a website that allows online searching. --It's fairly rare to find those cute little drawers anymore.--
For a subject search try: Lesbians -- fiction.

You might also need to do a keyword search. This is because a book ends up with more specific subject headings like: Lesbians -- Scotland -- Glasgow -- Fiction or Lesbians -- United States -- Fiction but not have the primary subject of Lesbians -- fiction. The basic idea is that the catalog is designed to find the most specific item, not result in a "big net" of results. Part of the issue has to do with changes in cataloging over time. Systems rarely, if ever, go back and change previous cataloging. There are places where one will still find: homosexuals -- fiction rather than gay men -- fiction.

Those are the issues to be aware of when you're looking in your local catalog. And that's the best way I know to explain the quirks you might find. Frankly, I'm a Reference Librarian, not a Cataloger. If you're really interested in a more technical answer, I can find out for you. Just send me an email.

You might also try a title or author search. And then check the subjects. If you're using a web-based catalog, you can usually click on the subject headings at the bottom of the title or author page to find similar titles. So try Brown, Rita Mae or Garden, Nancy and see if you have Bingo or Annie on my Mind. I mention these titles because they were released by main stream presses and thus are a little more likely to be in any given collection.

Now that you know what's there, ask yourself:

What books would you like to see there?

Draft a list of titles you would like to see and include:

copyright year

Certainly include one or two of your favorite authors, however, also consider including bestselling les/bi fiction titles from Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Award-winning titles:
GCLS Literary Awards, Lambda Literary Awards, Publishing Triangle Awards, American Library Association’s Stonewall Book Award/Barbara Gitting Literature Awards. Include any titles that are set locally or written by local authors. By local, I mean state. This is a common subject heading, i.e., Colorado -- fiction. And many library systems collect local authors and might have a special local subject for this, i.e., Tennessee authors. You'll want to make a note of this information on your list. If the title has been reviewed somewhere, you might print or copy that review for inclusion as well. Be aware that if a title is not readily available at Amazon or your local bookstore, the library might not be able to get a copy via their distributor. (See note about donations below.)

I would not go in with more than five titles at a time. However, it is not unreasonable to ask how many titles would be considered at a given time and whether there is a better time to request titles (first of the year, monthly, etc).

Next find out, how does your library work?
Speak to the reference or information services staff and ask how they go about their collection development. Explain why you're asking: "I'd like to request some titles for inclusion in the collection. What's the best way to do that?" Some systems may have a handout or a link on their web page about their collection development policy. Ask, "Is there someone I may speak to directly?"

Ask these kinds of questions:

  • Is it centralized? Or done locally? (If you are going to a one location, say a city library, just ask who does the collection development ordering.)
  • May you request titles?
  • How likely are they to order requested titles?
  • How long before you'll know if the title has been ordered? (Ask to place a hold on the title, this way, it will appear on your record and you'll know when it has been added to the collection.)
  • Do they accept donations for inclusion into the collection?

It's worth asking. However, be aware that it is not uncommon for donations of books to go directly into the Friends of the Library book sale and thus generate money for the library. This is because the cost of cataloging a title must be weighed against the cost of purchasing partially processed books from the distributor. It is often more cost efficient to order a new copy than to have a cataloger process a title.

They MIGHT accept a donation of a title that they are unable to access via their distributor, if you make a case for its inclusion. If you provide a hard copy donation, be aware that a large library system might gladly accept two copies, and ask how many they'd like. (If you provide more than one copy, make sure it is the same edition -- the same ISBN -- to facilitate their unique cataloging.)

Final option:
Most libraries will allow you to purchase a "memorial" book via a monetary donation and designate a title. Thus you may be able to give a donation to purchase a book in memory of L. J. Maas, Tee Corinne, that high school gym teacher, etc. Check to make sure the library is willing to purchase the title you're requesting. Make sure it's readily available, etc.

It is possible that you'll run into some hesitation. Ask why. After all, you are a patron and you are asking for these titles. Within reason, the library should reflect your interests and needs.

Follow up.

Wait a month and check the catalog.

Check out the titles, even if you've already read them. One of the standards for maintaining a title in a library collection is circulation. Are people reading it? If a title sits on a shelf for two years, and hasn't been checked out, then staff may consider removing it. Shelf space is a premium. Having said that, one of the things about GLBT titles is that they might be read at the library. Some patrons might feel uncomfortable checking the title out, such as a 14-year old who might not feel safe taking a title home, or a heterosexually married person who might not be ready to out their les/bi-sexual identity to their spouse.

If you do develop a comfortable rapport with someone on staff, you might point this out -- That titles might not circulate, but if they look "read" then they are being used in the library and should be kept in the system, regardless of their check out history. It is possible that this is more true of non-fiction titles, however, it should be remembered in general.

There you have it. Go forth and request books!

-MJ Lowe

When I got [my] library card, that was when my life began.

--Rita Mae Brown