Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Downton Abbey readalikes meet the university library

I recently had the opportunity to put up a display of Downton Abbey readalike books at the university library where I work.  The exhibit was timed to begin just after Season 4 wrapped up – it ran during the month of March so I figured I'd have an eager audience.  Even so, I underestimated the huge demand there was for these books, and I found myself scrambling to meet it.

Library book displays are nothing new, so it seems silly in a way to dedicate a blog post to it.  But I thought I might share my experience as a way of encouraging academic libraries in particular to try something similar.  College students are avid readers, as are faculty and staff. 

Also, I've heard from friends in the publishing industry that interest in country house sagas and the Edwardian era is starting to wane.  This is hardly a scientific experiment, but if the success of this project is any indication, this isn't true as far as readers are concerned.



Here are pics of both sides.  I started out with 16 titles purchased just for the display (ordered by my colleague Pam, who oversees our popular reading collections). They were mostly trade paperbacks, both fiction and nonfiction.  Then I supplemented them with more titles we already had in our collections, for a total of 22 in all.  I was fortunate to be given a visible spot on the library's main level, right near the circulation desk.  At the top were two signs I had fun creating:  "Looking for something to read while waiting for Season 5?" and "Reading Fit for a Dowager Countess."



The display went up on Monday, March 3rd.  By Tuesday afternoon, half of the titles had been checked out.  By the end of the week, only six titles remained, and the exhibit was looking very picked over.  So I pulled more relevant titles from our Read & Relax (paperback) and Bestsellers (hardcover) collections to fill up the display again, and anything that looked like it would remotely fit went in.  (For example, Philippa Gregory's Fallen Skies; a couple by Jacqueline Winspear.  We had many other WWI-era novels in our main stacks, but without covers, so I didn't include many of them.  Books on display without covers tend to sit there.) I replenished it twice more, and took away some unused display stands so it didn't look quite so empty.  Some returned items came back to the display.  Still, by the end of March, only three books were left.  It was impossible to keep it filled.  Almost everything added was checked out immediately.

On April 1st, I created a MS Access report to look at the circulation (i.e., number of checkouts) of all 32 items that were on the display at some point.  During the month, all but three titles had been checked out at least once, and many of them had been checked out twice.

I hope to revisit this display next winter, just before Season 5 starts... and next time, I'll be ready with even more books to include.  My next project is a display on novels set in the 1960s, both historical fiction as well as fiction that was written back then and gives a good sense of the era.  The library is organizing a large-scale exhibit and speaker series on the '60s for the fall, so this will be part of it.  I don't know if that book display will be as popular as the Downton one was, but I'll be curious to see how it turns out.

26 comments:

  1. Congratulations on a successful display! Any chance you could share the list of books? :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'd been debating whether to list them! Here are the ones that were checked out at least once.

      American heiress : a novel / Daisy Goodwin.
      Ashford affair / Lauren Willig.
      Benedict Hall / Cate Campbell.
      Circles of time / Phillip Rock.
      Consuelo and Alva Vanderbilt : the story of a daughter and a mother in the Gilded Age / Amanda Mackenzie Stuart.
      Echoes of Titanic / Mindy Starns Clark and John Campbell Clark.
      Fallen skies / Philippa Gregory.
      Fever tree / Jennifer McVeigh.
      Future arrived / Phillip Rock.
      House at Tyneford / Natasha Solomons.
      Lady Almina and the real Downton Abbey : the lost legacy of Highclere Castle / by The Countess of Carnarvon.
      Lady Catherine, the Earl, and the real Downton Abbey / the Countess of Carnarvon.
      Last summer / Judith Kinghorn.
      Leaving everything most loved : a novel / Jacqueline Winspear.
      Life below stairs : true lives of Edwardian servants / Alison Maloney.
      Memory of lost senses / Judith Kinghorn.
      No graves as yet : a novel / Anne Perry.
      Passing bells / Phillip Rock.
      Promise me this / Cathy Gohlke.
      Question of honor / Charles Todd.
      Return of Captain John Emmett / Elizabeth Speller.
      Spear of summer grass / Deanna Raybourn.
      Summerset Abbey : a novel / T.J. Brown.
      To marry an English Lord / by Gail MacColl and Carol McD. Wallace.
      Typewriter girl / Alison Atlee.
      Unlikely suitor / Nancy Moser.
      Upstairs & downstairs : the illustrated guide to the real world of Downton Abbey / Sarah Warwick.
      While we were watching Downton Abbey / Wendy Wax.
      World of Downton Abbey / text, Jessica Fellowes ; photography, Nick Briggs ; foreword, Julian Fellowes.

      Delete
  2. Thank you for this post! I'm an avid reader of historical fiction and I've also loved Downton Abbey and all the great novels that have become popular in its wake :) Also, I really appreciate the list you included. Wonderful post!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glad to hear from another Downton addict :) I even got my husband watching and looking forward to each new season. Glad you liked the post. In retrospect I would have bought even more similar titles for the display, but there's always next year!

      Delete
  3. May I recommend Somewhere in France by Jennifer Robson? http://wwwbookbabe.blogspot.com/2013/12/somewhere-in-france-novel-of-great-war.html It was a very good read and reminded me of Sybil before her passing. I, too, am a DA addict, and I have some of the books you've recommended and shall seek to acquire some of the others. Thanks for sharing this.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the recommendation - I'll put it on the list to get. I've heard of Somewhere in France before and don't know why I didn't include it when I was coming up with titles. From your review, the character does seem a lot like Sybil, and the woman on the cover even looks like her to some extent.

      Yesterday I bought another DA-like novel that looks like it has the same cover model as the Robson does. I just love this trend!

      Delete
  4. What happened is that the spate of Downton readalikes released in 2012 & 2013 did not make a huge splash in terms of sales. This resulted in US publishers writing it off as a short-lived fad, thus drying up their massive enthusiasm for acquiring country-house/Edwardian fiction. It's obvious that readers do want Downton readalikes, and the lack of buzz is because somewhere, somehow, the books didn't get into their hands.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I believe what you say is true (I've heard similar things elsewhere, too). It's so frustratingly short-sighted. These books have the potential to sell respectably even if they aren't blockbusters, but yes, readers have to know about them first. There are many books I got for the display that I've never seen for sale at the B&N closest to me, for example. Which is one reason I hope more libraries will take note and support readers' enthusiasm for these titles.

      Delete
    2. I completely agree about the short-sightedness! It's also odd because Edwardian & WWI settings have long been a staple of British popular fiction. But alas alack alas, I can only suppose the historical market in the US is less flexible than in the UK.

      My main library branch had a Downton read-alike table set up for January and most of February, and the response was just as excited as the patrons in your library. I highlighted most if not all of the books on my blog over the past two years, but if as you say, bookstores are dropping the ball... :/

      Delete
    3. I've been reading Downton-style novels for years though often had to purchase them from overseas... and I also assume they'll continue to be prevalent in the UK even if there aren't as many published in the US. I think we'll still be seeing them here, especially with the WWI centenary just beginning, even though the numbers aren't as great.

      That's encouraging that your library had such an enthusiastic response. I have a feeling bookstores order a few of them to see how things go, but if they're not out on display, readers specifically interested in this type of novel won't know how to look for them - which means those and others won't be purchased. (My B&N had a Downton readalike table set up, but nearly all of the books on it were nonfiction.) I'm guessing if I hadn't set up a display and had shelved all the books face-in, most would still be sitting there.

      Delete
  5. It's fun to work up book displays, isn't it?! Mine are for elementary aged kids, but I do have a separate printed historical fiction list for them when they're ready, with a column for the period covered. Your list will be great for our book club. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's great! Do you work in a school library? I've done a few displays now and again, but none had this kind of response. It encourages me to do more, because I like seeing the books disappear into eager hands :)

      Delete
    2. Hi Sarah - Yes, my library is K-5. It's such a positive atmosphere, because the kids all love to come, even if they aren't big readers. I try to keep up with new books and was gratified when a 4th grader pointed out my current read yesterday and said she had enjoyed it. Yay for books!

      Delete
    3. That's very cool! And congrats on your success in encouraging them to read. I used to love going to the school library when I was in elementary school, and was very proud of being able to check out books all by myself!

      Delete
  6. This is a wonderful idea! I have another: The Roaring Twenties. Think of all the recent movies and TV shows (The Artist, Midnight in Paris, Great Gatsby, Boardwalk Empire, Ken Burn's Prohibition, to name a few) and now Downton Abbey has reached 1922.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Mary, that's an excellent idea. Especially the movie and TV tie-in... it's a great way to hook new readers, and I love reading about the '20s. I pulled in a couple of '20s-set novels for this one (thinking of Lady Rose and her habit of frequenting jazz clubs...) but it would be good to have an exhibit where that was the main focus.

      Delete
  7. Hi Sarah, thanks for sharing your list of books and the information about your Downton Read Alike Display. Random House offered a lovely poster to librarians earlier this year featuring several of their books in this category. I was happy to see they included my novel, The Governess of Highland Hall. I hope you will consider including it in your next display. I also wrote a blog about books like Downton Abbey. It inclueds a few more titles you might like to add and the poster from Random House: http://carrieturansky.com/index.php/books-like-downton-abbey/ Happy Reading! Carrie

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Carrie, thanks for mentioning your list, and The Governess of Highland Hall. Some great choices there. I'll come back to it when it's time to revisit the display for Season 5. I managed to pick up that Random House poster when I was at PLA in March, along with their "Keep Calm and Read On" bag. Both are great.

      Delete
  8. Thank you for sharing the list. I must be a Downton addict because I've read most of the titles on there :) I'm reading "In Falling Snow" now which could count as a Downton-era read and I'm loving it!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I loved In Falling Snow also - and enjoyed how it brought to life the heroism of the women of Royaumont Abbey. I wasn't familiar with their story at all before that.

      Delete
  9. Great list.

    What a beautiful, tempting display, Sarah. Love the sign.
    This is a perfect example of the value of a helpful, knowledgeable librarian, without which patrons might wander aimlessly through the stacks. I pray our libraries never go away!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Cynthia!

      Displays do help a lot. Further down the main corridor in my library, some colleagues of mine had a book display up to supplement the ongoing Muslim Journeys exhibit and speaker series we've been running, and those books also circulated heavily. I plan to run some more on popular fiction, and fortunately people here have been supportive of my historical fiction interests!

      Delete
  10. This is so interesting -- thank you for choosing to blog about it.

    It's a terrific piece of hard evidence to present when told that young people don't read, or that they won't read a book in the old fashioned print book form!

    Love, C.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi C, I'm pleased you liked the post!

      It surprised me at first, given that college students are supposed to (so we're told) prefer digital everything, but many whom I've spoken with have a strong preference for print. My library has many e-books in various popular fiction genres, but often when I show students what their options are, they choose to get the print version from our shelves or, if we don't have it, via interlibrary loan.

      Delete
  11. "There are many books I got for the display that I've never seen for sale at the B&N closest to me, for example. Which is one reason I hope more libraries will take note and support readers' enthusiasm for these titles."

    The problem is that so many of us find books that attract us by browsing -- or at least we did when we could browse. Online sites are lousy for browsing -- as is the ubiquitous Overdrive for e and audio books that all the libraries have for their digital collections.

    And the few ediface bookstores left tend to be fiercely focused on titles that appeal to what is their primary customer, so it's very local -- as with the Jackson McNally Indie here: young, hipster, white, with literary aspirations, very well off, etc. Which means a lot of what they carry isn't the kind of book that appeals to me.

    Love, C.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I live so far away from the nearest B&N (it's an hour north of here) that I rarely have the opportunity to browse a bookstore in person any more. But when I do go, every couple of weeks or so, the selection isn't all that enticing. If the book isn't out on a display table that publishers paid for, it's essentially invisible. Borders was better in that respect, but it's long gone from town now. Ditto for the late, lamented indie we used to have.

      Delete