Saturday, August 06, 2005

Our local version of Desperate Housewives (revised)

PREAMBLE: Encouraged by the comments from local and overseas readers about a recent post that I'd (willingly) removed, I've decided to post this edited version so that it still meets my original intent to (1) highlight a minor but real problem faced by my public library colleagues, (2) share with non-librarians of another aspect of working in a public library setting, (3) simply engage my blog readers in meaningful conversation about a library-related issue.

So enjoy, and I look forward to your comments:


There's what I'd call our local version of "Desperate Housewives" in the libraries. Forget about the sexy & glam-looking ones from the ABC drama series though.

You'll see them at new library openings without fail. They are the ones who will run towards the chinese Romance Fiction collection. I've personally encountered them in action when I was managing a few library branches before my reassignment.

Individually they look like any ordinary reader but it's their group behaviour in the library that stands out.

Working in book hunting-packs, they work almost SWAT-team style to grab books from shelves, book trolleys, and sometimes from opposing rival groups. Staff have been known to be scratched during their micro-second melees.

Reminded me of Piranhas feeding.

Their love for reading has really gone beyond what is reasonable. Some groups exhibit ungracious behaviour by blatantly grabbing and hoarding books, then dividing their spoils of war among their comrades. It wouldn't be so bad if they did not leave books lying around afterwards.

I'm not exaggerating. You've got to see them to believe. Personally, I'm desensitised to them and I don't have good ideas on how to change their behaviour. But I still think about it from time to time, especially when part of the NLB mission is to "promote a gracious society".

It just so... odd... and frustrating to have such people go nuts over books. What would the kids think when they see adults behaving like that? That it's OK for them to do that too?

I've been asked why don't the library just ban these people from coming in. My take is that it wouldn't solve the problem. The way I see it, they are just being ungracious and don't really break any library rules. No innocent bystanders hurt. They don't cause outright trouble for staff or other readers.

They are only guilty of making themselves look bad.

Can ungracious behaviour be corrected by shaming them? But how to do shame people when they are obviously not embarrassed in the first place?

I thought of suggesting to our local TV station to do a documentary on them. On why they are so hungry for Chinese romance fiction. I wonder if it was their way to make up for the lack of romance in their lives. If that's the case, the root cause of this phenonmenon may lies with their husbands!

Another suggestion was to stop acquiring those books, so that these desperadoes stop coming. But that would be like punishing the many for the ungracious behaviour of a few. Totally unfair to the majority of readers of whom we have no problems.

What gives hope is that some of them do listen and engage in more constructive use of their free time. Like one group who agreed to start a bookclub on romance-related themes. I have to take my hat off to one of my library manager colleague who convinced them to do so at her library.

Recently, I heard one of the "ex-desperate-housewife" share that she has since expanded to reading beyond Romance Fiction and is reading Singapore history even. Something she'd never have done if it weren't for the bookclub.

BTW, seems that the Desperate-Chinese-Romance-Housewives phenomenon isn't limited to Singapore. A librarian from a Hong Kong public library shared that the same phenomenon also happened in Hong Kong.

Strangely, I found comfort in knowing that.

Tag: ,


  1. eh. yeah. I don't think this question belongs here but i would like to know if books borowed from the new national library could be returned to any ordinary branch? thank you very much!

  2. I happened to be blogging in the afternoon the other day so I caught your original post! I liked it! but wondered whether it might be cutting too close to the bone for comfort. I mentioned it to some of my co-workers and it sparked a discussion among us about the strange phenomenon of the "Mills and Boon" addict. Not so much ungracious as grumpy if they don't get their "fix" of Mills and Boon romance novels. I knew a bright young girl who, instead of listening at University lectures, would secrete a Mills and Boon in her folder and read that instead during lectures. She failed University and now works in menial jobs. In cases like this it really is a sad addiction, rather than what it should be - light entertainment. There should be a "Mills and Boon" Anonymous.

  3. Thanks for sharing, Deb. That's why I decided to repost an edited version. I'm actually learning more about this phenonmenon from overseas librarians. Who says reading isn't addictive?!

  4. To elvadrieng - the question doesn't belong here (would prefer you contact me via email) but it's ok, I'll keep it 'cos the answer is worth sharing.

    You can return the books at any branch through the island. Doesn't matter where you borrowed them from.

  5. chinese-romance-grabbing housewives? I can think of a reason why. is it becos there are not enough chinese romance books circulating that they need to fight over it? While Libraries promote reading, i think it's difficult to change ppl's reading habits. Romance genre is and will always be extremely sought perhaps NLB can just get more romance genre books? for both chinese and english? I admit I'm partial to the occasional english romance myself.

  6. Hi Ivan, I too saw your original post and was quite amused by it. I kind of wish we had the same phenomenon here in Perth - no one is ever that keen about library books, of any genre! As for latest releases of Harry Potter books at the bookshop, now that is a different story!


Join the conversation. Leave a comment :)

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.