Upcoming Webinar – Street Smart: Urban Fiction in Public Libraries

picI am so excited! Vanessa Irvin Morris will be presenting a Public Library Association webinar on Urban Fiction called Street Smart: Urban Fiction in Public Libraries! Register for the May 15, 2013 webinar here.

Participants will leave the webinar with the ability to:

*Understand the evolution of street lit as we know it today

*Articulate the difference between urban fiction and street lit

*Refer to established resources for the purpose of collection development and readers advisory


During this 1 hour long webinar, Vanessa will be:

highlighting the popular literary genre, street lit, also known as urban fiction. Morris will not only explore the historical context for the genre as well as the characteristics and sub-genres, she’ll also provide concrete ideas for collection development, readers’ advisory and programming.

Vanessa is the author of The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Street Literature, which I highly recommend!

She also has a great website: www.streetliterature.com.


Collection Development Project Goes into Circulation THIS WEEK!

I’ve posted a couple times about a purchased books project I’ve been working on… Expanding the Lifespan of Paperbacks in the Jail Library & Sooo Much Urban Fiction — So Close To Being Added To The Jail Libraries!!!

This week is the week that 64 books will be put into circulation at the two county jail libraries. Books were split 30 % and 70 % which was a close resemblance to the number of patrons each library receives on average per week.

These books will have statistics collected on them to determine the lifespan and circulation periods of the books (there are no due dates, just a limit of books). But more importantly, patrons will have more books in circulation that are frequently requested – Urban Fiction!

Last month, in preparation for the books to go into circulation I presented to the volunteer librarians so we could:

  1. Get excited about Urban Fiction and the project in general
  2. Learn an introductory level about Manga
  3. Be familiar about the process how we might be able to track statistics on these special project books that would be as painless as possible to patrons and volunteer librarians

Below is a Power Point that guided us through the conversation. There is no citations for many of the information in the slides, but the Urban Fiction Resources tab holds most of the titles that I used.

Here are some pictures of from the presentation:

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What did other volunteer librarians think about the presentation and what came from our conversation?

When asked what volunteer librarians liked about Urban Fiction, they stated the following about the genre:

  • Urban Fiction gets people reading
  • Non-readers get interested in reading
  • Simple reading level with story line adults can relate to
  • Black characters and life
  • Patrons talk about books – recommend books to other readers & build community through books
  • Readers become writers
  • Urban Fiction is relatable

When asked what volunteer librarians liked about the project so far, they answered:

  • More Urban Fiction in the jail libraries
  • Statistics will be collected about circulation
  • Patron satisfaction
  • More reading

When asked what could be improved about the project, volunteer librarians expressed concerns about:

  • If patrons with requests for Urban Fiction will get their request filled first
  • If there should be a limit to Urban Fiction books checked out per patron
  • Anxiety about tallying the movement of these books (tracking the statistics) while completing other circulation tasks that need to be done
  • Requested list of books with notes for librarians has every book that has been purchased (ex: not just the 30% the one jail library has, but the full 100% for librarians’ reference)
  • Needing to be positive about collecting statistics with our patrons so they comply with returning their books and know that we are not trying to monitor their reading
  • How hectic will the first time at the library be, should the number of new books be limited per living quarter, the busier library must have three people working
  • After the first library week when the books with be distributed, there should be no circulation rules besides the rules that are already in place (primarily only having six books out at one time per patron)

Separate, Not Equal: And It’s Complicated! Book Covers with Coe Booth

Check out Coe Booth’s blog post about book covers and placement of books at: CBC Diversity: Separate, Not Equal.

On her own blog post, On Being Labeled, she writes:

i really hope that by writing about this, librarians and booksellers will rethink the ways in which they choose to shelve books.

because, while i think having “special” shelves for so-called “urban” novels might help fans find particular books, they also ghettoize books and remove them from the mainstream shelves.

Sooo Much Urban Fiction — So Close To Being Added To The Jail Libraries!!!

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Months ago at a meeting of jail librarians, we began talking about the small number of urban fiction books in the jail libraries’ collections despite the very high number of requests from patrons asking for this genre.

From this meeting, a jail librarian asked the key members who oversaw the jail libraries for an in-house grant to purchase urban fiction despite the mission of the organization is to collect only donated books with the exception of dictionaries. And, we got permission to buy a considerable number of books. We were also asked to buy graphic novels; here we decided to buy only Manga (look for an other post as to why).

By consulting many books, blog posts, websites, and readers advisory brochures, I was able to come up with a collection development list for the jail librarians to approve. One of the most helpful sources were:

  1. Honig, Megan. Urban Grit: A Guide to Street Lit. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited, 2011.
  2. Morris, Vanessa Irving. The Readers Advisory Guide to Street Literature. Chicago: American Library Association, 2012.
  3. Patron Input! I asked patrons at each library what titles they enjoy and would like to see at the library. One patron asked to go back to his cell to get a list he had already made for his own reference! He had a list in a small address book that was four pages long, in small print, and in alphabetical order. His list was so extensive that he let me borrow his notebook to copy the titles until the end of library hours and had our library assistant bring his notebook back to him. Asking this patron for input engaged the patron significantly to the project and he took more pride in the library, for he once checked-in on the project stating that he thought he had something to do with getting urban fiction into his library and he did. It is unfortunate that now that we are getting ready to have the books circulate, he has been sentenced and transferred out of jail and into a prison facility.

Now that we have some of our books we are labeling them with our sticker system  (you can see me starting to put some of the stickers on the books in the photo above). We do not separate Urban Fiction or  black authors from the libraries’ fiction sections like large book stores do, but we do add blue and white striped stickers in addition to stickers that display the genre (fiction, romance, etc) to distinguish black authors. This has been effective in helping patrons learn how to browse more effectively and search for items of their interest in their short time allowed in the library (usually 10 minutes or less) without having a library catalog.

After stickers are put on, we are attempting to expand the lifespan of our purchased books by wrapping the books in contact paper. See blog post Expanding Lifespan of Paperbacks in the Jail Library for more information and a tutorial video.

Once the purchased collection is prepped for the library, our plan to track the lifespan of the books will enter it’s final stages. Once those documents are complete I’ll share them with you all. Look for the catagory “Purchased Books Project 2012.”

Urban Lit. Featured as a Genre in Small Demons

Small Demons is a fairly new site for users to “experience books a new way by viewing all the people, places and things inside them.”

Their site is designed based on the storyverse (a clever play on literary universe): “the people, places and things from books, and everywhere they can take you.” The video below demonstrates how Small Demons functions.

While setting up my account, I was surprised to see Urban as a genre of books. The image below is a screen shot of the  Urban genre.

Though some authors seemed to not fit and some African-American genred authors should be cross-referenced, Richard Nash (VP, Content and Community, Small Demons), stated that “We missed this one largely because we’re working with publishers’ BISAC codes which don’t always reflect the content as well as they should, since they’re aimed at bookstores rather than libraries.” They are working to fix many issues on the site and to increase volume into the Urban genre is on the Small Demons’ planned to-do list.

I’m excited to watch this site grow and see a fun and interactive site that includes Urban Fiction. They are exploring how to make the site interactive with users, so this site is one to keep on the radar.

To see other Urban Fiction resources that are on-line, see past post on this topic here.

Urban Fiction: Part II – Resources On-line

As I try to explore Urban Fiction, I have found my self in multiple fits of frustration trying to find sources that I want… sources that are academic, critical, for librarians, or anything pertaining to Urban Lit. Recently I’ve came across some on-line sources that have proved very helpful in getting to where I want to be! Here are just a couple of excellent Urban Fiction Sources that are available on line:

WorldCat Genres: Urban Fiction

  • WorldCat has introduced an ‘experimental’ feature on their website that allows for an alternative method to browse library collections – this is their Genres section.
  • Here you can explore: authors, books, movies, subjects, places, and a teen section (there is a list dedicated to Urban Fiction and teens).
  • FYI: If you are not familiar with WorldCat, one of the coolest features is that once you are looking at an items’ page you can see where the closest book is to you by entering your zip code!
  • At first I thought that there were only ten books featured on this site, but there is 550+! In case you are also confused on how to explore this longer list, you can find it under their “Books” section through “Explore More Books.” [**See image  immediately below.**]

Urban Fiction/Street Lit/Hip Hop Fiction Resources for Librarians

  • In wiki style, this site provides booklists, social media, review & discussion sites, bestseller lists, articles, other wikis, power-points, pod-casts, and more.
  • One could spend hours exploring links on this site… and the links on those subsequent pages.
  • You can join the community of librarians to improve the site by adding information / links that will serve the community looking for Urban Lit resources.

Street Fiction

  • Holy Smokes! This site blows me away… I can’t believe it took me this long to stumble upon it!
  • Not only does this site feature Street Fiction, but sub-genres that are not frequently highlighted: Urban Nonfiction, Urban Christian Fiction, and Teen Urban Fiction. The majority of what is offered for each of these are reviews and purchase.
  • An additional unique feature is their section for LIBRARIANS (!!) that includes articles, booklists, books on Urban Fiction, history of Urban Fiction, and more.
  • One can also browse by author, place, and topic.

Street Lit Collection Development Resources

“Behind Those Books” Documentary on Urban Fiction

I’m super excited for the documentary Behind Those Books to be released. Until then, here is an extended trailer. Through this clip one can see the different views surrounding Urban Fiction and authors, such as Zane, speak.

Here is a little of what the film is about from their website:

“‘Behind Those Books’ reflects the harsh and unpleasant realities of inner-cities across the United States and sheds light on the rationale for these stories to be told. The viewer is taken on a journey that tackles social issues that have been brought to the forefront as a result of this art form. The urban and hip-hop cultures have discussed this topic but it has never been given the attention that it deserves on such a grand scale until now. […] Behind Those Books is a documentary that is guaranteed to change the perception of some and challenge how others feel about tales of street life in the inner-cities.”

behind those books

“I am a abandoned child. My mother was a whore. And the things I saw through these eyes, no child should have had to witness or experience. So am I wrong for writing about my life that I saw?” —Treasure E. Blue
author of Harlem Girl Lost

Urban Fiction: Part I – Introduction

I had never heard of Urban Fiction before moving to Illinois and volunteering in Champaign’s County Jail. During my first two shifts as a Jail Librarian Volunteer, I witnessed requests after requests for this genre that seemed to be the hottest thing in print. Little did I know, this genre has been booming since the 2001 and has history since 1960/70s!

Urban Fiction, also known as Urban Lit, Street Lit, Gansta Lit, and by other names, is fiction that takes place in an urban setting, with urban characters, and with themes that typically effect those living in an urban region. Authors of this genre are primarily black, some writing while they are imprisoned. Sexual acts and violence are no stranger to this genre, nor to the lives of its authors and readers. Some of the highest population of Urban Fiction’s audience are those currently in prison. Urban Lit is a counter narrative (a (re)telling that offers a different perspective to what is usually published, collected, etc.) to many books.

Scholars have differing opinions on Urban Fiction. Some believe that it is low reading, like a trashy book, that is not of high quality. Those who believe that think that prisoners should be reading more elevated works. On the other hand are scholars who believe that prisoners have always favored books that appeal to the outlaw and therefore Urban Fiction is a newer genre with longstanding, appealing themes.

I just picked up a copy of my first piece of Urban Fiction, Donald Goines’s Dopefiend. Only reading will tell what I think about the genre beyond exploring research. From other volunteers I’ve heard that they find the genre poorly written and ‘low brow’, but I’m leery of that. I recently read that Urban Fiction is now becoming canonized through a Norton anthology (unfortunately I don’t remember where I read this at!). In a university literature class taught by Bruce Franklin, author of Can the Penitentiary Teach the Academy How to Read?, some of his students “went on to complain about Goines’s limited vocabulary, short sentences, lack of metaphors, and even errors in grammar. But someone else retorted that his descriptions are so vivid that ‘you not only see the scene, you can smell it'” (Franklin 647).  Renee Gladman adds an interesting perspective on the text: “I see the sentence as this thing you are moving through. You encounter words and punctuation the same way you would see a building or turn onto a street.”

In the future, I will explore two key figures (the father and queen of Urban Fiction) and why prisoners enjoy this genre & how it engages them as readers.

Resources On Urban Fiction:

  • Franklin, H. Bruce. “Can the Penitentiary Teach the Academy How to Read?” PMLA. 123.3 (2008): 643-9.
  • Honig, Megan. Urban Grit: A Guide to Street Lit. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited, 2011. (This guide, while has a short introduction to the genre, is primarily chapters of sub-genre annotated bibliographies with further sub-sub-genres within each chapter. Sub-genres include crime, coming-of-age, erotica, prison, etc.  Books are rated with a key to indicated level of violence and sexual content.)
  • Morris, Vanessa Irving. The Readers Advisory Guide to Street Literature. Chicago: American Library Association, 2012. (This guide is aimed towards libraries to further understand the genre of Street Lit/Urban Fiction. Morris covers the genre’s appeal, history, literary motif, collection development, and provides a list of the genre broken down into subgenres such as GLBTQ, Tween, Graphic Novel, etc.).
  • Wikipedia’s Urban Fiction Page (What is nice about this Wiki article is not only do they provide a nice background, but also a list of authors and they also provides links to The Library Journal’s The Word on the Street book lists.)
  • Small press author and publisher Renee Gladman, a Vassar alumna, to discuss urban fiction. Thursday, March 27, 2008