CLICK HERE for quick access to the materials for the 2016-17 Speculative Fiction Genre Study.
The website now features UNRESTRICTED access, including notes from our meetings; however, in order to attend the meetings in person, you must be a member of ARRT. Click here for information about how you can join.


I can come to your library, book club meeting, or conference to talk about how to help your readers find their next good read. Click here for more information.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Book Discussion Report: Boy, Snow, Bird

I just finished up the notes from the last Book Club Study meeting and am cross posting it here for my readers.

On January 12, 2017 from 2-4pm at Schaumburg Township District Library, Emily Vinci led a discussion on Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi:

From the prizewinning author of Mr. Fox, the Snow White fairy tale brilliantly recast as a story of family secrets, race, beauty, and vanity.
In the winter of 1953, Boy Novak arrives by chance in a small town in Massachusetts, looking, she believes, for beauty—the opposite of the life she’s left behind in New York. She marries a local widower and becomes stepmother to his winsome daughter, Snow Whitman. 
A wicked stepmother is a creature Boy never imagined she’d become, but elements of the familiar tale of aesthetic obsession begin to play themselves out when the birth of Boy’s daughter, Bird, who is dark-skinned, exposes the Whitmans as light-skinned African Americans passing for white. Among them, Boy, Snow, and Bird confront the tyranny of the mirror to ask how much power surfaces really hold.

Dazzlingly inventive and powerfully moving, Boy, Snow, Bird is an astonishing and enchanting novel. With breathtaking feats of imagination, Helen Oyeyemi confirms her place as one of the most original and dynamic literary voices of our time. (From the publisher.)

Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist: 2014
New York Times Notable Book: 2014
International Dublin Literary Award Nominee: 2016

CLICK HERE for the notes on the discussion of the book.

As always, discussion of the book includes a nuts-and-bolts session devoted to sharing practical solutions to the problems and concerns of book discussion leaders.

The Leadership Topic, led by Becky Spratford, was about managing the group dynamic during book discussions. 

CLICK HERE for the notes on the Leadership Topic Discussion.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Edgar Nominee Day = Best Award RA Tool Day!

Long time readers will know that I love the Edgar Awards because this award, its archival site, its breadth of categories, and the fact that "crime fiction" is the most popular type of book sought out at American Public Libraries, all of it taken together make this award the absolute best award to use as a tool to help readers.

I went into more detail on my Edgar love and why it is such a great tool to serve readers in this 2015 post which also links to my popular and more general "Using Awards Lists As a RA Tool" post. Please click through for my detailed discussion of this. Read them and then come on back. I'll wait.

But it is important that I am posting this on the day the nominees are announced, and not on the day for the winners. Every single one of these titles that received a nomination should be on every single public library shelf in America-- no excuses. Seriously, if you don't have enough money to add them, find some money. You should have them already anyway, but just in case.

These are titles for everyone looking for crime fiction, and some days it feels like that is everyone who walks in our doors.

This is an awards long list you can trust without knowing anything more than it was nominated. They have a fantastic and respected track record. That's why it is such a great awards tool because you can pull up these titles, check your shelves, and hand them out freely.

And, that goes for the backlist too. Speaking of, you can easily access every nominee ever, here.

I speak these words from experience. For my had core "crime" readers, I have used the Edgar archives to find "new to them" titles and series and have handed them over with little more book talking than reading the plot summary and adding, "it was nominated for the Edgar." I've had more takers than I can remember and never a complaint after the fact.

I even have a favorite category of Edgars when it comes to helping readers. As I wrote here:
Finally, the Edgars have a category that in and of itself has saved my butt numerous times as I help people who enjoy the books of Mary Higgins Clark but have read all of her novels. Clark writes in a particular style of intense suspense but without graphic violence. She is hard to find satisfying matches for. Each year the Mary Higgins Clark Award honors the best works of fiction of the past year that most closely resemble the novels of Clark. This list of all of the nominees is THE BEST RESOURCE out there to help with Clark readalikes.
So use this award now, but remember to apply these skills to all awards lists, especially genre award lists.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

New Issue of Corner Shelf featuring Polli Kenn from Lawrence [KS] Public Library and Details on Joining Me, Live, in Lawrence

Wow that title has a lot of words, but I wanted to make sure people understood that this post has a lot of info AND it is all connected. Plus, there is something for everyone who works with lesiure readers in this post.

It all begins and ends with my friend and colleague, the fabulous Polli Kenn, Readers' Services Coordinator at the Lawrence [KS] Public Library.  Polli and I have worked together before and you can read about those programs here and here [this one has a recording of the event].

But, she is also featured in the January 2017 issue of Corner Shelf [you can access the entire issue here].  Click here for Polli's "Notes from the Field" where she answers editor Rebecca Vnuk's questions about her work providing Readers' Services and the creation of the amazing Book Squad [which is also the subject of the links in the previous paragraph].

Also, remember that Rebecca features a different person in most issues under her "Notes from the Field" feature. You can click here for the newsletter archive. Taken together, "Notes from the Field" creates a full picture of how library workers are actually helping leisure readers, in public libraries today. You can learn quite a bit from spending some time going back through past issues.

But back to the current issue where Polli is also the author of an article that recaps LPL's extremely successful Book Club Speed Dating program which took place this past November. Look, I know a lot of library's do these events, and even more are looking into hosting them, but you all need to read Polli's article because she gives some of the most practical and useful advice I have ever read about how to make an event like this successful. Here is just one example of that advice:
"Let me reiterate that the most important ingredient is passionate staff who booktalk quickly, clearly, and well."
Please, do yourself a favor and listen to Polli.

Throughout the last nine months as I have been working with Polli on other projects, we were also trying to hatch a plan where I could come down to Lawrence and do some training, and that day is almost here.

First on the evening of February 9th, we will be building off of Polli and her team's success with the Book Club Speed Dating program by hosting another outside the library event for area book club members. It is going to very much like this program I didl ast September at Hinsdale [IL] Public Library where I give book club member advice on how to lead better book clubs for a bit and then I take questions from everyone there.  We will have food and drinks. It will be tons of fun.

This is a program I have done many times. Patrons love it. It is a wonderful way to gather your area book club participants whether or not they use the library. It demonstrates that you care about them and their bookish pursuits and reminds everyone that you know how to have a some fun.

Since I was already coming to host this book club party, Polli and I also worked on a regional training for any and all library workers who can make it for the next day, February 10th. Co-Sponsored by NEKLS, this is an entire day of intermediate level RA training at Lawrence Public Library, including book discussion training for book discussion leaders. You can pull up the details here and even a full itinerary here. Anyone who can get to Lawrence Public Library is welcome. And it only costs $10 including breakfast and lunch!

But back to the beginning of this post. I know not all of you can make it to Kansas to see me and that not every library or regional system who wants me to come to them can manage it. Heck, I can barely fit in all the requests I get, but there are ways to stay connected and involved. The Corner Shelf Newsletter is a great place to start. It is free and you can sign-up here. Rebecca highlights library workers from all over the country who are doing great things and with just a few clicks, you can learn a whole lot, get some great advice, and plan your own fabulous programs to serve leisure readers without leaving your desk.

Don't forget, no matter how long you have been doing this job, we all have something to learn from each other.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

ALA Midwinter Participation From Home

Due to my previously scheduled work and personal travel, I am not going to make it to ALA Midwinter  which begins on Friday, but that doesn't mean I am not participating in the Midwinter conversation. You can join me too.  Here's how and why.
First, of all you can follow the action on Twitter by clicking here to search for the latest #alamw2017 Tweets. People are very good about sharing the highlights in real time. Between January 20-24, check it frequently. Whether you are a Twitter user or not the link will work for you to view the conversation.

LJ Galley Guide
Click here for details
Second, you can download the Library Journal ALA Midwinter Galley Guide. This guide is compiled by Barbara Hoffert and focuses on the books the publisher's are most excited about. Click here to download it. It is free. Barbara includes info about each title that you can use for collection development right now.

But also, don't forget that as a library worker, you are preapproved to read digital ARCS of any of these hot titles. Just go to Edelweiss and/or NetGalley to get started. The details are here on the LibraryReads site.

And third, Midwinter is when all of the recommended reading lists and awards are announced. There are so many awesome awards, handed out by our fellow library workers-- at all age levels.  Click here for the full list and schedule. My favorites from a helping readers standpoint are the RUSA Reading List and Listen List suggestions. Click here to see where I posted all of last year's adult winners.

I really like these lists because not only do they identify the best genre and audio titles-- something we have precious few best lists for-- but also these are lists you can use for years! Seriously. These are popular AND good titles that you probably already own. Our colleagues have done the work to point out the best ones for your patrons. These are down to earth, real world suggestions that are great to use at the desk anytime. That is something that is rare in the "best" list world.

So whether or not your plans are physically taking you to Atlanta later this week, you have plenty of reasons to direct your attention to ALA Midwinter. The biggest reason of which is to be better at helping patrons find their next great read.

If you are going and have an experience you want to share in a guest post, contact me.

Monday, January 16, 2017

MLK Jr. Day at the Newberry Library with Hamilton!

Today both of my kids are off of school and we are headed with a friend and her son to the Newberry Library to see their brand new Hamilton exhibit.

I have posted a screen shot of the details at the end of this post if you are interested.

I am glad my Hamilton obsessed kids want to spend their day off at the Newberry library. But I think on this holiday, in particular, it is important to spend at least a few minutes thinking about our country, its history-- the good and the bad-- and our part in it today. How can we make America better like the revolutionary generation or MLK Jr. did? What is our part to play? Going to this exhibit will allow us to engage in those conversations.

We will also being going on a Civil Rights themed spring break trip this year. My hope is that as a family, we can talk, study, and experience our way through the next year and beyond by grounding ourselves in what democracy means-- what it truly means in all of its messy, imperfect, beauty. We are trying to not be reactionary, but we do know what we hold dear-- equality and freedom-- and we are willing to fight for it.

The reason I am sharing this is that I think that we are probably not the only family out there struggling to make sense of our country today. Where are we going? What is our place in the journey? What is going to happen to America? The revolutionary generation felt this. People alive during MLK Jr’s time did too?

These are questions that we can help our patrons with too. Right now is a good time to put up displays and make lists about tumultuous times in American history. Combine fiction and nonfiction, put audio and movies out. I would even argue to put all ages of material together so that the entire family can be a part of the conversation. Think broadly. These are questions all sides of the political argument are engaged with. Just because we have different ways to attack these huge questions, does not mean that the questions themselves are that different.

Readers’ Advisory-- leisure reading in general- is the best place to start these hard conversations. It is an entertaining way to introduce people to larger concepts, questions, and issues. It allows the harder questions, the deeper thinking issues, to come at you more slowly. Leisure reading opens us up to different ideas, places, times. It gives us perspective while it entertains us.

Still don’t think leisure reading can lead toward activism and change? Well Obama does. Read this article about his secret to surviving eight years as President. [Hint, the answer is books!]

Don’t underestimate the power of a good book. And, today is the perfect day to start.
Click here for more info

Friday, January 13, 2017

Library Reads: February 2017

This is your monthly Library Reads announcement.

Library Reads day means 3 things here on RA for All.
  1. I post the list and tag it “Library Reads” so that you can easily pull up every single list with one click.
  2. I can remind you that even though the newest list is always fun to see, it is the older lists where you can find AWESOME, sure bet suggestions for patrons that will be on your shelf to actually hand to them right now. The best thing about Library Reads is the compound interest it is earning. We now have hundreds and hundreds of titles worth suggesting right at our fingertips.
  3. You have no excuse not to hand sell any Library Reads titles because there is a book talk right there in the list in the form of the annotation one of your colleagues wrote for you. All you have to say to your patron is, “such and such library worker in blank state thought this was a great read,” and then you read what he or she said.
So get out there and suggest a good read to someone today. I don’t care what list or resource you use to find the suggestion, just start suggesting books. 

February 2017 LibraryReads

I See You

by Clare Mackintosh

Published:2/21/2017 by Berkley
ISBN: 9781101988299
“Zoe Walker sees her picture in a personal ad for a dating website.  At first she thinks there must be a mistake. She soon learns that other women whose pictures have appeared in these ads have been subjected to violent crimes. Zoe contacts the police. PC Kelly Smith, a disgraced former detective, works to find the mastermind behind the website and redeem herself. As each day passes Zoe becomes more and more paranoid and suspicious of everyone she meets. Told from three different viewpoints, the tension builds and kept me on the edge of my seat.”
Karen Zeibak, Wilton Library Association, Wilton, CT 

Norse Mythology

by Neil Gaiman

Published: 2/7/2017 by W.W. Norton & Company
ISBN: 9780393609097
“After reading Gaiman’s account of Norse mythology, I doubt that I will ever forget how the gods of Asgard acquired their treasures. Thor’s hammer that never misses its mark, Frey’s incredible ship that shrinks to the size of a pocketable silk scarf, Odin’s powerful spear, all came to be because of Loki’s mischief. Above all, I will not forget the ill-gotten and ill-treated children of Loki who bring about Ragnarok, the end of earth and heaven and the death of the gods. Everything feels very real and very now when told by someone who has obviously drunk of the ‘mead of the poets.’”
Catherine Stanton, Madison Library District, Rexburg, IL

My Not So Perfect Life: A Novel

by Sophie Kinsella

Published: 2/7/2017 by The Dial Press
ISBN: 9780812998269
“Katie Brenner has moved from her family’s farm to the big city. She goes to great lengths to present the face that she thinks the world wants to see. When she’s fired from her job and forced to return home she  helps her family get their new venture up and running. Learning the truth about herself and those around her leads to the realization that nobody’s life is as perfect as it seems from the outside. Kinsella never loses her sense of humor, even when her characters are facing serious situations. She makes you believe in them and leaves you wanting to know what happens next.” 
Kristen Gramer, Lewes Public Library, Lewes, DE

All Our Wrong Todays: A Novel

by Elan Mastai

Published: 2/7/2017 by Dutton
ISBN: 9781101985137
“Mastai’s debut is a clever and funny time travel romp which turns into an, action-packed science fiction thriller.Tom Barren stumbles through life and accidentally ruins the glittering jetpack and flying car future of 2016, replacing it with the one you and I know. The world may be worse off, but Tom’s life is better than ever. That is, until his mind starts splitting between the two realities and he must track down the genius who invented the other future. Tom’s journey through the past, across realities, and inside his mind make for a thrilling conclusion.” 
Dan Brooks, Wake County Public Libraries, Cary, NC

A Piece of the World: A Novel

by Christina Baker Kline

Published: 2/21/2017 by William Morrow
ISBN: 9780062356260
“Andrew Wyeth’s painting “Christina’s World” would immortalize a young woman. This is the story of Christina and her life. After almost dying as a child of an undiagnosed illness, her legs are twisted, making her stumble as she walks. As she ages, the effects of this illness get much worse leaving her with a shrinking world. This book immerses us in the life on her farm and into the heart of a young woman. A fantastic, and touching story by this author that brings to life the story behind a painting and the life of a young girl who always wanted more than she was given, but accomplished so much despite her handicap.”
Diane Scholl, Batavia Public Library, Batavia, IL 

Gilded Cage

by Vic James

Published: 2/14/2017 by Del Rey
ISBN: 9780425284155
“Welcome to a world where magic grants you access to all the benefits of wealth and power. This is the story of two families, one from magic and one not. When Abi comes up with a plan to help her family by having them serve one of the most powerful magical families, she thinks it will save them. But when her brother is sent to one of the harshest work camps, the plan seems less likely to keep them alive. Her brother must face the dangers of slavery while Abi and the others will see grandeur and wealth but also see the rotten core that is gilded in gold.”
Suzanne Christensen, Spanish Fork Public Library, Spanish Fork, UT

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir: A Novel 

by Jennifer Ryan

Published: 2/14/2017 by Crown
ISBN: 9781101906750
The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir is  a powerful story of both hope and despair. Told through diary entries, this is a wonderful glimpse into life in a small British town during WWII. Ryan is a skilled writer who gives each diary entry a clear voice: Mrs. Paltry is dishonest and scheming, Venetia, the self-centered young woman in love with a mysterious man, Kitty, the love struck teenager with big dreams, and Mrs. Tilling, the midwife and moral compass of the town. Through their entries, you really see them grow. The power of music brings them strength that they didn’t know that they had.”
Shari Suarez, Genesee District Library, Goodrich MI

Setting Free the Kites

by Alex George
Published: 2/21/2017 by Putnam
ISBN: 9780399162107

“Robert stands watching the demolition of the old paper mill that stood in the center of town and served as a constant reminder of his friend, Nathan. The reader is transported from present day to 1970s Maine, where Robbie finds his friendship with Nathan a literal escape from the bullying at school, and a figurative way of coping with his brother’s struggle with muscular dystrophy. The portrayal of family dynamics in the wake of tragedy is reminiscent of Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng but with an anchoring of boyhood friendship in this coming of age tale.” 
Emma DeLooze-Klein, Kirkwood Public Library, Kirkwood, MO

We Were the Lucky Ones

by Georgia Hunter

Published: 2/14/2017 by Viking
ISBN: 9780399563089
“When Georgia Hunter learns that she is a descendant of large family of Holocaust survivors, she knows that she is destined to be the recorder of their story. This is the result of years of research to gather as much detail about her relatives as she possibly can.  How this group of people manages to survive years of persecution and imprisonment is astounding.  It is an inspiring read, and one that honors the memory and struggle of not just the author’s family, but all of the people who suffered during the war.”
Mary Coe, Fairfield Woods Branch Library, CT

Garden of Lamentations: A Novel

by Deborah Crombie

Published: 2/7/2017 by William Morrow
ISBN: 9780062271631
“Picking up where To Dwell In Darkness left off, Crombie’s new mystery resolves unresolved issues from that book while telling a compelling new story. Gemma is investigating the puzzling death of a nanny while Duncan is dealing with what looks disturbingly like corruption in the police force. As always in Crombie’s novels the look we get at the domestic lives of Duncan, Gemma and their children is as interesting as the mystery. Another fine entry in this excellent series.”
Beth Mills, New Rochelle Public Library, New Rochelle, NY

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Is 2017 a Comeback Year for the Book Discussion?

One of my passions and areas of expertise is in leading book discussions and training others to be better book discussion leaders. And as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I am seeing a trend toward a resurgence in library’s facilitating book discussions. This is a huge change from the previous five years when all I saw was a decline-- decline in the number of people who went to the library for book discussions, decline in the number of staff willing to lead book discussions, and decline in support for hosting book discussions among library administrators. In fact, the biggest trend in those years was libraries halting their physical discussions in their buildings and moving more toward a role of assistant for their community’s book discussions which met outside the library.

However, one of the side effects of the difficult year that 2016 was is that people want to make more sense of the world we live in. They want to understand what is going on around them. And, they want to be part of the discussion to make things better. 

Working out the huge issues staring us all in the face right now is not an easy task. True conversation and discussion, which allows all voices to be heard is something that has been in short supply. Starting with the most volatile issues head on is not not productive; however, using books as a catalyst to begin connecting ideas to the real world is a wonderful starting point.

I saw this in action last year myself when I led a series of discussions on The Sympathizer with adult library workers all over Northern Illinois and Echo with a group of fifth grade students and 2 other adults.

These books tackle serious issues where people had strong feelings which did not always stand in agreement with others in the room, yet in all cases, these discussions were useful and enlightening. You can use the linked titles in the previous paragraph to read notes on those discussions if you are interested. Also as I mentioned here, those 2 books made it to my list of the best books I read in 2016 because of the experiences I had discussing them.

The other reason I think 2017 is a comeback year for the book discussion is because I am seeing it in the programs I am being asked to lead. Along with my coordination of the ARRT Book Club Study [which begins its 2017 four discussion schedule today at 2pm. All the details here.], I have 6 more book discussions confirmed in the first 6 months of the year. That’s at least 8 with a few more in the works.

People are hungry to improve their discussions and, more importantly, their discussion facilitation skills because these skills are imperative right now. Time will tell, but I am hopeful that this trend toward a renewed interest in book discussions, will help to move libraries back to the forefront of the larger discussions that will be going on in our communities.

The book discussions is a place where opinions and counter opinions can be shared respectfully. It is a place where people can be heard. As library workers we need to give people a place to be heard and listen to their neighbors.

So in 2017, I will be here offering training, advice , tools, resources, and examples to encourage you to be a discussion facilitator.

But today, right now, I am going to participate in a discussion on Snow, Boy, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi and facilitate the leadership discussion on how to better manage the group dynamic in our book discussions. The notes will be up next week for all to learn from.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

2016 Training Recap and 2017 Professional Goal

2016 was the first full calendar year in which I was doing this trainer thing and only this trainer thing. While it was weird at first to not be at a service desk, I did visit a lot of libraries. Some days I went to work in my home office, others I got in the car and drove somewhere, still other days, I got on a headset and did webinars, and then there were the days I went to airport and travelled to libraries all over the country.

I learned quite a bit about myself and my job this year, but I think I learned even more about all of you and the state of RA in our public libraries. I have a much better sense of your needs and how you serve your patrons.

I also learned that while I thought 2016 was the first full year I worked for myself, if I am honest, I actually work for all of you-- the RA practitioners and library administrators who hire me. So, as I sat down to do a performance review on myself [a weird, but necessary proposition], I realized that I needed to present it here on the blog. You all need to know how I did, what I learned, and how I plan to move forward. That is the point of today’s post.

Let’s begin with what I said I would do in 2016 in this post. Again like yesterday, you can click through to read all of the details, I will only post the general goals here today.
"Continue to take being my own boss seriously"
This went better than expected. I really needed to work on the paperwork aspects of running my own business, and by the middle of the year, I got into a rhythm. I know have procedures and paperwork that work well for me and my clients. I have also learned how to work on a more M-F schedule, keeping my 8 hour day mostly within the hours of 8-4. It took longer than I thought to get used to it, but compared to how out of control things were in 2015, 2016 was when I really felt like a company and not just Becky flying by the seat of her pants. I also got confirmation from the training managers I worked with for my programs that my paperwork, procedures, and professionalism were to a high standard. This was not the most fun thing I did this year, and definitely one of my professional weaknesses, but I am very proud of how hard I worked on this issue and how well I did as a result.
"Complete the RA assessment series and move into the RA audit portion"
This one was frustrating. I wanted to do this, but as I began, too many of you expressed concern that you were too far behind in the basics of RA Service to even worry about this next step. So, I switched my focus. However, one trend I am seeing as I work with libraries is that as an institution many of you are taking RA Service so seriously that you are designating a staff member to be in charge of coordinating those services. The next step has been to bring me in to work with that person to provide the basic training to all staff and then leave that point person in charge to take the service to the next level. So, the next logical step would be assessment. *fingers crossed*

Now to be fair to myself I did not completely drop the ball on this one. I did sneak some assessment ideas and concepts into my brand new RA Rethink series that I debuted this year, and those have had wonderful feedback and even some tangible results in the libraries I have worked with. I also have had a few posts addressing assessment. You can expect me to continue my commitment to assessment as a professional goal for 2017.
"Explore working with the academic library community more"
I have explored this, created a program, presented it once, and tried to get the rest of the library world interested in it, but alas, they are not. For now I will abandon this topic, BUT for the record, I think I was ahead of the curve here. RA in academic libraries fits in perfectly with my first professional goal for 2017 [below], so while I will not actively work on this topic anymore, I am more than willing to return to it if others are interested.
"Seek out opportunities to "work" in libraries"
First, I thought not working in a library everyday would be more of an issue than it truly was. I underestimated how much I learned from the 30+ libraries I worked for and visited in 2016. Spending time in the buildings, working with staff, and discussing day to day issues was awesome. I learned so much more than I thought I would.

Second, I was the Trustee in charge of heading up my local public library’s strategic plan. I didn’t need to seek out this opportunity, I volunteered for it. This process got me to “work” in a library on a larger, big picture scale than working the desk could ever replicate. This was a rewarding and educational experience. And, I will continue to be involved in the strategic plan as the trustee heading the committee that oversees its implementation.

Third, in 2016 I was faced with a huge decision on whether or not to run for reelection to the library board for a 5th term in 2017. I chose to run and before the year ended completed the paperwork and am currently on the ballot for the Cook County municipal elections this April. This goal I set at the beginning of 2016, was one of the things that led toward my final decision to run again.

Okay that’s how I did. The results of this public performance review and the things I learned in my travels across libraryland in 2016 have led to my goals for 2017.

Becky’s 2017 Professional Goals
  • I will develop new programs that focus on how Readers’ Advisory can be a catalyst to the library’s work to increase community engagement. Social justice, making the library a space where all feel welcome and accepted, patron engagement, and community partnerships are topics that are both dear to my heart and very important right now. Last year I started to incorporate these ideas into my programs, but this year, I will be working on creating programs which explicitly depict how service to leisure readers can be the key to beginning to address these complicated issues for the library, but also how the library can be a leader and connector for the entire community. 
  • I will try [again] to look at how we assess RA Services. I made this a goal last year, but honestly, as I mentioned above, too many libraries needed the most basic of RA training that I needed to change my focus. I am hearing from more of you that you are ready for this, so hopefully I can spend some time on it in 2017. However, if people still want and need more basic training, I will provide that first. 
  • I am thinking of 2017 as the comeback year for the book discussion. In general I am seeing a renewed energy around book discussions, especially as a way to bring communities together. For example, I have committed to leading two discussions with the Chicago Botanic Garden in 2017 as well as leading more traditional trainings for patrons and library staff in a variety of locations. I am also finding that my most popular training options are now a full day in service for staff with another half day book discussion training for regional staff. Book discussions will be a focus in 2017 for me for sure. This is very exciting as Book Discussions are one of my absolute favorite professional activities. I will expand upon this topic tomorrow.
  • I will focus on a more official role in connecting horror writers and libraries. This goal is a direct result of the fact that I will be a Special Guest of Honor at StokerCon 2017 and one of the hosts of their first ever Librarians’ Day. The Horror Writers Association is doubling down on their efforts to connect with librarians and are counting on me to help them. I have committed to this role and am excited to see where it will take me, and as a result, all of you. As you will hear about later this year, I have also taken on a role within the Stoker Awards process which I have not be able to talk about, but which has been great so far. This is a goal that will reach it’s peak during 2017, but it is one I have been working on since early 2016 when I accepted the honor. To be honest, I am both excited and nervous about this goal. It is one that requires me to step out of my comfort zone of the the library world and into the world of the writers. I need to be an ambassador for all of us and a tour guide for all of them. All I can say is that I am taking the responsibility seriously and will do my best.
  • Finally, as I mentioned in yesterday’s reading goals, I will strive to maintain a better work/life balance. I truly love what I do. I want to visit as many libraries as possible, so I tend to always say yes. Also, last year I was worried about having enough work, so I mostly said yes. Well, 2017 is already 90% booked through June with some bookings in August and October already confirmed too. So, I need to keep my foot near the brakes at this point. I will say yes as much as possible, but I need to make sure it is not at the expense of my family or my sanity. I am also using this year to assess my other library related commitments. I have already committed to running for reelection to my local library board in April, which means four more years of service [I have already served 16], and I am slowly handing over most of my ARRT leadership roles. But I will be taking a look at everything I do, prioritizing them all, and making decisions about what can stay and  what has to go. Along the way, I am actively training, encouraging, and empowering others to fill some of my roles, so whether or not I drop anything, there are plenty of others who can step up too.

So that’s where I see 2017 taking me, but as I saw last year, it is really all of you who steer the ship. What do you want or need from me in 2017? Contact me to let me know. Remember, even if I cannot come to your library in person [or virtually], if there is a topic you are interested in, let me know and I can work on it and post about it here on the blog. I am also more than happy to talk with you for free about your specific concerns. Just contact me and let me know what you need and I will see if I can help.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Assessment of 2016 Reading Resolutions and My 2017 Reading Resolutions

As I promised after yesterday’s Call to Action, today I am answering the call today with a full assessment of my 2016 reading resolutions and a statement of what I plan to make a priority in 2017.

But before I get started, here is the link to the full post with my 2016 reading resolutions. Below I will only repost the resolution before assessing how I did.  If you want to see the details as to why I made these resolutions you will need to click through. Also, that post from last January also includes a link to my larger post about why we all need to make reading resolutions.

Let’s begin back in January of 2016...
"I resolve to read heavily in the speculative fiction genres paying more attention to the appeal of the story than to its specific genre classification."
Okay here I did great, but it was because I had to as part of the ARRT Speculative Fiction Genre Study. Those of us in charge resolved to make this big change in how we read and led the genre study, and after a year, I think it is going very well.  You can see for yourself with this link to my posts on those meetings, which also include the links to our notes and assignments. Although this genre study continues into 2017, I do not need to make it a reading resolution for this year because now, it is just part of how I do. Seriously though, that is one of the great outcomes of creating reading resolutions. Because I declared I would do this, I now do it for every book I read. I have taught myself to look beyond genre and focus on appeal first and foremost. This is a wonderful outcome and an argument for the power of resolutions.
 "I resolve to read more self published authors."
This one is a mixed bag of results. I have read more self published authors, yes. And I have been more aware of them. And, I have posted about self published authors in libraries more.  But, I would say my effort was not 100% on this front. And, more importantly, I have not gleaned any more insight into the overall issue of how to include self published authors in libraries. I have, however, talked to some librarians who try very hard to identify the better self published authors in their library’s most popular genres. These individuals are doing a great job, but it is labor intensive and difficult. It is only for those with a passion for it. I think the only solution to the self published authors and libraries issue is for someone to create a library review service that is ONLY for self published titles and not one that is just part of a larger review journal. However, I am not volunteering to be the person who starts this. Any takers out there?
 "I resolve to do the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge."
This one is also a mixed bag. I started to do this and then realized that most of the books I was reading already fit into a challenge, so I lost a bit of interest. It wasn’t serving its purpose of forcing me to “read harder." And the ones I knew were more out there for me personally, I felt were better replaced by other more obscure reading goals that better served my needs to "read harder.” So, in the end I found that for me, these challenges are less about completing them and more about using them as a guide to keep me honest and always striving to read something that is new to me. I originally made this a resolution because I was afraid that by not working in a library that I would NOT read as broadly as I could without help. Thankfully, that was not the case, and as you will see below, I have revamped this resolution based on what I learned in 2016 for 2017.

Along with this specific assessment based on what I said I would do and what I actually did, I also went through my notes on everything I did read this year and I noticed there were a few gaping holes in my reading.

  • I hardly read any nonfiction last year. I think this is a direct result of the fact that I increased the number of books I reviewed and those were almost exclusively horror fiction leaving less time for nonfiction
  • I didn’t listen to as many audio books as I normally do. This one is clearly a result of my getting used to being a full time work from home person. I tended to listen to more podcasts and music because I could work with those on. I enjoy audio books and they allow me to read many more books, so I need to fix this one for sure.
  • I did not hit every major genre this year. Romance, Western, and Adventure in particular barely registered with me this year. This is also a result of 2016 being the first year I was not working at a library at all.  I was able to speed read multiple books in every genre when I worked at the library. I was always conscious of what I wasn’t reading because all the books were right in front of me---all the time. I could easily fix that by grabbing a few off the shelf and speed reading them. 

So that’s my full personal assessment.  Now to turn this assessment into my 2017 plan.

Becky’s 2017 Reading Resolutions:

Taking what I learned this year, I will continue to use the pre-created 2017 reading challenges from Book Riot and Squad Goals as a guideline when I am looking for something to read or use in a book discussion, with a strong focus on backlist titles.

Although I did not complete the Read Harder Challenge, I did keep the print out in a visible space all year long and used it to find new titles to read. It helped me to think outside my normal box when choosing my fun reads. In general I tend to read fairly diversely and widely, but that is from years of practice. Still things get missed. Looking specifically at the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge for 2017, some of the things that are listed I know I will do already, such as reading books by micro presses which I do for horror all of the time, but other things like reading a translated poetry collection, I would not have thought of. Which leads me to my second reading resolution.....

I will actively create a better balance between my HAVE to reads and my WANT to Reads, including not forgetting my love of audiobooks and nonfiction.

This was the first year where I was a horror reviewer, and almost exclusively only a horror reviewer, for Booklist. As the library world’s horror expert, I take my job very seriously. I hardly say no to reviewing horror titles because I know that for many of them, if I don’t say yes, they might not get reviewed. I also know from years of experience that if I don’t write these reviews, you will have fewer horror titles on your shelves. I feel a lot of pressure to make sure you know about as many horror books as possible, yet, I am only one person. On the other hand, this pressure is all self imposed. I need to remember that I do plenty and that in general, whether or not I review or read every horror book it is not a life or death issue.

Although looking back I did read plenty of books for fun this year, I also need to listen to the internal voice telling me that not enough were just because I wanted to. Some of this may also be tied to the fact that I listened to fewer audio books and read less nonfiction, two areas I greatly enjoy.

I need to put my personal enjoyment of reading back into the forefront of my personal and professional life or I will burn out and be no good to anyone.

And my final reading resolution....

I will spend more physical time at my local library, browsing the shelves, looking at the return carts and grabbing piles of books in genres I am less apt to read-- and record at least three appeal words about some of them on Goodreads.

Whether or not I stay there and speed read them, or bring them home to do so, I am clearly missing out on the titles I encountered by being at the library all of the time, especially the backlist ones. Also, with all of my horror and speculative fiction assignments [ARRT genre study is 2 years] for 2017, and considering I am making a resolution to read more of what I “want" to read, I am going to need a push to read in my less favorite - but still very worthy--genres. I think instead of resolving to read, for example, a romance, a western, and an adventure novel this year, I will better serve myself with this resolution to browse the physical library more [with an eye to those titles]. And, most importantly, the second part of that resolution, I will record appeal terms for the titles I spend the most time with so I can use the information to help readers.

Okay so that’s my 2017 plan. I feel like it is ambitious but doable. I also see the trend in all three resolutions toward me putting myself first.  After a full year focused on building my training business and on how I could help all of you, I definitely ignored myself at times. The good news is that my intense focus has allowed RA for All, the business to boom--but more on that tomorrow. The bad news is if I stay at this pace, it will also die out soon. Toward the end of 2016 I was literally having day dreams about what my life would be like if I just stopped working all together. Don’t worry, it quickly turned into a nightmare. But just the fact that I had those day dreams at all really made me think long and hard about my professional life.  You saw one of the outcomes of this assessment already when the blog went dark for 10 days with no content at all. That silence was a huge change for me. Expect more of those small breaks in 2017. But I will have more about this tomorrow when I will have my assessment of how my year in training all of you went in 2016 and list my professional goals for 2017.

I hope this post inspires you to look at your own 2016 year in reading with more self aware eyes-- not critical and judgmental eyes, but honest and helpful ones. I loved this experience of truly asking myself what I needed to accomplish this year that I failed at doing last year. I know this exercise will help me be a happier and more productive reader in 2017. And both of those things mean I will be better at providing RA service in general.

Monday, January 9, 2017

RA for All Call to Action: Yes Make A Reading Plan, But First Assess How You Did Last Year

RA for All is back from a 10 day vacation to start the New Year.  I took a full and complete break from all work while spending the New Year in London with my family. [We had a wonderful time by the way, and I will incorporate some of my trip into next week’s Call to Action.] As a result I am refreshed and ready to get cracking on 2017, albeit 9 days late.

Let’s start with a very important Call to Action for the New Year.

I have always been a big proponent of creating a reading plan for each new year. It goes back to 2000, and my first job where I was required to adopt a reading plan based on reading a book from every major genre, five nonfiction books from three separate Dewey areas, and at least two books from a special reading interest area- or what today we would call “Diverse Books.”

Back then, trying to plan what you were going to read that year was a novel idea, but now, there are many outlets where you can get help and read along with others.  The most popular is the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge.  And don’t forget, you can do their 2017 one, but there is nothing wrong with 2015 or 16’s if you didn’t do those. I also like Lawrence Public Library's Squad Goals Reading Challenge. Both have options to follow along with others which is a great motivator.

However, as much as I want you all to make a reading plan for 2017, I also want to advocate for an important step that is being left out as everyone is talking about their 2017 reading goals, and that is taking a moment to assess your reading from 2016 before you move on to 2017.

Today, I am calling on everyone to take a few moments and look at what you read last year.  Look at the titles and authors, yes of course, but also look at what you recorded about each book you read. Also, look at trends in your own reading and look at the negative space....what you didn’t read.  In other words, assess your own year in reading. Be honest, be critical, but also, be kind to yourself though. 

Then, with that honest assessment of your 2016 reading and before blindly adopting a reading plan that others have created for 2017, jot down some personal reading goals. Things you want to read more [or less] of in 2017. Then by all means, use a pre-published reading plan but also add your own more hyper local, personal reading plans to it. Plans that serve you in your goals to help patrons better. Your plan might not even be specific titles or genres to read. It might be a resolution to write more about each book you read or to speed read more, for example.

I do not want anyone to think I am trashing the proliferation of group reading challenges.  I am not at all. Quite the contrary, I love how popular these are becoming. I love not being the only one planning out my reading goals for the year. But I do want to point out they are one size fits all, and if there is one thing I have learned in my 16.5 years of public library service, serving the public is the exact opposite of a one size fits all mentality. It is about serving our patrons and their local needs above all else. So use a pre-published reading plan to get yourself started, but tack on something that addresses your specific situation too.

I have done this for the last couple of years. I make reading resolutions in January of one year and then take an honest and critical look at how I did the next January before I begin stating my resolutions for the coming year. It is an extremely personal, self reflective, and brutally honest process, but one that helps me improve as a reader and RA service provider. I don’t mind sharing this process with you because I know it is not an easy process. I hope that by leading by example I can help you to be better at helping all of your leisure readers.

So, tomorrow, I will be back answering this Call to Action. I will assess my reading from last year and state reading resolutions for this year. I will do the Call to Action, both to help myself and to inspire you.

I am also planning a full training recap of 2016 and will be making some training observations about 2017 later in the week.

Plus, if you are a book discussion fan, Thursday is the first ARRT Book Club Study of 2017. And I hope to also have my review of Underground Railroad up on Friday.

I told you I was rested and raring to go. We have a whole new year of RA for All starting now.....