Click here for quick access to all of the materials for the 2014-15 Crime Fiction Genre Study. Please note, some information will be password protected for members only. Click here for information about joining ARRT.


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, October 2, 2015

KLA/MLA RA Conference Resources

Today I would like to share a wonderful resource from the joint Kansas and Missouri Library Association conference from earlier this week.

The organizers created this wonderful web page of all the Readers Advisory related materials from the pre-conference and conference.

As the tagline says: "Your handy whenever, wherever toolbox to develop and grow your RA skills before, during, and after the conference."

It includes resources, handouts, and even the storify of the days tweets. It is a wonderful and timely resource on RA issues and resources that you can use right now. 

Thanks for sharing guys!

Thursday, October 1, 2015


You can buy this as an ebook
 to use starting today
It is October 1st and over on my sister blog, RA for All: Horror I have begun my annual horror blog-a-thon with the following post:

31 Days of Horror: Day 1-- A Primer On What To Expect and a Shout Out To 31 Horror Films in 31 Days

I will still continue to post on general RA issues here every week day, but I worked very hard to provide a quality product to help your horror readers this year, so I am encouraging you to check there daily.

As the library world's "horror maven," I take my job very seriously. I want to help you to stop being scared of your horror readers and start saving the day by putting a great book in their hands.

Not convinced that a month of horror posts are for you?  Well for the skeptical among you, I always have a preview of the current RA for All: Horror post running in the top of the right gutter of this blog. So, you can have a preview before you make that big commitment to click. Clicking is hard, I know.

But also, please remember you have a ton of patrons who like reading horror, even if you do not. Add to that the large number of people who only read scary books this month, and you need me.

That being said, you still might not be sold.  Well, I can tease a bit to get you excited then.  This year I have a ton of guest posts by authors talking about why they love horror and sharing their favorite authors and titles, and some are legit NYT bestsellers like her, him, and him. And that is just the teaser.

So let's get this haunting season started off....

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Final Crime Fiction Genre Study Assignment Now Available and It's Going to be GREAT for All of My Readers-- Near and Far!

Tomorrow is the penultimate meeting of the 2 year ARRT Crime Fiction Genre Study.  Normally, I post the next assignment on the day of the meeting; however, since tomorrow is also October 1 and the first day of my horror blog-a-thon, I am moving this post up 1 day early.

I am so excited about the final assignment because our only rule in creating it was that it serve as a kind of "wrap-up" to the work we had done over the previous 11 meetings.  I was able to take the comments we received from the genre study survey and incorporate some of them into this assignment.

Also, one of my new self-assigned goals is to promote the power of booktalking.  I have an entire presentation on this topic, but each and every time I can manage it, I work in an opportunity for library workers to practice booktalking books. The more practice people get, the better they get at it, the more they do it, and the happier our patrons are.

In this case, I was able to "kill two birds with one stone" because some of the survey comments mentioned wishing we could have fit more authors in. So as you will see below, I am asking people to booktalk ANY crime book by an author we had not read and discussed already.

But here is where the assignment goes from good to GREAT.  We are asking people to bring their booktalking scripts written out so that we can compile all of them into the meeting notes. I will then post all of the scripts here on RA for All for general use by all comers, not just ARRT members.

Now you can see why I think it is a GREAT assignment. Whether or not I see you there tomorrow, please look for the HUGE list of booktalking scripts to be available on RA for All real soon. This will be a wonderful resources for all libraries everywhere and I am so happy to have the chance to facilitate its creation.

A few other things we will be doing in December:
  • We are going to be discussing the best crime fiction resources, and in fact, we are considering working resources in throughout the process next time and not just saving them for the end.
  • Speaking of next time, we will be announcing the genres for the next go round of the genre study tomorrow.  And yes, I said genres. You will have to be there or wait for the official word, but I will tell you that although I will not be the overall leader this time, I am involved in at least 1 of the genres because there is no one else more qualified to do it...
Full assignment details are below.

Part 1: Booktalk

Come prepared to provide the group with a 90 second (timer will be used and enforced!) of booktalking on an author or book(s) we have not covered over the course of our 2 years together.

This is your chance to talk up authors/titles we didn't have the time to get to, as well as an opportunity to practice your booktalking skills.

Books can be new, old, forthcoming-- whatever you want. Authors can be living or dead. The only rule is the 90 second limit.

Come with your script (typed) so that we can include it in the notes. This way, you can all get a copy of every book and it's description. [Also this means you had to prepare at least a little bit.]

Booktalks should focus on the following questions:
  1. What makes this author/title so amazing?
  2. Where does this author/title fit within Crime Fiction?
  3. What are some readalikes?
Becky prepared 3 examples for you to consult [with how long they are when delivered as a booktalk] here.

Part 2: Resources

We will go over some of the best resources for crime. Click here for a list of suggested resources, but also be ready to bring your personal favorites to discuss.

Part 3: Final Thoughts and Announcement of 2016-17 Genre Study

Now is your chance to bring up any other issues or concerns about either the genres we covered or how the genre study itself was run. In order to make sure we have enough time, if you shared your thoughts in the survey, please do not repeat yourself here. All comments were read and discussed by the Steering Committee last month.

Becky will also provide concluding comments about Crime Fiction.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Next Librarian of Congress and Why We All Need to Care

As many of you know, a few months ago, the Librarian of Congress, James Billington announced his retirement as of Jan 1, 2016. But some of you may not know that last Friday, he announced that he now is retiring as of TOMORROW!

I was going to wait to post about the search for the next Librarian of Congress and how important it is to all American library workers in November, after my Halloween rush and after some more news had come out about possible replacements; however, since the timeline just got seriously hijjacked, I have pushed this post up in the schedule* to let you know how you can educate yourself on the #nextLOC right now.

First, I need to address the biggest issue here and that has to do with you, my readers.  Many of you are probably wondering why this blog devoted to "training library workers to help leisure readers" needs to bother with a post about the Librarian of Congress.  Well, the short answer I have for you is that whether or not you think the LOC has anything to do with your life in a local library is not the issue here.  The issue is that the job of the symbolic head of all of America's libraries-- a job appointed by the President of the United States-- is open. You are a library worker. You owe it to yourself and your community to understand what the job actually is and to have a KNOWLEDGEABLE opinion about how that job should be done. You will be asked by someone about your opinion and you owe it to yourself [and the integrity of our profession] to have a response that is based on the facts.

If we--America's library workers-- cannot articulate who should have that job and what the job should actually entail, how can we expect anyone else to understand, let alone expect these outsiders to choose the correct type of person for the job.

Now, I am not that person to help you understand the issue.  But like a good librarian, I have worked to find the resources you need to become knowledgeable on this issue. And now I am directing all of you, my loyal readers, to do two things in the next few days.

  • Take 1 hour out of your life [you can do it on work time] to listen to Jessamyn West on Circulating Ideas articulate the basic issues involved here. I can honestly say that after listening myself a few weeks ago I  was completely misguided on the issue both of what skills and experience the best Librarian of Congress candidates should have. I had no idea about the necessary changes that new person needs to make to the institution itself. Jessamyn also had some insight to share into the process of choosing the #nextLOC. Every minute of that interview is worthwhile to anyone who works in the library world.
  • Jessamyn has created this fantastic website devoted solely to compiling all of the information about the issue. After listening, go here and dig deeper about the things you want to know more about.The website even gives you ways to get involved in the conversation.

I am serious about spending just a little bit of time listening to that podcast and looking over the website. This is going to become the single biggest library issue over the next few months. This is going to be a library issue that is discussed in all media.  We need to be on the front lines articulating an educated opinion about not only who the job will go to, but also what the LOC should be as an institution.

Please, if you are someone who heads my advice on helping leisure readers, trust me and take this advice too.

I promise I will return tomorrow with regularly scheduled RA specific programming.

*Unfortunately due to the already double booked Monday I had planned for yesterday, this had to wait until today.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Recharge Your Book Club: The Deja Vu Addition

This afternoon I will be presenting a LIVE webinar for Reaching Across Illinois Library System [RAILS]-- Recharge Your Book Club.

Yes this is the same as the one I did on September 14th, but they asked me to do another live one at a different date and time to accommodate more people, so here are the slides again for today's audience.

And soon, there will be a video recording available for everyone to view here.

Click here to start the slide show

Banned Books Week 2015

I hate that we have a need for Banned Books Week. The idea that anyone thinks they have a right to tell others what they should read is horrific.

Now, I know that at my house we are the family that is a bit on the fringe when it comes to free speech.  For example, we have ALWAYS let our kids (now 10 and 13), listen to the uncensored versions of songs, while explaining to them that those artists are expressing themselves through their art and you (meaning the kids) do not get to repeat those words just for fun.  This led to this summer’s fun of coming up with creative ways to still sing along to Maroon 5’s This Summer’s Gonna Hurt.... among opening up many larger conversations about the importance of free speech over the years.

However, I would never play these unedited songs for other people’s children. These are choices we have made for our family.  We have chosen to be extremely pro-free speech. I make sure that my children understand that we are not only for free speech when the person speaking agrees with us, but also (and probably more importantly) when the person speaking is in opposition to our beliefs.

Free speech works best when you get personally affronted by something someone else says or writes and you do nothing but use your free speech to express an alternate opinion back.

Free speech FAILS when you are offended by something and then seek to ban it from everyone else.

This is why I get so angry about Banned Books Week.  Most of the attempts to ban books in America come from parents to school districts.  I have no problem with a parent making a choice for their child not read something. I don’t agree with doing this, but I respect their right to decide what is best for their child.  What I do disagree with is this parent then telling an entire school district what every kid can and cannot read.

What is most troubling here is that by executing their rights to decide what their child can read, these parents decide that their free speech trumps everyone else. ARRRGGGHHH!

This is the main reason I am get angry that we need to celebrate this week. But that anger will not stop me from participating.

I have read and reviewed many banned books in my time, but two recent attempts to ban books have made me very upset. Today I will be providing links to the circumstances surrounding those challenges, my opinion about why these situations are particularly troubling, and finally linking to my reviews of those books.

First up, from my own back yard-- Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. Click here for the case study on this title’s removal from classrooms.

This one is just crazy.  Persepolis is one of the best graphic novels ever written.  It has won numerous awards, so I am not alone in this opinion.  I have written about this book at length here on the blog and on NoveList having written the Author Read-Alike article on Satrapi.

Next up is a book I actually didn’t even enjoy myself-- The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. [Click the title above for the details in my review.]

If you looked at my review, you know that this books is about how the cancerous cervical cells collected from a poor black woman, without her consent, have been used by doctors for decades to, among other things, create lucrative cancer drugs which have helped millions of people, but never Lacks’ descendants.  They have received no monetary compensation for their contribution to a multi-million dollar industry. And, their family's DNA has been floating all around the world without their knowledge. Talk about identity theft.

As Rebecca Skloot succinctly summed it up herself on Facebook in a much longer post: 
Just in time for ‪#‎BannedBooksWeek, a parent in Tennessee has confused gynecology with pornography and is trying to get my book banned from the Knoxville high school system
 This one really gets me even more upset for two reasons:

  • This book is a great supplement to the entire “Black Lives Matter” campaigns that have focused on violence by police against black people. While this book does not feature run-ins between black people and the police, it serves as a testament to the history of this struggle. This book should be taught in American high schools to support current events with a historical perspective. Black lives have been seen as less important throughout our society in many situations.
  • Discussions of cervical cancer is not pornographic. If anything this book will teach young women the importance of getting regular pap smears and gynecological check ups. Something that many women don’t do regularly, even though it is a simple, cheap, and quick test that could save their life. And with the challenges to Planned Parenthood [who provide no cost pap smears to any and all women who walk through their doors] going on right now, this message is more important than ever. 
Okay, that will be my only rant... I mean post... on Banned Books Week. But please, find a way to speak up about the issue yourself this week-- and every week.  Read a banned book, suggest one to a patron. You can access the official resources for librarians here.

You can access past RA for All posts about Banned Book Week here

Friday, September 25, 2015

Don't Forget to Check Non-Book Specific Local Media As You Help Leisure Readers

We all know to check the major newspaper book sections and listen to the local NPR affiliates for book news and coverage, but it is easy to forget other resources that our patrons are coming into contact with, resources that may be responsible for making a title or author super popular in your area.

For example, in this month's Chicago Magazine, they have this list of the Fall's "10 Most Anticipated Readings and Talks." Besides letting me know WHO is coming to town [Ta-Nehisi Coates, Roxanne Gay, Salman Rushdie, and more...], this list also lets me know when.

Let's put this information into action.  #8 is John Irving on 11/11. Now I may not need this article to alert me to the fact that he has a new book coming out, but it does remind me of the date and prepares me for the extra coverage he will be receiving in the Tribune around that time due to his appearance.  Extra coverage means people will be thinking about Irving and may want to read one of his novels.  About a week before the event, someone on my [hypothetical] staff should prepare a small display of Irving's books and readalike authors so that we can promote both his new novel and the appearance.

See how that works. We are ready for the incerased interest in Irving.

Chicago Magazine is filled with lots of book information that I could use.  Take this article "5 Best New Books By Local Writers." These are less well known books that will be of particular local interest. All of five of these books should be added by most Chicago area libraries because people are going to ask for them now that they have seen them in Chicago Magazine.  If I hadn't looked at the current issue, I would not have heard of many of these titles and definitely would not have ordered them for our collection before the first request came in. But now I know and can plan ahead. I look like a super-librarian who anticipated my patron's leisure reading needs.

Every community has a local magazine or newspaper like Chicago Magazine. Maybe it is your community's free weekly or it's an online journal.  The point I am trying to make here is that you may not be thinking of this resources as a place for information about books, but often these resources have information that will help you serve your leisure readers better.

So please, try looking for local book information somewhere different and see what you can find. I bet you will be surprised. I was.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Great Resource for Book Discussion Leaders: The Art of The Final Sentence (via The Millions)

I am always on the look out for new, exciting, and different resources to help you (and me) make our book discussions more interesting. Sometimes, I find inspiration for new types of questions in unlikely places.

For example, I regularly read (and post links from) The Millions, an online magazine that focuses on books (among other things), but I have never used it as a resource for conducting book discussions.

Well, today that changed as I was perusing the archives and found an essay entitled, "The Art of the Final Sentence" by Jonathan Russell Clark. In this essay Clark discusses some famous last lines and their purpose in the story.

When I lead a book discussion, I leave time for my group to have a fairly open ended discussion about the "ending." I don't necessarily ask a specific question, rather I simply offer a chance for the ending to be discussed.  I purposely keep it vague for a couple of reasons:

  1. I don't want to bias the group with my opinion unknowingly. I really want to hear what they think about the way the author wrapped it all up.
  2. The more open ended the question, the more chance, I have found, that those who haven't volunteered to speak up as of yet often will. When you ask a question about the ending, those that have been quiet know their chances are running out, and if the  question is open ended enough, they can say just about anything.

Now sometimes this strategy works brilliantly. Sometimes there is a lot to say, especially if the author left the ending open or unclear. Other times, there isn't any interest in the topic of the conclusion and I am grasping to find a way to talk about how the author closed his or her novel.

However, I never thought of taking the final sentences, reading them out loud, and then asking, "How do these words represent the story you read for the previous 300ish pages?"

This question still fosters an open discussion of the ending but with a bit more structure than simply saying, "Okay guys...ending...what did you think?"

As I saw in Clark's essay, ending sentences are the author's only chance to "get real." Clark uses examples to illustrate many different things ending lines can do like emphasizing overall themes or making statements about life in general, among others

But most interestingly, Clark talks about how closing lines, unlike opening lines, need the context of the entire book that came before in order to be understood.  This got me thinking about how wonderful it would be to OPEN a discussion with closing lines.

Read the essay for yourself, but the inspiration I am taking from it is this-- in my next discussion, I am going to use the closing lines of the book early in the meeting in order to facilitate a broader discussion about the book as a whole.

One final note from the author before you click though. He has more articles in this series that you can also use to help shape your book discussions; essays that get to the heart of why and how authors write, issues that are perfect for rich discussions:
This completes a series of essays on craft that I privately refer to as “The Art of…: The Series.” (You can see why the name has remained private.) Previous entries include Epigraphs, the Opening SentenceClose Writing, and Chapters.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Come Participate in a FREE Book Discussion for Book Discussion Leaders With Me!

Are you a book discussion leader who never gets to be a participant? Do you want the chance to talk about some issues with your group with other book discussion leaders? Do you work at an IL library?

If you answered yes, you are in luck! See the details below for a FREE training I am running in a few weeks.  You can even attend from one of the RAILS video conference locations. So you don't have to come all the way to Burr Ridge to still participate.

The book is a quick read too, so there is plenty of time to read it still.

The details from RAILS are below.
Becky Spratford of RA For All will be offering a program called “Book Discussion for Book Discussion Leaders” on Tuesday, October 6, 2015, 2:00 to 4:00 PM.  Becky will be at the RAILS Burr Ridge service center, and we will video conference to three other locations: RAILS Coal Valley, RAILS East Peoria and Vernon Area Public Library District – Annex.   
Program description: Leading a book discussion group is one of the most personally and professionally rewarding things we do at work; however, it is an extremely challenging job too. No one understands this better than Becky Spratford who has been leading book discussions groups for over 14 years. Join her, and a room full of your book discussion colleagues, as we discuss the creepy, historical novel, THE WINTER PEOPLE by Jennifer McMahon. This program will give you the chance to sit back and enjoy being a discussion participant while also offering a forum for sharing questions and practical solutions to the problems and concerns of book group leaders.
Participants are encouraged to read THE WINTER PEOPLE by Jennifer McMahon before this session in order to fully participate in the discussion.
Click this link to log in to L2 and register for the program:
Please contact me or Louise Svehla louise[dot]svehla[at]railslibraries[dot]info with questions?

RA for All Roadshow: Bridging the Physical Virtual Divide

This morning I will be appearing [via Skype] as part of the Fall meeting of The Adult Services Committee of The Library Network, a library networking group comprised of public library workers in Southeastern Michigan.

As a member of the Steering Committee for a networking group myself, I am so happy to be able to work with them. I truly understand both how hard they work and how helpful the services and program they provide are.

They have a really nice program scheduled for their cooperative today, using their limited time together to present programs in multiple areas of Adult Services.  I am proud to be a part of it all, but a little sad that I am not there in person to get the training from the other presenters.

But kudos to them for working together to improve library service for their patrons by taking the time to train staff.

They have asked me to present my popular Bridging the Physical Virtual Divide talk [now with updates].

As a reminder to those who are not attending but  still clicking through to the slides [and you should because this presentation is VERY link heavy], the point of this talk is to show library workers how they can take their in-library RA skills and translate them to an online product.  However, I do not give a tutorial on how to use each service.  This presentation is more of a pep talk-- a "You Can Do It" nudge-- to kick start your service.  It is also a great way for managers to identify staff who may be able to contribute in a new, more energetic way, to services for leisure readers.

I think The Library Network is the perfect audience for this kind of training.  I can't wait to see you all in a bit and get started.

Here are the slides for everyone.  And if you want me to give a pep talk or training to your staff, let me know.  Fall is just about closed [only local and virtual appearances available right now] but 2016 is only just starting to be booked.  Click here to get in touch with me.

Click here for slides