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, November 17, 2017

Register Now: Librarian's’ Day At StokerCon in Providence, RI 3/1/18

As I have hinted at a few times here and on the horror blog, I was asked by the Horror Writers Association President, Lisa Morton, to organize the second annual Librarians’ Day at StokerCon 2018. Last year I was their special guest for the first annual one, but had no say in the planning. This year-- cue evil laughter-- they put me IN CHARGE! Seriously, they have let me loose on an entire day of conference programming....BWAHAHAHA

Thankfully, I have the necessary experience, having been part of planning conferences big and small. But I also knew that I couldn’t do this alone. The very first person I thought of to help me was local, had the necessary skills, and most importantly was a friend, a friend who I knew I would work well with- Kristi Chadwick. Kristi is not only a librarian who works as a consultant for the Massachusetts Library System, so planning and running programs and training sessions is literally her job, but she is also the SF/FSY/Horror columnist for Library Journal. And she said, YES!

Kristi and I have been hard at work behind the scenes and can now officially announce that registration is OPEN for this wonderful day of programming. [See below for the details and necessary links to the StokerCon 2018 Librarians’ Day page.]

Of course there are still many specifics to announce but I promise you this will be worth your time. And if you register before 1/31/18 you save $10. It is only $65 for a full day of professionally planned sessions with catered lunch and free ARCs.

What are you waiting for?!? I already have my plane ticket. Kristi and I doing this as volunteers, that’s how much we both believe in the importance of this day for you and your work with leisure readers.

This is the only 1 day horror conference in the world for librarians, organized by librarians. The entire day is completely about you and your service to your readers. I always talk about how the HWA cares about library workers; well with asking me to run this day for them, they have done more than just tell you that you matter to them, they are showing you.

Come hang out with us and dare to improve your service to your scariest readers. I can’t wait to see you all there.


Librarians’ Day
Join Stoker Con for a special day-long program of panels and presentations for librarians!
Becky Spratford, author of The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Horror, 2nd edition [ALA, Editions] and horror reviewer for Booklist and IndiePicks Magazine and Kristi Chadwick, Consultant, Massachusetts Library System and Library Journal’s Science Fiction Fantasy and Horror columnist are coordinating the event.

March 1, 2018, 8:30-4:30
Cost: $75—$65 with Early Registration Discount Code: PROVIDENCE. 
Select “Early Registration” and enter the code. Expires January 31, 2018.
Lunch included!
ARCs for all attendees!
Programming will include:
  • 120 Years of Dracula, from Novel to Stage to Large and Small Screens, presented by Dacre Stoker!
  • Horror Programming at Your Library, a panel discussion with Christopher Golden, JG Faherty, and more! 
  • Lunch, featuring an AMA (Ask Me Anything) with Kristi Chadwick and Becky Spratford!
  • A panel discussion moderated by Becky Spratford with newer horror authors you need to know about right now!
  • A Book Buzz to end the day, featuring the very best upcoming horror titles, presented by publishers big and small, with ARCs and tote bags be given to all attendees!

Click here now...if you dare!!!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Book Discussion Report: Lab Girl at the Chicago Botanic Garden

As I wrote about in this post, I was invited back to the Chicago Botanic Garden to lead their second One Book One Garden. We met on the evening of November 14th and discussed Lab Girl by Hope Jahren. Click through to read about their One Book One Garden program in general. This post is my report on our discussion. Feel free to use these notes to help you lead your book club.

On a side note, we had 25 people come out on a Tuesday night! All participated in the discussion. We had men and women who from the young (20s) up to seniors. You do not see this diversity in your average public library book discussion.

I think I know why because it was at the Garden NOT the Library. The Chicago Botanic Garden attracts everyone, not just library people. Also, because they are normally more of a research library, this program is “different” for them. It draws interest for being unique and standing out among their other programs. Also the library staff involves the public programs staff to help advertise and run the program so they get help with that part.

Takeaways for those of us in the public library to learn from this with wonderful opportunities to consider:

  • We often host book discussions outside of the library-- bars and restaurants being the most popular. We know those draw a different crowd than in the building, but it is still library leaning people. 
  • Is there an organization in or near your community who would be willing to have a book discussion with you? Local history museum, Art League, or something of the like. A place where people are already members and participate in programming? Why can’t we have them offer up a book discussion on a title that would appeal to their members and we help by offering a staff member to facilitate. It could help both organizations. The library will advertise themselves to a group who might not be core users and the other organization can offer a program that is totally different from what they usually offer.
  • Don’t forget that there are special libraries embedded within organizations and businesses in your area. Contact the Special Library Association to get a list. If they have a special library, they have at least 1 staff member. Work with that person to provide book discussions at their location, to their patrons. Even at a law library, you could have a book discussion once in a while. 
Okay, enough about that. As you can see, I loved being a part of the One Book One Garden program this year, and I am so proud of them for already having the next one scheduled for March. I have also spoken to their Director about sharing their success at a library conference. But let’s get on with the actual report.

Here is the publisher’s summary courtesy of LitLovers:

Lab Girl  Hope Jahren, 2016Knopf Doubleday304 pp.ISBN-13: 9781101873724

SummaryAn illuminating debut memoir of a woman in science; a moving portrait of a longtime friendship; and a stunningly fresh look at plants that will forever change how you see the natural world. Acclaimed scientist Hope Jahren has built three laboratories in which she’s studied trees, flowers, seeds, and soil. Her first book is a revelatory treatise on plant life—but it is also so much more. 
Lab Girl is a book about work, love, and the mountains that can be moved when those two things come together. 
It is told through Jahren’s remarkable stories: about her childhood in rural Minnesota with an uncompromising mother and a father who encouraged hours of play in his classroom’s labs; about how she found a sanctuary in science, and learned to perform lab work done “with both the heart and the hands”; and about the inevitable disappointments, but also the triumphs and exhilarating discoveries, of scientific work. 
Yet at the core of this book is the story of a relationship Jahren forged with a brilliant, wounded man named Bill, who becomes her lab partner and best friend. Their sometimes rogue adventures in science take them from the Midwest across the United States and back again, over the Atlantic to the ever-light skies of the North Pole and to tropical Hawaii, where she and her lab currently make their home. 
Jahren’s probing look at plants, her astonishing tenacity of spirit, and her acute insights on nature enliven every page of this extraordinary book. Lab Girl opens your eyes to the beautiful, sophisticated mechanisms within every leaf, blade of grass, and flower petal.
Here is an eloquent demonstration of what can happen when you find the stamina, passion, and sense of sacrifice needed to make a life out of what you truly love, as you discover along the way the person you were meant to be. (From the publisher.)
I was very nervous to discuss this book about a botanist with hard core plant people. They were also book people, so I reminded myself of that, but I also was very honest at the start as to how much of a botany-novice I was. I think they appreciated me acknowledging it, and I was only corrected once during the evening for saying, “ Who knew dirt was so interesting and complex.” One participant responded curtly, “It's called soil.” I said, “Thank you for correcting me. You are right.”

Since I began by telling them I was not as much of a plant person as them, I then led into my first question [one I created for this talk]

Question: Why are plants so important in your life? And did reading Jahren’s memoir of her life compliment or contradict your own connection with plants.

  • Someone chimed in right away to say, you know, I read this book with my neighborhood book club and everyone hated the book. They said they didn’t “get” it. I was surprised because as a plant person, it was amazing to me. I found it fascinating because, although I like plants, she approached them from a different place than me.
    • That led me to quickly poll the group on if they all did actually like Lab Girl. They did 100%. I am not surprised. As a side note, for these special library type book clubs you are going to get a lot more consensus on a book than you might in a library book club. You want to make sure to pick a book people will like because just having a book discussion is outside the wheelhouse of the place who is hosting it.
  • These opening comments led to a barrage of comments about the book to start things off
    • I liked how her inclusion of science was approachable, not over the top but enough so I learned something new.
    • I am so glad I read this book than for no other reason than it explained to me [scientifically] why I don’t like a certain tree.
    • I liked how she was honest about how hard it is to be a scientist in the real world when you aren’t doing popular research.
    • It was an interesting view into the world of science. Some of it I knew but the fact that you literally have to go where the money is, study what they give you money for, and look into what you want only if you have time.
    • I didn’t know how resourceful they had to be-- jerry-rigging their own instruments to do specific tasks. 
    • I thought a new professor walked into a lab that while not fully stocked was more than a dirty basement with nothing.
Question: Let’s talk about the way Jahren tells her life story in this book.
  • It was approachable and humorous while still be serious and scientific. 
  • I loved how she had a long chapter about her life and then a “Let’s Botanize” short chapter. 
  • Those botany chapters were so fascinating, like the one about how the trees “talk;” communicate over long distances.
  • I learned so much about plants
  • I am in horticulture education and I loved how she made plants relatable. She taught key things without dumbing it down or making readers feel stupid. 
  • I was excited to learn from her and hear about her life.
  • I would love to be able to sit in on one of her lectures, She must be an amazing teacher.
  • I loved how she related her studies to life lessons. She learned about living from studying plants.
  • She writes very well. She told this in a fiction story format.
  • She humanized trees and plants. She took her passion inspiration as a guide and is encouraging others to look at plants and their lives the same way.
Question: Let’s talk about Jahren family and personal life
  • From the opening scenes where she writes about going to the lab with her father and then to bring her dream to have her own lab one day to fruition was inspiring. She worked so hard and without any emotional or financial support from her family to get there.
  • Her words-- she “played" in her father’s lab, but she “toiled” in her mother’s garden.
  • She talks about the cold of outside-- walking home with dad being replaced by a different kind of cold when she got home to her mother.
  • This led a few of us to bring up the fact that Jahren dedicated this book to her mother-- “Everything I write is for my mother.” Why? They did not have much of a relationship and after the opening chapters she never really comes up again.
    • Jahren’s love of reading and writing came from her English major mother.
    • It shows an acceptance of her mother for who she was by dedicating the book to her.
    • Hope was worried about how to be a mother herself since she had not role model. Instead she decides to be a “father” to her son.
    • She plays with idea of gender a lot in the book. Being a female scientists in an all male world and being more attached to her father were examples.
  • Her parents and bothers were NO WHERE in the story.
  • The family stuff is the groundwork of who she became-- a self made woman who felt isolated at times, but who made her own family.
  • This is more than just a memoir of her personal life, but that info is there.
Question: Speaking of making her own family....Bill. Who wants to talk about her lab partner?
  • Everyone should have a Bill in their lives!
  • Not everyone was as enamored with Bill.
  • Someone pointed out that this is still a book and Jahren is the author. It may be her life, but Bill is a character in her drama. He seems a bit exaggerated. A “Falstaff” like character.
  • He is pragmatic and she is the idea person.
  • What she doesn’t say about Bill is as important as what she does say. She releases info about him and herself very sparingly. You have to “dig” for details. [Ha]. Think about how late in the book we find out that the run down brownstone Bill lived in in Baltimore he actually slowly fixed up and flipped, making a fortune on it. Enough to buy a gorgeous house on a mountain in Hawaii overlooking the ocean.
  • Someone asked if they thought Bill was truly in love with her romantically and just never told her. Her argument was, why did he follow her around the world job after job, without a guaranteed salary if he didn’t.
  • More people than not thought no, they loved each other like brother and sister. They were each other’s family [even though Bill had a close family]. Both were odd and broken, but they found each other.
  • Bill did not have the Phd and could never have had as exciting, interesting, or as high up of a job in any lab but hers. He sorta had to follow her. But thankfully, he believed in her.
  • Also, who knew more about “dirt,” I mean soil than Bill.
  • I was amazed that Bill allowed her to show so much about his life. That is trust. 
Question: From the audience-- Is everything in here true?
  • Becky began by saying that is the million dollar question when we talk about memoirs. Memoir by definition is different from a biography in that is the author telling a story about a part of their life. It never claims to be a birth to present recounting of every detail. It is a story first and foremost. So I asked the group-- what do you think is true? And does it matter?
  • The science of course is true and her discussions of the experiments she ran and the jobs she had. 
  • But there is a poetry and rhythm to the book-- the way she tells it-- that life does not so neatly lay out.
  • So many lines that are pure beauty.  People shared a few. Also the paragraph she wrote about grief in response to Bill’s father dying was beautiful.
  • The way she described trees! It was different than anything like it I have read before, and I read a lot about trees. So interesting and exciting.
    • She compares a tree to writing a budget. It’s a perfect metaphor.
  • I am an environmental science teacher and I bought this book last year to give to my TAs to inspire them to become scientists. Someone asked her if they were female. She said yes. That person said I think this is a book for women.
  • A man chimed in, no. It is for anyone- especially anyone who has struggled.
Question: This led us to another line of questioning-- What is this book about? Besides it’s genre as memoir.
  • Again, it is a book for anyone who struggles.
  • You can focus on different things and the book is “about” something completely different
    • Life of a scientist
    • Female in a male profession
      • She is very blunt and direct about the misogyny in science. There are so many examples here.
      • We talked about women in science and the statistics about how they are mistreated, not cited as much, treated poorly, and hard to retain. A few of the women in the room were women in science and had been to conferences on the topic. This discussion was very interesting. I was glad we had these women in the room and they were willing to share their knowledge and personal experiences.
    • Living with mental illness-- bipolar
    • Her “family”
    • It would be interesting to reread the book a few times and concentrate on how she tells only one of the story threads. Go back and repeat with a different thread. That would be cool.
  • Writing this book was her therapy
  • She is a special person. This book can’t be about 1 thing because she is not defined by one thing.
We talked about her bipolar disorder for a bit
  • We see bits of her mania at first and while we are uncomfortable about is as readers, it seems like she is just a workaholic.
  • But she slowly unveils more and more details and we see her hit bottom.
  • But we also see her seek medical help, get a diagnosis and get a better handle on her condition
  • We have to watch her get worse, but we also get to see her improve.
  • It is amazing how much she did while very ill. She did world renowned scientific research and managed a lab-- budgets, meetings, etc... all while ill.
  • We also see how stressful being a scientist is. Just how hard it is to get funding was stressful and then knowing you have people who rely on you for a salary too? Yikes
  • I think it is interesting that she found a career that her mental illness didn’t hold her back. Sometimes it helped her to go on her manic binges and work for hours straight. Sometimes research needs that.
  • Nature can also calm anxiety.
  • When you learn about trees and what they can and have survived just to live-- she talks about this point a lot-- it gives you hope about your trials.
Question: Any final thoughts?
  • It was Einstein who said, Without science there is no wonder and without wonder there is no science. I am grateful she can continue to study science for the wonder and not just for the money.
  • We are lucky she has an inner thirst for knowledge and studies the things that we need to know but might not have practical applications-- like all of her paleo-botany.
  • Nature will always accept you and make you feel better.

Readalikes: During the discussion we had a heated exchange about whether or not H is for Hawk by  is a readalike for this book. Many resources and marketing materials for Lab Girl list it as one. There were people who have read both and some liked both and some only liked Lab Girl. We talked a bit about why they were similar and how they were different. In the end, a few people who hadn’t read H is for Hawk were excited to read it.

Other readalikes came up throughout:

Finally here is the text that I gave the Botanic Garden Library staff to use for readalike handouts if they wanted. Please note, these are only titles held by their library [summaries all link to Goodreads]:

If you liked Lab Girl, here are a few more books in our collection you may also enjoy...

All things reconsidered : my birding adventures / Roger Tory Peterson ; edited by Bill Thompson III. [QL677.5.P384 2006]

The world's most famous bird watcher recounts his travels in pursuit of birds. A decade after the death of Roger Tory Peterson, his unique perspective on birding comes to life in these highly personal narratives. Here he relates his adventures during a lifetime of traveling the world to observe and record nature. Peterson's sense of adventure and curiousity could not be extinguished.

The backyard parables : lessons on gardening, and life / Margaret Roach. [SB454.3.P45R63 2013]

After ruminating on the bigger picture in her memoir And I Shall Have Some Peace There, Margaret Roach has returned to the garden, insisting as ever that we must garden with both our head and heart, or as she expresses it, with "horticultural how-to and woo-woo." In THE BACKYARD PARABLES, Roach uses her fundamental understanding of the natural world, philosophy, and life to explore the ways that gardening saved and instructed her, and meditates on the science and spirituality of nature, reminding her readers and herself to keep on digging.

The hidden life of trees : what they feel, how they communicate : discoveries from a secret world / Peter Wohlleben ; foreword by Tim Flannery. [QK475.W64 2016]

In The Hidden Life of Trees, Peter Wohlleben shares his deep love of woods and forests and explains the amazing processes of life, death, and regeneration he has observed in the woodland and the amazing scientific processes behind the wonders of which we are blissfully unaware.

...Drawing on groundbreaking new discoveries, Wohlleben presents the science behind the secret and previously unknown life of trees and their communication abilities; he describes how these discoveries have informed his own practices in the forest around him.

Seeing trees : discover the extraordinary secrets of everyday trees / by Nancy Ross Hugo ; photography by Robert J. Llewellyn. [QK477.2.I4H84 2011]

Have you ever looked at a tree? That may sound like a silly question, but there is so much more to notice about a tree than first meets the eye. Seeing Trees celebrates seldom seen but easily observable tree traits and invites you to watch trees with the same care and sensitivity that birdwatchers watch birds. Many people, for example, are surprised to learn that oaks and maples have flowers, much less flowers that are astonishingly beautiful when viewed up close.

...Stop by for even more ideas on what to read next.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Trend Alert via The Big Thrill: What’s Next for the Detective Novel

As part of my semi-regular series on trends please see this article via the Thriller Writers Association’s excellent magazine- The Bill Thrill- entitled, “What’s New for the Detective Novel.

This article not only talks about the trends in PI fiction, but it also expands on the enduring appeal of the subgenre. This is a quick read that will give you insight into your readers and their preferences as well as getting a glimpse into where this character trope is going next.

Read this article now, but also remember to use The Big Thrill as a general crime fiction resources as it has excellent articles, reviews, and interviews that cover the full breadth of crime fiction.

Here is the intro to get you interesting in clicking through:

The office of a private investigator conjures up images of a dark, gritty room, the scent of whiskey and cigar smoke permeating the thick files of secrets. Stories of cheating husbands and corrupt cops. 
These hired guns of old emerged in the wake of the Western hero, transforming into the iconic—and staple—character they represent in today’s crime fiction. But modern PIs have not only shrugged off their proverbial trench coats in favor of business attire, they’ve traded phone booths for smart phones and are embracing bigger, more dangerous missions that span the globe—and every possible sub-genre.
Click here to read more

And for more posts by me about trends in leisure reading click here.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

ARRT Genre Unconference-- Ask Me Anything Style Notes Are Ready

As I mentioned here, I was very excited to host what was basically an Ask Me Anything [AMA] type panel at ARRTCon last week. This event proved so popular, and I still have questions we didn’t get to  so I started a new AMA tag here on the blog so I can do this again.

We did a total of 80 minutes between the two sessions.  I have typed up 10 pages of notes on what we discussed and everyone can read them here. You have to click through to read the answers and comments but below I will list the questions we did tackle.  

Finally, you should also bookmark this page where all of the handouts, slides, and notes for every session from ARRTCon will live. Not everything is up yet, but it is coming.

So again, click here for the full 10 pages of my notes and see immediately below for a list of the questions those notes hold the answers to.

  • What is Your Biggest Genre Fear? 
  • What’s Your Favorite Resource for Your Least Favorite Genre
  • How many books do you present a patron with?
  • What Are Your Best Time Saving RA Tips?
  • Good Sources For Readalikes For Very New Books Besides NoveList?
  • I’m a Fraud. There’s So Much I Don’t Know. What Should I Do?
  • What Is The Genre You Wish Was Read More At Your Library? What Are You Doing To Try To Fix This?
  • Does Anyone Still Do Printed Booklists?
  • What Is The Best Way To Train Staff Who Know RA Basics But Lack Confidence? Another question we didn’t get to but was similar and answered here-- When You Become The “Expert” How Do You Empower Others To Try Too?
  • Is There A Resource For Books Containing Violence? Especially Towards Children and Animals.
  • 3 that are similar-- What Do You Do When The Patron Has No Clue What They Want To Read Even After 10 Leading Questions? And How To Handle The “I Like Everything” Patron? Or The Patron Who Wants a “Good Story” But Refuses To Elaborate?
  • How Do You Deal With Impatience and Disappointment When Books Are Not Immediately Available?
  • Fear: Are They Being Creepy Or Do They Really Want To Know More About 50 Shades of Grey?????
  • My Nightmare Situation-- “I Want A Happy Book.”

Monday, November 13, 2017

Call to Action Requested Rerun-- Listening to a Book IS Reading

Last week, while I was at ARRTCon, someone came up to me to ask what she should say to people who insist on arguing with her that listening to an audiobook is NOT the same as reading it.

We were in between other things and I only could talk to her briefly, but I did promise to post something on my blog about it. While looking through the blog over the weekend with her question in mind, I found this Call to Action from June 2016 when I address the various arguments against audiobooks as reading and debunk them.

I double checked all of the links and they still work. Please click through or read the post below. It is a well reasoned argument against those who continue to claim that listening to a book does not qualify as reading it.

Don’t forget there are many Call to Action posts archived here that deal with a variety of these larger issues. You can always check there for more information.

And finally, thanks to the person who asked me the question when she saw me. I talked to so many people at ARRTCon I can’t remember exactly who asked me this question, I apologize for that. But, please if there are questions you have about serving patrons please contact me, anytime. I want to help you deal with the issues that are most pressing to you as you need the assistance, but I need to know what those issues are if you don’t tell me.


MONDAY, JUNE 20, 2016
RA for All: Call to Action-- Listening to a Book Is Reading
As I mentioned here previously, June is Audiobook Month, and although it is 2016, there are still loud voices out in the wider world that claim Audiobooks are NOT READING!?!

Today, I am calling those people out. Unfortunately, I have met some of these people and they work in libraries and help leisure readers. I have even talked to book discussion leaders who forbid their participants to listen to the book. Recently. Seriously.

To these people I say, “YOU ARE WRONG AND STUPID.” There is no middle ground here. I cannot and will not apologize for this opinion.

One of my very first posts on this blog [9 yrs ago] ever was an article in the New York Times in August of 2007 which questioned “Are Audio Books Cheating?” I have had strong opinions on this topic for a long time, and it saddens me that I still have to fight this fight. [Click herefor everything I have tagged audio books, including reviews.]

If you come across one of these library workers or a patron who wants to tell you reading audio books is not reading, you have my permission to chastise them.  In fact, if you are not allowed to tell co-workers and patrons they are wrong and stupid, I get that.  It’s not always the best idea, so I have a solution. Quote/cite me and yelling at them. I really don’t mind. Say Becky says you’re wrong and stupid...

...Or, you can use some of these more polite ways to counter this uneducated opinion.

First read the post from No Shelf Required entitled “Are you a “reader” when listening to an audiobook? Yes of course.” Not only are there links to documents that support the educational and literacy benefits of listening to audiobooks, but they are also announcing their increased audiobook content. Yay, more places for audiobook reviews.

Second, contemplate this point from that same article:

"And please think back to when you read the book The Reader (or watched the movie with Kate Winslet). Did you consider that perhaps it’s not only about the Holocaust and coming to terms with the past? Wasn’t it also about a woman who couldn’t read but insisted that the man she was having an affair with read to her out loud? Wasn’t she THE READER even though she wasn’t the one reading?"
That is a succinct, moving, and accurate argument.

Third, look up the definition of “reading." Reading is not solely defined by reading words on the page of a book. It never was before and it certainly isn’t now. The definition supports me in this statement. “Reading” is the activity of interpreting the world around you.

When it comes to interpreting stories specifically though, the word is used for watching a play, listening to music, reading graphic novels, the newspaper, etc... At libraries we also teach Internet literacy-- how to read the information we find on the web. All of this is reading.

I could go on forever ranting about the problems with saying that “reading” only counts when you sit down and look at a physical book, but that is a side rant off the topic of today’s call to action.  Let’s get back to audio books, this is their special month.

As an experienced audiobook reader I can honestly tell you that I experience the story in the same way whether I read the page or listen. For me, some books are better if someone reads it to me, and still others I would never have gotten through on paper, but I can’t imagine my life without having “read” them.  Seveneves is the most recent example of that last point.

Experiencing a story is reading it. How you get the story into your brain is your choice. But if you get  it in there, you have read it. Simple as that.

So get out there and start finding people a story-- whether it is real of fiction. This is what we do. But don’t ever tell them there is only one correct way to read.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Guest Post by a First Time Library Conference Attendee

I have been a librarian for over 17 years, but I still remember being nervous at my very first library conference. Sometimes the nerves can be so great that they take away from your enjoyment and learning opportunities.

Now, as a conference veteran, I feel like one of my jobs as a library worker trainer is to share my advice for making the most of your conference experience. So, back in June, right before ALA I had this post with nontraditional conference advice and then just before my state conference, I had this series of posts where I wrote about my experience in order to inspire you to get more out of your own conference experience.

I have had wonderful feedback about these types of posts, receiving emails and tweets from others who greatly appreciated them, but recently, a new librarian from VA, Bridget, reached out to me to share exactly how she took my inspiration and ran with it. After a few email exchanges I realized her story was important for all of you to hear.

So today, here is Bridget, to explain how she kept a conference journal. I am so proud to have inspired Bridget to take her continuing education and her conference experience into her own hands. There is much all of us can learn from Bridget, those of you who are new to the profession and even us grizzled veterans.

Take it away Bridget

Like many of you, I read Becky’s post in early October announcing her upcoming visit to the Illinois Library Association conference, and encouraging all of us to consider writing about and sharing with her (and her readers) our state library conference experience if we attend ours.  As it so happens, I was getting ready to travel to Norfolk the very next week to attend the Virginia Library Association conference as my first-ever library conference.  I had been thinking “I really should make some record of this conference beyond my notes with content from the sessions” since those kinds of thoughts don’t come easily to me and the ones that do never seem to stick around.  Becky’s post inspired me to make sure that record actually happened, so I sent her an e-mail to let her know she had inspired me.  She asked if I would consider writing about my writing process, so I’m here today to tell you that you, too, can write about your state conference experience in a meaningful way, and how I went about doing mine.
First, a brief introduction:  I got my MLS in 2015 having attended grad school immediately after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in IT.  I am currently working in a “non-traditional” role as a contractor within the Federal government, but my career goal is to work as a “front-line” librarian.  I would love to be in a public library (my reason for following RA for All), but would be okay with a “front-line” job in any library setting where I would focus on working with adults.  I have not been feeling like I am a librarian since I am not working in a traditional role, and I hoped that attending VLA would help me feel like the kind of librarian I want to be for a few days and give me the opportunity to get some job search advice. 
Now I will talk about how I went about writing my conference journal: Over that weekend after Becky’s post and before my conference, I thought about the kinds of things I thought I would want to know in the future about my experience at the conference, and planned the entries I would make into this journal.   Since I struggle with remembering how I felt while having an experience in any area of my life, I knew I wanted to record that information for posterity.   Since going to your first-ever library conference is a big deal (at least it was for me), I thought I might want to know in the future how I felt in the few days before the conference, and also my thoughts after having attended the whole thing.  
I also wrote about my goals and expectations for the conference.  An excerpt of that part of my pre-conference journal entry is below.  Keep in mind this was my first conference.  
“I have established some goals and expectations for the next few days.  My number one goal is to have fun immersing myself in the wider library world and being surrounded by hundreds of fellow librarians while feeling like I’m actually a librarian (I don’t in my current job)!  I have established two other goals.  One is to introduce myself to at least one person in each session and break.  Hopefully I can make some contacts that I can continue after we get home.  My other goal is a two-part one.  The first part is to take advantage of everything they have to offer to early career and job-hunting librarians so I can learn as much as possible about networking, job-hunting, and advancing my career.  The second part is to absorb as much information as I can about the latest trends in libraries so I can remain up-to-speed in that regard.  I know these are lofty goals, but I hope they are attainable.” 
I also knew I wanted to record details about each session.  I took copious notes on what the presenters said in the sessions I found relevant to my current state in life, and a few notes in the others.  For the journal, I took a journalist’s approach and used the 5 “Ws” to create a consistent guide for what I would record in the journal.  My four questions were: who was presenting, what did they talk about (i.e. general topic), what were my takeaways, and why did I choose this session.   Here is the paragraph I wrote about one of the sessions I attended (about academic library job searching): 
“This session option was presented by a librarian at Virginia Commonwealth University.  The topic was tips and tricks related to the academic library job search process.  I attended the session because I wanted to get her perspective on this process and hopefully learn something new about it.  I got her perspective, but she didn’t say anything about job searching in academic libraries that I didn’t already know.”
As I mentioned, I wanted to be sure to have a record of how I felt having experienced the entire conference.  Here is the beginning of that journal entry:
“By the conclusion of day one, I had several thoughts running through my head about things that surprised me.  I wasn’t expecting that no one would talk between sessions, so I didn’t do much talking and therefore didn’t accomplish my goal of talking to at least one person at each session.  I had thought that people would talk to those around them while waiting for sessions to begin. But it is kind of hard to do that when the room you’re in is set up to hold 100 people, no more than a dozen people attend the session, and everyone spreads out across the entire room.”
Now I will answer the one remaining question: what was my writing timeline.  A couple days before I left, I took some time to gather the thoughts I had been having in the time leading up to the conference about what I was expecting to experience and hoping to get out of the conference, and write a journal entry with them.  Each day of the conference, I took time between sessions to write my short answer to each of the four W questions I established about the session I had just attended while it was fresh in my brain.  Then, each night I made sure I hadn’t forgotten to answer any of the questions for any session and wrote down my overall thoughts about the day.  Then the afternoon after I got home after the conference, I wrote journal entries for each day of the conference using my notes for each session, and an entry with my thoughts after having attended the whole thing.  That way, the event was still fresh in my brain.  
I hope that I will be able to look back over this journal in the years to come and remember my experience in a better way than if I had just written notes during each session.  Having done it once (thereby proving to myself that I can indeed be introspective), I will now be sure to write a similar journal when I do conference-style professional development in the future.  It is my hope that by reading this entry of RA for All, you will realize that it really isn’t that scary to write a conference journal, and give you an idea of what to write about if you hadn’t the foggiest of one.  If someone for whom reflecting on one’s thoughts is difficult can write a reflection journal, you can too!

Thursday, November 9, 2017

ARRTCon Booktalking Slides and An Explanation of How Genre Unconference Will Work For Attendees and All of My Readers

Today I will be both a presenter and an attendee at ARRTCon- a 1 day, choose your own RA Adventure. 

We have created this page with all of the handouts and slides for the day. Anyone can access these whether you attended or not. For example, my Booktalking program slides are linked here already.

Please check back frequently because there are more notes and slides to be added in the days to come. 

Also many of us will be live Tweeting the event from the different rooms and programs using #arrtreads.

All of this info is important, but I want to spend the bulk of this post talking about the two sessions of the Genre Unconference that I will be moderating today at 1:20 and 2:05. 

I gathered a group of ARRT Steering Committee members to be my victims, oh, I mean volunteers. Seriously though, I have asked them to come to share their deepest, darkest RA fears in order to encourage others to share theirs. I will be the guide to this process and chime in occasionally. Mostly I will be recording what is said here to create a handout all of you can access on the ARRT website next week.

My goal is to make these sessions as free form as possible. I did ask my panel a few questions ahead of time so we can start things off and give people time to write down their questions. Here are those:

  1. What is your biggest genre fear?
  2. What is your biggest genre fail moment? What did you do?
  3. What is the genre that you wish was read more at your library? And, what are you doing, or what haven’t you yet done, to fix this?
  4. What is your favorite resource for your least favorite genre?

We also have some questions that people have already contributed through our Google Poll, but the key to this program is me encouraging everyone who is there contributing their questions, anonymously, on their post-it notes.

We want to make this program a safe space to ask any question you have about serving leisure readers, no matter the question. Our goal is to address as many issues and concerns as possible, and to answer them honestly using our various years of experience. As the moderator, I will also be encouraging people in the audience to be a part of offering answers. We are all in this crazy RA Service adventure together. We all have things to ask, yes, but we also have so much to share to help each other too. I am just providing the guidance and space.

And the entire time, as I said above, I will be keeping notes, so the discussions from both sessions will be recorded, but even more importantly, I will keep all of the questions you ask and I promise, even if we don’t get to it in the sessions, I will address them here on the blog.

I am so excited to moderate this panel. Together we will address your deepest and darkest RA fears. Together we will share tips and tricks that have worked. Together we will assess our successes and failures to see what we can learn from both. And I will get a sense of what your biggest concerns are so I can keep being helpful to you.

Stay tuned.

Now let’s get this ARRTCon started.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Handling TBR Anxiety

Today I am going to tackle a topic that probably causes library workers the most personal anxiety-- the "To Be Read" [TBR] list.

For some of you there is a TBR list in the hundreds [or even thousands] on Goodreads or in a spreadsheet. For others the virtual list is also accompanied by a teetering pile of precariously stacked physical books, a pile that can collapse at any moment, tall enough to possibly cause physical injury.

Library workers talk all the time about their anxiety over how many books are on their TBR or about how they keeping meaning to read a book but can’t get it it or something about never getting to all the books they want to read. It is a never ending cycle, but it’s also a job hazard. We know about all of the books that we would love personally; we know about all of the books we would want to read; and we know backlist gems are still great reads. While our patrons might forget about the newest, hottest, shiniest books after a few months, we never forget. We brood over it. We feel actual pain that the book will not be read by us.

I know this is not an exaggeration because I have been this person, I have felt these feelings. I have had an actual panic attack and anxiety dreams over the books I wanted to read but couldn’t get to.  This is not a joke. This time of year it is even worse. With all the best lists coming out, the number of books on your TBR will grow and grow. All those best books you never got to.

Well, I have a treatment for TBR anxiety that has worked for me and today I am going to share it with you. And while what follows may sound a bit snarky, I assure you I am totally serious. It’s funny, yes, but the humor is there to help conquer the true and real anxiety.

The first step begins with some tough love/an intervention by me. Brace yourself though, because it is harsh....

YOU WILL NEVER READ ALL OF THE BOOKS! Not all the ones on your TBR pile, not all the books you want to read, not all the books in the world. It is impossible; you cannot and will not do it.

Take some breaths and let that sink in. Seriously telling myself this- out loud- in ALL CAPS was my first step toward tackling my book problem.

Now this is the first step toward acceptance that the TBR itself, the list or pile or both, needs to be addressed.

Step two is to take your TBR and sort it into a few categories.

  • “Read About”-- Books you could take off the shelf and leaf through- read the summary, the first chapter or so to get a feel for how it is written. Also look those titles up on NoveList or Goodreads while you are physically holding them and read about them. Read reviews- both professional and reader reviews. On NoveList click around and look at the readalikes, other books with similar appeal, etc... Take your TBR and mark 4-5 books in this new “Read About” category. Now make an effort to do those 4-5 in a month. Set up a Goodreads shelf just for your “Read About” books so you can even take some notes on appeal and readalikes; if you take them directly from NoveList note that. Once you get through the 4-5 you designated and have now removed from the list, go back to your TBR and pick 4-5 more. You may not get to read these books cover to cover, but you will know a lot more about them.
  • “Suggestion to a Patron”-- These are books that you want to read but you can also think of a few patrons who might like them too. Mark these as “Suggest to Patrons” in your TBR list. Give them out to patrons and tell them that you don’t have time to read it, but you think they will like it. Encourage that patron to come back and tell you all about it. This is my favorite category because not only does it allow someone to have the joy of reading the book, but in also creates a situation where patrons are giving me feedback. And bonus-- I get to hear a patron book talk a book. Hearing someone else opinion is fun and a great training tool. You can now remove this book from your TBR because it has been read (just not by you). 
    • You can get a lot of books off of your TBR this way. This is my biggest TBR thinning trick. Handing them out to readers who could love these books is sometimes more enjoyable than reading them myself. Seriously. When someone comes back and tells me they loved a book I suggested but didn’t get to read myself, I feel like a proud momma. It is an all encompassing joy and pride that literally warms you from the inside. Again, I am not being snarky. I have truly felt this MANY times and it feels a whole lot better than the anxiety I get from staring at the book title on my TBR.
  • “Read over the Holidays”-- Every year for the last 3 years I have taken two of the “Best” books from that year, books I know I won’t get to but really want to read, and I read them over the holiday break. So last year, I read Underground Railroad and News of the World to start 2017. Both made many top lists by both critics and readers to end 2016. I gave myself the holiday present of reading them to start 2017. This year I have chosen The Leavers and Sing, Unburied, Sing. I have no anxiety as they keep being mentioned as among the year’s best because I know I will get to them, and I am looking forward to reading them when I have more time.

This is the plan that worked for me. Look, it doesn’t magically get better overnight, but I can say after three years of consciously doing this- I have eliminated my TBR anxiety without eliminating the list.  In fact, you can keep freely adding to the list because as I have found, not keeping the list is the biggest anxiety maker. And in the end, I have actually learned much more about the books I will never get to read cover to cover than I would have by just keeping them on the list and being anxious about it

I have gotten even better at my job as a result of tackling my anxiety-- and my TBR list is now too short. I need to keep adding titles to it for the “Suggestion” category. I now actively seek out titles to add to my TBR so I can spread the joy of reading them to others. What a turn around.

Now since this is partly a psychological issue, I know my advice won’t work for every person out there reading this. All of our brains handle anxiety differently; however, I have shared this with a few dozen people and many have said it has helped them feel better about their TBR so I feel like it is worth passing on in the hopes that it will help others.

Give it a try. You have nothing to lose except a whole lot of unnecessary anxiety. And if it works for you, let me know.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

What I’m Reading: Booklist Reviews-- Raid and Down and Out in Purgatory

Two reviews today. These are my draft reviews with more information added. For the official reviews you need to go to Booklist Online

Speaking of, the first review appeared online only.


Merbeth, K.S.
July 2017. 368p. Orbit, paperback, $9.99 (9780316308731); e-book (9780316308724)First published October 12, 2017 (Booklist Online).
Merbeth is back with her second book set in the world of 2016’s excellent BITE but this is a parallel novel, not a sequel, told in the same world but from a different perspective, that of notorious, but principled, bounty hunter Clementine as she kidnaps the ruthless leader of the Eastern Wastelands, Jedediah Johnson. These two young but experienced survivors make their way towards the border with the West, where Clementine hopes to turn Jed in both for the bounty and accolades, but of course, this is a post-apocalyptic landscape where nothing is easy and things quickly take quite a different turn. Just like in BITE, Merbeth throws action sequence after action sequence at us with plenty of breath catching breaks to develop the characters we meet along the way, even allowing our old friends from BITE a few cameo appearances, all the while peppering the entire story with sharp humor and a serious contemplation of the place of “morality” in such a harsh world. But it is Clementine and Jed who steal the show. Their frenemy relationship, clashing world views, and struggle to figure out the best way to live in the Wastelands are what keep you turning the pages. Think Thelma and Louise meets Mad Max and you understand a what you get with this original, thought provoking, and fun post-apocalyptic adventure.
YA: With young adult main characters at the story’s core and lots of action, albeit with plenty of violence to go along with the action, this is a title perfect for teens looking for a new post-apocalyptic tale, especially those looking for a little more depth. 
Further Appeal: This is a series that is perfect to suggest to anyone who likes well developed characters, lots of action, and a post-apocalyptic setting. The focus here is on the action and characters, not on the details of the dystopian world, so if you are looking for details as to how America got to be this way, that's not here. But how to live in this world is here in spades. These are characters that don't know any other way. Watching them navigate their reality is interesting and though provoking.

I also like the way Merbeth tells the story with the intense character focused sections alternating with crazy action and battle scenes. You don't get bored with the storyline or the character development, you just keep wanting more.

This is page-turning, pulp, speculative fiction at its best. I dare you to put either book down once you start them.

Three Words That Describe This Book: parallel novel, action, great characters

Readalikes: Click here to see my review of BITE for readalikes. To this list I would also add, Y: The Last Man graphic novel series by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra.

The next review is in the November 1, 2017 print issue and I gave it a STAR

Down and Out in Purgatory: The Collected Stories of Tim Powers.

Powers, Tim (author).

Nov. 2017. 496p. Baen, hardcover, $25 (9781481482790)
First published November 1, 2017 (Booklist).
Powers has been writing some of the best and most influential science fiction, fantasy and horror since the 1970s, winning numerous awards. He is a master of blending the very best of all of these genres into compelling yet intricately plotted, atmospheric stories that tend to feature real figures from history but in situations, that with just a small injection of speculative elements, get a whole lot more interesting, very quickly. With such a large body of work, it may be hard to introduce new readers to the very best of Powers, but with this new collection of 20 previously published and 1 brand new story, readers are privy to breadth of Power’s vision in one volume, including the award winning stories “The Bible Repairman” and “Down and Out in Purgatory.” Set mostly in California, but not the state of sunshine and Hollywood, rather the California and its people who are in the shadows, both literally and speculatively, these are snippets of dark, thought provoking goodness that are just frightening enough to make you keep the lights blaring but not enough to give you nightmares. The never before published, “Sufficient Unto the Day,” serves as a good example to his style, as it describes an typical, unhappy family at Thanksgiving dinner, except for the family ghosts who join them, in fishbowls, on the table. However, what elevates this collection is the commentary on the tales by Powers himself which are included after each story, commentary that is both deeply personal and instructive. A treat for fans and newbies alike, put this collection into the hands of your readers who enjoy genre blending authors as varied as Jim Butcher, Dean Koontz or China Mieville.
Further Appeal: Tim Powers is I name I barely knew before a few years ago, but he is extremely influential and we need to introduce him to younger readers. This is the book to do that.

Many of the stories felt like they could be new even though they are not. That says much about his writing and its timelessness.

The appeal here is for fans of weird, dark fantasy, but what is so cool are his statement for each story. There is a very good introduction also.

Read a few or read them all.

Three Words That Describe This Book: slightly askew, dark, intricately plotted

Readalikes: The three I mentioned above are a nice example of writers of well-plotted, atmospheric, speculative fiction. But really, anyone who enjoys atmospheric stories that straddle horror and fantasy are potential readers here.