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.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Essay on How We Consume Media

Whenever I present a RA training program, I make it clear to my audience that I am using the word “book” as a stand in for all leisure media people consume through the library. I do not treat item types or formats as distinct.

By this point most library workers see things the same way I do. When we talk about “Readers’ Advisory,” we are talking about library workers matching the patron in from of them with the right leisure read, watch, listen, etc... for them at that moment.

However, we are ahead of the curve. The rest of the world still seems to have this PRINT vs DIGITAL mentality. That is all they want to talk about-- patrons, mainstream media, publisher studies.  What is being lost in this simplification are the WHYs and HOWs people consume media today.

As library workers, we need to be aware of trends in media consumption.  For example, think about how hard it would be to do your job if you were not aware of the binge watching phenomenon. This is a huge shift in how many of our patrons use our materials and online streaming services from just a couple of years ago.  When I help people who want a new show or series to read, I need to make sure to ask how long a series they are looking for and if they want one that is already done so they can experience it in its entirety. This is something most people didn’t care about before, but now, more have strong feelings about this than do not.

That question in general was not one I thought to ask back in 2000 when I was a baby librarian, but with changing methods in delivery and consumption, it was one I had to ask all of the time by 2015.

The point I am trying to make today is as part of our jobs as Readers’ Advisors we need to stay aware of how and why the public consumes their media not just what they are reading [be that a specific title or a format].

To get you thinking about this important service issue a little more seriously, I suggest you read this excellent and well researched essay from The Millions-- Beyond Digital vs. Print: On How We Consume Media. There is much there that you can use to better serve a patron right now.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

ARRT Update: Fantasy Boot Camp Notes, Horror Assignment, and a Bonus Video

Earlier this month, the ARRT Speculative Fiction Genre Study met to have our Fantasy Boot Camp.

The detailed notes are now available here. As our notetaker extraordinaire Karen said in her email to members... "feel free to share them far and wide.”

As I have mentioned before, at ARRT we realize that we are lucky to have such an established genre study program AND live in an area where not only is RA education a priority but also we are densely populated so people are able to attend our 6x a year meetings in high numbers.  We take our work seriously when we meet, but we also want to share the knowledge with as many people as possible.

So please, pass these notes on.  Use them to help you, your staff and your patrons. Pass them on to colleagues too.  Just let people know you got them from us.  Thanks.

You can access the notes from this genre study and previous ones [where available] on our web site.

I also want to remind my readers that this genre study is different from all which came before in that we are not looking at authors by genre and subgenre.  Yes we had a SF boot camp, a Fantasy boot camp, and next month I will lead a Horror boot camp, but that was just to define the genres, set the baseline, and make sure we were all on the same page.  After that, we are going to discuss all the genres together by grouping key authors by their major appeal to readers.

We met last week to outline our plans for these meetings which begin with the Doorway of “setting.”  We picked setting to go first because most of these books prominently featuring setting-- especially SF and FSY-- but that also made it harder for us to narrow down the authors we will discuss for that day.

I am not going to reveal those author details now, you will have to wait for the August meeting for that, but I did want to remind you that these meetings are coming and that I AM VERY EXCITED for them. Teaching the genre study this way is going to maximize both the learning by us, the participants, AND provide us with a way to help patrons immediately. The notes will be even better than usual because they will be focused around the WHY people read an author not its subgenre only.

But back to the last boot camp, our next meeting, I will obviously be the horror leader.  Here is the assignment:
Upcoming Meeting: Horror Boot CampAugust 4, 2016, 2-4 PMGlenview Public LibraryFeatured resource: (Horror Writers Association website)Assignment:Read Stephen King’s The ShiningRead your choice of any fiction by Joe Hill or Jonathan Maberry (EXCEPT for Maberry’s Joe Ledger thrillers)
Finally, we are asking everyone to watch this conversation between Stephen King and George R R Martin from earlier this month.  We thought it was both a wonderful bridge between the Fantasy assignment [to read Game of Thrones] and the Horror assignment [to read The Shining]. Plus, it was just awesome and fun.

Monday, June 27, 2016

RA for All: Call to Action-- In House Usage...It Counts!

For today’s Call to Action I want to remind everyone that when we are doing collection development and gathering data on materials and their usage, we cannot forget about those who use our collection inside our buildings but never check any materials out.

In-house usage of a library item is a use of that library item. It is equivalent to a check out even though we cannot capture it in our circulation statistics. More importantly, the person using that item is an equal patron to someone who checks it out and takes it home. I see way too many library workers who think that someone who uses an item in their buildings is a lower level of patron than someone who takes the item home.  This way of thinking needs to stop-- IMMEDIATELY.

Many of the reasons people use our collections in-house only are socioeconomically based. It is part of the larger problem of equal access for all in this country in general.  So common reasons are homelessness and where I used to work, undocumented immigrants. I always reminded people without legal status who used the library that we don’t check your immigration status nor do we care. But since we don’t check it, we cannot give any information to the authorities either.  All we check is that you live in our community. In fact, in order to get more cards in our citizens' hands we started automatically signing kids up at back to school events. Then the whole family could use the card.

But there are also times when someone who has a card may not want to check out and item and bring it home.  The example someone gave me right when I started as a librarian was perfect. What if you were in an abusive marriage and you wanted to look up information about getting a divorce? You couldn’t use the home computer nor would you want to check out books on your card or bring them home.

And of course, questioning teens, and I don’t just mean LGBTQ issues only.  Many teens don’t feel safe to express themselves or pursue their interests in their homes for a variety of reasons. The library is a safe space and a haven for these kids.

These examples are just tips of the iceberg. Her are some thoughts on how these in-house usage situations may manifest themselves to you, the library worker.

Have you ever been in the stacks and seen a book with a bookmark sticking out? Your first thought is to pull it out, right? But, what if that bookmark is from someone using the item in-house who doesn’t want to lose his place?  True story-- if you pull the bookmark out because it doesn’t belong there, well, just you wait because that same book is going to go missing next. Often it will be purposely mis-shelved or tucked in a corner so that patron knows where it is.  In the meantime, it is lost to everyone.  So just leave the bookmark in. How hard is that? You are not going to explode because of it. Plus you are probably helping someone with much larger issues have something go right in their life.

We need to get over ourselves and let people use the collections in house. Encourage it even. If that means there are some bookmarks sticking out of our books, so what? As long as the materials are on the shelf and those who need and/or want them can access them, then as I see it, everyone wins!

We also had a few people who came to use the computers to watch DVDs. They didn’t check the DVDs out while they were using them in the library, but they would let the desk staff know they had it in case someone was looking for the item while they were using it.

Oh, and if someone comes in and wants to check a movie out while someone is using it on a computer in-house, the person with the library card DOES NOT take precedence over the person currently using it in-house. I have seen that happen at libraries and it makes me very angry. Those with cards DO NOT come before those without, despite what your boss might have told you. Our materials are for everyone.

Now collecting data on in-house usage is not easy, but I have a few ideas that help, are participatory, and fun:

  • The Awesome Box-- Not my idea.  It’s from Harvard. Here is a link to more information, but basically, you put out a box and have patrons put things they think are “Awesome” in the box. The item doesn’t have to have been checked out to go in the box.  You can get your patrons to tell you what they like most about your collections this way-- with or without a library card. 
  • Patron Filled Displays, or as I like to tell people to explain them to their not convinced bosses-- “Makerspace" Displays. They are exactly like they sound. Put up an empty display shelf, give it a title, and ask patrons to fill it using your circulating collection. Now, your tech services people may fein a heart attack because the books aren’t where they are supposed to be, but again, no one is going to die. They are just books people. [On a side note, the number of times I had to say this to coworkers at my library was surprisingly high.] If everyone knows this makerspace display is happening, and then someone can’t find an item where it is supposed to be,  they can....gasp...check the display.  I know, it’s tough putting the patron first. *Becky shakes her head*

Here are some less “radical” ways to to see what people are using but not checking out:

  • Where are your messiest, most out of order shelves? Those areas are probably being used in house. The patrons will use the books and put them back themselves. Also, since pages aren’t necessarily going there to put these materials away [because they weren’t checked out], the shelves get even messier.
  • What materials do you find on tables, abandoned in strange places, with some kind of non-library marking on it, etc....? Those are being used in-house. People are hiding them and/or marking them so they can find them again-- without using traditional methods.
  • Put out huge, clearly marked comment boxes which ask people to tell you what kinds of items they want to see in the collection.
This post is obviously just an overview of the entire in-house usage issue, but my goal with these Call to Action posts is to alert you to concerns that people either simply aren’t aware of or have become complacent about. I hope everyone reading this will at least be more compassionate about and cognizant of in-house usage

Please share your in-house usage stories, ideas, and successes in the comments. 

Friday, June 24, 2016

RA for All Day Off

I am taking today off for two reasons. One, the family is traveling to Iowa to pick the boy child up at his first ever week of sleep away camp and two, everyone is focused on ALA.

So if you are looking for content from me today, look at the Twitter feed box. I will be retweeting and commenting on book and library world news.

Back Monday with a Call to Action about the importance of tracking in-library usage-- not just items that are checked out.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Summer Reading: Try Lists From Other Libraries to Shake Things Up

The other day I was reading the latest issue of Booklist and I saw a review by my former supervisor Kathy.  It was a great review but it made me think of something important to share with all of you.

Her review listed 2 excellent readalike suggestions, but they also made me giggle. Not to go into the details because it is the overall point that matters, but the titles were 2 that we both loved to hand-sell to patrons when we worked together.

This made me think about my own go-to titles that I mention frequently when working with readers.  And then it got me thinking about the larger issue of popular titles to suggest at one library versus another.

Your local library can give AWESOME suggestions. I know Kathy and I did at the BPL, but we all also need to acknowledge that if that same patron went to another library, even if it was only down the street, and especially if it were hundreds of miles away, they could get completely different yet just as AWESOME suggestions.

Just like Kathy or I have our current favorite go-to titles, so too do our colleagues all over the country. But thanks to the web, we can get out of our suggestion ruts and offer our patrons an entirely new perspective on what good book they can read next. These patrons might even discover an entirely new subgenre that they love but never knew about.

This is also a great tactic to use with those patrons who say, “I have already read everything you have.” Of course this is untrue, but what that patron is telling you is that he or she is not longer finding inspiration from your suggestions.

Well, let’s shake things up and offer our patrons reading lists from around the corner or across the country.  That should inspire them to find something new to love.

Here are a few libraries that make it very easy for anyone, anywhere to use their suggested reading lists.

The first is Kathy’s new library, Skokie [IL] Public Library, which puts up easy to access and filter suggested reading lists here.

Lots of libraries do this, but a few go a step further and provide personalized staff reading lists that both promote the expertise of your staff and allow for more personalized reading lists.

A few that I have highlighted in the past are My Librarian from Multnomah County [OR] Library, the Book Squad from Lawrence [KS] Public Library and Bookology from Downers Grove [IL] Public Library.

How different can the recommendations truly be? Well, for example, over at the Book Squad, Kate likes books about farms.  In my urban community I have plenty of patrons who would love books about farms, but honestly none of my employees [myself included] read them.  Kate can provide me with lots of good suggestions I would never have thought of but which would be great to hand out.

Now it’s your turn to share what you know.  Please feel free to share your library’s online book suggestion lists here in the comments, or if you would rather, email me. I will compile them all in a future post.

In the mean time, start looking outside of yourself and your building for book suggestions and open up your patrons to dozens of new books with just a few clicks of the mouse.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Identifying GLBTQ Genre Titles

Click here for some free resources from NoveList with GLBTQ genre titles. Below, I embedded a photo from the newsletter which is a great sampling of what you can expect if you click through

You do not need to have access to NoveList to access this newsletter with some titles to get you started, but if you do have the database, there are also many tips on how to find even more books.

Finding general GLBTQ titles is much easier than it used to be, but serving readers who want a specific genre AND a GLBTQ element takes a higher level of sophistication both in how you have the RA conversation and in the resource you employ.  Right now, I think ONLY NoveList can handle the intersection of those two requests at a high enough level to serve patrons effectively. 

Some genre specific resources will have GLTBQ subheadings, but then you don’t get genre cross-over titles or the specification down to the subegnre level either.

With GLBTQ issues being more forefront in the news over the last year [from good news like marriage equality to horrible news like Orlando] more people are seeking out titles with GLBTQ characters and issues. We need to help all readers who want a GLBTQ frame in any and all stories.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Genres Defined-- Another Perspective

I am in the process of revamping my Demystifying Genre Program to deliver at a library system in August and I was looking for new material to include when I cam across this Book Riot post entitled, “Fiction 101: Literary Genres Defined.

This article is short, but also on target. No, it does not go deep enough for us to start looking at why a patron enjoys the genre, but it does put the most popular genres into perspective quickly and gives 3 example titles to try to understand the genres at it’s most basic level.

Give it a quick look and file the link away, or wait for my new slides where there will also be a link. [August 7]

Right now though, I would suggest using this as a conversation starter with staff for training purposes AND for patrons who are not sure what kind of book they want.  You pull this up, look at it together, and then have a conversation about the type of book the patron in front of you wants.

Often the RA conversation is held up at the start of the interaction because either the patron OR the staff member is lacking the vocabulary to describe what exactly what the reader is looking for. This article helps to close that often insurmountable gap in a way that lets the RA conversation flow.

Again, I realize (as does the author of the piece) that this list of genres and their descriptions is just the tip of the iceberg, but you have to start somewhere. Why not go to the top and then slide down together looking for something wonderful to read?

Finally, this is worth a look even by those of you who consider yourself “experts” at the genres.  I even learned something from the Horror entry. So no excuses. Everyone start clicking and learning.

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 here for 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, June 17, 2016

Summer Reading: Movie to Book Suggestions

The coverage at NPR books never ceases to amaze me. It just keeps getting better and better. Yes they have the standard reviews of new books and interviews with authors, but they also go out of their way to provide book discovery for their readers and listeners in new, interesting, and extremely useful ways. 

Click here to get links to some of their other wonderful suggestion engines and/or resources that I have highlighted on the blog in the past. Any or all of them could be used to find a great summer read, but today I want talk about the newest list from their Summer Entertainment Guide, "Like These Movies? Here are 100+ Things You May Also Like..."

Not the catchiest title, I know, but so practical.  They made this list because no one else had done it, they realized someone needed to, AND they did it with their human brains, not a computer algorithm.  

From their site:

A lot of what we read and watch comes to us through recommendation algorithms. Amazon tells us: People who bought this book also bought this other book, and Netflix says: Because you watched this movie, we think you should watch this other movie.And we welcome our new recommendation robot overlords! 
But this summer, we're going old school — because we haven't found an algorithm that says: If you loved this movie, you'll devour this graphic novel. (Or like this podcast, enjoy this short story ... you get the idea.) 
So we've called in some human help. Here are more than 100 recommendations, courtesy of the living, breathing staff and critics at NPR.
This is a wonderful summer reading suggestion tool for you to pass on to your patrons-- or use it on them.  The suggestions are as diverse and varied as the people who will walk in your doors [who is everyone and anyone].

[On a side note: I personally love the list because it mentions two of my favorite books from 2015 that I recommend to readers at least once a week; heck, yesterday I recommended both of them in the same day to different people: Seveneves by Neal Stephenson and Delicious Foods by James Hannaham.]

Enough about me though. Back to the NPR list.....

Not only is this a great database of suggestions delivered in a way no one else has done, it is also a great conversation starter. Many library workers tell me they have trouble trying to make connections between books and movies for patrons.  Well, no more excuses.  NPR has gotten the conversation started for you. Now it is your job to take the opening and run with it. Summer is the perfect time to practice. We have more people coming in the doors looking for a “good read,” so there are more opportunities to start the RA conversation.

Let’s get started.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

RA for All Roadshow at the Massachusetts Library System’s RA Summit

This morning I am delivering the Keynote address at the Massachusetts Library System’s RA Summit in Worcester, MA.

I am excited to be here for many reasons.

First, it’s an RA Summit and after I am done talking I will get to sit back and participate in the summit as an attendee.

Second,  I have been working on a brand new talk for a few months just for this event. [See below for details.] Entitled, RA Rethink: From Quaint and Comfortable to Cutting Edge, this is a fun, thought provoking, and inspiring keynote which will get everyone to rethink how they provide services to their leisure readers.

Three, I am also participating in the Massachusetts Library System’s 5 in 15 book talks mobile recording booth.  Here is a screen shot of my official talk application :


Can you tell what my theme is? Here’s a hint.

Enough being excited, it’s time to get this day started. Below is the access to the live slides for the participants, and any of you who are interested. 

Click here for slide access