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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Special Reading Interests Discussion

Tonight in GSLIS 763 we are tackling the last grouping of books.  It is hard to believe that there are only 2 weeks left in the Spring 2011 semester.

At the end we focus on what we have reluctantly agreed to call "Special Reading Interests."  Exactly which books fit this designation will vary depending on where you live.  Here in the Chicago area the most popular of these are Inspirational, African American, Latino/s, and GLBTQ.  Specifically at the BPL these are highly popular areas of reading interest for our patrons.

After talking in general about how to work with patrons who are seeking books by genre and special reading interest, we focus on these 4 areas, their resources, the most popular authors, and the genre trends.

Working with any special reading interest collection is always tricky.  If you pull these books out, you risk being accused of ghettoizing them; deeming them as not worthy enough to be the the general fiction.  However, when you do not pull out these books, readers complain that you aren't paying attention to their reading needs.  In other words, you cannot win.

How do you tackle this double-edged sword?  I have found success by making sure your staff is educated about reading options for your largest special reading interest groups.  Also, listen to your patrons.  What do they want?  How are they accessing the books?  We use this 2 pronged attack as we help readers at the BPL.   Let me give you concrete examples:

For Inspirational that is religious we use a sticker; however, for more general inspirational that is not religious (like Mitch Album) we do not.  Our readers who use the stickers to find reading suggestions are looking for Christian fiction.  However, we are aware of books which have an inspirational message and pull them out for displays and annotated lists throughout the year.

For African American, we do not use stickers; however, we do have a high urban fiction readership. To help both our readers and the staff, our fearless leader, Kathy, works to keep an urban fiction list both in print and on the Browsers Corner blog.  We also frequently pull out urban fiction for small mini-displays. 

For GLBTQ, we are blessed to have an active GLBTQ group in Berwyn, BUNGALO, who are also huge library supporters.  They have their monthly meetings at the library, give us a monetary donation every year, and are active volunteers in the Friends of the Library.  As a result, we have a great GLBTQ collection, but we do not pull it out.  In fact, I highly argue against anyone pulling out their GLBTQ books.  Why?  Some GLBTQ readers could be struggling with their feelings about their sexuality and would not want to have to go to a designated area where they would stand out.  Rather, I argue for actively stickering your GLBTQ titles so that readers who are still uncomfortable asking for help can find the books on their own.  This needs to be done with your fiction and nonfiction titles, by the way.

For Latino/a, we do nothing.  I am not sure why.  I think because there is confusion as to whether or not South American authors should be grouped here too.  We do have a large popular fiction collection in Spanish and have a high bilingual patron base.  But like African American, the Latino/a authors are mixed in throughout our collection and at least once a year we highlight the titles with a large display and an updated annotated list of titles of interest.  Interestingly, some of the younger Latino/a writers are moving more toward Urban Lit too.

So where should you go for resources to help your patrons with these special reading interests.  I will give you one web based suggestion for each to get you started.

Inspirational:  I like Best Inspiration because it encompasses the full range of what people find inspirational.  They have also captured the biggest trend in the area--bucket lists.

African-American: For the mainstream, I like The African American Literature Book Club.  For your Urban Lit readers try Street Fiction, a site run by a librarian to promote and educate about the genre.  He has reviews, lists, and interviews.

GLBTQ:  The gold-standard resource for GLBTQ reading interests is The LAMBDA Literary Foundation.  No more commentary needed.  This site is full of information that represents the full breadth of the reading interest and has information for authors and readers.

Latino/a:  I like Latino Stories, a resource created by a teacher, Jose B. Gonzales.  He has links to other websites, resources, awards, and best lists.

Now, I want to know what other special reading interests are popular at your library.  How do you help these readers?

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