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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

ARRT Takes Over the Blog: Genre X by Rebecca Malinowski

Today I want to showcase Steering Committee Member Rebecca Malinowski's work with her team at the Oak Park Public Library [an immediate neighbor to the BPL].  Below, she is sharing the new Genre X list which some of you may have seen at ALA in June.

Genre X at the Oak Park Public Library started as a book discussion for adults in their 20s and 30s in 2007. The late start time and off-site location appeal to working adults who have a lengthy commute or parents with young children who need attention during the after school hours. Our moderators have also purposefully selected titles we think have special appeal to adults in their 20s and 30s and avoided the more typical book club fare. All of our past and future selections are available on our Goodreads page, which we update regularly.

The Big List of Books and Media was originally developed in 2009 and featured books, movies, music, television, and websites for our target audience. Genre X’s current team, Alex Skinner, Jennifer Czajka, and I, revamped the list with the help of our current practicum student, Brandon Buckley. The list is designed as a quick resource for librarians looking for display material, book club selections, or a readers advisory tool.

Major changes to this list include:
  • removing the music section--we decided that music is too vast a category with very widely ranging appeal to narrow down
  • including more television shows and films--with the growth in popularity of streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, tv and movies from childhood and adolescence are getting additional spotlight.
  • noting key authors or directors--for most of the creators on this list, we were able to narrow their work down to the title with the most appeal for this group. Some authors, though, have produced a body of work that appeals to our audience.

We talk a lot about titles appealing to our audience, which raises the questions, “Who is our audience?” and “What appeals to them?”

First, our audience. Genre X targets adults in their 20s and 30s in Oak Park, IL. According to the 2010 census, 26% of Oak Park’s residents are adults in their 20s and 30s, which is in line with our cardholder data. Looking at the same data set, we see that Oak Parkers are predominantly identify as white, with 22% of the population identifying as Black or African American, 7% Hispanic or Latino of any race, and 5% Asian.

Anecdotally, our audience is largely young professionals, with a small number undergraduate and graduate students. When it comes to our book discussion attendees, we see people who have strong opinions but are fairly adventurous readers. Historically, when asked if they’d like to assist with selecting titles for the group, they were happy to leave selection to staff.

In selecting books for our discussions, we aim for titles that we think will specifically appeal to our target audience, and that are, in some way, different than many traditional book club selections. We do this to discourage attendees from outside of our target demographic and to attract positive attention from potential members.

We select titles twice each year. By selecting five or six months at a time (we don’t have a discussion in December), we are able to look at our slate of books as a whole and create a diverse body. A typical slate will include at least one non-fiction title, a translated work or title that focuses on diversity, and a balance of male and female authors. We read across genres, and have included Young Adult and graphic novels in our selections.

We also try to choose titles that our readers recognize, but may not have read. For example, this month we wanted to read a piece by F. Scott Fitzgerald, but felt like The Great Gatsby would be a reread for most of our group members. Instead, we’ve chosen Tender is the Night, and expect that at least part of our discussion will compare the two works.

In putting together our Big List of Books and Media, our focus was broader, but we still tried to highlight titles that specifically appeal to adults in our age range. As mentioned above, our group reads across genres, and we think many adults in this demographic do as well. For that reason, our list includes literary fiction, genre fiction, short stories, graphic novels, and nonfiction. In fact, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to pin down one unifying thread between all of our selections for this list.

Many of the works on it, regardless of format, are works we consider seminal or formative. For example, The Great Gatsby, which we passed over as a book club selection, is on the list. Why? Because we think that many adults in our audience would have read it in high school or college, and that it can serve as a cultural touchstone. Being a potential cultural touchstone was a key factor in choosing movies and television shows.

We also consider content. While there are many exceptions, we look for titles that feature adults in their 20s or 30s, coming of age storylines, or reflections on youth. Nostalgia also plays a key role both in selecting titles for this list. While we avoided many mainstream bestsellers on this list, we did include Ready Player One by Ernest Cline because of the emphasis on 80s pop culture. The counter cultural tendencies of our group also play an important role. Hugh Howey’s Wool hasn’t been very widely read yet, but it’s viral popularity online makes it an important work to know when it comes to working with this age group.

Especially notable in nonfiction and documentary films are the number of humor and music titles. Humorists tend to have very specific audiences, and we think we’ve included those most suited to ours. Works in any format centered on music can also be powerful attractors for this audience. Just Kids by Patti Smith doesn’t cover an era or genre of music that has specific appeal to our audience, but the nature of the story--young artists trying to get their start--is in itself appealing and a regular occurrence in books and films about musicians.

In the end, this is really just a list of things we like, our readers like, our online sources buzz about. Things we think librarians working with adults in their 20s and 30s should recognize. For some, like me, the film section could serve as a sort of syllabus for catching up with the rest of my generation. For others, the nonfiction section could introduce help start a whole collection RA practice. And for others, it might be fun to close their eyes, point to a line on the page and start reading.

Rebecca Malinowski is a librarian at the Oak Park Public Library, where she works with the genre X team to moderate a book discussion for adults in their 20s and 30s and plans social and cultural events for the same demographic. Read more about genre X or connect with Rebecca.

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