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Friday, August 2, 2013

ARRT Takes Over the Blog: Popular Fiction List

Today's ARRT guest post deals with something Stacey mentioned yesterday:
"And the 4th edition of the ARRT Popular Fiction List, which we published last fall, is now available nationwide on NoveList as a training resource."
I was on the committee that oversaw the creation of this Popular Fiction List. [I was team captain for Crime Fiction and co-Captain for Speculative.] It was a two year process to revise the previous edition, and now that it is available to the whole wide world on NoveList, I thought I would invite the chairperson of the revision committee here to explain what the list is, how we created it, and how you can use it.

So please welcome Debbie Walsh, Head of Adult Services from the Geneva Public Library District.


Well, two years of committee work finally paid off and the fourth edition of the Adult Reading Roundtable Popular Fiction List is now ready for use.  If you have used other editions of The Tool, as ARRT Committee Members lovingly refer to it, than you already know how useful it can be to measure reading strengths and weaknesses.  If you haven’t used it before, perhaps a little history is in order.  In 1999, ARRT Steering Committee members decided that a training device to assist RA managers trying to help staff create reading plans would be useful.  It could help determine which departmental staff members might have natural reading strengths in some genre areas, as well as gauge where work might need to be done to gain reading experience in others.  The ARRT Genre Workbook was born.  Since then it has been revised three times, the last revision in 2012.  While it’s not exactly meant to be a textbook, it is a close cousin, designed to tackle the question “if you were working on a readers’ advisory desk would you be embarrassed if you didn’t know the name of (fill in the blank/author’s name”)?

 We can’t read everything everyone writes, but we can certainly try to gain exposure to as many authors as possible, and, at the very least, achieving name recognition of popular authors we may never take the time to read is crucial as we talk to patrons about the books they tell us they enjoy, or think they might enjoy.  At the heart of the workbook is a simple grid that the individual using the workbook uses to measure NH – never heard of this author,  H – heard of this author, RA – read about this author or R – have read this author.  The goal is clearly to move a set of tick marks from the NH column to the R column to increase knowledge of popular authors.  And oh, those popular authors – the reason for the four editions!  Every five years or so, the ARRT Steering Committee has peered closely into the lists created of authors we should all know, and discovered that life has happened.  Some have, sadly, died, some have diminished in popularity and new ones are so obviously missing from lists that they need to be included.  The ARRT Popular Fiction List is a moving target that is, in the truest sense, a popularity contest.  Popularity is superficial and fleeting, but as readers’ advisors, it’s important to stay on top of what’s hot, what’s not and where reading trends are moving. 

The biggest difference between this update and the previous three editions was the decision to create “umbrella” categories.  In the past, we used a straight alphabetical list of twenty or so definable genres such as mystery, science fiction, romance, historical fiction, etc. and created appropriate lists of important authors for each set.  This time, we decided that we would group “types” of genre fiction together, since patrons don’t always ask us for help finding books that are quite so easy to slot into those narrow genre categories.  Case in point:  the mystery, thriller, suspense and psychological suspense books we all try to define, sometimes without great success, with stickers to distinguish one from the other.  We decided to keep the labels, but put them into one larger set called Crime Fiction, acknowledging that they are related, and it’s not hard to understand how a patron could ask for a book that we think is fiction, (Mary Higgins Clark comes to mind) but they think is mystery.  Since it’s really suspense, addressing the fact that there is a relationship between these sorts of books seemed useful, and we restructured the workbook to deal with that.  Another important umbrella area was Speculative Fiction, where we were able to corral SF, Fantasy, and Horror. 

So, ARRT hopes people will find this new edition of the workbook useful on a number of levels – three we guarantee it will help address are the personal reading plans of individuals, the assessment needs of managers working with new staff members, and the guidance of staff genre studies for whole staff training. 

Warning:  There are a few things it isn’t, and was never intended to be, though.  It is NOT a readalike tool to be taken to the RA desk and used to make suggestions for patrons who want to know “who writes” like (fill in the blank/author’s name.)  The lists are an attempt to place authors who publish in a particular genre together, but are not an indication that author A writes books with the same appeal characteristics as author B.  Don’t be tempted to use it this way – you will get into serious trouble unless you really know the two authors DO write similar books.  Second, it is not definitive or exhaustive – authors come, authors go, the Committee tried to find the best examples of popular authors in our Midwestern, mostly medium-size and largely suburban public libraries.  If your library serves a diverse or very different clientele, you are going to need to make adjustments to the list.  Finally, it is not for work with teens or children.  The authors on the list are writing for adults, and, while some of them might be fine crossover authors for teen readers, or may also write fiction for children, the ARRT Popular Fiction List was created with service to adult patrons in mind.  We are considering a revision of our now out-of-print YA Popular Fiction List…show of hands – would you find that useful?

Available as a printed book (pencil not included) information about purchasing the spiral-bound ARRT Popular Fiction List can be found on the arrtreads.org website.  Ebsco/NoveList also provides access to the workbook for libraries that purchase access to the NoveList database.  Subscribers can search for it on the NoveList website by following links for Professional Resources/Readers’ Advisory Toolbox/Popular Fiction List , and may download a PDF version for personal use if they wish. 

We hope you enjoy using it as much as we enjoyed the challenge of revising it!
Debbie Walsh
Chair, ARRT Steering Committee Tool Subcommittee    

Head of Adult and Reader Services
Geneva Public Library District
Geneva, IL

Instructor  (Readers’ Advisory for Public Libraries)
Library Technical Assistant Program
College of DuPage
Glen Ellyn, IL

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