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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

RA Summer Camp Program Recap

As promised, here is a recap of the program with Neal Wyatt yesterday.

Annabelle and I tweeted during the event using the hashtag #arrtreads. You do not need to have a Twitter account to view our notes.  I will be repeating some of what was there, but not everything, so click. Also, there are pictures and posts from yesterday on the ARRT Facebook page.

First and foremost, what I loved most about this program overall is that Neal took the one thing all of us RA librarians think we know everything about-- appeal-- and made us look at it in a new way.  The result? I felt like I had my eyes opened.  I learned so much more about what I do every day and have many good ideas to bring back to use with our staff.

But let's back track.  Neal opened with what I saw as a brilliant idea, but was shocked that no one had ever done it before.  She took the three main RA sources which introduced the idea of appeal and went through them [quickly] to show where they were the same and where they differed.  These three are outlined in the following books. listed in the order in which they were published:
She spent about 30 minutes really honing us in on their similarities and what is most important to consider because the bulk of the 2 hour meeting as going to be all about writing annotations! But just before we switched gears, Neal tried out her newly created Myers-Briggs style test so we could each assess our personal reading tastes based on 4 big areas of appeal; the areas where the 3 resources overlap the most.

We also did madlibs with appeal where we were given a sentence with multiple missing adjectives and a noun and a verb to fill in.  The goal, make 2 sentences but make them be completely opposite of each other. Not only was it fun, it really focuses you on how the words you chose to use in only 1 sentence make a HUGE difference in how the book sounds to a reader.

So before we all dug into reading The Lottery by Shirley Jackson [which we later worked on writing an annotation for] Neal talked at length about annotations. Along the way she used examples of her own work to point out both how to and how NOT to.  Here are some quick soundbites of the things she said on this topic:

  • Writing an annotation is not like writing a review.  An annotation is to advertise a book to its best reader.
  • Always start with genre and type of book.  Example: a locked room mystery.  This orients the audience to the type of book it is right away.
  • The biggest mistake people make when writing annotations is that they add more story. Instead, less plot and more appeal.
  • Show restraint. Don't overshare
  • You are writing to someoone who has not read the book already, so do not write in code.
  • Characater-- identify main character and write only the 1 most important thing about him or her.  Example: Jack Reacher-- mention he is an ex Army MP, leave out that he doesn't own anything. [Becky's note: although I often like mentioning his weird tick of him not owning anything because it is funny and endearing about Reacher, she is correct, it is not the most important thing about Reacher; readers can discover that quirk on their own.]
  • Be DEFT with your writing.  Make your words do double duty. Example: use adverbs and adjectives that reflect the tone of the book as you are describing the story.
  • There is no need to mention the setting in an annotations unless it acts like another character in the story or it is key to the book's plot.  Example: Hampton Sides' In the Kingdom of Ice is very setting dependent.
  • While setting is not always necessary to mention, frame is very necessary. If a book has any specific frame you must mention it.
  • In general advice about writing annotations: Only talk about the things that matter to the experience of reading the book.
I want to also quickly mention Neal's personal advice on how to write an annotation.  As she cautioned, this is what works for her. She had a slide which Annabelle posted a picture of here.  Below are her steps in the order she does them as she writes an annotation:
  • Sketch out the elements you will include
  • Look for overlaps
  • Look for empty thoughts
  • Order by orientation and importance
  • Look for gaps
  • Write it
  • Revise it
  • Fact check it
  • Prepare to be edited
Then we read The Lottery [love that story!] and brainstormed an annotation as a group of 50+. Very cool.  My favorite adjective that came out of our brainstorming was from the BPL RA's fearless leader Kathy-- "disorienting."

Then we ended the session by playing RA Jeopardy!
Other quick takeaways of note:
  • Neal is working on a book on the history of RA Service.  Knowing Neal it will be comprehensive AND interesting to read.  I am quite excited. 
  • ARRT is a big part of that history of RA service in US public libraries and we are celebrating our 30th Anniversary this year.  Big milestone birthday means big party!  Go here for details and to sign up. You do not need to be a member to join us at the Oak Park Public Library on Saturday, September 6th. Non-members do need to fork over $10 though.  Again details here.
  • The next ARRT program will be Wednesday November 12th from 2-4 PM at the Schaumburg Township District Library and it will feature Heather Booth talking about RA for Teens. She is currently working on an update to her 2007 ALA Edition guide on that topic. More details after we party.  
All in all it was wonderful day at RA Summer Camp!

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