First, you need to read this post from 2015 where I discuss what patrons actually mean when they come to us asking for a “best book.” Go on. I’ll be here when you get back.
Okay, now second, you need to find resources that not only include older “best” books [because if you read that post you would see that patrons don’t care when a book was “best,” they just want assurances that someone thought it was good enough for them to invest their time in it], but also are easy for you to use as you are having the RA conversation with the patron.
Patrons can look up best lists themselves. The ones who come to the library want a little more help. They want to talk about their options and they want our opinions on what they should read, not because we read it too, but because we know more about books than they do.
That is why every year I celebrate the release of my three favorite best lists, which all came out this week. They are:
- Goodreads Choice Awards: This is the only list that is 100% driven by readers. Yes it’s a popularity contest and not always the “best” book wins [Stephen and Owen King’s only so-so book won best horror], but that’s the point. The people get to chose their favorites for whatever reason they have. And like when we help readers in real life, the reasons for their choices don’t always make sense to us. But who cares? I love this list because it is for the people, by the people, and as a result, it more closely matches what we encounter each and every day at the public library.
- NPR Book Concierge: This annual list is a favorite of mine because it puts all of the best books into a single pile and then allows the user of the list to customize the results-- thus making the results list itself driven by the specific reader who is using it at that moment. The filters are not just genre labels, but rather, based on actual reader tastes. So, you can click on "the dark side," and get a list of 71 choices, and then go even deeper by adding the "rather long" filter on top of it and get 4 choices. That list can be created by one reader. But another readers could apply the filters, “for history lovers" and “ladies first" and get 12 different-- yet still "best"-- titles. Each list is "best" for the reader in question. No need to worry about creating a one size fits all best list. I love that readers can interact with the NPR Best Books Concierge and make themselves the perfect list of the year's "best" offerings.
- The Millions Year in Reading: This is not a best list at all, but rather essays by the authors of the most talked about books and/or the most important books of the year about what they read this year. This list has double the use because the authors are part of the “best” conversation themselves, but then to have the next level suggestion for patrons of the “best” authors’ favorite reads of the last year makes you look like a genius. Patron loved Sing, Unburied, Sing by Ward or is waiting for their hold to come in, why not also read what she read and loved this year? This option of reading what the patrons’ favorite authors read is a great way to showcase how helpful we can be to readers.
These lists are non-traditional in that they don’t simply give a best list, rather they all incorporate something a little different which also makes them the absolute BEST resource to help readers. We start with Goodreads 100% reader driven “best” lists and move to NPR’s editor picks for best but then a way to narrow it down for each reader based on the feel they are looking for and finally we can move to the opinions of the authors who themselves are tastemakers.
All three also make their backlist of previous year’s lists easily accessible from the main page of the current year’s list. You can’t miss them even if you weren’t thinking of using older lists. I love that.
All three of these lists can be easily used as you help patrons. They will encourage conversation about books and what the patron is looking for in their next read and, even more importantly, they can be used anytime throughout the year- using the current list of the plethora of older lists. Don’t just use these resources [old and new versions] at the end of each year. Keep them bookmarked as an option for every RA transaction you may have.
Seriously, try it out today with the next few patrons. You will have some of your best RA conversations of the year and everyone [you and the patron] will have a ton of fun!