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Friday, June 29, 2018

ALA Annual Conference Report: Call to Action-- Go to a Conference, Any Conference

Today I am combining my final ALA wrap up conference report with a Call to Action. Every single time I go to a conference, from national to state to even just a 1 day thing [like our every other year ARRT full day programs], I return inspired. Heck, I get inspired running other people’s in-service days and I am the trainer.

This is because conferences, large meetings, in service days, these are all times when you get to be surrounded by like minded people, outside of your normal work routine, to talk about the very best of the work we do and how to improve it. It’s inspiring. But it is also a great way to recharge and rethink.

While I had a great time at ALA Annual, you can get much of the same effect [on a smaller scale of course] without leaving home for a week. So today, I am going to do a wrap up of the more “fun” things I did at conference, but as you will see, all of them turned into an experience that enhanced my work life in some way. It’s not like I tried to turn every thing I did into work, but you just can’t help it. And I think that the best work gets done when you are looking at things from a different perspective anyway.

I will recount a few things I did and there are also pictures to go with these things at the end of the post.

Publisher Dinners: I went to two of these. Saturday night, Sourcebooks hosted a small group to have dinner with Susanna Kearsley author of the wonderful, forthcoming Bellewether. [Click here to see my comments about this book which will be a HUGE hit at libraries.] I was seated next to a librarian from NY who I had never met before. We had wonderful conversation about RA service and specific books. He was someone I certainly would not have met without this dinner. I passed his info on to a RUSA CODES committee member [with his permission] so we could get him move involved. So yes, I had a lovely free dinner and met an author of a wonderful book, but this connection with Ralph will pay the largest dividends.

Monday night I had dinner with Virginia from Library Lovefest [Harper Collins] with Lou Berney author of the forthcoming November Road. At this event I sat at a table with colleagues I mostly knew, but some I hadn’t seen in a years. And Lou was very kind and interesting. The book will be a huge hit. It is a thriller with a lot of frame and fascinating characters. Click here for details on the book. We also learned that the story is based off of his own mother and his two older sisters.

Both dinners provided the best chance I had to network and really talk to colleagues. We were settled in and not rushing between meetings. We could have substantial conversations, pick each others’ brains, and really discuss things. These were events that will effect me and even our entire community of RA library workers in the future.

NoveList: On Saturday night I attended the Carnegie Awards reception which is always a good time, but this year I sat at the Novelist table. Duncan Smith who is the founder of NoveList and a good friend is transitioning into a part-time consultant role with EBSCO, so this was his last time being the face of the company he created. You can see a picture of him giving his remarks at the start of the ceremony. I spent most of the evening talking with Duncan and other NoveList staff who I work for and with about the future of the organization. I currently have two projects in the works for them. I will post particulars here on the blog when appropriate. However, I can tell you with 100% certainty, the company is in excellent hands. NoveList will continue to be a wonderful resource in the years moving forward.

I even arranged a post event meeting between Danielle Borasky, the new head, with Steve Thomas so they could chat about doing an interview for Circulating Ideas.

Networking with friends old and new: Speaking of Steve, I did have a report on his panel here yesterday. But Steve, myself, and two other librarians arranged to hang out in the French Quarter Sunday evening for some gumbo. One of the women, I had never met before and she was very interesting [a former LJ Mover and Shaker]. All four of us had great conversation about libraries, books, and the like. Then I convinced them all that we HAD to go on a vampire themed historical walking tour of the French Quarter. Our tour guide was fantastic. She talked at length about vampire legends in NOLA but also studied vampire mythology throughout the world in college. She shared so much knowledge about vampire legends and their portrayal in popular culture. Look, even I learned a bunch so you know it was good. You can see us with our faces covered below. My dinner turned into horror research, a nice bonus of being in NOLA.

Exploring a Different Place:  We can all gain benefit from being somewhere different. I know when I am in a new or different place, I pay attention to everything a lot more closely. It is easy to coast when you are in your regular routine. Getting out of your regular workplace to learn, even if only for a half a day, is a good break for your brain. If you are like me, you will be more receptive to new ideas. At the very least, you will be energized by the change. I took time on the final afternoon to really walk around and be a little bit of a tourist. I have been to NOLA before but it has been many years. I have a few pictures to show that below.

Going to a conference may seen like a vacation to some, but you work hard every minute of every day. I was exhausted when I got home on Tuesday afternoon and I didn’t know why, until I realized I had worked 9 days straight without a break. I did relax a little on Wednesday morning, but honestly, I will probably go 12 days without a break. So, that little bit of time I took Monday afternoon to explore and take in the city with a friend was important for me to reflect on what I learned, what I will do with that information when I return, and how I will move forward in the coming months.

So that is my report on the less obvious things I took away from ALA Annual this year. I also joined the RUSA CODES Research and Trends Committee [effective 7/1/18] and had a meeting about another new venture that can’t be discussed yet. These things are also important because they needed me to be there in person for them to happen.

There are many reasons to go to any conference. Yes, ALA Annual is a big one and not everyone can afford to go either because of the money or even the time away from your library, but this post is to remind you that everyone benefits by finding some convention, conference, meeting, etc to attend.

I am very luck that I started going to conferences as a student working in a law library. I joined the Chicago Association of Law Librarians and went to one of the early Computers in Libraries Conferences for 1 day when it was in Chicago. My law library sent me because I had the best mentor, Nancy, who knew I wanted to be a public librarian and wanted to teach me all she could about the profession. I will never forget Nancy, and am forever thankful for her instilling an importance in going to conferences in me, but I know not all of you have people like that in your lives, so I hope to be your mentor from far away.

That’s why I write the blog, and specifically this week of posts. I am reaching out to all of you to be a mentor, to help you to improve. This Call to Action is part of that. I urge you all to find a conference you CAN attend. If you are having trouble finding something regionally or one that works with your time and budget constraints, contact me and I can put you in touch with someone in your area.

Enjoy the pictures and have a nice weekend. I am back on Monday with some big news!

But in the meantime, look for a conference to sign up for.

For past Call to Action Posts click here.

Author Lou Berney promoting November Road
at a dinner sponsored by Harper Collins’ Library Lovefest
Duncan Smith of NoveList at Carnegie Awards
Me [in striped dress] and some conference friends
right before we did the Haunted History tour of French Quarter
Lunch with Robin, Magan, and Megan

Couldn’t visit without a stop
Took a moment to just take it all in

Thursday, June 28, 2018

ALA Conference 2018 Report: Podcasting, Book Buzzing and More

For today’s conference report, I am going to give shorter reports on some of the better presentations I attended. I will be linking to the notes I took on Twitter which you will be able to access with or without an account. I am also not going in order of my attendance at these programs, rather I am grouping like things. Finally, this is not everything I did, but the ones that I think you will all get the most out of.

I want to begin with So You want to Podcast Featuring these talented people:

Photo from American Libraries
There is already a write up of the program on the American Libraries Magazine webpage which you can access here and which has this info about the panelists you see there although I rearranged the text from the article into the order these people are standing l-r:
T is for Trainingthe invention of Harford County (Md.) Public Library Technical Trainer Maurice Coleman, has been in existence for 10 years. “Sitting on the floor and talking to people, that’s where I got my education,” says Coleman. “I wanted to replicate that.”
 Angela Ocana, who cohosts her almost-one-year-old graphic novel- and manga-themed podcast One Panel Later with fellow teen librarian Kelly Quinn Chiu, says “it’s just a labor of love for us.” The two now collaborate across state lines since Ocana took a library job in Oregon. 
For Sara Benson, copyright librarian at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and creator of Copyright Chat, it was about sharing her expertise: “I love copyright, and I find it very accessible, but a lot of people don’t. I try to aim [Copyright Chat] at librarians, or really anyone.” 
Steve Thomas, branch manager with Gwinnett County (Ga.) Public Library, has been producing the Circulating Ideas podcast for about seven years. He had been listening to a lot of podcasts when he decided enter the arena, with a premise of “if Terry Gross talked to librarians.” 
I put my live Tweets from the program into one thread here but here are a few I want to highlight and some comments I want to share:

  • First thing I noticed right away, even before the program started, these people are amazing at banter and chatting. Duh, I know, but I commented that ALA should think about finding people who are good at presenting information and themselves verbally to be on as many panels as possible. Seriously, like give these people, and others like myself, free conference registration and make us work moderating panels, introducing speakers, and keeping things on track. There are many times that an experienced speaker can make a program better by moderating. It is not others’ fault that they did something awesome they want to share but are bad at presenting. Sometimes I think what would be an informative conference program tanks not because the information isn’t useful and inspiring but because the delivery is poor. There are plenty of us out there who could help though. 
  • I very much appreciated how the panel had a diversity of experience both in length of time they have been podcasting AND in their subject matter. They also all have a different style which was nice to see. There is no 1 type of podcast that you can do as a library worker. You can do anything as long as you are committed to it and passionate about it.
  • The comment that if you are doing a podcast to get famous, don’t. It is a lot of work and you need to have a passion for it to keep going.
  • At the end, I got up and asked about how they pay for the podcast. I am friends with Steve so I know he gets advertisers and has done a lot of fundraising. He is committed to not using his own money for this, to keeping it professional. I wanted to know how the others fund their podcasts. Sara does it through the University, but Maurice and Angela pay out of pocket. As Angela said to me, “I work to feed my podcast habit.” I get this, but it makes me upset. We already have to work so hard as a profession to demand that we are paid for our work, this attitude does not help. Yes the podcasts get made and help people, but we are not helping the problem we have created. We do not value our own work enough to demand we are compensated for it. I love what I do, but I demand I am paid for it. Some libraries are upset that I won’t travel across the country and train them for free. Some in my area continually ask me to come but won’t pay me my very fair rate. Sorry. Read the blog if you want free. What I do is a professional service. I need to be paid for it.
Read my entire live Tweet feed though because I have stats and other comments that I didn’t mention above and are not in the article. It was a good one. I am glad I went to it. I learned quite a bit.

My next group of programs were all of the book buzz or awards variety. I am mostly going to direct you to the live tweeting I did.

First I want to highlight the Literary Tastes breakfast which honors some of the winners of RUSA’s Books and Media Awards [link to all winners past and present here].  Here is the link to the full live Tweeting thread with pictures of the authors and their books. It was inspiring with more than one author breaking down. And shockingly, Scott Brick had the most emotional moment. Everyone agreed. Click through to read about it. It brought the room to tears.

I also went to a Mystery Buzz featuring a few authors. I put each author’s comments in their own thread. If you click on the author you will see my notes:


On Monday morning I went to the LibraryReads breakfast. I did not live Tweet it because I was also prepping for my talk [reported here]. Here are the details of who appeared:
Now the only way to start your last NOLA day, LibraryReads brings you the Monday Book-a-licious author breakfast! Hear from this year's slate of authors whose new books are soon to be the most popular with you and your patrons! Sarah McCoy, author of Marilla of Green Gables (William Morrow/HarperCollins); Kiese Laymon, author of Heavy, An American Memoir (Scribner/Simon & Schuster); Somayia Daud, author of Mirage (Flatiron Books/Macmillan); Tim Johnston, author of The Current (Algonquin Books/Workman); Leif Enger, author of Virgil Wander (Atlantic Monthly Press). 
Here is a picture I took of my friend Magan with the stack of books mentioned above:

I do want to make a general comment about the presentations. McCoy was good. Laymon and Daud were amazing. Enger was also good. But Jonston did not prepare and rambled and was not very nice to Rebecca Vnuk [although she held her own] and... I could go on but I will stop. Just saying.

Finally here is a link to all of the PW ALA Conference articles which has a lot of conference coverage.

Tomorrow I will be back with some general comments and observations to wrap up the week.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

ALA Annual 2018 Report: LibraryReads 101

One of the programs I was most excited to attend at ALA Annual was Library Reads 101. As my readers know, I love LibraryReads, but I have also never been afraid to provide the group with constructive criticism. Since the steering committee hired their first Executive Director, Rebecca Vnuk, I knew the entire organization was committed to making meaningful tweaks to this wonderful program, and I wanted to be there to her all about it.

Before I start my recap you can see the color slides here or the black and white pdf for easy printing here.

The program began with the why you should participate. I have found that this is the highest hurdle to getting people to be a part of the process. Seriously, as I travel the country and try to convince library workers to participate, it is harder for me to convince them why their voice is needed. Once they start and realize how easy and fun it is, they never stop.

I really appreciate the time the panel spent on this WHY. Here is the slide with the bullet points:

Now, let me elaborate a bit. The things on this slide are important, but I have heard these and passed them on to you many times. The panelists shared some other tidbits that really got me excited, so I thought I would pass them on to you.

Stephen mentioned one reason right at the beginning that I loved-- The kid and YA book world are so good at creating excitement. Adult books rarely reach that level of excitement. Adults deserve some excitement too. Who better to do this than us? We are the adult book pushers. That is why we have LibraryReads.

Speaking of, at its outset 5 years ago [!] LR was a little loose about including YA, but they are very strict now about not allowing it. They want to focus on fiction and nonfiction meant for adults. Adults deserve great reads as much as kids. We are the book experts who can lead them there.

Speaking of excitement, I learned another great reason to participate, actually it was my favorite and the MOST important [in my opinion]-- the reason the nomination deadlines are so early is because the publishers want to be ready to promote the book WE are so excited about. Yes, they actually do care what we like because there is now hard data that the publisher see a clear boost in orders for the books that make he list.

Please do not underestimate this as a reason to participate. We are making our collective voice heard. Sometimes we identify a book that the publishers were not planning on pushing too hard, but then when they see we loved it, they literally switch gears and get behind that title, big time. Guys, this is important information.

I know I have been encouraging you NOT to vote for the big names, but rather put your votes behind less mainstream, more inclusive titles, but all without proof that it would make a difference with the publishers. Now I have proof. [I also have more to say about the big author issue below.]

The fourth bullet point-- “Enhance your RA skills”-- is also a big one and the panel spent a lot of time on that one later in the program, but first let me share the easy “how-to” participate that the panel shared.

Please use the links above to follow the easy step by step screen shots on how to participate but again I have a few comments to add:

  • You can vote for books coming out in any month. Yes, you can vote for books for the next list, but you can also vote for a book for a list not due out for months from now. There is no limit to how early you can vote, just how late you can.
  • You have to click “REVIEW” to vote. But, you do not have to actually review it. What you need to do in the “review” dialog box is go to the top right corner of the box where you could write a review and click on “Submit to.”
  • “Submit to” is what a vote is. So you would choose “LibraryReads” if you want to vote for it.
  • You can also “Submit to" the publisher at the same time. “Publisher” is a box you can check. You can check as many boxes as you want. 
  • I honestly was “meh” on sharing with the publisher and wasn’t going to advocate either way for you, until....
  • ...the day after this program I was chatting with Golda, the library marketing person for Norton, and she said she wished that more LibraryReads voters shared their votes with her. She wants to know [good and bad] how library workers feel about the books she has on her list. It helps her to promote the correct books to our audience and she can share our thoughts with the larger corporate structure. She has no idea how we feel about titles that don’t make the LR list unless we tell her. Please share with the publisher.
This final bullet point was a mind blow for me. I never thought of Golda’s point from the larger perspective. Only 10 books can be on the LR list each month, but hundreds of books garner votes. However, unless we choose to share our vote with the publisher, they don’t see those runners up.

As I reported earlier, the publishers have seen our voice makes a difference in sales for the “winners,” but what about those titles that still get a lot of votes, titles the publisher wasn’t really focused on previously, but that don’t win. Well, if we let them know with every single vote by clicking the “Submit to” publishers box every time we click “LibraryReads,” well, we can make our voice heard on even more titles.

Thanks to Golda for this important insight. 


Now back to the “Reviews.” Many people tell me they can’t possibly write such eloquent annotations  for the books as the ones they see on the final list. But guess what I found out...no one can! Ha. If you want the chance to have your review show up on the list, Lynn had some great advice.

First, there are many slides in the presentation devoted to how to write better annotations, beginning with this one:

Slides 12-20 go into great detail about how to write a great LR annotation.

But here’s the thing, the second thing I learned-- just try your best. It is great way to practice your RA skills. Use their advice in these slides to try to capture why you are so excited about this book. The practice alone is worth it.

And third, NO ANNOTATION IS EVER TAKEN EXACTLY FROM THE VOTE AND USED WITHOUT A CHANCE TO IMPROVE IT.

Seriously, I didn’t know this either. Lynn is one of the Steering Committee members whose job it is to go through all of the submitted “reviews” for the winners and identify ones that are promising. She then works with the person who submitted it to edit the annotation. This is great for two reasons. First, Lynn said they find the person who is very excited and who has good reasons, first. The enthusiasm is key. Then they can work together on the exact wording. And second, the LR annotations can have a general standard which makes them a better resource going forward because a steering committee member is involved.

Since the LR Steering Committee merely oversees the entire LR voting process and do not have any say on who wins, this is where they can help make their mark on the list as a valuable resource in perpetuity.

So while I will not make a stand here to tell my readers they MUST do a review in order to vote. I did like learning that anything you add might get you tagged to work on writing the official review and, most importantly, you will be helped through the process. Every annotation you see has been edited. So don’t be afraid you aren’t “good” enough at writing them. Give it a try. You might get your annotation up on the list. But before you try, I highly suggest using slides 12-20 to get you started and headed in the correct direction.

The program then moved into ways you can use LR for Collection Development and RA. Again click here to see slides 18 and 19 where this is addressed. Many of the things Rebecca talked about here are things that I have mentioned many times on this blog but I think she summed it up making the following points which I tweeted out:

 LR wants to help you be better at your job. You cannot possibly read every book, but by using the list, you can know about a lot more of them. And in this case, they are “pre-approved” by your colleagues.
The panel ended by reminding us that this fall marks LibraryReads 5th Anniversary. Wow! And now with Rebecca as the first paid employee of the organization, many changes are coming.

A few changes like making the voting even easier and revamping the website are obvious, but two big changes I want to talk about really speak to the feedback and constructive criticism I, and others, have been giving them.

The first one is HUGE. LR is going to create a “Hall of Fame” list of authors. This addresses the issue of the big name authors getting so many of the votes. Since LR is strictly based on who gets the most votes, it makes sense that better known authors with a new book will garner a lot of votes. Many library workers don’t realize that they are diluting the votes for the smaller titles when they vote for people like Louise Penny. Who doesn’t love Louise Penny? We are all excited when she has a new book, but that is the point...we all know about her.

So rather than not letting you vote for authors like Penny, you can still send all your love for them. However, authors who always end up on the list [there will be some rules about this] will be acknowledged as LR “Hall of Fame” for that month. They will still get to be a LR pick. BUT, they will not take up a top 10 spot. This frees up another spot on the list for a less well known author. This is brilliant. Now authors big and small can still get the recognition they deserve. I am beyond happy about this change.

And second, LR is going to start expanding their reach beyond the list. They will begin offering programming both in person regionally and online with the ultimate goal of LR also reaching out to all of the regional organizations that provide RA CE [like ARRT] so that LR can act as a single clearinghouse where library workers can go to see all of their options for training, all over the country, in one place.

After listening to the program I asked a question that came up during the presentation. It was mentioned by a panelist that it is very hard to get some of the smaller publishers onto Edelweiss or NetGalley so they can be eligible for the monthly list. As LR works right now you can ONLY be on the list if your titles are on those platforms. Now, LR is looking into other ways to include smaller presses, but it appears that the biggest hurdle for the smaller presses is that the member fees for Edelweiss and NetGalley are cost prohibitive. So when the question portion came I asked the panel what we could do as library workers to help these smaller publishers. How can we advocate for them and ask Edelweiss lower their fees? Those of us in the room brainstormed a few ideas. One idea we all liked was to encourage them to adopt a “per capita” model like databases do for libraries, where we pay based on our population. The LR Steering Committee promised to think about it and get out some ideas to all of us. I trust them because many of the other concerns I have passed on to them over the last 5 years are being addressed. They listen.

As you can see, there was a lot of very useful information in this 101 program. I highly recommend you take some time to look at the slides, consider this additional information in my report, and then start participating in LibraryReads because Library Reads is us.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

RA for All Roadshow Visited ALA Annual with Booklist’s Read ’N’ Rave

NOLA was a blast. I got to meet many new people and reconnect with old friends. I also attended lots of sessions and learned quite a bit all around. I will be posting more details about all of it in the coming days, but I want to begin with a detailed report of my Read ’N’ Rave titles.

Here is the list of everything that was “Raved” by all panelists via Booklist Reader, although I did notice not all of my titles made the list. But never fear, I was planning this detailed post today anyway. Each of the mini-reviews to follow are longer and more detailed than the quick talk I gave on the panel [I did 11 books in about 11 minutes, yes I went over by 1 minute but I figured that would happen], but everything I did say is also going to be included.

Please note though, my reviews are appeal based with very little plot detail. If you would like to see the cover copy plot synopsis, please click through on the linked titles to access the Goodreads record. Finally, I am also presenting this list as a booktalk script itself so I will include the conscious transitions I made between books. Not only did I choose these titles carefully from the thousands available at the conference, but I also made sure they were presented in an order that took you on a journey and told a story [just like I teach you all to do].

Let’s go....


The Black God’s Drum by P. Djèlí Clark published by Tor.Com [August 2018]

I think it is fitting that I begin here with adventure, steampunk, airships and orisha [afro-caribbean witches] set in an alternate New Orleans where the south has not lost the Civil War, but rather they have achieved an armistice so that they can continue to use slave labor. While this is a fast paced and fun story it is the well developed, sympathetic characters [all black cast] and immersive world building which will be why you will love it. I have love for all of the Tor.com novellas. They are all speculative stories in a perfect sized and paced package. You should carry them all, and I would argue, despite their differences, all are readalikes for each other.

Three Words That Describe This Book: Afro-retroism, adventure, captivating

Readalikes: If you could combine River of Teeth, Dread Nation and Binti into one book that would be a good sense of what you get here. I would also add Buffalo Soldier by Maurice Broaddus as a great single book readalike.


Temper by Nicky Drayden published by Harper Voyager [August 2018]

While afro-retroism might me a new term in your vocabulary [it is in mine], you should be aware of what afro-furturism is by now as it is one of the biggest trends in all fiction. One of the things I love about this emerging speculative fiction sub-genre is that it is made up of parts of science fiction, fantasy and horror, the mix of how much of each is in a particular title varies, but all three are there. This title happens to be one of my recent favorites.

This is Drayden’s second novel after last year’s critically acclaimed and widely popular Prey of Gods. The setting is an alternate South African dystopia where your worth is judged by the virtues and vices you are marked with in childhood. Our story follows twins, one with many vice marks and one with many more virtue ones, as they battle demons, both literal and figurative. This story blends SF/F/H perfectly, with all the best of all three. Plus, did I mention the demons?

Three Words That Describe This Book: strong world building, dark humor, Afro-futurism

Readalikes: You should add this title to all your Black Panther and/or Afro-furturism readalike lists, but also don’t forget authors like Lauren Beukes and especially Neil Gaiman.

Ordinary People by Diana Evans published by Liveright [September 2018]

And now let’s say goodbye to supernatural demons and move onto the very real horrors of marital crisis. This novel is a debut by a British author. Set in England, during the time of Obama’s election, the story features two, 30 something, middle class couples who are good friends, but as they begin to age life changes start coming at them fast and furious: money issues, sex lives, death of parents, race, class, work, infidelity— all things that life throws at you and can rock even the strongest couples. This is a novel of domestic upheaval but not of the melodramatic kind. It is like many of these novels that has come before it, yet also clearly of today’s world and issues.

Three Words That Describe This Book: domestic upheaval, character centered, diverse

Readalikes: Celeste Ng, Zadie Smith, Tayari Jones, and even a classic like Revolutionary Road by Yates.

The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh published by Doubleday [January 2019]

One of the people who blurbed Ordinary People was Naomi Alderman, author of The Power and this next title reminded me of that novel. The marketing blurb helped: “a dystopian, feminist, revenge fantasy.” In The Water Cure we are in a world where women are in danger from the violence of men. A father has kept his three daughter isolated to keep them safe, but we as readers can see they are also trapped, literally behind barbed wire, on an inland surrounded by water. When the book opens “Father” has disappeared. The story takes place over the course of a week and is narrated by the sisters. It is extremely unsettling and eye opening for both the reader and the sisters. It is beautifully written, but also, ugly at the same time.

Three Words That Describe This Book: riveting, lyrical, powerful

Readalikes: Besides The Power, I felt like this is Gather the Daughters, meets The Handmaid’s Tale if written by Shirley Jackson.

Night Soil by Dale Peck publishers by Soho [August 2018]

From a few new voices I would like to now move on to two novelists with much critical acclaim who have never stopped writing, but haven’t had a new novel in about a decade.

First up is Dale Peck the groundbreaking author of what is considered the seminal novel of gay life during the AIDS plague years, Martin and John, who makes his return to fiction after years as a well known literary critic. In this genre defying story we follow Judas, a young man who is very shy due to a large birthmark that covers half of his face. He is also gay, but while he wants to experience relationships with his fellow schoolmates, he knows he can only pursue his sexual desires with random older men. His mother is an artist. She makes the most perfectly symmetrical bowls without a potter's wheel or any instruments [kinda creepy actually]. Judas is also looking into his ancestor who founded his prep school, a coal magnate from the 19th Century and is uncovering some unsettling and strange family secrets. This is Judas’ coming of age story of who he is, where he came from, and who he will become.

Three Words That Describe This Book: introspective, character centered, methodically paced


Bowlaway by Elizabeth McCracken published by Harper [Februrary 2019] 

More family secrets here with another author making a return after an absence. McCracken happens to be one of my person all time favorite authors; in fact, I suggest her often and the term I use to describe how she writes is “slightly askew.” That phrase fits here perfectly. The story follows three generation of an unconventional New England family who own and operate a candlepin bowling alley [you can look it up, but basically, thinner pins, 3 rolls per frame, and different scoring system]. It all begins at the turn of the Twentieth Century with the enigmatic Bertha, the family matriarch, and then goes forward through the century, incorporating all of the  historical events of the 20th Century in this multi generational saga, always and forever grounded by the bowling alley. 

Three Words That Describe This Book: family secrets, dark, sharp humor, slightly askew

Readalikes: This book is best described as if Karen Russell wrote The Amazing Adventure of Kavalier and Clay. Also the marketing copy compares it to Commonwealth by Patchett and I can see that too.

Hope Never Dies: A Obama-Biden mystery by Andrew Shaffer published by Quirk [July 2018]

I am a fan girl for McCracken, but fan fiction in general is alive and kicking. It appears the trendiest topic right now is the Obama-Biden bromance. Here the author of Fifty Shames of Earl Grey, from the only major publisher that proudly stakes their claim as the place for all things fan fiction and geek culture, gives you everything you would hope for from a book with this title. Joe is looking forward to a relaxing retirement, but when his beloved Amtrak Conductor is murdered, he calls up his out of work friend Barack and they go back to serving the public good, investigating the murder. While the entire book has its tongue planted firmly in cheek, it is not all silly fun here. The story does delve into serious issues like the opioid epidemic. It is touching and thoughtful, but the overall tone is a nice dose of uplifting fun.

Three Words That Describe This Book: fun, satire, nostalgic

Readalikes: This book is for fans of the Jobama bromance or anything else by Quirk. Also, coming in February 2019, Harper Collins is releasing a single volume bound edition of the graphic novel, The Adventures of Barry and Joe: Obama and Biden’s Bromantic Battle for the Soul of AmericaThis is a trend you cannot ignore.

Vita Nostra by Sergiy and Maryna Shyrshova-Dyachenko published by Harper Collins [November 2018]

From a look at America in slightly less trying times now we move to 2 international bestsellers. The first title is the definitive english translation of a bestselling Russian dark fantasy masterpiece. I do need to disclose that I have a soft spot in my heart for contemporary Russian fantasy. In Vita Nostra, Sasha, is a young girl is on vacation when she meets a strange man. He asks her to pass some unusual tests which earns her a spot into the Institute of Special Technologies. It is a horrible and inscrutable school, yet for Sasha it is also confusingly perfect. Blending fantasy, adventure, magic, science and all that wonderful “Russian-ness,” this is a novel you need to experience.

Three Words That Describe This Book: unsettling, thought provoking, transformative

Readalikes: If you combined The Bear and the Nightingale with The Magicians you get a good sense of what to expect here. But I also thought of Lexicon by Max Barry a lot. My co-panelist Rel, also mentioned this title and compared it to House of Leaves which I think is very accurate.

The Bone Keeper by Luca Veste published by Sourcebooks Landmark [February 2019]

This international bestseller is not a translation, but it is just as dark, maybe even darker because it is not fantasy, it is a thriller with an urban legend frame. What if the local monster, the one who strikes fear into the heart of every child in town, what if that monster were real? There are serious chills here. This is not for the feint of heart.

Three Words That Describe This Book: terrifying, urban legends, twisty


Ravenmaster: My Life with the Ravens at the Tower of London by Christopher Skaife published by FSG [October 2018]

Finally enough with this fiction, it’s time for some nonfiction, but ones that read like fiction.

Four million people a year visit the Tower of London, many of them take the free Yeoman Warders tour, including myself. On the tour you visit the raven’s coop, you see the raven flying around, and you hear of their importance to the city itself because they tell you about the ominous prophecy saying that if a raven from the Tower leaves, the city will fall. In this unique memoir, Skaife, with a wonderful narrative voice tells us about the behind the scenes life at the Tower and how he cares for these birds [he feeds them biscuits soaked in animal blood, for instance]. But we also get the history of the place and the ravens’ importance in it. It is about the special relationship between the author and his charges, one that gives us insight into the animals as they truly are, while also giving us a peek behind the curtain of some of Western historys most famous and terrible moments.

Three Words That Describe This Book: intimate, history from a different perspective, animal people relationships

Readalikes: All of your readers who love the Tudor time period will like this book, since much of that time period was centered around the Tower. Some may be specifically drawn to the human-bird relationship. They would also like H is for Hawk, but any animal-people relationship books or memoirs will appeal here.

[Don’t] Call Me Crazy: 33 Voices Start the Conversation About Mental Health by Kelly Jensen published by Algonquin Young Readers [October 2018]

Finally a book that is being marketed as YA but is really for everyone. As the title says, this book is meant to be a conversation starter. Presented in a scrapbook style perfect for browsing over time, it features well known figures writing about mental health— not mental illness. It is about our brains and how they work, It is not a diagnostic tool, but rather a way to remove the stigma from all of our own eccentricities and just talk about them--openly and honestly. I also wanted to highlight this book because ARRT is sponsoring a book release party for this title with Jensen in conversation with librarian Jez Layman at the ILA Annual Conference in Peoria this October. Join us if you can.

Three Words That Describe This Book: conversation starter, informal, much needed

Readalikes: Jensen recently solicited a crowd sources lists of peoplefavorite books featuring mental illness. You can find it here.


I would also highly suggest The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang.

Thats a wrap on this years Read N Rave. Back tomorrow with more ALA Annual reports

Monday, June 25, 2018

Today, See Me in Person or Listen to Me From Anywhere

Today at the ALA Annual Conference I will be presenting:

Monday, June 25 
10:30 AM - 11:30 AM 
Location: Morial Convention Center, Rm 281-282       
ALA Unit/Subunit: ALA
Meeting Type: Other
Cost: Included with full conference registration.
Open/Closed: Open
Hear several collection development specialists rave about their favorite titles gathered from the exhibit floor. Moderated by Susan Maguire, Booklist’s Senior Editor, Collection Management and Library Outreach. Panelist to include:

Ariel Farrar, New Orleans Public Library
Stephen Sposato, Chicago Public Library
Becky Spratford, RA for All
Kaite Stover, Kansas City Public Library
Rebecca Vnuk, LibraryReads

Tomorrow on the blog I will have my entire list of titles [11] with everything I said about them and a lot more. In only 10 minutes of speaking time, even I cannot talk fast enough to tell you everything I want to about these titles. Here on the blog though I will have a full mini review with my three words and linked readalikes. 

To tide over those of you who can’t be there in person, here is the post from last year’s Read ’N’ Rave. By the way, all of those are still excellent suggestions. Actually, they are even better than when I discusses them last year because they are all out now. The books I am talking about today, won’t be out for a few months.

Just because I am presenting in New Orleans today, however, doesn’t mean every single one of you can’t still listen to me today, no matter where you are. Recently I recorded a two part episode for Ladies of the Fright podcast.  Here is the direct link to the episode page.

While this interview was geared toward educating authors about how libraries work, we also spent a lot of time talking about the appeal of horror, my horror origin story, my life as a writer, and where the genre is headed.

There is much here for anyone who works with readers of any genre. We even talk about booktalking in general and I book talk a few titles- book talks you can feel free to borrow.

Again the episode’s page with show notes is here. I can’t wait to have time to listen myself.

See some of you at the Read ’N’ Rave in a bit, but see all of you back here tomorrow to begin my week of conference report posts.

Friday, June 22, 2018

ALA Plans In Person And For Blog

I will be getting on my plane to NOLA soon and I think I am ready for the humidity. I brought lots of hair stuff. And of course, there are always ponytails. I am concerned about the glasses fogging up as you enter and leave buildings though; a few people are reporting that.

I just wanted to check in real quick before I left to let you know I have a full slate of programs and events filling up my conference app, more than I can attend. I will be live tweeting from many of the programs, so if you are also in that room, please come up to me. I have RA for All stickers and pens for anyone who says hi.

I know for sure I will be at the NoveList table for the Carnegie Awards on Saturday night. Not only will it be my last time sitting next to my good friend Duncan Smith in his official capacity before he retires, but also I have a few new projects in the works with NoveList in the coming months. I am excited about all of them.

Speaking of up coming projects, I actually have a lot of those moving forward right now. None of them are in the announcement stages yet, but they are very exciting. I will be having some meetings about them while in NOLA.

Monday for sure you will find me presenting all of my favorites from the conference along with my colleagues:

Monday, June 25 
10:30 AM - 11:30 AM 
Location: Morial Convention Center, Rm 281-282       
ALA Unit/Subunit: ALA
Meeting Type: Other
Cost: Included with full conference registration.
Open/Closed: Open
Hear several collection development specialists rave about their favorite titles gathered from the exhibit floor. Moderated by Susan Maguire, Booklist’s Senior Editor, Collection Management and Library Outreach. Panelist to include: 

Ariel Farrar, New Orleans Public Library
Stephen Sposato, Chicago Public Library
Becky Spratford, RA for All
Kaite Stover, Kansas City Public Library
Rebecca Vnuk, LibraryReads

On the blog Monday, I will have a link to a brand new podcast appearance, the first of a two parter, the second part of which will contain some info on one of my up coming projects. And then after that, Tuesday through Friday expect nothing but detailed ALA wrap up posts, including a detailed account of what I said for my Read N Rave titles.

I can’t wait to see some of you, but please, if you are ALA Left Behind, follow on Twitter or just wait until Tuesday when I start posting all the info. Feel free to email me if you want more details on anything I post about. If I can’t give it to you, I can get you in touch with someone who can.

I also hope to find a few people to write me guest posts about the things I can’t make it to. But first, to get there and join the party.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Resource Alert-- Final Reports from Library Journal’s Day of Dialog

I was BEA Left Behind which means I missed all of Library Journal’s wonderful Day of Dialog, but I didn’t need to fear because Editor, Wilda Williams wrote up a summary of each and every panel, with pictures.

Click here for all of the Day of Dialog coverage. What I alway love about Day of Dialog is that each panel is broken up by a genre or format and include authors. So yes we get info about upcoming books, but we have moderation by genre experts who ask the authors interesting questions about their work, the genre itself, trends, etc. It is more than a book buzz.

Again click here for all of the reports on one page. Also, don’t forget you can search past Day of Dialog reports. For example, a simple search using this link brings up everything report from the 2017 event. I actually used that link yesterday to suggest a book for someone from this list of popular 2017 titles in translation.  I didn’t go in 2017 either, but those reports are still working for me to help readers.

In fact, I would argue that because I didn’t attend, precisely because I was left behind, I was more aware that I needed to seek out the information from both events. Actively searching for it, actively trying to follow it from afar, meant that it became a resource from the start. Not an event, a resource-- one I have and will continue to use to help readers.

I saved this post for today as a reminder, that being left behind for a major conference does not mean you can’t learn from the conference itself. You might even learn more.

Tomorrow I will be headed to ALA and plan to prove this point to all of you- both those who are there and those who are ALA Left Behind.

I will explain how it is going to work before I catch my plane to NOLA tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

That Time When A "The Book Vs The Media Adaptation” Post Turned Into A Rant About Improving Patron Experience

One of the oldest arguments in our world revolves around which is better-- the book or the movie [or tv show].

Adaptations are never perfect. Some are good, some just okay, and others truly horrible. But here’s the thing, people never do NOT have an opinion about an adaptation, especially if they love the book.

Normally I fall on the, “book is always better than the movie” side, but that is not 100% true. If I LOVE a book I rarely go see the movie. I usually still like the book better, but what if I don’t? I would just rather not know and/or not ruin my vision of the book from inside my own head.

Now, if I don’t like a book or don’t have an option either way, I have no problem seeing the movie or watching the TV show. Game of Thrones is an excellent example. I loved the story the books were telling, but long, epic fantasy isn’t my thing in print. On TV, however, I am a happy camper.

Books into Movies or TV has also long been a fun, popular, and easy display idea in libraries. It’s attention grabbing and easy to connect to current adaptations. It is also an easy way to remind our patrons that we have and care about our media collections. But, rarely do we take sides on the issue in public. Or sure in the staff room or with friends we will go on and on comparing the same story in its different formats, but in our work....not really.

I am not sure why we don’t. This would be a great and inviting conversation starter with patrons. A way to make us seem less scary. A way to connect. A way to encourage patrons to begin an interaction with us. Also, it’s just plain old fashioned, good fun.

Here are two great examples of ways you can spice up your popular, but tired, books to movie displays. Book Riot’s recent post, “13 Movies That Are Better Than the Book.” or my favorite, LitReactors “Books Vs Film” reviews. Those reviews are fun to read and have inspired me to go back to the originals.

So how can you use these in your work. Well first, you can post them on social media and your website to promote your collections and get people to come in and judge these opinions for themselves. Second, you can use either to set up an in-library or online battle/poll to see if people agree or disagree. And third, fourth, and fifth, use these as inspiration to make your own lists or start your own comparisons or hold a vote over which is better the book or the movie every time a new one comes out.

This could be really fun and easy to maintain since new media properties are constantly being released based on already published books. Since we own them all already, you can use each new release as a way to draw people into your building or on to your social media pages and have them interact with the library.

It’s imperative that we make all of our displays, heck all of our library services, participatory. I wrote about this at length back in November here.

Now just about every time I speak at a library I mention the overall point that we NEED to make the library experience more about the patron experience and less about us, our rules, and our traditions. It’s the PUBLIC library. Guess what that means? The public-- not the library workers-- is in charge. And every time I say this guess what else happens? Someone challenges me on this point. And it is usually a supervisor. The “gate keepers” who are always worried about being too accommodating and flexible.

I have always been pro-public and anti-useless rules. It’s why I worked in a public library, specifically in an underserved community. I have zero patience for library workers who but up barriers to access and assistance. Zero. And even when I wasn’t a supervisor I made my opinion clear.

I was waiving everyone’s fines way before fines free was a thing libraries did, and by the way, I got reprimanded several times for over-waiving fines. [FYI, never stopped; kept getting in trouble; never got fired for it though]. I was also one of the first people in my cooperative system to allow new books be checked out for 3 weeks just like a backlist book. Again, I was told I was crazy, but guess what? It’s pretty much standard now. And when a near by [smaller] library wouldn’t send out their new books via ILL to my library [even though we sent ours to them], even though the title in question was sitting on their shelf with zero local holds.... well, I got the bus schedule and/or drew a map for my patrons so they could make the 3 mile journey to go get the book themselves and check it out in person [which was allowed]. And when my Director got a call to “tell that Becky to stop sending people to check out all of our books,” my Director, after confirming that there were no local holds on said titles, called me into his office and told me to “keep up the good work.”

You see, I put the patron first...always. I made their happiness, their positive experience, their interaction with the library as my top goal for every day I served the public. And do you know what? In the public library world, that is never wrong, no matter what your current misguided boss tell you.

I know not everyone is in a position to actively break the rules as I did. But I will tell you that if you are doing it to improve the patron experience, if that is your rationale, you always have a leg to stand on when defending yourself.

And I will repeat this again here because every time I do, I get at least 5 people who take me up on this offer, if you want to make your library better for the patrons and are trying to implement some of my ideas and still getting push back, have your boss contact me. I can make your argument for you. I love putting bad managers in their place, but not as much as I love spreading the message that the patron comes first.