I can come to your library, book club meeting, or conference to talk about how to help your readers find their next good read. Click here for more information including RA for All's EDI Statement.

Friday, August 30, 2013

RA For All: Holiday Weekend

As you can see with my post on the passing of Seamus Heaney earlier today, I am back to posting on Fridays.

Summer is over and the kids are well entrenched in the school routine, so Fridays are back on the RA for All agenda.

But, RA for All will be quiet on Monday due to the Labor Day weekend.

Enjoy your time off too!

RIP Seamus Heaney

 Beowulf: A New Verse Translation
I do not normally post when authors die mostly because it is not particular to the mission of my blog, but today I feel compelled.  One of the greatest poets ever, Seamus Heaney, died early this morning. Click here for an obituary.

But here is why I want to mention his passing on this blog.  Heaney took one of Western Literature's first, and I think, greatest stories-- Beowulf-- and made it relevant to a 21st Century audience.

His new translation was printed in a dual language format with the original Old English on the left and a newly updated modern English translation on the right.  This new translation honored the meter and cadence of the original while making the language more accessible. I am not alone in liking this work, it became an huge International Bestseller!

Beowulf is an exciting tale of a heroic quest with many parallels for readers of any age, but clunkier translations had always turned people off.  This is a book I own, and regularly re-read.  Personally, I am thankful to Heaney for his work on Beowulf  both for my own enjoyment and for the generations to come.

But most importantly, he reminded us all that storytelling is part of who we are as humans. It unites us, despite our differences. Thank you Mr. Heaney and rest in peace.

Please see the information I have re-posted below from Goodreads which was supplied by the publisher of Beowulf for more information about Heaney's motivation and process in working on this new translation.

Who's Afraid of Beowulf?
Seamus Heaney, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature and considered by many to be the greatest living poet writing in English, has produced a new work that will be one of the most significant literary events of the year. This meditation on fame, blood feuds, and the culture of war, already awarded the Whitbread Prize for poetry and named the Whitbread Book of the Year, addresses some of the most important issues of our world at the turn of the millennium. The trouble is, it was written in the first millennium, more than a thousand years ago: Heaney's latest offering is not a collection of original poems or essays, but a modern English verse translation of that greatest of heroic epics, Beowulf.

Heaney's project is to save Beowulf and what he calls its status as a work of "the greatest imaginative vitality" from the tedium of required English courses in high schools and universities. Because of its arcane language, this gripping and beautifully wrought story is largely impenetrable to modern audiences. What's more, just as Beowulf's language and structure paved the way for modern English and its literary devices, its themes of fame and warrior cultures can tell us a lot about the world we now inhabit, where fame is viewed as perhaps the only thing worth achieving, and intractable ethnic conflicts wreak havoc on humankind. Some things never change -- or, as Heaney puts it, BEOWULF "lives in its own continuous present, equal to our knowledge of reality in the present time."

The tale is simple, and yet complex in its telling. It is composed of three main sections that center on a mortal battle: Beowulf's fight with Grendel the monster in the hall of a Danish king; his underwater battle with Grendel's mother, who is bent on revenge; and, finally, 50 years later, Beowulf's death at the hands of a third monster, a dragon accidentally awakened in Beowulf's own kingdom. Each sequence, narrated by an anonymous speaker who is familiar with the customs and laws of the Scandinavian people who make up the epic's characters, follows a similar pattern. First, there is a suspense-producing buildup in which the monster makes its presence known and begins its rampage; then, Beowulf's arrival on the scene and the ensuing battle to the death; and lastly a taking of stock -- in the first two cases, a celebration of the monster's defeat, and in the final sequence, in which the dragon is killed at the cost of Beowulf's life, a period of mourning. Interwoven with these main tales are many diversionary stories, and a series of pronouncements that define the role of the hero and the ethics of war, friendship, and death.

As in Homer, certain powerful phrases and titles, such as "Hrothgar the ring-giver," recur throughout the epic, lending it a comforting and rhythmic certainty. Heaney has divined an odd and mannered lyricism in the Old English and reproduced it in a fresh and compelling way in our own familiar tongue. In his introduction, Heaney speaks of the respect he had as a child for the plain and solemn voices of his father's Northern Irish relatives and how he wanted his translation "to be speakable by one of those relatives." It is filled with simple and direct turns of phrase, such as the final sentence of a list of the virtues of Shield Sheafson, a Danish warrior-king: "That was one good king."

Heaney's next accomplishment is that he remains faithful to Beowulf's confusing structure without losing the thread of the story. The main narrator often gives way to speeches by his characters, who will tell similar (but unrelated) stories of other great warriors. Through these digressions the setting develops, as do its surrounding ethical framework and dramatizing rituals, lending a deeper symbolic meaning to the archetypal actions of its great hero. Poets and bards occasionally appear to sing of more heroic deeds, and, in another instance of this ancient tale's surprising relevance for modern readers, the speaker argues for the descriptive powers of these poets in a self-referential manner that seems positively postmodern.

Heaney has provided a rich and original translation of Beowulf that should dispel once and for all the "rumor" that it is a boring, repetitive tale filled with unpronounceable names. His new offering is vivid and at times breathtaking; it renews the timeless drama of an often-misunderstood epic.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

BPL Teen Services News and Resources

In the days leading up to my vacation, I was busy working with our fearless leader, Kathy, to hire the first ever Teen Services employees for the BPL.  We had 2, 13 hour a week, paraprofessional positions open.  Basically, the plan was for them to cover the after school until closing hours M-Th (2 days each) and to work 5 hour, overlapping shifts on Saturdays.

I am happy to report that this week they began. Tara and Morgan will be the newest members of the BPL dream team.  Tara, is a young woman who has worked as a preschool teacher for many years, but is making the transition to libraries.  She is also a metal artist. Morgan, is a young man who recently finished his library degree but had been working as a track coach for a large Chicago high school.

While the rest of the BPL RA Dream Team will continue to assist with Teen Services and some of us, myself included, will keep all of the collection development responsibilities, I am so excited for the library and our teen patrons that we now have dedicated staff members to focus on them.

I am expecting great things for our Teens in 2014.  I will keep you posted and maybe even get Tara and Morgan to be involved here too.

But this post just isn't about what I'm doing, I also wanted to point you all to the newly released September 2013 issue of NoveList RA News.  The theme this month is on serving Teens entitled, "Transitions."

Specially, I really enjoyed the article on realistic fiction for teens by Jennifer Brannen. One thing I have found by working the teen desk regularly this summer is that we have many readers who are not interested in the dystopian craze and are actively seeking out stories of real teens with real problems.

It's funny.  As Duncan Smith notes in the intro to the newsletter, being a teen is a transitional time of life, and here we are at the BPL going through a teen transition of our own.  I think this shared feeling will give us and our patrons a unique bond.

Please remember that I keep a permanent link to past issues of RA News in the right gutter of the blog.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Romance Training

I was feeling like a bad RA librarian as I was helping a romance reader today.  Not because I couldn't help her, but in helping her I realized that I have not been keeping up on my romance authors, resources, and trends.

So first thing I did after helping her was to sign myself up for the September 10th Booklist free webinar entitled "A Passion for Romance":
"Find out about newly available classics and the most alluring of soon-to-come titles in this free, hour-long webinar that highlights the rich and pleasurable happily-ever-after variety this ever-popular genre generates. Romance and genre fiction expert Diana Tixier Herald talks about her favorite romance novels, and representatives from Baker Publishing Group, HarperCollins Publishers, and Severn House offer exclusive previews of their forthcoming titles. Booklist senior editor Donna Seaman moderates."
After feeling better about planning some training for myself, I began to tackle this month's  Library Journal Romance reviews and also found out here that the newest growth area in historical romances right now is the Victorian era.

Okay, I am making some progress.

Then I went to the Romance Writers Of America's homepage to see who won their annual, prestigious RITA Awards for 2013.  Again, shamefully, they were handed out on July 20th, and this is the first time I am checking.  You can click here to see the complete list.

Finally, I gave a quick look over the BPL's Funny Romance list which reminded me that my friends over at the Skokie Public Library have this huge list of romance lists.

Why I am detailing this for all of you though? Because, I wanted to make 2 points.

First, every single one of us, no matter how good we are at our jobs, has areas of weakness.  We need to be able to identify where we have gaps and then find a way to fill them in.

Second, training does not have to be planned out months in advance and/or cost a lot of money.  In a few hours this morning I was able to sign up for a more formal training, learn a bit about current romance trends, see who the "best" authors are right now, and read through more than a dozen themed romance lists giving me some information about titles and authors broken up by popular themes or subgenres.

I hope this helps you too.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

What I'm Reading: Pillars of the Earth

Earlier this summer I was immersed in listening to a backlist title I have been meaning to read for years, Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett.

This is a book people love. It  regualrly shows up on all-time favortie lists. In fact, although it was a big departure from the thrillers he wrote before, Pillars of the Earth has gone on to become Follett's most popular book.  There is a great write up and a link to an audio clip by Follett about why he felt he HAD to write this book here.

Here's the gist of the book from the publisher:
"As a new age dawns in England's twelfth century, the building of a mighty Gothic cathedral sets the stage for a story of intrigue and power, revenge and betrayal. It is in this rich tapestry, where kings and queens are corrupt - and one majestic creation will bond them forever."
This novel is close to 1,000 pages and over 400,000 words, but this single sentence is all you need to know about the plot.  Why you will or will not enjoy the journey of reading it is a different issue and is what I want to focus on.

The most striking think about this book is the frame.  The 12th century setting and all of the details to recreate the place and time dominate the novel. Follett was able to place me, as a reader, right in the center of a world that is completely foreign to me.

But, there is also intrigue here, both a larger story about the power struggle for the throne of England and the smaller stories of "power, revenge and betrayal" among the main characters.

This combination of details and intrigue keeps the story moving.  It is a great example of methodical pacing.  It is deliberate, moving slowly, but the details and intrigue are enough to keep you turning the pages. You want to know what happens and why.

The novel's storytelling style most closely resembles an epic or saga in the historical fiction genre.

I also loved how all of the details come together at the end.  Every thing we learned about, every bit of character and setting minutia, they all come to matter.  And the novel nicely comes back to its start at the end.  It really is a full circle story. Readers who like to follow characters and a story through a complete story arc will find much satisfaction here.

One complaint I have seen from readers is that there is too much detail on the building of cathedrals, how they are laid out, how they are built, and the changes in building technology and styles in this era. For me, this was not a problem.  Yes there were huge sections of this detail--pages upon pages in the midst of the story-- but it was all new to me and I found it very interesting.  I was also listening to this novel.  I find when there is a lot of frame and detail in a story, I tolerate it better in audio.

Surprisingly for me, I haven't mentioned the characters yet.  I am a big character-centered story fan, and while Pillars of the Earth is character heavy, it is much more plot driven.  The plot is directly dependent upon the characters, their motiviations and who they are at their moral cores, but I would not say this is a charcater driven story.  The characters are developed as much as they need to be.  Some are very full and rich, others are more sketched out.  This range is not dependent upon how important they are to the story either.  But with so much detail about the time, place, and catherdral building, the main focus of the novel is on moving the plot ahead.

There is a nice stable of characters from all over the map though.  There is the Prior, a builder and his family members, an Earl's family, and a business class family that share the story's pov. Some of these protagonists are good, others very bad, and many more falling somewhere in between. All together they present a nice snapshot of the era. It is their drama, together, and that of the fate of the cathedral that keeps the story moving.

So I would summarize Pillars of the Earth in appeal terms as a plot driven narrative with a huge historical frame and interesting, if not always complex, characters.

I thoroughly enjoyed Pillars of the Earth. While I was reading the novel I was completely caught up in its world. But I will also concede that I was mentally prepared for a long, methodical book. If you want a quick read, this is not it.  If you want an absorbing one though, Pillars of the Earth is a nice choice.

There is a sequel, World Without End, which takes place in the same town, but 2 centuries later and during the time of the Black Death.  Since they are so far apart in time, either can be enjoyed on its own. Anecdotally, people tell me that Pillars of the Earth is "better," but I cannot say.  I do know that with so many books to read, I will probably not invest the time in the 1,000 page sequel in the near future, but am not going to rule out eventually giving it a try.

A note on the narration: I love John Lee as a narrator. His commanding, smooth, British voice kept me hooked for the full 31 hours and 48 minutes it takes to get through the novel.  He was able to sustain the drama through all the detail too.

Three Words That Describe This Book: historical, intricately plotted, intrigue

Readalikes: There are a few different ways to go here.

Obvious readalikes are other richly detailed and intricately plotted historical fiction novels.  Hilary Mantel's award winning and extremely popular Thomas Cromwell trilogy (only 2 books so far) is an obvious read alike.  Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies are the first two titles.

But if you like richly detailed, epic, and compelling historical fiction all in one big book, the novels of Edward Rutherfurd are for you. Like Pillars of the Earth, Rutherfurd's novels focus on people, place, and event details. Pick any based on the setting. To stay in England, Sarum is the place to start.

For people who like the idea of Pillars of the Earth but found it too slow, I would suggest Bernard Cornwell. Here we have historical adventure at its best. There is great detail and characters but it moves at a fairly brisk pace.  Fans of the Follett setting should try the Saxon series set in the 9th Century in England, beginning with The Last Kingdom.

Since Pillars of the Earth is such a fan favorite, check out the suggestion from readers on GoodReads too.

Finally, my outside of the box suggestion may sound crazy, but I can't shake how similar these stories feel...If you like the intrigue, the back stabbing, the family drama, the revenge, and the pure hunger for power at all costs here in Pillars of the Earth, you will find much of this in George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire epic fantasy series.  Critics have already said that Martin's series is the War of the Roses (15th Century England) with magic, so this connection to a 12th Century historical is not too off the wall.  But it is not just the plots that I find similar.  Both have a shifting point of view with a huge cast of characters and LOTS of detail. If you like one of these hugely popular works, try the others.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Monday Discussion: How Do You Decide What To Read Next?

Working in the public library with leisure readers, it is our job to help our patrons to choose what they will read next.  This entire blog is focused on giving you strategies on how to accomplish this in the most efficient and effective manner.

A few recent articles got me thinking about how I pick which books I am going to read next.  Of course this led me to asking all of you...the professionals, exactly how you pick the books you are going to read.

Digital Book World featured this article by a "power reader," someone who reads hundreds of books a year.  She was specifically referring to how she finds ebook recommendations, but I think the idea holds for print too.  From the post:
I find it very hard to browse online — if I knew what book I wanted, then Amazon was the place to go, but what could I do if all I knew was that I wanted another book? And this happens often; I read genre fiction almost exclusively, mainly romances, and I read them fast: somewhere between 300 and 400 a year, if I could afford it, and if I could find that many novels I want to read.
The solution could come in the form of the book recommendation websites — websites devoted to finding me the perfect book based on my interests. But, as with everything on the Internet, it can feel like there is an overwhelming amount of them. So, let us assume I just finished one of my favorite regency romances. I would like to find a new book in a similar style. How can I find my next book?
To answer this question, I examined a number of book discovery platforms, rating them on a scale of one-to-five for my needs, one being workable at best and five being exactly what I want. The top ten are given with commentary in alphabetical order; those I did not like as much I simply rated.
(A caveat: many of these platforms have functionality other than recommending books, such as social networking. I am rating these based solely on the functionality, breadth, and usability of their book recommendation functions. Anything else was not be factored in.)
The author looked at over 20 platforms.  She talks about what she found and why she preferred some over others. If nothing else, this post will give you new tools for yourself and your patrons to discover new books.
But also, as I mentioned above, it really got me to think critically about how I pick books for myself.  As I have mentioned on the blog before, applying new tools and idea to yourself and your own reading, is often the best way to see if you can help others using the same methods.

It is also always a good idea to break down your processes with patrons and think about them idependent of the person in front of you. We need to make sure our methods, that lay the foundation for our work, are sound. Thinking about them in terms of ourselves, the reader we know best, is a great way to evaluate our tools and processes.

So, how do I pick the books I want to read for myself.  I think I have 2 main tools:
  • Professional Reviews and Articles:  Since I read, either in print or digitally, a professional review or book industry report daily, I am constantly scanning them both for collection development AND personal reading.  When I see something that appeals to me personally I either put it on hold for myself or add it to my "planning to read" shelf on Shelfari.
  • Word of Mouth: Still the most popular tool for our patrons, recommendations from others is a key way I identify books I want to read for myself as well. Talking to patrons and fellow library staff about books they have enjoyed, especially when it comes to backlist titles, is one of my favorite ways to find new reads. Many of the book recommendation engines that the article discusses are another way for people who are not around readers (I know I am lucky to be surrounded by them every day) to get a "word of mouth" experience.
What about you?

For today's Monday Discussion, I ask you, the professional book suggester, to tell me how you suggest books for yourself.

For past Monday Discussions, click here.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

ARRT Program Today: Whole Collection RA

Although I cannot make it to the Deerfield Public Library today, ARRT is hosting a conversation between 3 great Illinois librarians:

Adult Reading Round Table Presents Whole Collection Readers' Advisory

Thursday, August 22
2-4 pm 

Deerfield Public Library

Panel Discussion with: Rick Roche of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library, Nanette Donohue of the Champaign Public Library and Joyce Saricks, author of Readers' Advisory Service in the Public Library

If you are like me and can't make it, Rick has already posted his presentation entitled, The Birders Kit: A Display for Integrated Advisory Service. The concept from Rick's post:
To illustrate how a librarian could help a client with a specific interest get a variety of items in various forms, I have created a slideshow called The Birder's Kit. The aspect ratios for a couple images are a bit distorted, but you can see the slideshow via Google Drive.
Click through and check it out. Rick's list is the perfect example of the power of thinking "whole collection" as we help our patrons.  You can apply his method to any patron's interest.

It is easy for us to get stuck in a rut of offering the same few choices to patrons. We need to remember to think about the breadth of offerings we have at our finger tips.  We are the experts.  We delight and surprise our patrons when we offer whole collection options. They come expecting a book from the immediate are in which you are stationed, so when instead you offer items from everywhere (all areas of the building, online, digital, other libraries, etc...) you become a superhero in their eyes.

If you are new to whole collection thinking, I would suggest beginning by assessing your own interests. Is there a topic or area that you are interested in personally? Start there and make your own list of all of the things you have read and watched in relation to that interest. I bet you will find that when it comes to yourself, you are already thinking whole collection.

See you can do it. Now try it on someone else. And head over to Deerfield this afternoon if you have time (cost: $15).

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

BPL Book Discussion: Please Look After Mom

The BPL book group met on Monday afternoon to discuss Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin.  Here is the publisher's summary:
A million-plus-copy best seller in Korea—a magnificent English-language debut poised to become an international sensation—this is the stunning, deeply moving story of a family’s search for their mother, who goes missing one afternoon amid the crowds of the Seoul Station subway.
Told through the piercing voices and urgent perspectives of a daughter, son, husband, and mother, Please Look After Mom is at once an authentic picture of contemporary life in Korea and a universal story of family love.
You will never think of your mother the same way again after you read this book.
There are questions at Lit Lovers but I have to say, this book pretty much discusses itself. Let's get to the report:
  • 5 votes for a solid "liked," 6 so-so. and 0 disliked.
  • A so-so voter started by saying she was more ambiguous then so-so on this book.  Ambiguous because I enjoyed reading it but had a hard time connecting with any of the characters.
  • All around people loved the mother and how the author portrayed her.  In fact, as you will see later, even though the mother is missing throughout the duration of the book, she is who we talked about most.
  • One of the most jarring things about this novel is that most of it is written in the second person voice.  It is hard to get used to and we began by address it up front.  Here are some of the comments on the narration in general:
    • Second person is "very Asian." Using "I" is too self centered.
    • Second person is from, for example, the daughter's perspective, but it is pointing you the reader back to someone else; in this case, the mom.
    • Every creative writing teacher I have ever had said to stay away from writing in the second person.  It is very technically difficult to do well.  Shin did is perfectly though.
    • We actually read a paragraph together from page 23 of the paperback in its original second person voice and then I went back and read it as if it were written in first person, replacing the you's with I's.  It had a completely different feel.  When we used I, the focus shifted to the daughter, the speaker.  But the second person was more distant. Maybe this is on purpose, we thought; the focus should not be on the daughter but on her search and feelings for her mother.
  • People started talking about the mother right away.  Here are some initial comments before I tried to focus us:
    • I connected with the mother, but I felt inadequate compared to her. She worked so hard.
    • But, chimed in someone else, I think she worked so hard because she was compensating for her own inadequacies.
    • I admired her for her life giving qualities.  Multiple characters comment on her ability to grow things, care for animals and children.
    • She was so alone; that was sad to me.
    • I admired her but felt sad for her. She spent her whole life caring for her kids and husband and no one appreciated her until she went missing.
    • This book taught me that as I am aging and I travel...I need to put my name in my clothes.  We had a giggle at that, but it does ring true too.
  • I asked more specifically: What is this book saying about what it means to be a mother?
    • It is about giving yourself to children.  The mother went to work at the orphanage after her children were grown.
    • Sacrifice
    • She was everything to her family.  She made a lot out of nothing.
    • When family members hit hard times, she was their to re-energize them.
    • Nurturing
    • I found this portrayal of motherhood to be refreshing.  The mother is not all good or all bad. She is a true person with faults and good things.
  • What about the mother herself? Share your thoughts.
    • She was very creative.  She was very smart even though illiterate.
    • All her kids turned out differently, but each okay in life.  That was interesting,
    • It is sad that there is no closure here, but it is clear that her children have grown because of their experience of coming together to look for her.
    • She was so courageous. In many ways, but specifically in trying to learn to read later in life.
  • This book makes me want to ask: How well do you [or did you] know your mother?
    • Not well enough
    • I wish I had appreciated my mother more
    • The author expressed this universal regret, at not knowing our mothers until they are gone, so perfectly.  This was the best part of the book.
    • It is as if the entire book is a metaphor for what we lose as a family and as a culture when the older members of our world begin to die
      • We went on a tangent to talk about the underlying themes of the modernization of Korean society in this novel. The book mentions the fading of traditions and a taking over of western ways many times, but only as more of a side note.  The mother going missing without a trace, without resistance, seemed like a metaphor for the death of the old ways that is hinted at throughout.
  • What does the title, "Please Look After Mom" mean?
    • Don't lose the heartbeat of the family
    • I liked that the title is used at the beginning as the heading for the missing person flyers and at the very end when the writer daughter asks the Virgin Mary statue to please look after mom.
      • One participant chimed in here that she loved that ending.  Even though the family does not ever find mom, the book still had closure for her.  Mary is the symbol of all mothers and now she will look after their mom.
    • Look after the family but also the traditions.
    • It is also a very literal title.  They don't know what to do.  The characters are pleading for help to look after her. They are asking us to help.  The author is asking us to be part of the story.  Help them to figure her out. We become entangled in the story because of the participatory tone of the title.
  • So what did happen to mom?
    • One participant said that in her addled state she had a sort of epiphany when left behind on the train platform and realized, I am free. So she went off, truly free for the first time ever.
    • It drove me crazy that we don't know for sure.  That's why I couldn't vote for liking the book.
    • I was so frustrated that they never were able to find her.
    • I loved that it was so ambiguous. That is why we are having such a great discussion because we don't know what happened to her. [Becky's note: I swear I didn't bribe this person]
    • When people say they thought they saw mom, was it actually her or her spirit that touched them? The chapter narrated by mom's spirit made me think she never physically made it to the nostalgic places, but her spirit did.
    • It was interesting that they did not have a recent picture of mom; this reinforced the family dynamic.
    • Mom being (and staying) missing was a universal statement about what we are all missing about each other as we go through life.
  • We talked a bit about the mother's relationships with her writer daughter, oldest son, and stay at home mom/pharmacist daughter. 
  • But it was the husband who touched a few of us greatly.  There is no doubt about it, he was a horrible husband, a true cad, but his regret was so genuine.  Many of us, myself included, were very drawn to the chapter he narrates.
  • What is the author saying about how we can do better in our own families?
    • Communicate better-- yes the children were bad at expressing their appreciation for mom, but she also never asked for help.
    • We need to figure out what it is about motherhood that doesn't teach children to appreciate their mothers.
  • We ended with words and phrases to describe this book:
    • haunting
    • multiple points of view
    • spare
    • 2nd person narration
    • moving
    • brilliantly written
    • ambiguous
    • regret
    • motherhood
    • still learning
    • sad/melancholy
    • something missing
    • elusive
    • family
    • secrets
    • east vs west
    • urban vs rural
    • perception
Readalikes: Most traditional RA resources focus on the Korea part of this novel, and while I do think that is an appeal factor here and did provide a link at the end of this list for readers who want more Korean set books, I really think this book's themes, tone, and unique story telling style are also important to consider. I want to focus my readalike suggestions in that arena since this is where they other resources are lacking.

The tone of this book, that of looking back on your life as you near the end reminded me of Rush Home Road by Lori Lansens which we discussed in book club here.  Although the settings share nothing in common (Canada vs South Korea) the feel is quite similar.

The character driven storyline with a haunting tone also reminded me of two other currently popular book club choices: The Light Between the Oceans by M.L Stedman and The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin.  Again these three books have very different frames and story lines, but their overall feel and "discussabilty" are eerily similar.

As I mentioned above, the second person narration was striking.  For some it was so different that it was distracting, but others were fascinated by how well it was done.  For readers who want to try some other critically acclaimed novels written in this voice I would suggest How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid and Invisible by Paul Auster.

A few other novels that also deal with secrets that come to light after the loss of a family member and have been described as haunting and moving are:
We also talked a lot [above] about motherhood after reading this novel.  Many people appreciated the multiple perspectives of motherhood presented here. Here are some other well received adult fiction titles that also offer this:
If you are specifically looking for more books by Korean authors or with Korean characters click here.

Finally, Please Look After Mom won the Man Asian Literary Prize.  Click here if you want to see a list of more winners.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

What I'm Reading: The Bookman's Tale

I think this week is catch up on reviews week on RA for All.  At least that is the plan.  Here we go...

Back at the beginning of July I read a publisher provided ARC of great debut, The Bookman's Tale: A Novel of Obsession by Charlie Lovett.  We also own a copy here at the BPL, but I have been talking up this book so much, it has been continuously checked out all summer. I find that interesting because it did not sell particularly well, but it is a library hit.

My soundbite review of The Bookman's Tale says quite a bit about it-- This is a fast paced historical-mystery combo, perfect for any book lover. Think Agatha Christie meets Geraldine Brooks.

If you have every found yourself ignoring everything in your life around you because of a good book, you will relate to Peter, our protagonist.  Peter, like the author, Lovett, is a rare book collector.  It is 1995 as the book opens.  He is an ex-pat in England, trying to ply his trade in a new country as he is simultaneously struggling with the death of his beloved wife 9 months previously.

But we also have 2 other story lines set on 2 different time lines.  Along with the 1995 timeline of a melancholy Peter, we have the story of how Peter met his now deceased wife Amanda and fell in love with her beginning in 1985 and moving up until just before the novel as a whole begins.  And, finally, we have the mystery of a Shakespeare folio with possible notes by the famous playwright himself which Peter finds in 1995; this timeline also eventually moves up to the present.  We the reader, get to see the provenance of the book from the 1500s to the present in the third storyline as we watch Peter try to piece it all together in the 1995 timeline.

The mystery is the result of a book lover with a secret combined with a centuries' old family feud. And it all comes together in the present in a satisfying fashion.

I realize now that this may all sound confusing, but I was impressed at how all three story lines worked together to create a unified and, quite frankly, fun story. This is a page turner with a book lover's theme. It has just the right amount of history, bittersweet love story, and mystery to sustain your interest.  In fact, at one point in the last third, I started to get worried that Lovett would get a little too cheesy with the mystery causing me to no longer enjoy the book, but just as I started to set nervous, it was as if he also knew it was going too far and he poked fun at himself in a very witty way.  I loved that part, and it came right at the climax. Lovett does not take himself too seriously here and it works.

The pace of this novel is tight and crisp.  The historical detail is just enough to hold your interest, but not enough to bog down the pacing.  Also, the rotating triple time frames keeps you turning the pages. Also, Lovett gives the reader more information than Peter has; another reason the pace moves swiftly. We want to keep reading to see Peter catch up to us.

I should also mention that the promotional material for this book focuses a bit on Amanda's ghost. I think they were trying to get paranormal romance readers here, but I have to say it is not something I would focus on.  Peter thinks he sees Amanda's ghost guiding him make the correct decisions, especially as the mystery heats up and Peter's life is at stake. But these scenes are more about his love for her guiding him than her literal ghost.  Do not read this if you think you will get a ghost story.  It is not.

Also, a note on the mystery. It is pretty clear what is going on fairly early, but the "why" and "how" is not completely realized until the end. As a result, this is not a suggested read for hardcore mystery fans. Rather, this is first and foremost a book for book lovers.  The cozy mystery, bittersweet (and very satisfying) love story between Amanda and Peter, and the historical touches add to its appeal.

This is not the best book I have read this year, but it is probably among the most enjoyable. This will become one of my sure bet options for a "good story."

Three Words That Describe This Book: books about books, fun, cozy historical mystery

Readalikes:  As I said above, this novel knows it has a Miss Marple amatuer detective vibe.  Peter even comments on it toward the end of the book.  So yes, Agatha Christie is a great readalike here. Peter also is just like Flavia de Luce, except Peter is a grown-up. But both have a loss of a loved one propelling them through life, both get caught up in mysteries they should probably stay out of, and both have a unique skill (antiquarian books and chemistry) that adds interest to the mystery.

I also mentioned Geraldine Brooks above.  This novel reminded me specifically of People of the Book.

If you want to follow the mystery of a book in an enjoyable tale I would also suggest The second book in Deborah Harkness' projected trilogy Shadow of Night or The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. I realize these books are widely different, but I thought of each as I was reading The Bookman's Tale.  Harkness because of the era where the story begins in the past, Shakepearean times. IT is all about tracing a mysterious book from the past into the present.  If this is why you are reading Shadow of Night, it will not matter if you have read the first book.  The Thriteenth Tale, is all about an author and the mystery of her life and works, but it is also very Gothic.  Lovett's work is not explicitly Gothic, but it had that overall feel at times. Untangling a mystery within the lives of writers and book lovers is very important in all three works.  Click on the titles for my detailed reviews of Shadow of Night and The Thirteenth Tale. It is important to note that the Harkness trilogy and The Thirteenth Tale are also go-to titles for me when I am looking for books with a wide appeal to hand to patrons who want a "good story."

I also loved the details in the rare books, college library setting from the q985 timeline. It reminded me of a book I read a long time ago,  The Archivist by Martha Cooley.

The publisher suggests The Bookman's Tale for fans of A. S. Byatt's Possession and Carol Ruiz Zafon's Shadow of the Wind.  While I do not disagree with their similarity, The Bookman's Tale is not as literary as these. It is more fun. You will appreciate it's construction, but there is no hidden meaning or symbolism here that you need to root out in multiple readings.  This is not a bad thing, in fact, when I read Lovett's novel (over the July 4th week) it was the best thing.  But I know the Byatt and Ruiz books have some ardent fans who re-read them.  The Bookman's Tale is a readalike then only if you understand it is a lighter, fun read for fans of these other books.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Monday Discussion: Back To School 2013

After a few week's hiatus the Monday Discussion is back. And just in time for the Back to School rush. Here at the BPL we have a few schools who went back today and a few more that are going back within the week.

If you work in a library, even if you don't have kids yourself, it is hard to not notice the back to school buzz in the air.  Kids coming in for last minute required summer reading, new teachers coming to check out what we have for them here, parents coming to look for a book to read now that the kids are back in school and they have more time, etc...

So I am jumping on the bandwagon. When this back to school season comes around, what books does it make you think of? Are you craving a back to school themed read yourself. Have you found a good read for yourself on one of the many required reading lists that have been placed in front of you all summer?

I'll start.  One of the most popular titles this year in our community came from the Junior AP English list--Falling Leaves: The Memoir of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter by Adeline Yen Mah. After helping a few dozen kids procure it, I have read a lot about it. Once the back to school rush dies down, I will be putting it on my personal to-read list.

I also tend to get nostalgic for my own school days this time of year and I often look to a book with a school theme. Two books I would suggest right off the top of my head that I enjoyed (and have reviews for) are Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl and The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach.

What about you? What books are on your radar during this back to school season?

For past Monday Discussions, click here.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

6 Years of RA for All!

Thanks to everyone who filled in for me while I was on vacation.  It was nice to have a full 2 weeks off.  But now I am back and feeling very refreshed.

During my vacation, we also passed the 6th Anniversary of the start of RA for All.  I have never "celebrated" this annual milestone on the blog before, but while I was away I also got this news from a colleague, Jack Phoenix:
"I just wanted you to know that... your blog [is] listed as [a] Readers’ Advisory Resource in the textbook I am reading for class, Reference and Information Services by Cassell and Hiremath... You are on page 298 of the third edition."
This blew me away.  When I started this blog, I was really doing it for me and my students.  I wanted a way to keep track of links, articles, and RA related thoughts I had.  In other words I was doing it for me.  But in the mean time, many of you have found something useful here.  The many accolades and nominations for awards have been nice [ending up in a library school textbook was a shock though],  but quite honestly, although I started the blog for myself, I have only kept it going because so many people find it helpful.

It has also been a way for me to meet so many others who share a passion for Readers' Advisory.  Take Jack above as an example. Jack and I got acquainted (virtually) because he is a librarian and horror author, but it took another colleague of his to tell him about my blog. [For more about Jack and his new horror book with proceeds going to charity, click here.]

People often ask me advice about starting their own sites or blogs.  My main advice is always the same, create an initial post and think of it as your mission.  Think carefully about what you say in this first post because you need to hold yourself to its parameters.  You can click here for the first ever RA for All post. When I started the horror blog in 2010, I used what I had learned here on RA for All and was much more specific. Click here to see RA for All: Horror's mission.

Blogs that veer off on a tangent will never be useful to anyone.  I have a very specific focus. It is stated in the header on the top of the blog:
I like to think that over the last 6 years I have stayed true to this focus.

So now that I am refreshed, I plan to get back to more of the same.  It seems to be working.

Look for many reviews in the days to come as I am shamefully behind in writing them.  Sadly, many are 3/4 done and sitting in the drafts folder here on the blog just waiting for final touches. Plus, Monday is another BPL Book Discussion day.

Ahh, see how quickly my refreshed state of mind vanished.  Well, back to work.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Library Reads: September 2013

The top ten books published this month that librarians across the country love.

I am happy to post the first of what will be many lists to come.  Click here for details.

Please spread this list to your patrons. All the fiction titles are on order at my library and we are excited to start suggesting them to patrons.

I have also started a tag for "library reads" which you can use to pull up all lists from now on.  I will post the lists each month with the month and year in the title.  Right now, that might seem gratuitous, but once we have multiple month's worth, these lists will become an awesome backlist tool too. I know a year from now, when I am looking for a "good read" for a patron, I can pull up this September 2013 list and find something on the shelf that another librarian really enjoyed.

But most importantly, please remember that the Library Reads Program is a direct collaboration between publishers and libraries. This is a key partnership whose success helps both sides equally.

As you can tell, I am excited about Library Reads on many fronts.  

Here is the list, with librarian comments from the site:

September 2013 LibraryReads List



by Rainbow Rowell

Published: 9/10/2013
by St. Martin’s Griffin
ISBN: 9781250030955
“At turns funny, sweet, smart, and sad, Fangirl traces Cath’s journey to independence as she begins college, struggles to have an identity separate from her twin sister, find her voice and passion as a writer and fall in love, maybe, for the first time. As sharp and emotionally resonant as Rowell’s previous novel,Eleanor & Park.”
Stephanie Chase, Seattle Public Library, Seattle, WA

How the Light Gets In: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel

by Louise Penny

Published: 8/27/2013 by Minotaur Books
ISBN: 9780312655471
“The latest novel featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec is as amazing as ever. The internal conflict within the Québec police force that has been building in the series comes to a head, prompting Gamache to retreat to the small town of Three Pines. The combination of fascinating mystery puzzles, exquisitely crafted characters, and gorgeous, gorgeous writing is irresistible.”
Megan McArdle, Berkeley Public Library, Berkeley, CA


Night Film: A Novel

by Marisha Pessl

Published: 8/20/2013 by Random House
ISBN: 9781400067886
“Scott McGrath has it all — a successful career in journalism, a beautiful wife, and an adorable daughter — until his impulsive, possibly libelous comment about the mysterious film director Stanislav Cordova causes everything to fall apart. Five years later, Cordova’s talented daughter, Ashley, dies from an apparent suicide — or is it? A giant, delicious, juicy read in the noir tradition that cuts across genres.”
Elizabeth Olesh, Nassau Library System, Uniondale, NY


Help for the Haunted: A Novel

by John Searles

Published: 9/17/2013 by William Morrow
ISBN: 9780060779634
“Fourteen-year-old Sylvia slowly unravels deep family secrets after her demonologist parents are gunned down in a deserted church. Creepy, disturbing, and compelling, with gothic overtones and well-drawn characters, Help for the Haunted is definitely one of my favorite suspense novels of the year. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this to older teens, and it would also make a terrific movie.”
Robin Beerbower, Salem Public Library, Salem, OR


The Returned

by Jason Mott

Published: 8/27/2013 by Harlequin MIRA
ISBN: 9780778315339
“Around the world, people are coming back from the dead and trying to reunite with their loved ones. In a tiny Southern town, Harold and Lucille Hargrave are astonished to have their son Jacob come back to them fifty years after he died. A global government agency at first works to reunite “The Returned” with their families, then later confines them as more and more people come back from the dead. A beautifully written exploration of love and family, community and responsibility, and a perfect book group selection.”
Vicki Nesting, St. Charles Parish Library, Paradis, LA


Burial Rites: A Novel

by Hannah Kent

Published: 9/10/2013 by Little, Brown
ISBN: 9780316243919
“Kent has created a first-rate debut novel with beautiful, lyrical passages and characters true to their historical counterparts. The unforgettable story finds convicted killer Agnes Magnúsdóttir awaiting execution and seeking both a reprieve from her dreadful sentence and the possibility of redemption. Burial Rites is an excellent choice for reading groups, especially those who have enjoyed Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace.”
Margaret Donovan, Cary Memorial Library, Lexington, MA


Margot: A Novel

by Jillian Cantor

Published: 9/3/2013 by Riverhead
ISBN: 9781594486432
“Can you hide from your past and change who you are? If you try, what do you risk losing? This delicately written novel proposes an alternate fate for Anne Frank’s sister: Margot Frank survives the war, moves to Philadelphia, finds work as a law secretary and assumes the identity ‘Margie Franklin.’ But when the movie version of The Diary of a Young Girl is released and the law firm takes on the case of a Holocaust survivor, Margot’s past and Margie’s carefully constructed present collide. This great book will appeal to reading groups and fans of alternative history, what-if novels and character-centered fiction.”
Janet Lockhart, Wake County Public Libraries, Raleigh, NC


Songs of Willow Frost: A Novel

by Jamie Ford

Published: 9/10/2013 by Ballantine Books
ISBN: 9780345522023
“Fans of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet have been eagerly anticipating Ford’s new book. Set in 1920s Seattle, this is the moving story of a young Chinese-American woman who becomes pregnant by her stepfather. With her stunning good looks and lovely voice, Liu supports herself through singing, but difficult circumstances force her to give up her son William for adoption. Flash forward several years: William spots a movie ad featuring the glamorous actress, Willow Frost. Convinced that Willow is his ah-ma, he escapes the orphanage, determined to find her. A memorable journey, and one well worth taking.”
Anne Lee, Free Library of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, PA


Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital

by Sheri Fink

Published: 9/10/2013 by Crown
ISBN: 9780307718969
“Through exhaustive interviews and extensive research, Fink offers a spellbinding account of Hurricane Katrina, a disaster which held the staff, patients and families of a New Orleans hospital captive and left thousands of others marooned by rising flood waters in the heart of city. Filled with unforgettable life and death stories, Fink’s fine work of investigative journalism reads like a novel. The book causes you to rethink your opinions about end of life, do-not-resuscitate orders and medical ethics.”
Marilyn Sieb, L.D. Fargo Public Library, Lake Mills, WI


A House in the Sky: A Memoir

by Amanda Lindhout & Sara Corbett

Published: 9/10/2013 by Scribner
ISBN: 9781451645606
“Absolutely gripping, harrowing and unforgettable! This well-written memoir is a true testament to the strength of one woman’s spirit and her will to survive in unimaginable circumstances. The family issues that led Amanda Lindhout from her home in Canada to a life of world travel and a career in journalism are as richly detailed and compelling as the brutal account of her fifteen month-long captivity by Somali Islamist rebels in 2008. She tells her story with such vulnerability and honesty that it is a privilege to read it.”
Mary Coe, Fairfield Woods Branch Library, Fairfield, CT

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Guest Post: Working in a Small Public Library

Last day of guest posts and then I am back refreshed and ready to go.

Today, I asked a former student to write about what it is like to work in a small public library where the librarian is asked to do a little bit of everything each and every day. In this case, Leanne works at the Clarendon Hills Public Library. Take it away Leanne

My name is Leanne and I work at a small public library in the western suburbs. I first met Becky Spratford when I was an MLIS student at Dominican University in Fall 2008. She was the adjunct instructor for Reader's Advisory and I was in her class. I learned a lot about the different genres of reading and literature, how to book talk(ie. to describe a book, even one you haven't read, through short adjectives), and how to speak in front of other librarians. I had an enjoyable course, and much of what I learned in the RA class still serves me every day.

Working in a small public library has been both pleasant and educational for me. I see regular library patrons(some daily), learn about their lives, and in turn learn about their reading tastes. Week to week and month to month, people come in, excited to talk about a new author they have found or a new book that they have read. They faithfully follow the new books of an author like James Patterson or Elizabeth Strout and put their requests for new novels months in advance. Our library has an "Automatically Order" request for certain popular authors, making planning ahead simpler.

Working in a smaller library can also have its challenges (such as having only one copy of a bestseller in the library). I personally like to read narrative non fiction, historical novels, and realistic fiction. (I am trying to broaden my reading tastes.) Some people have very specific requests to find genre books that fit their reading tastes-and I cannot always instantly come up with an answer. For instance, mystery and thriller are popular at our library. However, I am available to provide cheerful service, even if it takes longer. When I am in this situation, I first ask "Is this a series of books by one author?" Maybe there are other series or stand alone novels by the same author that the patron might enjoy. If this doesn't provide a satisfactory answer, I would then turn to a database like Novelist(http://www.ebscohost.com/novelist) or a Goodreads(http://www.goodreads.com) or even an Amazon(amazon.com) for a taste of "If you liked reading this, you might like that." Usually, that is an excellent startingpoint for finding new reading material.

One of the significant lessons I learned in RA class is having awareness of upcoming books and upcoming authors-sometimes even popular talk shows can increase the book publicity. There are also the regular resources like book reviews in libraryjournal.com, bookpage.com(most public libraries have a print version of this monthly newsletter), and huffingtonpost.com/books. Knowing the genre organizations and their respective awards can also be a good update for popular authors and trends. Some examples include: Mystery Writers of America(www.mysterywriters.org), Western Writers of America(www.westernwriters.org), and Romance Writers of America(www.rwa.org).

Working with readers advisory in a small public library requires love of reading, care for patrons, and patience. Having a personalized relationship with regular patrons can be a good introduction to new authors and series. To do the task well, one must have a broad interest and curiosity in reading trends, a good sense of humor, and an open mind. It also requires flexibility, especially on days when staff is in short supply. It is a good learning opportunity for a young librarian.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Guest Post: The First Few Months of Librarianship by Elizabeth

I am back from vacation and want to thank everyone who helped out during that time by sharing their thoughts on the blog.  Even I get sick of just reading my stuff, so I can imagine you do too.  It is nice to see other perspectives.

But, after being away for 11 days I have a lot of catching up to do with life, so if you will bear with me, I scheduled 2 more days of guest posts, with the specific intention of showcasing the views of young librarians in the field.

So no Monday Discussion today, instead we have Elizabeth on her first few months in her first real Librarian job. You may remember Elizabeth from this past Spring when she was the BPL RA intern.  Take it away Elizabeth...

Hello friends of RA For All! It is such a delight to be a guest on this fabulous blog and have the opportunity to share some of my experiences during my first year as a capital-L Librarian. I am always eager to discuss my life in library land with friends/family/random strangers in line at Starbucks, so it’s lovely to do so in a virtual setting amongst peers.

As I reflect back on my first three months in the librarianship profession, I realize that grad school couldn’t prepare me for some elements of my new job. There were experiences that I wasn’t expecting to encounter, the things that made me say: “They didn’t teach us this in grad school…”

First, at the risk of sounding ridiculously delighted, I truly wasn’t expecting to have the opportunity to do so many awesome things my first year in the field. While searching for jobs I tried to prepare myself for the possibility that, as a new librarian, I would probably be assigned strictly less than desirable tasks. I was wrong.  I was thrilled to discover that I would have the opportunity to work in the areas of librarianship in which I was most passionate, such as book groups, user instruction, collection development, and social media. As a new librarian, I have never felt like I was paying my dues with tedious tasks, but rather I’ve been encouraged to pursue all of my professional goals right away.
  • Collection Development-it’s not as scary as it sounds. When my supervisor told me that I would be responsible for the general fiction collection, I nearly danced a jig from joy; however, my delight abruptly ended as I processed the weight of this responsibility. How was I going to order all of the general fiction books? Surely I would miss one? This slight panic lasted about five minutes before I realized that I had all the necessary tools needed in order to succeed. Between professional periodicals, email notifications, and suggestions from patrons and staff, I truly feel like I have all of my bases covered and I’m able to stay up-to-date on the latest releases. I also didn’t expect to spend so much time on collection development on a daily basis. Between ordering new titles, maintaining displays in my section, replacing damaged/lost items, and processing purchase requests, I would estimate that I spend at least half of my day working on some sort of CD work. Lastly, I should also point out that I was surprised to discover that I get a bit, somewhat irrationally, upset when books go missing from my area. Ordering replacements can be a frustrating process, especially when you have to replace the same book multiple times (Fifty Shades anyone?) Also, why steal a library book? It’s FREE you just have to RETURN IT. See? I got upset just thinking about it.           
  • Adjusting to a new library. Since I worked in two different libraries as a grad student, I assumed that I would be able to adapt to my new surroundings quickly and with ease. Ha. I went through a major change in that my new place of employment is a stand-alone library (meaning we’re not part of a consortium) whereas my last two libraries were part of SWAN. Suddenly I found myself filling out ILL forms rather than clicking through Millennium Circulation to make a request. Surprisingly, it took me a week or two to fully adjust, as I was accustomed to being connected to 80+ libraries. Despite the fact that I was initially puzzled by my library’s stand-alone status, I quickly discovered that this choice was made to best meet the needs of the community we serve.

Just as a few elements of the job surprised me, there are several aspects of librarianship that I felt prepared for as a result of my academic work. While my entire graduate career was very memorable, there are a few classes that I refer to on a daily basis:
  • Cataloging. I’ve heard a few MLIS students who question the need to study cataloging if it is not part of their professional goal- “Do we really need to know this if we aren’t going to be catalogers?” Yes. The answer is absolutely yes. While I don’t catalog, I do read MARC records every day. So if there are any students out there who are reading this please believe me when I tell you to pay attention in your cataloging class.
  • User Instruction. I think anyone going into public librarianship should take some sort of user instruction. Not only did my experience with this class help prepare me for teaching computer courses, but I’ve also utilized these instruction skills while working with patrons individually in the computer lab
  • Business Reference. I will admit that I really did not want to take this class; however, I’m most grateful for the experience. I run into a lot of business related reference questions, so I am thankful my advisor talked me into taking it as it helped me assist patrons who are researching companies or studying local businesses.
  • Readers’ Advisory…of course! I am immeasurably grateful for the formal book club training I received in Becky’s RA class. Additionally, the study of genres, and the hot trends and authors within, was most useful. I work with readers of all genres every day so I definitely utilize the skills and tools discussed in RA.
  • This is a side note, but I once had a professor warn me that I would encounter a lot of gross stuff as a public librarian. She was right. Coffee stained book pages, sticky computer keyboards, false eyelashes stuck to returned items (no joke, this happened at my first library job); our profession can be a bit germy. Just know that you can never have enough Purell.

Lastly, if there are any soon to be graduates out there, or fellow first years, I thought I would include my First Year Librarian Survival Tips:

Make friends…fast. Your colleagues are your best resources when learning a new job. I am most fortunate to be surrounded by a team of librarians who are happy to answer my (somewhat incessant) questions and coach me through new practices with patience and enthusiasm. I also recommend eavesdropping (when appropriate) on your coworkers’ reference interactions. This is an excellent opportunity to observe a reference exchange from a seasoned librarian and also discover the most helpful resources used at the desk.

Take advantage of any early downtime. During my first few weeks, I was in an unusual place in that I had completed training but had yet to start any major work in book club, collection development, etc. This short window of time was an excellent opportunity for me to familiarize myself with the new library. I would walk through the stacks to learn some of the nuances of our collection: where the music scores were located, where to find the pencil sharpener (don’t laugh, patrons ask for it all the time).  When I couldn’t leave the desk to tour the space, I would practice using our various databases.

Prepare to be a team player. As a new librarian, you should expect to find yourself on at least one committee. Whether it’s an internal team, or an external opportunity, know that you will probably be asked to join forces with a group of your peers. This is an awesome opportunity for new librarians to collaborate and develop professionally. If you are not automatically put on a committee, perhaps ask if there is any opportunity to join one of the various groups that work towards keeping your library functioning effectively.

Keep in touch with friends from graduate school and former colleagues. I include this tip for two reasons: 1.) Collaboration and Camaraderie: Getting together with former classmates is an excellent opportunity to celebrate your new profession, share stories, and get advice. 2.) Networking. A professor once told my class to look around at our peers because we are likely looking at future colleagues/managers/employees (This is true- I now work with two people who were former classmates). So keep in touch in an effort to continue to learn from each other, and you never know, you may find yourself working together again within a committee or association.

-Elizabeth is an Adult Services Librarian at Lisle Library District

Friday, August 9, 2013

ARRT Takes Over the Blog: What to do When Your Sure Bet is Checked Out by Annabelle Mortensen

For our final day of ARRT Taking Over the Blog, we have Annabelle, blogger and librarian who came to me with the idea for a post about what to do when your sure bet isn't there to give to a patron.  Readers of RA for All know that I love to talk about sure bets, so I jumped on her idea right away.
Every year members of the Adult Reading Round Table’s steering committee create an annotated bibliography that’s distributed at our fall program. In 2013 we’ll offer a list of sure bets, those compelling titles that appeal to a wide range of readers. (Of course, the term “sure bet” is imprecise, but it’s a lot catchier than “halfway-decent-odds bet,” which is usually closer to the mark). These sure bets are especially useful when readers’ advisors aren’t working with a lot of information (i.e., the dreaded “I like good books that are well written” patron). Most of us have at least a few sure bets up our sleeve, books we adore and handsell with enthusiasm. It’s a thrill to share these stories with readers.

But some days, that thrill is gone. Gone as in checked out, on reserve, sent away via ILL. I’ll admit I’ve been dismayed by the commercial success of Kate Atkinson. Not that she doesn’t richly deserve the attention, but I’ve given up evangelizing for Case Histories--it’s never on shelf. One colleague used to recommend A Game of Thrones left and right. Now the direwolf is out of the bag. And don’t get me started on Gillian Flynn. It’s like seeing your favorite indie rock band hit it big and play arenas instead of the cramped bar around the corner. But even if the author you love to book talk hasn’t reached the stratospheric heights of the Times bestsellers list, you may frequently find yourself reaching for a sure bet that has already left the building. When that happens, here are a few things you can try to make sure no one walks away from your desk empty-handed:


1) Buy more copies. Yes, this sounds like a no-brainer, but libraries rarely carry more than a couple copies of backlist titles, and these are sure-bet bread and butter. So if you extol Louise Penny’s Still Life to every third mystery reader, it might be time to stock up. In fact, have every RA staff member select a personal sure bet or two and then order extras. So what if you have to weed a bit more or reallocate funds from another genre to compensate? Think like a bookstore and stock what you know you can sell.

2) If your library doesn’t already have a sure bets list online or as a handout, keep a small list of your own, perhaps breaking them down by genre or appeal. Before every desk shift, pick a handful and check the catalog to make sure they’re available, and write down the titles and a word or two of description on a sticky note you carry with you. (I once heard Nancy Pearl suggest that you pull books and have them at the ready, but I’m usually too lazy to actually take this step.) I’ve found that this exercise helps ward off brain freeze even if I’m faced with someone whose reading habits don’t match any of the titles on the list. Right now I have True Grit, The Rook, Wife 22, Maisie Dobbs and Destiny of the Republic on my mini list, and I’ll swap those out with different titles once they’re checked out.

3) As ARRT founding member Joyce Saricks has reminded us, freshen up your sure bets from time to time. A good place to start is by checking out recommended book lists that are a few years old. I like referring to archived Indie Next guides and RUSA CODES’ yearly reading lists as these are concise and highlight titles from a variety of genres. Speaking of which, it’s worth focusing on genre blends. A book like Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus has the potential to attract readers of fantasy, romance, bildungsromans and/or historical fiction in one fell swoop. (Incidentally, The Night Circus will appear on the ARRT bibliography, which--obvs!--will be another great resource.)

Annabelle Mortensen is a member of the ARRT Steering Committee and a librarian at Skokie Public Library. You can follow her rants and raves on the blog Well-Read.