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.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

RA for All: Call to Action-- Get Off Your Butt Rant

This Call to Action series may be new, but the Becky "rant post" is not.  One of my earliest, posts of this type was way back in March of 2010. Affectionately dubbed the “Get off your butt rant” by Rebecca Vnuk, this post discusses why every library worker need to get into the stacks, no matter what your “level” is.

Now I know at some libraries, like Chicago Public Library for example, union rules prohibit anyone but shelvers from physically putting books away, but everyone can find a reason to get up and wander the stacks. So don’t use that as an excuse when you read this post below.

Going back an re-reading this entire post was also a nice reminder to me that my core values about public service have not changed over time.  The final lines of this post, "Any of these duties will improve your skills as a librarian and, more importantly, they will greatly improve you patrons' library experience. And, isn't that why we work in public libraries in the first place? echo the words I still write regularly 6 years later.

Here is the link to the original post, but it is also reposted below so that it can officially come part of the Call to Action archive.

And after you read it, please get off your butt and get into the stacks.


Keeping the Shelves In Order

Every other week I volunteer at my daughter's elementary school library. Although I am often consulted on larger issues pertaining to the library's collection and do provide quite a bit of RA to the students, I am mostly there to help shelve the books.

Also, this week at the BPL, our page injured herself and I spent a large part of my shift shelving books.

Now, many librarians would say that using a professional librarian to shelve books over other more "worthy" duties is a poor use of the librarian's skills and expertise. I am here to tell you today that those people are flat out wrong.
First and foremost, neat, clean, and ordered book shelves are THEmost important service you can provide for you patrons. Think about it, if a patron comes in looking for a book, checks the catalog, and goes to the exact place where the book is supposed to be and cannot find it, how do you think they are going to feel about the service you are providing?

Many librarians think it is beneath them to keep the shelves in order. I would argue that as the professionals, we should be responsible for keeping them in order. If that means getting in there and shelf reading (which means you go through a section, book by book, to make sure they are in the correct order) or literally shelving the books, so be it. We need to take responsibility for our collections from the selection of materials to their home on the shelves.

This does not mean we should fire all of our pages and start adding daily shelving to our already busy schedules, but it does mean we should make sure all of our staff spend at least a couple of hours a week shelf reading or shelving. I have empty shelves of books and wiped them down with paper towels and cleaner many times. More memorably, I did a survey of the entire SF and Fantasy section, including weeding, shelf reading, and cleaning the shelves while 8.5 months pregnant. I can tell you I am a better librarian for it; possessing a more intimate knowledge of our collection and its strengths and weakness.

Too many librarians stay behind their desks all of the time. They do not get out, into the stacks to see what the patrons see. By just getting up and  roaming the stacks you will find people confused by signage (now you know to fix that signage), lost patrons looking for help (a great opportunity to start the RA interview), and dusty, messy, or over stuffed shelves (these need immediate attention.)

Once when I was helping out with the shelving, I came upon an area so tight that it needed immediate weeding and a huge shift. How long had this been going on? How many patrons were unable to remove a book they wanted and were too embarrassed to ask for help? I don't know, but myself and my then department head Briana spent a few days fixing that section. This led to a collection wide inventory, weeding, and shifting project which is still going on and has made our collection much neater and more relevant to our patrons' needs.

I haven't even begun to mention all you can learn yourself by roaming the shelves. When shelving I have come upon lost treasures: books that I had meant to read years before, books with interesting covers or titles that demand a second look, or classics in need of replacements. In each of these instances I have brought the books back to my desk and spent some time with them. Some times I will check them out or add them to my to-read list, but more often than not, I end up passing them on to a patron to enjoy. A book they would have never found if I hadn't of gotten up and moved myself into the stacks.

Now get off your butt and get into the stacks! Shelve some books, shelf read a few stacks, or clean some shelves. If I could do it 8.5 months pregnant, what's stopping you? Any of these duties will improve your skills as a librarian and, more importantly, they will greatly improve you patrons' library experience. And, isn't that why we work in public libraries in the first place?

Friday, May 27, 2016

Want to Understand The Book Industry Today? Ask an Author

I know I spend a lot of time on this blog talking to you about working with publishers, helping patrons, and using resources, but I rarely talk about the authors themselves beyond discussing their work and which readers they most appeals to.

However, if we want to fully understand the book industry we library workers are a part of, I think we have to talk a little more about authors and how they do or do not make a living in today’s publishing world.

Few authors are more vocal or honest about the financial issues of being a writer than horror author Brian Keene. Unfortunately, as he would tell you himself, he came into being an author advocate and expert in working with publishers [as a professional writer] by accident. It was because of his place in the center of one of this century’s biggest publishing collapses-- the shuttering of Leisure Books.  Back in 2010, I blogged about this issue and Brian’s place in it on the horror blog here.

Brian led a group of authors, many of who are gracing your library’s shelves right now, in a fight for to reclaim the rights to their own works from the closing publisher. This was a HUGE deal, and something that still happens to authors all of the time.  Without fighting to get their rights back, these authors’ works would not be able to be published again. Brian Keene’s The Rising was caught up in this mess, a novel that is cited all the time [along with the first Walking Dead comic and the film 28 Days Later] as the beginning of the current zombie craze.  It is a seminal work in popular culture and it was almost lost.

I think this is an issue that many library workers don’t even know about. Most of us just assume if an author writes something that gets published that said author still owns the works.  Often they do not. Brian brought this often hidden issue out of the shadows.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the issues authors have to deal with in today’s publishing world. And, I think it is important for us to understand their perspective.

Thankfully, once Keene started giving a public voice to the large mass of mid-list authors, he didn’t stop. For the 9 months he is writing a weekly column for horror publisher Cemetery Dance about his life in publishing.  You can click here to read all of the columns. They come up in reverse chronological order.  The first four are up now.  But to get you started, here is the link to the first one.

After reading these columns, I think you will have a fuller picture of the industry behind the books we are hand selling to patrons each and every day.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Booklist Mystery Month Resources

Every May Booklist turns their attention to Crime Fiction. When you group Mystery, Suspense and Thrillers all together, you easily have the most popular genres for library patrons. Which means, you need to be looking at the information they compile each and every May to stay up to date on the wide offerings in these popular reading areas.

So, just in case you haven’t seen any of it, I wanted to point out a few of lists and article to get you started before Mystery Month ends:

This is just a sampling of what there is to offer.  You can use this Mystery Month tag to pull everything up in The Booklist Reader.

And don’t forget, with your library’s subscription to Booklist in print, you have digital access to search the archives for past year’s Mystery Month resources. At the very least, I highly suggest checking past year’s May 1 issues for the Top Crime Novels of the Year annual list [in print or online]. You can find some great backlist, under the radar titles for you Crime readers who are fresh out of “new to them” titles.

Finally for a more comprehensive discussion of crime fiction, please look at the assignments and notes from the ARRT Crime Fiction Genre Study, which I led during 2014 and 2015.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Upcoming Appearances Open to Anyone

Many of the training sessions I offer are closed to the public. More often than not, I am hired to present to the staff of a specific library or library system.  However, during the second week of June there are 2 opportunities for you to catch me presenting BRAND NEW programs-- one in person and one virtual.

Starting June 1, Library Journal is offering a fantastic new, online course:

You can click through for all of the details, but I will be presenting first on June 14th. I will be talking about "Merchandising" and RA. I will have 45 minutes of tips and tricks to merchandise your collections and your staff expertise better.

Then, 2 days later, I will be in Worcester, MA delivering the Keynote address for the 1st Annual Massachusetts Library System Readers' Advisory Summit:
Join other readers’ advisory enthusiasts for a day of information, hands-on learning, and sharing stories as MLS brings together years of experience with innovative techniques. 
Becky Spratford, Illinois librarian and head of RA for All, will talk about “RA Rethink: From Quaint and Comfortable to Cutting Edge.”
Joyce Saricks, (also from Illinois) will lead a hands-on workshop: “Sharing Books: Notes from the Field. Bring with you three titles to use in the exercise.”
“What do you know?” Five 20-minute presentations from MLS members on RA topics that can be broken down and used by any library.
Also, 5 in 15 recordings will be available to record ON-SITE all day! More information will be provided to those interested in recording one of our popular RA segments. (http://guides.masslibsystem.org/5in15).  
Use this link for the full details and to signup. 

This summit is open to anyone who can make it to the event on that day. It is extremely affordable too.

This brand new RA Rethink program will have a similar tone to my Call to Action series and will feature some of what I present in the Library Journal Online class.  I have been working on it all day today and am very excited about getting the chance to deliver this invigorating talk to such a receptive audience.

I really hope some of you can join me.

I will also be contributing my own 5 in 15 [mentioned above] to the MLS archives. I know I will do horror titles, but I am not sure the theme. I think I am stressing over picking only 5 horror titles to booktalk more than I am about the 90 minute keynote.

If you cannot make it to either event, the slides will be available here on the blog.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Book Discussion Titles for Fall-- Slides and Comments

At BEA Reading Group Guides hosted their 5th Annual Book Discussion Speed Dating event. Although I did not make that session, one of my colleagues, Alissa Williams, Director of the Morton [IL] Public Library District did.

She passed on the link to the titles and the slides which you can find here.

I wanted to share a little bit from my casual conversation with Alissa about how the event went and then I will end with my overall comments about this list.

Alissa loved how the event was run.  People sat at round tables in small groups with the ARCs of the books in question there on the table for you to look at.  Then, each publisher took turns moving between tables to book talk and present their books to the small group.  Alissa said they were all wonderful book talkers [she learned a few tips on just that skill alone], but she also really liked being able to talk to her colleagues, other book discussion leaders, in between publishers about their groups and what they thought of the books.

I asked Alissa who these other people at her table were.  That, she told me, was surprising.  She assumed, as I would have, that most of the people would be library workers, but no.  At her table there were mostly bloggers and someone who runs a book club but doesn't work at a library.  While it was great to meet others who focus on book clubs outside of a library, she wished this event could also be at a library conference. She would love the chance to compare the 2 different groups.

This is a great point.  Reading Group Guides is one of the most comprehensive resources for library workers who run book clubs, yet they don't come to our conferences to do this program; they go to BEA.  So someone out there reading this who can change that, please invite them to Orlando or Chicago in 2017 please.

I also asked Alissa [before I saw the slides] if the titles were only new and forthcoming.  She said yes, mostly. A few publishers included some upcoming paperback releases, but overall these are books coming out in Fall and Winter.

Of course if you have ever read this blog you would know how this made me-- not happy.

If you don't know how I feel about the importance of the backlist just click here and scroll down to the indented portion where I quote myself about the importance of the backlist in libraries. Then come back. I'll wait. But really, you should all know this by now.

Interestingly, after Alissa patiently listened to the short version of my well known rant, she noted that the people at her table didn't seem to care if the books were hardcover, paperback, new or old.  the book bloggers wanted the newest titles and the other non-library book club leader said her group buys the books and doesn't care about price.  They just want new ideas for titles.

That must be nice....

But regardless of affordability, as I have said before (in print and in training sessions) some of the best discussions I have ever been a part of are ones featuring older titles. Not only can you talk about the book itself then, but you can also talk about how it stands up, why it was or was not popular when it first came out, how your reading of it changes over time, etc...  Also, I have found there is much more to say when the book is not hot and new.  People come up with their own thoughts and opinions and don't just rehash what they read in the media.

Also, these great book discussion books coming later in 2016 and 2017, they will make awesome picks for your group in 2017, 2018, and beyond.  So my advice library workers, click here to look at the slides and then save the link to go back to in 2 years. And for finding titles for you book club to use now... use the Reading Group Guides presentations from 2015, 2014 [they don't have the older slides posted.] Those links are where you are going to find GREAT book discussion titles for RIGHT NOW.

My overall assessment of this program.  Thanks for the book talks and the information.  These are a little bit more under the radar, new titles that I can hand out to lots of patrons come late Summer and Fall, but publishers and Reading Group Guides, please consider coming to ALA to do this program and focus on the backlist. You will sell a lot of older titles to us. Many libraries buy multiple copies to create book club collections these days. Plus, you might be able to jump start interest a mid-list author who has a new book coming soon.

Then everyone wins-- the publishers sell more books, authors get discovered, and most importantly, patrons will have a great discussion.

Thanks again to Alissa Williams for her help with this post.

Monday, May 23, 2016

RA for All: Call to Action-- Diverse Books in Authorship and Genre

So this Call to Action thing seems to be doing two things. One, it is allowing me to get some touchier subjects and my strong feelings about them out in the open. And, two, many of you are responding positively to them. Although, I have to say that everyone is choosing to email me their thoughts rather than leave a comment.  I totally understand why, but as I told many of you who emailed me, I may eventually refer to your comments in future posts.

Now that I have gotten the Call to Action train moving, I am going to take a breath and be a little more methodical here. Starting today, and into the foreseeable future, I will start each week with a Call to Action post rather than just write them up when I feel the emotion bubbling over.

Just as I ran the Monday Discussion for many years, I will now start each week with a Call to Action. Each week will begin with a post about a topic that needs you to do something about it-- at the very least, asking you to think beyond your day to day issues and concerns and look at the bigger picture of our larger place as RA practitioners in the profession as a whole, heck in the book world as a whole.

After blowing off a little bit of my built up steam last week, the Call to Action series is getting more organized, but it will still be just as "ranty." I will also use the series to bring back some of my older "rants" that are still important and vital to the cause, with today as a start of this.

Starting today, you can now find all of the Call to Action posts on their own page. And you can expect a new post in the series at each start of the week.

Okay, now on to this week's Call to Action-- Diverse Books in Authorship and Genre

Back in March, I had a long post with my comments on the We Need Diverse Books movement. The summary of my thoughts, after following the RUSA CODES conversation about suggesting diverse books to readers was that I was SHOCKED by how many library workers worried about giving books by diverse authors to white patrons. Please read that post. It also has a link to the full notes of the RUSA CODES Conversation.

I was thinking about that post while I was gathering my post BEA thoughts too. Yes, the issue of diverse books came up at BEA, and publishers are doing a much better job of understanding their role in this problem, but one discussion that is being left off the table completely is also a diversity of genre.

Look don't get me wrong the problems with the majority of titles, reviewers, and publishers being all white is a much larger issue, but even with the effort to bring more authors of color into the mainstream, their books are basically literary fiction. It's just as bad to say that diverse authors are only okay if they are writing "literary" novels as it is to ignore them.

The problem here is that genre authors of any color are not respected by librarians and publishers. I know this all too well in my work with horror.  The best horror books have to be elevated by reviewers or publishers as being able to transcend their genre to be consider great.  It's dumb.  Look people you can call The Fireman by Joe Hill anything you want, but it is a horror-sf thriller. It is a genre book. It also happens to be one of the best books about human nature you will read this year, but it is still a genre novel. As I said in my star review in Booklist, it is "...an excellent example of the very best genre fiction has to offer all readers today." Joe Hill does not want you to cal it more than a genre book. It can be genre and be a great. That is not a contradiction.

Back to the issue at hand though. Romance is the only genre that gets it. The RWA understands that Romance is looked down upon as a genre and they work hard to counter balance this slight.  But they also work to promote diverse authors within the genre too. They are always the first to take up the call for diversity, whether it is to do with sexual preference or color, or whatever, Romance authors and storylines reflect the people who read them.

But again, no one gives them the respect they deserve because....Romance.

I was very happy at LJ DOD that the final panel of the day was filled with romance authors talking about their books, including Sonali Dev, who shared some amazing stories about readers who were so thankful to read a romance featuring people in a family "like mine" or with characters who shared "my experiences."

However, when I went up to an organizer of the event after and suggested they consider ALWAYS ending the day with a genre panel. I was met with a blank stare. I went on to say, while I loved the entire event, it was definitely literary heavy on the fiction side of things.  [On a side note: I did think the nonfiction offerings were much more diverse when it comes to "genre."] I went on to say that bringing in a genre specific panel, like today, each time would do a great service to the librarians present, since most of our readers read genre titles and these get less promotion by the publishers.

Still, crickets on her end. And then, I got this as a response-- "Well, it all matters as to who the publishers can get to come to the event as to how we organize the panels."

So basically, passing the buck.

But this is pure BS. If Library Journal wanted to do a genre panel, you know that the publishers would get their genre authors there. Again, these Call to Action posts I am running are to remind us to WAKE UP and effect change. We demanded more diverse authors and the publishers sent them-- in droves. They were there this year. When we act, they listened.  So let's demand some respect for genre authors too.

Taking my own advice, I tried to offer a solution to the problem instead of just complaining. I called myself to action right there, before I had even figure out I would be writing these posts. I reminded her that I write a horror column 2x a year for Library Journal, and I have a lot of contacts with horror authors, so I could help her to get a group of horror authors together for next year. Then after that, maybe there would be momentum from the publishers to do a different genre in year three, and another one in year four, etc....


[Now you are probably starting to see why these posts are as much therapy for me as they are all call to action for you.]

If we do not keep building off of our success at getting more diverse voices heard, the momentum will end.

So we have a double up-hill battle in front of us. Being aware that there are many voices of color whose stories are being lost to a larger audience, an audience that they deserve, an audience that would enjoy their stories no matter their background. But we also have to make sure that we are including genre too-- both in general and with authors of color.  Don't make the opening the We Need Diverse Books movement is opening even narrower than it already is.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Christian Fiction Readers Advisory And Genre Considerations

Earlier this week, during the Massachusetts Library Association Conference, there was an excellent program on Christian Fiction Readers’ Advisory. I was following it on Twitter and saw my colleague Anna tweeting out an awesome list of genre specific, Christian Fiction Authors.  I asked her to compile all the Tweets in one place so they could be easily accessed as a resource.  Here is that link.

Christian Fiction is extremely popular with readers both religious and not, but the resources are scarce, especially for the readers who are less religious.

In my 15 years at the RA desk, I found that my religiously focused readers were very good at identifying authors on their own.  They talked about them at church or in their book groups and then came in to request we purchase the titles for the library.  They also followed many of the popular Christian Fiction publishers (some of the biggest of which are located just bit West of Chicago). I never had any trouble helping these readers. And after only a few years, I was able to competently cultivate this portion of our collection and stay on top of new authors and trends all on my own. [Not bad for a Jewish girl.]

However, I also am seeing a growing trend. A surprising number of readers, especially genre readers, are turning to Christian Fiction because they can get everything they loved about crime fiction or SF, for example, without the increasing violence and sexual situations they were coming to dislike in their favorite main stream genres. But identifying authors for this non-Christian focused audience has been difficult.

At first, I turned to the growing number of suggested reading lists for “gentle reads,” but many of these lists only consider contemporary fiction, women’s fiction, historical fiction, of romance. I kept seeing readers of crime and speculative fiction asking for more books like Irene Hannon or Ted Dekker-- decidedly GENRE authors with a more gentle bent than their non-genre counterparts.

These are authors that are excellent in their genres but also have a Christian Fiction grounding that make these readers feel comfortable.  They can get lost in the story without worrying about it taking them down a more graphic path than they wanted.

They do not want the quality of the story to be sacrificed, but they want a gentler touch. Currently the writers who are fulfilling this need the best are in the Christian Fiction world, but the current resources do not help me to identify these authors for readers very easily.

The list Anna was tweeting did give me a good starting point for helping these readers.  The discussion covered the wide range of appeal for Christian Fiction as well as lots of genre authors.

So thanks to Christine Sharbrough of the Chelmsford Library for the presentation and Anna for compiling the tweets. Christine also puts out The Christian Fiction Daily. If you want to know more on this topic, contact her.

Now go use these notes to help a reader.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

What I’m Reading: But You Scared Me The Most

My most recent Booklist Review [draft version]:
But You Scared Me the Most and Other Stories by John Manderino 
June 2016. 224p. Academy Chicago, paperback, $14.99  (9781613734759)First published May 15, 2016 (Booklist). 
What would happen if you took all the familiar things that scared you as a child-- ghosts, mummies, vampires, Bigfoot!-- but looked at them with your adult eye? They would be darker and more bizarre than you could have ever imagined as a youth, much like Manderino’s 26 witty, and inventive tales that turn traditional horror tropes on their head. These short, surprising, and thought provoking stories that stay with you after you finish each, but also compel you to read the next one immediately. Like in “Wolfman and Janice” when a wife helps control her werewolf husband by talking to him about golf, or “Bob and Todd” in which a hitchhiker may or may not be in a car with a man who just killed his wife. And it’s not just horror tropes that Manderino probes with his macabre sensibility, familiar characters like Nancy Drew, Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, and even Barbie and Ken are prominently featured in their own dark and twisted tales. But it is in “Jamey’s Sister,” where Manderino shines, giving us a moving and heartbreaking story of the havoc real life monsters can play on a family as a young girl writes a letter to the monster who she blames for her soldier brother’s death-- The President. This is a solid collection of weird fiction and bizarre fables for fans of Kelly Link or Stephen Graham Jones.

Further Appeal Comments: These stories are short, and since they are not connected, you can pick this collection up and put it down easily.  As I was reading the entire book, I marked the stories as to how successful I thought they were.  The ones I highlight here are among the best and most interesting, but there are others which are just as good but for which I did not have room to write about.  Out of 26, only 2 or 3 fell completely flat with me. That is an excellent ration.

But, I do want to stress that these are weird, creepy stories.  They are not gross-out or jump- scare frightening at all. They are all macabre and unsettling without gore. It’s all atmosphere.  And they are tightly plotted, compelling, and feature strong characters.  This last point is important because with some of the stories coming in at only 3 or 4 pages, it is quite a feat for Manderino to so quickly create  such well rounded characters.

The unease and tension rule these tales. You know right away that things are not what they seem and are probably not going to end well. They are not sad or tragic though. Just dark and thought provoking.

Three Words That Describe This Book: unease, macabre, strong characterization

Readalikes: The stories of Kelly Link and Stephen Graham Jones mentioned above are excellent readalikes.  While I was reading Manderino’s collection, I also thought about the multiple author collection from 2014, The New Black edited by Richard Thomas. Click here for details.

More established and well known authors who I have blogged about a lot who would work as a readalike here are Stephen Millhauser and Keith Donohue.  I particularly thought about Donohue’s Centuries of June.

RA for All Roadshow-- Bridging the Physical-Virtual Divide: RA in the Digital Arena

No, you do not have deja vu, I already used this post title earlier this week. That is because this is the second time this week I am giving this talk.

The first was an in-person, live event in Glen Ellyn, IL on Tuesday.  Today, I am presenting the webinar version of the same talk as part of my three part training series with the libraries of Southern WI. The slides are slightly different [more than just the title slide] and I want to make sure the WI attendees get access to their slides.

So, here are the WI specific slides for the attendees and anyone else out there who wants to see/use them.
Click HERE for Slides

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

RA for All: Call to Action-- Our ARC Problem

As I mentioned in this post, I am starting a Call to Action series here on the blog.  I currently have notes for at least 5 posts and will try to get them written as soon as possible. You can access all of them with this link.

The reasons I have been energized to bring the hard truths to the RA community are outlined in that first post, so click on the link if you need some context here.

Today I want to address the Librarian-Publisher working relationship briefly, and then I want to spend most of this post calling out library workers, in general, for their misguided attitudes and behavior when it comes to this relationship.

I warned you, I am bringing some hard truth people. I was not kidding. This post in particular will pull no punches, but please know that the overall goal here is to help us ALL to be better at our job-- and that job is putting books in READERS’ hands. Hint, notice I did not say putting books in OUR hands.

Okay, first let me briefly talk to all of you about the importance of the Librarian-Publisher relationship. Over the last 15 years, publishers went from not caring about the purchasing and recommendation power of librarians to creating entire divisions within their corporate structure to actively market to and support library workers. They get it that we have the power to turn books into best sellers. So you need to know who these people are.

You can easily see a full list of every publisher and the contact for libraries in the Early Word index of the Adult Library Marketing people.

Honestly, for most library workers, simply subscribing to the newsletter from each of the major library marketing departments is all you need. Even for me, someone who is fairly high profile when it comes to adult leisure reading, this is plenty.  You can stay abreast of the newest titles and get directions on how to download eARCs if you are interested in reading them ahead of time.

I only cultivate personal relationships with publishing reps who specialize in horror for obvious reasons. I have no need to communicate directly with the marketing people beyond their excellent and useful e-newsletters.

At BEA, the publisher reps did a program for library workers where they made sure we knew who they were and how to contact them. This basic information was probably useful to a lot of people there.

But I have 2 problems with the publishing reps, and after assessing my feelings and thoughts, I realize those problems are OUR fault as library workers, and in fact, have nothing to do with the publishers themselves. This was big revelation for me personally.  Let me explain.

  1. All the library marketing reps do is focus on the newest books,
  2. ...and after promotion of the new titles they focus the rest of the time on giveaways of ARCs to us.
All I kept thinking about while they were presenting was, I know how to get a list of hot upcoming titles from you, and I don’t need more books. I have so many. What I really want from the publishers is to help me to promote my backlist and midlist titles which I have already purchased. As I said in a talk 2 hours before their presentation [on the same stage]:

Promoting leisure reading, specifically the backlist, those titles that are great reads, but out of the spotlight, and incidentally, filling most of your shelves just waiting for the perfect reader, meaning they are there right now for that reader who “has nothing to read,” is actually quite easy to do virtually. The one thing the library has in stock that the bookstores do not is the backlist. The thousands of great reads just waiting on the shelf to be matched with just the right reader. In fact, backlist books are your best bet to target your virtual promotion of books, as I will show you. The new books are all over the web on other sites, they are all over magazines, tv and radio. But the backlist is a great asset and it is unique to the library. What do you do with your best asset when you are getting all dolled up? You play up to it people!  
THE BACKLIST is your secret weapon to getting your information to standout both in your buildings and in whichever online arena you choose to focus on. It’s what you’ve got over other online book promoters, so it you focus on older titles in your virtual work with leisure readers, you have already taken a big step toward rising above the overwhelming din of online book chatter. You have made yourself stand out without being a social networking expert.
If the backlist is our best asset, why aren’t the publisher’s focusing on that.  We are going to buy the hot new books already. They promote themselves.  Send us the emails and we will buy them, but the vast majority of the books we already have on our shelves...those  are the ones we need help getting into readers' hands.  Why aren’t they helping us with that?

I expressed this frustration to a few people and Magan Szwarek, Head of Adult Services at Forest Park Library said something that was really the inspiration for this entire post. She told me [and I paraphrase], Becky I agree with you that this is what you and I need, but sadly, the vast majority of library workers out there don’t know enough about the good new books. They need to be on top of that first and then move on to backlist. She reminded me that the reasons the publishers spend so much time trying to attract our colleagues attention with the new shiny books is because most library workers who are doing RA are not even aware that these publishing reps are there to help us. 

Unfortunately, she is correct. So all of you reading this. Be more aware of the newsletters and help that these publishing reps want to give to you. Maybe if enough of us start actually using their help, we can move beyond them only promoting the newest books to us and we can start getting the backlist help we need.

But I don’t think this awareness will be enough because of what I saw a BEA in regards to #2 above. And this is where the REALLY HARD TRUTH is coming, so sensitive readers may want to stop reading here.

The publisher’s focus on getting us ARCs because we are obsessed with them FOR THE WRONG REASONS. We need to stop with this attitude. My goodness, we work in a library. We have access to any book we could ever want to read....FOR FREE. Have you really read every book in your libraries already? Do you really need to have every advanced copy that is coming out? Why? When are you going to read them all?

The hoarding of ARCS I saw at BEA was embarrassing. People in the library sessions with suitcases on wheels to haul ARCs. The race to get as many books as possible for yourselves. But even worse, the library workers who came to BEA on their library’s dime to learn and possibly get a few ARCs for prizes and colleagues, these workers who I saw spending HOURS of their day in line to get autographs on paperback ARCs. They were in a line NOT in a session.

That is not for your patrons. Don’t lie to me. You were doing that for yourselves. Why? Is your life going to be better because you got that signature? It’s not. Besides, you are there for your patrons, not yourself.  You shouldn’t be using your access for yourself.  That is what the Saturday Book Con was for you to go as a fan.  I know plenty of library workers who went to BEA for professional reasons and then went to Book Con separately as a fan.

Okay, but Becky, I saw you with a bag full of ARCs at Library Journal Day of Dialog? Yes you did.  But not at BEA itself. I picked up maybe one or two.  But at LJ DOD I had 2 reasons for getting ARCs. Reasons that many of you reading this may have also had.
  1. That day was all about the authors and publishers promoting upcoming books, many by new or under appreciated authors. I grabbed as many as I could early and then spent the day listening to the authors tell me why their books were going to be good for my patrons. I took a ton of notes during the event. After that day, I compiled a pile of the books I thought would be the best to talk about here on the blog and took a picture. Later this week I will have a post about those books here on the blog where I will tell you why you should buy them and promote them. 
  2. After taking the picture and gathering my notes, I shipped a giant box of the ARCs and tote bags I received to a library in New Mexico where the entire budget for summer reading prizes was cut. They will use these ARCs as their adult summer reading prizes. This is an example of the ARCs not only helping connect readers with books but also, I am helping a library in need to have some incentives for their reading program. 
So I will be doing my part to help the publisher’s get the word out to libraries about some awesome new titles-- which is the only reason they give us ARCs. It is not to fill a void in our lives, a hole we want to fill with books. Sadly though, that is what many of us are doing.  It makes me sad. But more importantly, it distracts us from the work we are trying to do--help leisure readers.

Some tell me, oh but it is a perk of the job. Why? Again, we have free access to every book through the library [and ILL] already. Why do I need more? 

Another sign of how bad the problem is happened when I went to meet with Amy Lukavics, a wonderful author of YA horror on Thursday afternoon.  We had planned to meet up at the end of her signing, but she left early because they ran out of books. She messaged me to tell me the publisher had saved one advanced copy for me. [I am going to read it and put up a review on the horror blog.] When I finally got to the booth to grab it, the publishing rep came out with a sad face saying, “I have the copy for you but it isn’t signed or anything.” I said immediately, “Oh, I could care less about a signature. It’s an ARC, I just am saving them the postage of mailing it to me. I have worked with Amy before and I am going to review it.”

Sadly, he was shocked that I only wanted the book so I could help connect a great horror title with readers. HE EXPECTED ME TO WANT IT FOR MYSELF.  I know I said above that Magan’s comments were the inspiration for this post, well, this specific interaction was what forced me to write this. I was so embarrassed for us as a profession. This is what the publishers expect from us because this is how they see us behave.

The overall point here is that WE have to change. We have to stop being obsessed with getting our hands on as many ARCs as possible and instead focus to using the publisher promotion to make purchasing decisions and then handing the books out to the right readers once they arrive. Change the focus from getting stuff to helping patrons. 

Heping patrons find their next good read is why I do this. If that isn’t why you do this, go find a new job because I am sure you can make a lot more money doing something else.

It is only after we make a priority adjustment as a profession that we can expect the publishing reps to start helping us promote the backlist better. That is the true help we need.

Back soon with another Call to Action.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

RA for All Roadshow-- Bridging the Physical-Virtual Divide: RA in the Digital Arena

Today I am extra excited to present one of my favorite, and I think most useful programs, Bridging the Physical-Virtual Divide: RA in the Digital Arena to my peers-- Adult Services Librarians in the Chicago area.

The group bringing me in is LACONI:
Since 1954, LACONI (Library Administrators Conference of Northern Illinois) has been introducing library staff to new technologies and ideas, best practices, and popular programs for children and adults. LACONI is comprised of eight different sections which offer programs designed to enhance skills and knowledge of library staff in their area of expertise.
The section who is sponsoring me today at the Glen Ellyn Public Library is the Reference and Adult Services Section [RASS]. These are the library workers I worked with as a colleague for 16 years. Many in the audience will be friends and/or former students. This will be a treat for all of us. Also, they have given me a 2 hour slot, so there will be PLENTY of time for questions.

The other reason I am extra excited is that while I have been giving this talk since 2009, it got a major overhaul this past March and then another smaller revamp when I had the opportunity to present it last week at Book Expo America.

So let's take the excitement and get going this morning.  The slide access is below for everyone-- those present at the talk and all of you accessing this from wherever you are.

Click HERE for Slide Access

Monday, May 16, 2016

Collection Development with Booklist's TOP 5!

On April 26th, I presented Five Things to Know in Top Genres as part of the Booklist and NoveList RA Conversations Live Event.

Today, the newest issue of Booklists's The Corner Shelf came out with the video and handout access.

Click here for the full issue of The Corner Shelf.

Screen shot from the newsletter
Click here to watch the video.

Click here to access the handout.

Remember, this is an excellent resource for collection development for all three of these genres. In this video, I also provide a quick tutorial at the end of the genre specific presentations about how to use NoveList to stay up to date in ALL genres.

Finally, as Rebecca mentions in the screen shot from the newsletter above and in the video, there are now many of these Top 5 programs available for a wide variety of leisure reading genres [fiction and nonfiction]. All make for great collection development tools. Click here to access handouts and slides from older Top 5 presentations.

RA for All: Call to Action-- Reader's Advisor Online Calls you to Action

After my week of BEA related programs, I came home with many notes and a lot of thoughts and feelings, thoughts that WILL BE challenging and hard for some library workers out there.

Instead of posting everything right away, I got my thoughts down and sat on them over the weekend. While letting these feelings steep,  I also thought about WHY so many bubbled up now, WHY this week, WHY because of this conference?

I am not sure how long this series of posts is going to be, but I am going to use the tag Call to Action, to categorize them all.  I foresee a time when someone out there, myself included, might need to bring up all of these posts together.  I will also index them into a single page when I am done.

But back to those WHYs; here is my assessment of them:

  1. These are feelings I have had for a while, feelings about how we as a profession are failing our patrons when it comes to RA Service, feelings about how I cannot and do not want to be one of the only voices for RA Service out there. The conference only heighten my underlying thoughts and made them surface.
  2. The unique nature of my week put the entire issue into focus. On Monday, I was the co- organizer of a very successful RA training program. On Wednesday I was an attendee at a library worker only event, and on Thursday I was both an attendee AND a presenter at a book industry focused conference.  This unique combination of similar experiences but each with a different and distinct focus, all in a 4 day span, was eye opening [and exhausting]. I will have an entire post on the BEA experience which goes into more detail on this point as part of this Call to Action series.
  3. Back in February, Heather Booth and I sat down and discussed some of the biggest issues in RA right now as we began to craft our ILA Conference program. We are calling it RA Rethink because we feel like both libraries and patrons are losing their way when it comes to RA Service. The basics are known, but it has stalled at many libraries. That conference program will cover RA for YS, Teen, and Adult so I will only have 15 minutes for my part,  but I am expanding this idea of the RA Rethink into a full 90 minute keynote for the MA Library System this June. So everything I did, saw, and felt last week, I also processed it all as-- how will this fit into my new presentation. I was looking at the entire week of programs and conferences with more critical and analytical eyes than I normally do.
  4. Although I knew this was coming for awhile, the shutting down of the Reader's Advisor Online blog, one of my favorite resources as I discussed here, brought many of these issues to the forefront.
Speaking of number 4 and the Reader's Advisor Online Blog, that is what I want to focus today's Call to Action on. Cindy Orr, the long time editor of the blog posted her own Call to Action over the weekend in honor of the blog's last post. Reading it made me feel slightly better because much of what she says here is the same HARD TRUTH I was already preparing to share. But, I am also sad because if others know there is a problem, it is even bigger than I feared.

Normally, I would link you to her post to read it on their site, but since the entire blog will no longer be accessible after June 30th [ironically, my birthday], I am cutting and pasting the post in it's entirety [below] here on RA for All so that it can be preserved and included as part of my Call to Action series.

So hang on to your books this week-- we are getting ready to bring the truth and make some changes-- in service and in attitude.


A Parting Message: Pass It On!

Hi everyone,
Since this is our last day for the blog (see here if you didn’t get the word before), I’m going to take advantage of the bully pulpit to air my opinion, for what it’s worth, about the state of Readers’ Advisory service now and in the future.
Frankly, I’m worried, guys.
Follow along with me for a minute:

  • Surveys show that people believe that books are the library’s brand.
  • Readers often have trouble finding good books to read. If you don’t believe that’s important, ponder why Amazon paid big bucks for Goodreads and iBooks did the same for BookLamp, two recommendation services.
  • Librarians should be THE experts on helping library patrons find just the right books to read. After all, that’s our brand.
  • Suggesting good books to read is not just a knack that some people have. Readers’ advisory skills can absolutely be taught.

  • But:

  • Many library schools don’t even offer classes in readers’ advisory service.
  • Those that do usually use adjunct professors—practitioners like you—to teach the courses.
  • Tenure track library school professors have largely ignored the entire field. This includes reading research, which is usually done in other departments of the university, and is producing some really exciting finds about what reading does to the brain.
  • Many of the best known library readers’ advisors are retired now, or are approaching retirement age.
  • We definitely need younger librarians who will take the RA baton and carry it into the future.

  • The problem is not that there are not great readers’ advisors out there. I know there are. You know there are. They’re you. I’ve run into hundreds of you and have been impressed with your knowledge. But it seems like the same people are tapped to speak, write articles, and teach. If we want to keep the service going, we really need a wider range of librarians to step up and share their expertise publicly.
    And we really, really need library schools to step up and teach the subject. Since that hasn’t happened—in fact, most of the professors who used to teach the subject are also retired—I have a suggestion for a solution.
    If library directors across the nation would get together and sign a petition to library school deans demanding that they research, publish, and teach this topic to their students, because these are skills librarians need in order to be hired, I hope that it would make a difference. (I’m probably naive to suggest this. Oh well.)
    And, in the meantime, we practitioners need to continue to carry the torch. Please find some RA knowledge that you can share. You know you have the expertise. You just need a little courage. Here are some suggestions, but just share in whatever way makes you happy:

  • Do whatever you can to make sure your own library is dedicated to reader services at all levels, including learning to read and serving all ages and demographic groups of readers.
  • Use your personal power to make sure RA training happens in your library, even if you have to do it yourself—even if you don’t think you are an expert. The best way to learn a subject is to teach it. ABC-CLIO’s Genreflecting, Real Stories, and other series are great resources for genre and RA knowledge. NoveList has great training materials to get you started.
  • Propose RA programs to your state organization’s conferences.
  • Write articles on the subject. The Library Writer’s Blog might help you find an outlet for your pieces.
  • Start an RA blog, either at your library or by yourself, or with friends.
  • Propose a course to your local library school if they don’t already offer it.
  • Even if your local library school offers an RA class, propose an additional one with a different slant. These classes fill up, and adjunct professors are extremely cheap, so it’s in the school’s interests to offer them. The going rate, just so you know, is around $5,000 for a class, which is a lot of money for most practitioners, but incredibly cost effective for a university. If you don’t have a local library school, many schools offer their subjects online, so you could teach remotely.
  • Network. Find other librarians who are passionate about RA and correspond regularly. There’s Fiction_L, of course, and the community built around Early Word, but there are other places too. ALA has a committee—RUSA’s RA Research and Trends Committee. Volunteer to serve. You have to join RUSA, but this committee does its work remotely, so you wouldn’t have to travel. Or you could volunteer to serve on an awards committee like Notable Books or The Reading List, or many others.
  • Support other RA librarians. Some have blogs, like Lesa Holstine’s Book Critiques, Sarah Johnson’s Reading the Past, Becky Spratford’s RA for Alland RA for All: Horror, Citizen Reader, the nonfiction blog by Sarah Statz Cords, Megan McArdle’s Genrify, and Nancy Pearl, just to mention a few.
  • Keep track of what other libraries are doing. Here are just a few great library blogs: Shelf TalkBlogging for a Good Book, Biblio File.
  • Follow the industry sources that support RA, like Booklist, Library Journal, the RUSA Quarterly, and ALA Publishing’s and Libraries Unlimited’s RA series of books.
  • I know this seems like a lot to keep up with, but you can use an RSS feed aggregator to make it easier. It’s not difficult at all. Here’s how to use Feedly, for instance. And, honestly, since not so much has been written about the subject, this is one area where you could conceivably read everything there is and be a real expert.

  • So please pass it on, folks! We really do need your expertise!
    P.S. This site will be gone soon, so if you are interested in keeping any of the content, you’ll need to copy it right now. A few of our last posts will live on at Sarah Statz Cords’s blog Citizen Reader (check tomorrow for direct links), but this blog will be unavailable after June 30.

    Friday, May 13, 2016

    Library Reads: June 2016

    Here is your monthly reminder that the Library Reads list is out.  These are the librarian picks for June 2016.

    Don't forget, from a helping leisure readers perspective, the past Library Reads lists are a lifeline. Every list combined offers hundreds of pre-approved titles for every type of reader, complete with their own soundbite booktalk, and the kicker, the further you go back, the more chance these great reads are on your shelves...RIGHT NOW!

    Click here to access all of the lists in reverse chronological order here on RA for All.

    And finally, shout out to Darren from Sno-Isle who wrote the annotation for Grunt. I had a very nice time meeting him at BEA yesterday. 

    Vinegar Girl:
    A Novel

    by Anne Tyler

    Published:6/21/2016 by Hogarth
    ISBN: 9780804141260
    “The newest entry in the Hogarth Shakespeare series brings The Taming of the Shrew into the modern world. Kate is stuck in a life taking care of her absent minded professor father and her sister, Bunny. When her father suggests a marriage of convenience in order to secure a green card for his lab assistant Pyotr, Kate is shocked. This is a sweet and humorous story about two people, who don’t quite fit in, finding each other. Tyler’s wonderful writing updates and improves on the original.”
    Catherine Coyne, Mansfield Public Library, Mansfield, MA
    InvisibleLibrary blog

    The Invisible Library

    by Genevieve Cogman

    Published: 6/14/2016 by Roc
    ISBN: 9781101988640
    “Directed by powerful librarians, agents roam alternate realities searching out special volumes for their mysterious library’s collections. Irene is a spy for the library but something is a little off about her current mission; there’s something strange about her new assistant that she can’t quite put her finger on and worse, the requested volume has already been stolen. Cogman’s engaging characters and a most intriguing imagined world are sure to delight readers, especially bibliophiles.”
    Beth Mills, New Rochelle Public Library, New Rochelle, NY

    UndertheHarrow blog

    Under the Harrow:
    A Novel

    by Flynn Berry

    Published: 6/14/2016 by Penguin Books
    ISBN: 9780143108573
    “Nora leaves London to visit her sister, Rachel, in the countryside often. But this trip is different – a silent house, a dead dog hanging from the railing and so much blood. Nora stays, trying to help the police solve the case. She thinks it might have something to do with the unsolved attack on Rachel when she was just a teen but it could be someone new. This story is thrilling and quietly gripping. We become as obsessed as Nora in finding her sister’s killer and what if he strikes again?”
    Kimberly McGee, Lake Travis Community Library, Austin, TX

    Grunt blog

    Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War

    by Mary Roach

    Published: 6/7/2016 by W.W. Norton & Company
    ISBN: 9780393245448
    “With courageous curiosity, journalistic persistence, and a wry empathetic sense of humor, Roach once again delves into a fascinating topic few of us would openly explore. She writes about the issues confronting the military in its attempt to protect and enable combat troops. Roach brings to our attention the amazing efforts of science to tackle all the challenges of modern warfare. Grunt is another triumph of sometimes uncomfortable but fascinating
    Darren Nelson, Sno-Isle Libraries, Marysville, WA

    Homegoing blog

    Homegoing: A Novel

    by Yaa Gyasi

    Published: 6/7/2016 by Knopf
    ISBN: 9781101947135
    “An engaging family saga following two half-sisters – one who marries into privilege and one sold into slavery – and their descendants as they navigate the politics of their separate countries and their heritage. Each is directly affected in some way by the choices of the past, and finding the parallels in the triumphs and heartbreak makes for an engrossing read.”
    Amanda Monson, Bartow County Library System, Cartersville, GA

    MissingPresumed blog

    Missing, Presumed: A Novel

    by Susie Steiner

    Published: 6/28/2016 by Random House
    ISBN: 9780812998320
    “This is a thoughtful police procedural about a missing person case and the secrets that come to the surface when a feisty detective becomes relentless in finding the truth. Edith is a successful college student from a well-known family, but all is not what it seems. Detective Manon Bradshaw is feeling the pressure to quickly resolve the case. What sets this apart from other detective stories is how the lead character is brought to life; she exposes her melancholy and it adds a satisfying mix to the thrills. Recommended for fans of Tana French.”
    Andrienne Cruz, Azusa City Library, Azusa, CA

    Stiletto: A Novel

    by Daniel O’Malley

    Published: 6/14/2016 by Little, Brown and Company
    ISBN: 9780316228046
    “In the long-awaited sequel to The Rook, negotiations between two highly secret organizations, one based on science and reason and the other on the supernatural, are continuing. Odette and Pawn both come to the forefront of the story as we get more of the history of the groups and why mortal enemies would want to join forces. With its blend of intricate world-building and fantastical situations, Stiletto both surprised me and made me laugh.”
    Mary Bell, Wilbraham Public Library, Wilbraham, MA

    WeCouldBeBeautiful blog

    We Could Be Beautiful: A Novel

    by Swan Huntley
    Published: 6/28/2016 by Doubleday
    ISBN: 9780385540599

    “Wealthy art collector Catherine spends her time fussing over her tiny boutique card shoppe so that she can feel like a productive member of society. She meets the handsome and refined William Stockton, yet something seems just a little too good to be true. The plot thickens as long hidden family secrets emerge. Huntley certainly knows how to build up the suspense. This debut novel includes some nice plot twists and Catherine’s character evolves favorably. Recommended for fans of psychological fiction.”
    Mary Vernau, Tyler Public Library, Tyler, TX

    lily-and-the-octopus blog

    Lily and the Octopus

    by Steven Rowley

    Published: 6/7/2016 by Simon & Schuster
    ISBN: 9781501126222
    “Rowley has lovingly captured what it is like to be totally invested in caring for another life, another heart. This book is a true gift for anyone who has experienced the loss of a dog, but especially for those of us who have nursed a beloved dog through an illness even though you both knew it was going to be a losing battle. A special bond is formed there, and the story of Lily and Ted illustrates it so perfectly.”
    Mary Coe, Fairfield Woods Branch Library, Fairfield, CT

    widowmaker blog

    Widowmaker: A Novel

    by Paul Doiron

    Published: 6/14/2016 by Minotaur Books
    ISBN: 9781250063700
    “Doiron delivers a novel of intensifying suspense. The brooding and flawed Bowditch deals with a newly revealed family secret that sets him off on a search for the truth. His personal mission leads him into danger as he chases a vigilante through the wintry Maine woods. Doiron perfects his storytelling with a richly detailed setting and admirable sense of timing. You’ll want to go back to the previous Bowditch adventures while awaiting the next installment. Highly recommended for fans of Nevada Barr and C.J. Box.”
    Mamie Ney, Auburn Public Library, Auburn, ME