Recently one of our patrons submitted a purchase suggestion for a book she saw reviewed in the Boston Globe: Old Bags Taking a Stand, by Faith Baum and Lori Petchers
The patron had also clipped and stapled a little part of the Globe's review, which made it sound interesting enough to investigate further. In cases like this, my first stop is Amazon to see if anyone else has reviewed it.
Now, one of the little games I play when searching - for anything - is to try to type in as few keywords as possible to get the result I want. Known item searches are of course the easiest, and in this case, I just typed "old bags taking" into Amazon's book search - and laughed out loud at the result:
Yes, the correct book was listed first, but the second result was what struck me. Little Women? Really, that's the exact opposite of "old bag" in this sense. Amazon, what in your search algorithm matched these two books?
I've showed a couple coworkers this and their search results varied slightly, but Little Women was always on the list. It seems weird, but maybe this is one of those reader preferences computers can identify that people wouldn't - maybe Little Women fans really are the target audience for Old Bags. Hmm.
Here are a couple reading suggestions website I came across recently that I liked:
The first is TheBookCalendar.com, which is simply a book-a-day online calendar. It shows the cover, a description (and sometimes author video), includes an Amazon link, and also has email and rss options. via lisnews.org
The second one might not be all that new, but I just learn about it a few weeks ago. ReadingTrails.com and provides a reading suggestions by linking related books into a chain.
Sound odd? I first heard of this form of readers advisory during an RA workshop in the SLIS program at Kent State University. The idea behind it is to identify one theme from the book that the reader likes, then find another book that contains the same theme. Next, pick something from that second book the reader likes and, based on that second criteria, link it to a third book that has that criteria, and on and on and on in a long chain of connected books.
An example: for someone who liked the magical aspect of the Narnia books, you might suggest they read Harry Potter. Then, since the Harry Potter series is based in England, you could link it to Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere.
Sort of like a six degrees of Kevin Bacon, but for books. It's a neat idea, but tough to do mentally - which is why it's a perfect task for a database. Or, in this case, "an innovative new social network for book lovers." They say:
Reading Trails is a wonderful way to discover books to read, meet new people, and most importantly, to share your reading experiences with friends by creating trails. In particular, Reading Trails is a great tool for book clubs....
Because a book can appear on more than one trail, trails intersect. The result is a network of trails that can be browsed to find unexpected reading pleasures.
I checked out the site, and it seemed typical of new and innovative ideas - it's a great idea, and I got some useful information from it, but the site doesn't always work the way I expect.
It can be used without signing into an account, which is good. And you can search for books or themes, and from there scroll up and down the "reading trail" of that book to find other reading suggestions. Great.
Other good things:
Fairly easy to use, and the trails are visual and useful and pretty cool
Lets people write reviews of the books
Provides links to Amazon to buy the book and WorldCat to find the book at a library
Provides widget code to embed into your website, like this:
A few technical glitches I noticed:
On the search results page, each book had a little checkbox next to it, and I couldn't figure out what that was for
Each book also had an odd little box under it, which only becomes useful when you are logged in (if it's not useful, it shouldn't be shown)
For the searches I ran, the bottom of the screen would say something like "Viewing 1-7 of 7 matches" and yet there would be twelve books displayed. None of the searches I performed displayed a number of books that matched what was listed on the bottom of the page
Some of the trail themes I searched for did not exist (Vietnam, Iraq, poverty, aliens) but most others did
There doesn't seem to be a way to view details of any book - just see where it falls in various trails
They don't seem to explain why books are linked in a chain - I'd be curious to see what theme connects them
Most of these cons are probably due to the newness of the website, and will likely be improved as the site grows.
I don't think I'll use these much on a personal level (unlike LibraryThing), but I will keep both in mind for readers advisory at the reference desk.