or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk




Simple Book Suggester: BookSeer.com

   June 23rd, 2009 Brian Herzog

bookseer.comMy library started a new readers advisory program this summer, so I've been updating our reading suggestions webpage. A neat website I just added is bookseer.com.

Bookseer is like many "what should I read next" websites, except it is impressively simple. Just type a title and author into their fun interface, and it gives reading suggestions based on Amazon.com and Librarything.com data.

Of course, the suggestions will only be as good as the data. But I like that it's building on something already available, and automatically updated, rather than relying on manual edits. And it's simple, free, creative, and doesn't require an account.

via @EchoYouBack, MELIBS-L and LifeHacker



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New(ish) Reading Suggestion Websites

   January 6th, 2009 Brian Herzog

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

ReadingTrails.com logoThe 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.



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Information Underload

   December 18th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Empty BookshelvesIn addition to this blog, I also write a weekly post for my library's blog. I don't feel like I'm spreading myself too thin, but sometimes I have to wonder if there is any connection between my online and real-life activities.

Last week's post for the library was a Holiday Book Guide. It contained a list of kids books suggested by our Youth Services Librarians, and also links to other websites with end-of-the-year book recommendations. The list of other websites is short, but I tried to find a good mix. However, apparently, I wasn't reading them very closely.

A couple days ago, I was going through a cart of new books with a coworker. He held up three books and said "hey, I saw all of these on that Boing Boing list of books." It was then that I realized that, although I had read all of the lists I linked to, apparently I had retained nothing because none of the books he was holding looked familiar.

This must have been a case of me working faster than I was thinking, trying to get a useful blog post up by the (self-imposed) deadline. But it's also a reminder that websites aren't just something to link to as information for other people - I need to read them, too.

I guess I need to remember to stop and smell the roses - or in this case, stop and read the blogs.



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Resources for Book Suggestions

   February 14th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Last week's Reference Question was about me finding a new source for suggesting good books for patrons - the Mass Book Awards.

Liz's comment on the post was a good one, and I thought it warranted a bit of research and a full post devoted to answering it. She said:

There are a few websites which allow you to enter some of your favorite bands and it pops out suggestions of similar bands you might like - wouldn’t it be awesome if they had a site like that for books?...

Here are some resources I found that let you search for a book/author you like, and then link from it to similar books:

  • WhatShouldIReadNext.com - search for a book to see recommendations
  • reader2.com - search for a book to see recommendations; also shows tags associated with each book
  • AllReaders.com - search for a title or author, and similar books are listed at the end of each book description; also allows searching by plot, setting, or character
  • StoryCode.com - lets you search for a title or author and suggests similar stories (based on user data); also has other features
  • LibraryThing.com - offers book suggestions based on user-entered tags; you can also browse tags for books on a certain subject, or use their unsuggester to find books unlike a particular book
  • GoodReads.com - seems a lot like LibraryThing, but puts more emphasis on recommendations of people in your friends network rather than cumulative data
  • NoveList - the old standby, but you probably need to go through your local library for it
  • Amazon.com - it is Amazon, so it's primary focus is to sell book, not recommend them, but it does offer suggestions based on what people purchase and search by topic (as it were)

There are lots of other sites devoted to book suggestions. A few others I found that didn't fit above but that are also useful are:

  • Listal.com Books - search (hidden in upper right corner) for books and link to others via tags (seems to focus more on social connections)
  • FictionFinder from OCLC - offers Subject cloud (like tag cloud) to find similar books; also allows searching, and each book has links to see other books with the same subjects, genres, characters or setting
  • Find a Good Book from Hennepin County Library - search for an author to find recommended reading lists where that author's books appear (plus links to other listings and resources)
  • Staff Recommendations from the Skokie Public Library - search for a subject to find books their staff has reviewed and recommends

And here's a few resources that are list-based - you click the subject you like, and you browse the list of books in that subject:

I'm sure there are tons of others - even my library also has a readers advisory webpage. If I missed one of your favorites, please share it with a comment below.



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Have Phone, Will Read

   December 27th, 2007 Brian Herzog

Have phone, will readIn honor of the holiday season, here's a post about quality family time:

My friend Carrie lives in South Carolina, and her family lives in Ohio. One of her nephews is learning to read, and most of the time, her family tells her, he does fine. But once in awhile when someone sits down with him, he'll throw a tantrum, act up, hit the person he's supposed to be reading to, etc. - basically, act like a boy who isn't in the mood to read.

So Carrie got the idea to have him read to her over the phone.

He's always excited to talk to her on the phone anyway, so he was happy to read to her, too. Her nephew picks the book, and they each check out a copy from their local libraries so Carrie can help him.

And in the process, they found he did a much better job reading to her than when he reads to someone in person. Perhaps it's because he feels pressured when he's reading to someone in person, or perhaps tantrums and hitting have no effect over the phone. If he's not in the mood, they just hang up, and he doesn't get the attention he normally gets when he acts that way.

Carrie said that not only has his reading has improved since they started this, but they also talk more often - a few times a week. And since they use free minutes on cell phones, it doesn't cost anything.

I've heard of libraries offering storytime-by-phone, but learning-to-read-by-phone might be too time-intensive for libraries to offer. But it's a great thing for geographically-distant relatives. I fall into that category, and in a couple years I'll try it with my nephews (but I'm still not getting a cell phone).

learning, learning to read, libraries, library, phone, public, reading



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Readers Advisory Ideas

   August 14th, 2007 Brian Herzog

Photograph of a Stack of BooksReaders Advisory has been quite the topic for me lately, and the fun continues.

There's a current thread on ME-LIBS about what libraries do to connect books with readers, and I thought I'd pull together some of the examples provided (please excuse any editorializing on my part - I was trying to just pull out the highlights, so any mistakes below are mine):

Molly Larson, Rockport Public Library

  • We have a "Rockport Readers Recommend" display that is ongoing and we encourage patrons to recommend titles...[and] write a comment in the notebook. We also post this list on our website including patron comments
  • We also have "BookLovers Cafe"...an informal gathering on Saturdays once a month when patrons can just come in and talk about what they're reading. [Staff] compiles the list of recommended books and we also provide the list at the book display
  • [Staff] created a handy series book that is right at the Circ desk. Patrons like this because they don't have to look it up in the OPAC or somewhere else to find the next title in a series (popular adult fiction)
  • We have various themed displays that change regularly. Patrons love the different displays
  • In our monthly newsletter...staff members will contribute "good reads" suggestions. I've seen patrons bring in the list of recommended reading and look for the books
  • We have done "if you like" lists on occasion as bookmarks
  • Ongoing display of new children's books and Maine Student Book award books
  • I use NoveList almost on a daily basis and offer to print article from that for patrons

Kathy Foss, Camden-Rockport Middle School Library

  • A series "notebook" which we used to have in hard copy but now have at our website
  • A set of shelves just for what I call "Foss Favorites" in the school library which kids can browse as they know I've read each title and recommend it
  • A variety of reading lists on our website so that if a student wants another book, for example, with animal main characters, they can browse these and print out the lists that interest them most by clicking on Foss Favorites on that page
  • We also use Novelist all the time
  • This fall we plan to start encouraging our students to podcast their own book reviews so that other kids can hear them

Barbara L. Keef, Windham Public Library

  • Our patrons love eye-catching displays, especially if they are in a bit of a hurry to grab a couple of books for their vacation time (the popularity of a display is easily judged by the amount of time you spend in re-stocking those titles)
  • Some successful display ideas from our library include:
    • "Most checked-out book lists" from Library Journal to showcase the popular fiction and non-fiction titles
    • A display of "what we read last summer" (the NY Times Best-sellers from the summer of 2006)
    • A "Read, White, and Blue" display of -guess what- books with red, white and blue covers
    • A "Get a Life" display for biographies
    • Read-alike display (right now it's Jodi Picoult)
    • Other Popular Author display (at the moment, it's Clive Cussler)
  • We also have created read-alike bookmarks as well as a list of what our Book Group has been reading/discussing
  • There are also displays in our Teen Area for new titles and other popular subjects (pirates, for example)
  • Novelist is a valuable tool along with all those other lists found on public library websites. It is fun to hear what other libraries are doing for Reader's Advisory and it helps to browse websites and visit bookstores to get ideas

I don't know why, but it was kind of funny to see that everyone mentioned NoveList (I use it myself, and patrons seem to enjoy NoveList after I demonstrate it). I also liked that these libraries dedicate displays to younger readers; I know that depends on staff and space availability, but it's a group that shouldn't be ignored.

In my library, we rely heavily on displays, read-alike bookmarks, informal staff suggestions, and our Readers Corner webpage. We also use NoveList quite a bit, as well as BookLetters. My concern is trying to present all of these suggestion sources in a coherent and useful way.

Another source for ideas is the Readers Advisory section of the Library Success: Best Practices Wiki. If your library has found something that works well, please share.

books, libraries, library, public libraries, public library, reader advisory, readers advisory, reading, recommendations, suggestions



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