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




What is the Point of Reading?

   July 9th, 2009 Brian Herzog

kids sharing a bookSome interesting comments on my last post got me thinking about reading, and why we encourage kids to read.

I know reading is vital for learning and personal development. But beyond that, is reading just for the benefit of the reader?

I wonder: is reading without sharing the experience akin to amassing a tremendous fortune and doing nothing with it? Society tends to paint as "greedy" people who accumulate wealth just for the sake of having more money than they know what to do with. At the same time, we reward philanthropists with awe and gratitude for "giving back" and sharing their excess wealth to benefit society.

So, should reading programs not just encourage kids to total up the number of pages and hours spent reading (which can lead to competition), but to also be "knowledge philanthropists" and share what they've learned and experienced from reading (which might lead to collaboration)? Or would that intimidate kids away from reading at all?

I'm not a children's librarian or parent, so perhaps I'm just late to the party on this.



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Ideas on Serving Students

   July 7th, 2009 Brian Herzog

stacks of textbooksTwo posts this weekend caught my eye, both being new (to me) ideas on serving kids and students.

Renting Textbooks
The first was a New York Times article about Chegg.com, a company that rents textbooks to college students. They use the Netflix model, which makes a lot of sense for something as temporary and expensive as textbooks.

I always try to imagine the long-term implications of things. For renting textbooks, if it really takes off, it could mean that fewer will be purchased, which may cause them to get even more expensive. If it impacts the publishers' profits, it might drive them faster towards ebooks, which are much more difficult than print books to loan/rent/use for lots of DRM and format issues.

Downside to Summer Reading?
The second was an article from a mother who homeschools her children, on why she doesn't enroll them in summer reading programs. My library's summer reading program is usually elaborate, and kids have always seem to love it - participating seems to make reading more fun.

I read her article and the comments, and I still don't see a downside. Summer Reading Programs are an incentive for kids reluctant to read, and for kids that read anyway, they are still a fun way for them to get recognition. But most important, it's participating in something bigger than themselves, and reading by suggesting books along with other kids their age. It's not just about inflating circ stats or even building reading skills and habits - it's also about the social aspect of being a part of a community of people who enjoy learning and imagination.

via LISNews and Slashdot/LibraryStuff



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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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