Free Reign RA – an anecdote

As a newly minted library technician in a public library system, I’ve spent the better half of my summer learning the ropes on how to provide reference services to a variety of patrons. It’s been a wonderful and continuous learning experience. But when it comes to readers’ advisory, a majority of the patrons that I’ve helped have been children, largely in part due to the Summer Reading Club. I should probably note that I LOVE recommending kids books, but I noticed that my experiences with recommending adult reads were few and rare.

Most often my adult patrons would ask for specific titles and authors they had in mind. As regular readers, they’re set in their ways and have done their research. But, one glorious evening, I had a patron who asked me to recommend some titles with basically zero guidelines. I was given FREE REIGN. She mentioned that she just recently got back into reading and the last titles she read were The Girl on the Train and the Hunger Games series. Aside from those books, she hasn’t done much leisure reading in the last ten years or so. I’m not going to lie, I was stoked, quite possibly overcome with so many titles, but also super nervous… What if the titles I recommended ended up being terrible and thus putting a damper on her reading experience or even her library experience? (I hope you’re picturing that scene in Spiderman where Uncle Ben tells Peter with great responsibility comes great power… But you know copyrights prevent me from inserting an image of said scene😀.)

I did a little more investigation into what she was hoping to find and here was her criteria:

  • Something light/fast paced for the summer
  • Open to romance, but not have it be the prime focus
  • Something that might captivate her as a reader

Again, so much room to explore and so many possible book recommendations! But what I noticed with my initial suggestions (the ones that jumped to mind instantly) was that none were actually available in the library at the time. So instead of mindlessly searching the cataloguing for books that were available, I took a walk through fiction with my patron.

I found that being able to physically scan the shelves and pick up books helped build a better relationship. I saw titles I read and/or recognized and I was able to give her a variety of options. But I also convinced her to put holds on several other titles that I thought would be meaningful to her reading journey such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half the Yellow Sun. By the end of our encounter, she left with three books and holds on three more.
I’d like to consider this to be my first real form of adult RA-ing in a library and it genuinely was a rewarding and memorable experience.  So what do you do when you’re asked for open-ended recommendations? What do you do when your go-to titles aren’t readily available? What are some other challenges or tips that you’d like to share?

Stephanie Hong is an Information Services Technician at Surrey Libraries

Confessions of a Loan Star



Loan Stars, a tool which allows library staff across Canada to vote on which upcoming book releases we are most excited about, has been off and running for several months now. Participating library staff review titles for the upcoming month (e.g. right now we are voting for titles coming out in September). For those who are thinking about joining up, here are some of the tips and tricks I have discovered about navigating this new and exciting Canadian reader’s advisory tool:

  1. Presenting a pretty face/attractive profile. When you create your profile in NetGalley, take your time to be thorough and pointed, and make sure you mention Loan Stars. The first few title requests I made were rejected because I had not indicated in my profile that I was a part of this new initiative. I was just a strange new girl with no blog or other platform with which to reach readers, so there wasn’t much reason for publishers to give me any precious Advance Reading Copies. Once I added the tidbit about Loan Stars, it was much easier to get my hands on them.
  2. Beware the paperbacks. When browsing the CataList monthly catalogues for Loan Stars, be aware that not all of them are new releases. For anything that draws my interest, I usually end up plugging the title into Amazon to make sure that it has actually never been published, and is not just being released in a different format or as a new edition. As well as the paperbacks, for the odd title here and there it seems there’s a mix-up about the publication month, so it always pays to double check the publication date in another source before you get all excited about requesting or voting for it.
  3. The early bird gets the ARC. Often publishers will have limits about how many ARCs of a particular book they can give out, so if you wait until later in the month to request a popular title, you may be turned down just because they’ve reached their cap.
  4. Don’t request titles willy-nilly! As I have found out the hard way, NetGalley keeps track of your response (or lack thereof) to the titles that you are approved to receive, and a lack of response on your part acts as a checkmark in the negative column. The lower your response rating, the less likely the publishers are to approve more titles in the future. So I’ve learned to be selective in what I request, and wait for an answer before moving on to try something else.
  5. Use experience and research (it’s not laziness). As much as we all love to read, it can be a bit overwhelming to commit to reading several pre-releases for Loan Stars every month in addition to the giant stack I’m sure we all have beside our beds. When browsing the monthly catalogue, I have taken to noting which titles I’m thinking of voting for based on existing reviews and hype, or knowing the author or series. We can submit multiple votes in Loan Stars, and you don’t have to submit a review with every vote, so it’s worth putting up a hand for ones you just think should be on the list and people should be excited about.

So, there’s my input on how to be a successful Loan Star. If anyone has any other advice we’d love to hear it!

Hope this makes you intrigued about joining Loan Stars and being part of the fun.  Go to and follow the instructions to get started.  If you don’t want to participate by voting, sign up for the newsletter and you will receive the monthly list which may help you in selecting titles and/or promoting the Loan Star winners to your patrons. But hopefully you will sign up!   Lots more voting librarians are needed!


Carys Brown, Librarian, Capilano Branch, North Vancouver District Public Library

The Shelves are Talking!

The latest Reader’s Advisory initiative at North Vancouver District Public Library takes its cue from bookstores and other retail outlets by putting staff reviews right on the shelves. We wanted to draw our readers’ attention to books they might otherwise overlook.  All staff members are encouraged to submit mini (no more than 50 words) reviews of their favorite titles.  All the reviews are filed in a spreadsheet, and for each review a card is made up. Each card has the title, author, reviewer’s name, the review and a picture of the book cover.   Then they are fitted into snazzy plastic holders called  “Shelf Talkers” and slipped under the book.  A message on the bottom of the talker offers the reader help in placing a hold if the book is not there.  These reviews can be found in all areas of the library.SP3

Three months in to the project, which we call “Staff Picks”, we are finding the patron response very good, judging by the empty spaces on the shelves where the reviews are!  So far staff has submitted over 130 reviews, and now we need to get more of the holders so we can pepper our shelves with even more.

Soon more “shelf talkers” will join these reviews: read-a-like lists for popular authors will soon find their way on to the shelves as well, giving patrons more ideas on what to read next.

  • Claire Westlake, Librarian, Capilano Branch, North Vancouver District Public Library

A BCLA Conference Report

“Libraries will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no libraries.” – Anne Herbert

That is just one of the many quotes that inspired me at the BCLA conference in May. Hi, my name is Alan Woo and I was lucky enough to attend the BCLA conference after receiving the Student Library Bound award from the BCLA Readers’ Advisory Interest Group. Not only did I have a chance to connect with people and network, but I also attended a variety of different sessions and felt myself being inspired at each one!

The first session I attended was on services for the LGBTQ community, where one big takeaway I got from it was the website NoHomophobes.Com, which tracks homophobic language on Twitter. The average for the number of homophobic tweets is about 40 tweets per minute.

The Reading For Change session had a speaker panel consisting of two writers and one book club organizer, who runs a local chapter of the Amnesty International Book Club. Not only did I manage to jot down a number of recommended titles from this session (i.e. Shake Hands With The Devil, The Autobiography of a Tibetan Monk, Indian Horse, 28 Stories of AIDS In Africa,  Escape from Camp 14, and We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families, to name a few), but I also witnessed people realizing that “just” reading was in and of itself a catalyst for change. It may or may not lead to volunteering for or donating to an issue/cause, but the act of reading about said issue/cause has now informed the reader of something new they may not have known before. And if it leads to further action beyond reading a book, even better! The entire session was very inspiring, including the group “hymn” that we all read aloud alongside the poem’s author Renée Sarojini Saklikar, from her book Children of Air India.

A session on legal resources was very educational for me, as I was not able to take the Law Libraries course at SLAIS. After hearing two law librarians discuss their work and offer up resources for librarians who might have to deal with patrons asking for legal advice, I feel more equipped to be able to point people in the right direction, whether they are looking for laws dealing with family matters, tenancy, criminal law, or Aboriginal issues. At the very basic level, I learned about the Beginner’s Guide to Finding Legal Information at the website:

The conference would not have been complete without some children and youth service oriented sessions and activities. The Summer Reading Club session was great in describing successes and failures of one library’s summer reading club. Through that session, I learned about the very inspirational Caine’s Arcade, which I dare you to visit and watch the 10 minute documentary film without shedding a tear! You can find that here:

The session on Early Literacy brought up examples of a Parents’ Night Out felt-making workshop, the Alligator Pie program being held weekly in Vancouver’s downtown eastside, and Baby Talk, a VPL collaboration with Children’s Hospital. For more resources and information, check out

Both opening and closing key notes dealt a lot with the issues of privacy and security, which I found fascinating.”Arguing that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say” is a quote by Edward Snowden that one of the speakers had up and had an impact on me. I learned more about the TOR network and became fully convinced that we should ALL be using it:

Being among all those people involved in the library world and seeing their passion and all the amazing work they are all doing was a good reminder as to why I am pursuing a career in this field. Thank you BCRAIG for the opportunity to attend!

-Alan Woo

Books for Promoting Civic Literacy

With public libraries around the world looking at how to foster civic participation and increase democracy, I thought I would recommend a few accessible non-fiction titles related to civic literacy.

Enlightenment 2.0 by Joseph Heath

Enlightenment 2.0Winner of the 2015 Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing, this entertaining and stimulating book makes the case for improving our political culture by facing up to the way human reasoning actually works. Rather than focusing on simply trying harder to think rationally, as many books about critical thinking do, Heath argues that we should try to improve our “cognitive environment,” which can either support or hinder reasoned debate. The book is particularly suggestive for librarians interested in how libraries can contribute to the “institutional scaffolding” necessary for a fully functioning democracy.


Tragedy in the Commons Tragedy in the Commons by Allison Loat and Michael MacMillan

Loat and MacMillan, of the non-profit Samara, which is dedicated to increasing civic engagement in Canada, interview eighty departing Members of Parliament to take the pulse of Canada’s parliamentary democracy. While they provide a starting point for considering a number of issues such as party discipline and the proper scope of constituency work, this book is perhaps most useful for conveying what the life of an average MP in today’s political climate is actually like. (Hint: it’s more Veep than Game of Thrones.)


What is Government Good AtWhat is Government Good At? By Donald Savoie

Seeking to dispel knee-jerk scorn for government, Donald Savoie takes a look at what government does and doesn’t do well. The book reminds readers that governments provide public goods where there is little incentive for private actors to truly tackle a problem, in many cases of the “wicked” variety. Sadly, this means that government failure tends to be visible and frequent. Nonetheless, Savoie explains how our political institutions (such as the public service) are going awry in a hostile environment and what kind of reforms could turn things around. What is Government Good At? Won the 2016 Donner Prize for Excellence and Innovation in Public Policy Writing by Canadians.


Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of CanadaFinal Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Volume One: Summary by The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

Prime Minister Trudeau has promised full implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s 94 calls to action. The first volume of the six-volume TRC report lays out the 94 recommendations for action, describes the history of residential schools, and conveys their damaging legacy.



Democratizing the Constitution by Peter Aucoin, Mark Jarvis, Lori Turnbull

Democratizing the ConstitutionThis book is another Donner Prize winner (2011). It is a valuable, readable resource for learning about the concept of responsible government and getting a solid grounding in some of the main features of parliamentary democracy. Arguing that the principle of responsible government has been eroded over time in Canadian politics, it proposes reforms that could restore the proper relationship between the Canadian prime minister, parliament, and the constitution.


What Women WantWhat Women Want by Deborah Rhode

This clearly-written book offers a whirlwind tour of public policies aimed at realizing gender equality. Rhode discusses a range of relatively familiar topics like pay equity, the division of domestic labour, and domestic violence. She also describes types of political action that have proven effective in winning change in the real world. Besides its pragmatic approach, what I especially liked about this book was the attention to less-commonly discussed policy ideas like public insurance for child support payments.


The Welfare State: a very short introductionThe Welfare State: A Very Short Introduction by David Garland

Canada is practically a socialist country, right? This brisk, well-written entry in Oxford’s Very Short Introductions series puts the Canadian welfare state in global context, explaining the three basic types– liberal democratic, Christian corporatist, and social democratic. (Canada’s is the first type – which is the least comprehensive.) Garland provides some surprisingly entertaining history as well, reaching back to the early days when Churchill described the “exhilaration” of social insurance that can “bring the magic of averages to the aid of the millions.”


Social Democratic AmericaSocial Democratic America by Lane Kenworthy

Could a liberal democracy like the United States (or Canada) become more like the Nordic social democracies of Denmark or Sweden? While there have been lots of great books written about inequality in the past few years, this is a personal favourite (even if it doesn’t foreground that way of phrasing the issue.) It is written in an amazingly clear and concise style (at a reading level similar to that of data journalism sites like Vox), laying out the extent of the problem, proposing solutions, and responding systematically, debate-style, to common objections. Some have been turned off by the book’s optimism; regardless, this is a must-read for understanding debates about the size and effectiveness of government programs.


Taxation: a very short introductionTaxation: A Very Short Introduction by Stephen Smith

There is no succinct book for a popular audience on Canadian tax policy debates along the lines of Slemrod and Bakija’s Taxing Ourselves or Bruce Bartlett’s The Benefit and the Burden for American readers. However, with economic inequality a major issue today, informed debate about tax policies and, perhaps more importantly, our overall tax system is extremely important (and is actually much more interesting than it sounds). This brief book published in 2015 does a decent job laying out the different aspects of tax policy, including different types of taxes, guiding principles like fairness and efficiency, and tax collection and evasion. No matter your opinion on taxes, this book is sure to illuminate aspects of the tax debate you hadn’t appreciated before.

Which books would you recommend for improving democratic participation and debate?


  • Joe H.

Water Cooler RA – NWPL Recommends

When in a reading rut I like to pick the brains of my colleagues. They are an eclectic bunch when it comes to reading interests!  Here is a selection of books staff at the New Westminster Public Library have recently enjoyed (and were gracious enough to share!) Let us know if you liked any of these, or had other titles to share, in the comments below!

strangersMy favourite recent read was Strangers Drowning by Larissa MacFarquhar. MacFarquhar is a profile writer for the New Yorker who specializes in sketches of intellectuals, oddballs, or both. In this book she explores the philosopher Susan Wolf’s idea of “moral saints”: people who try to make every act as virtuous as possible. The profiles of various extreme do-gooders are written with a light touch, describing many individuals who come off as both admirable and somehow disturbing (and in some cases actually destructive). Interludes between the profiles provide a history of altruism up to and including the present day Effective Altruism movement, which centers around utilitarians like Peter Singer.

  • Joe H.

Speak EasySpeak Easy by Catherynne M. Valente. It’s the 1920’s in the Artemisia Hotel and the party never stops. A mysterious door arrives in the closet of It Girl, Zelda Fair, and she enters the Underworld/Fairy Kingdom that supplies the fantastic, outrageous, and degenerate fun for the hotel upstairs. Valente’s prose is the real protagonist; the story is told in a voice that is alternately lush, folksy, sparkling, touching, and humorous.

  • Adena B.



redemption roadI just finished reading John Hart’s newest and very suspenseful thriller, Redemption Road. A cop convicted of murder is being released from prison and the young son of the victim meets him at a bar with a gun. Also in the mix is a police officer on suspension for shooting suspects in a kidnapping case. When there is another murder in town with the exact same MO all three get caught up in a dangerous game. Very well written prose.

  • Kris K.


Ten BillionI’m about halfway through “Ten Billion Tomorrows: How Science Fiction Technology Became Reality and Shapes the Future” by Brian Clegg. It’s a really interesting discussion of science fiction, the technology depicted in it, and how that technology has or could be developed in the “real world” (or, in some cases, why it most certainly won’t be).

  • Alicia D.




tearsI was very touched by Tears in the Grass by Lynda Archer. It is about an elderly Cree woman who is determined to find the child that was taken away from her after she was raped during her time at residential school. She kept this a secret her whole life until age 90, knowing she will not live for much longer, and enlists the help of her daughter and granddaughter to find her.

  • Jenny Z.




Shell CollectorThe Shell Collector by Anthony Doerr! this is his book of short stories before he hit it big with All the Light We Cannot See. There’s a great short story in there about how unspectacularly wonderful my hometown, Boise, ID is (Doerr lives there).

  • Molly K.

SLAIS recommends!

This spring, as the university semester came to a close, I asked some of my fellow SLAIS students to recommend what they’ve been reading/listening to over the past school year. Here are the recommendations:

cover of Warren the 13th - a young boy tiptoes across town while a sinister couple gaze after him


Warren the 13th and the All-Seeing Eye by Tania del Rio and Will Staehle

The red, black and white illustrations, by Will Staehle, hooked me from the first page. I loved the story of the resilient and resourceful Warren fending off numerous challenges to his legacy, his family’s strange hotel.

~ recommended by Jennette C.

cover of Where the Sea Breaks Its Back - a scene of several ships floundering in huge waves


Where the Sea Breaks Its Back: The epic story of early naturalist Georg Steller and the Russian exploration of Alaska by Corey Ford

A non-fiction account of the ultimately disastrous expedition of Danish explorer Vitus Bering, his Russian crew, and naturalist Georg Steller to southern Alaska in the 1740s.

~ recommended by Matthias Olhausen


cover of Sorcerer to the Crown - image of a red dragon with its mouth open


Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho

Magic is waning in England and Zacharias, the first black Sorcerer Royal, and Prunella, a young woman with an immense magical ability of her own, set out to figure out why. A fun, witty narrative of romance, intrigue, and adventure that doesn’t shy away from the fact that its characters deal with oppression and institutional racism.

~ recommended by Chloe Riley


Gastropod podcast logo


Gastropod by Cynthia Graber and Nicola Twilley

Gastropod is a podcast that “looks at food through the lens of science and history.” The topics are always well-researched, often featuring guest experts, and navigating between science, history, and story for a consistently captivating show. [link to the podcast]

~ recommended by Gwen Doran


cover of Rolling in the Deep - a young woman is pulled underwater by a webbed hand

Rolling in the Deep by Mira Grant

If you like your horror smart and slick with a slice of too-terrifyingly-close-to-reality science on the side, this slim novella by Mira Grant is for you. Rolling in the Deep recounts the last fatal voyage of the SS Atargatis, which sets sail for the Marianas Trench with a team of scientists, a group of actors, a camera crew, and a collection of interns, to determine whether or not mermaids could possibly exist. None of them are ever seen again.

~ recommended by Meghan Ross



cover of I'll Give You the Sun - colourful lines in a sunburst pattern


I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

“If you are a young gay boy, or if you ever were a young gay boy, then you need to read this amazing YA novel. Even if you’re NOT and never were a young gay boy, read this book anyway. It’s brilliant. It’s poetic. It’ll break your heart and sew it right back up again only to rip it right out of you.” [full review here].

~ recommended by Alan Woo


cover of Captive Prince - image of a faded stone wall with a single thin window


Captive Prince Trilogy by C.S. Pacat

Intrigue and action-packed gay romance set in an alternate history/High Fantasy world. Excellent pick for romance enthusiasts and fans of The Goblin Emperor or Game of Thrones.

~ recommended by Krista Parham


cover of The Thousand names - a man in a billowing cloak walks towards a city holding two swords above his head



The Thousand Names by Django Wexler

~ recommended by Myles Wolfe




Let us know your recently-read/recently-listened/recently-watched recommendations!

Chloe Riley is the SLAIS student representative on the Readers’ Advisory Interest Group. She’s currently a student in the MLIS program at SLAIS, and works at the Vancouver Public Library.