Librarians’ Choice at Burnaby Public Library

Avid readers are always looking for good reading recommendations. In the age of internet, social media, and sites like Goodreads, you might think that the opinions of librarians wouldn’t be of much interest to library users but, of course, the opposite is true. It’s important for librarians to recognize this and position themselves as a preferred source of inspired reading recommendations.

When I started working at the McGill branch of Burnaby Public Library several years ago, then Library Manager Barbara Jo May had been doing a book recommendation program for a couple of years, similar to her “Ain’t on the Globe and Mail Bestsellers List” sessions at BCLA conferences. Librarians delivered fast-paced reviews of recommended reads. I participated as a newbie to booktalking, and when Barabara Jo left I carried on coordinating the program.

We decided to call the program “Librarians’ Choice”. We use four librarians (including Information Clerks sometimes) and cover about twenty books in an evening. Each book review is about two minutes. Some popular titles are included, but the focus is more on the “under the radar” books that might otherwise be missed.

Two librarians start off and alternate, then we break for refreshments which gives staff a chance to chat with the attendees, then the next two librarians go on. We provide a booklist so the audience can follow along, and we have often observed patrons madly taking notes. We put display books in the room, and encourage people to browse and talk. The program takes ninety minutes, usually 7 pm to 8:30 pm and we pre-register.

I coordinated this program for four years at the McGill branch. The loyal following that Barbara Jo built up early on continued to grow. Our turnouts would range from 30 to 40 plus, with our International Mysteries evening going viral! Some events were themed — for example: Varieties of Love, Historical, Thrills and Adventure, Real Reads (non-fiction). But many events were a generic selection of mostly fiction with some non-fiction as well and promoted with reference to the seasons: Fall into Books; Winter Reads; Spring into Summer.

BPL-touch-of-mysteryWhen I moved to the Bob Prittie Metrotown Branch a year ago, I discovered that the reading tastes are a little less eclectic than at McGill. Metrotown readers *love* mysteries, so we have so far hosted two mystery evenings at Metrotown, the first one also went viral so we had a full house; the second attracted 30 plus avid mystery readers. We are planning another mystery evening in the fall, and will try a general one in November. We are also planning to include DVD recommendations in at least some of our events. Librarians’ Choice also continues by popular demand at McGill with new librarians coordinating.

It is really gratifying to see people return to the library with their Librarians’ Choice lists as they read their way through the recommended titles. There is a real eagerness to get the inside scoop on what library staff are reading, and I think this is part of the appeal of this type of program. Also, avid readers just enjoy being at an event where something they love doing is celebrated.

And here is a little inspiration for library staff: I was on the Information Desk one day and a woman approached me and said “I just wanted to tell you how much I love the book events that you do. Reading is a solitary, introverted activity, and your events create community among readers.” Wow!

Georgina Flynn is the First Floor Information Desk Supervisor at Bob Prittie Metrotown Branch,
Burnaby Public Library

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