Author Archives: annaferri

Topics in RA for Immigrant Readers

This year the interactive section of RA in a Half Day was led by our guest speaker, Keren Dali who provided us an opportunity to share insights, develop conversations, and exchange ideas about serving immigrant and ESL readers.

Discussion Topic #1

In discussing the use of fiction or films set locally, such as in Vancouver, the thought was that this would generate good integrated programming for newcomers, “old-timers” (immigrants already settled into the community), and native residents. Struggles included how to attract the mixed audience, how to evaluate it, and, in smaller communities, finding specific local materials.

The suggestion when talking about inclusive and integrated book clubs was that you could encourage integration by building immigrant reader opportunities into an existing book club. Concerns included worries about choosing materials translated into enough different languages, who would select the titles, could the library have them available in all necessary languages, and how to promote it. Dali encouraged us to accept the idea that libraries will not always be the place where readers get their copy of the book. Discuss this issue with the book club members, because if you buy the book in many languages, many of those books will never again circulate after the book club is finished with them.

Group Discussion

In discussing the solicitation of feedback from immigrant groups including operating multilingual advisory groups, it was easy to list numerous advantages. A multilingual advisory group could crowd source local expertise in literature from various languages, helps the library develop a clearer picture of the need of these readers, mitigates the lack of formal research available on the subject of immigrant and ESL reader communities, and increases awareness of the collections and services libraries offer while building comfort and agency in that section of the community. There were definite concerns over having some local language communities or certain individuals dominate the conversation, a concern that Dali actually stressed on several occasions in her talk. In addition there were concerns about the level of understanding and expertise that the community had in using library tools like BiblioCommons or even in how to analyse the qualities of and recommend reading material.

In thinking about specific ESL communities that our libraries serve, the issue of having staff who speak the language of the immigrant communities was a major theme. Some libraries were struggling to serve smaller foreign language communities when they have a huge dominant foreign language community they have already identified and designed significant services for. A big part of the discussion revolved around how to break into these smaller language groups. Additional concerns revolved around how to assess the literacy level of various local language communities in their own native tongues so that our multilingual collections are representative of their reading level needs.

More Group Discussion

A discussion on multilingual collections including selection, management, and marketing them included some useful suggestions including building community partnership programs, employing pop-up surveys on the website and in house, contacting local adult education programs, and advertising to immigrant families via story time. Concerns included finding a good source for materials purchases, managing the scope including both your staffing and monetary resources, figuring out how to make the contacts, and dealing with a significant lack of knowledge in our communities generally (but yes in immigrant communities especially) about what is offered at libraries. They really encourage perseverance in connecting with these communities and educating them on library collections and services, a point that Dali re-enforced as being critical. Keep talking about your libraries programs and collections and keep working to build trust in with community.

A big thanks to the wonderful RA in a Half Day participants who shared some great conversations and ideas!

Keren Dali Kicks Off RA in a Half Day 2014

Another exciting RA in a Half Day from the BCLA Readers’ Advisory Interest Group kicked off in the Richmond Cultural Centre with on opening welcome from Theresa de Sousa, Librarian at Richmond Public Library. Again this year, BCLA Readers’ Advisory Interest  would like to thank Library Bound for sponsoring the event.

Barbara Edwards, Community Relations Librarian at Vancouver Public Library introduced the first speaker of the day, Keren Dali, a researcher who studies the reading experiences of immigrants. Chock full of practical ideas and positive messages, Dali offered a wonderful amount of insight into how immigrants pursue and think about reading for leisure. She emphasized the interest of immigrant readers in reading in English, genre fiction, and not the obvious “easy reader” materials. However, they often do not understand how the North American publishing industry works (assuming, for instance, that hardbacks are unabridged and paperbacks are abridged), nor have experience in the vast array of genres that we have in the English literature tradition. They need guidance in understanding the landscape of English language reading materials from how the publishing industry and libraries work to the basics of genre designations and the big name authors in these genres. Find out what is popular in literature in their native language and help them translate that appeal into the appeal of various English language literature genres.

Communicating with people new to your own native language will produce interaction fatigue (repeating yourself, consciously simplifying your language, slowing your speech, making them repeat themselves). This is natural, reduces with practice, but can inspire anxiety and cause us to try to shorten these transactions or make us abrupt. Warmth, interest, and positivity in are critical in the Readers Advisory transactions as part of these inter-cultural interactions that are building their comfort and proficiency in Canadian society. Dali suggests that we often think of immigrant readers in our libraries as “newcomers” but many are actually “old-timers” who have been in the country a few years and are already adjusting to the culture. They are ready to move beyond materials on the immigrant experience, easy reader materials, and they want to move away from being served as readers with special needs. Above all, she encourages us to “ASK YOUR READERS!” Develop these conversations actively and via workshops, mixed ESL book groups, and immigrant advisory groups so that we are building relationships in this community and helping this population to develop comfort and build connections here.

Next up, Keren Dali will be leading us in an interactive activity on immigrant Readers Advisory services.

Let’s Talk About Podcast Advisory – Then Record Ourselves and Share it on the Internet!

This weeks post was written by Samantha Mills, a newly minted librarian from the SLAIS program who currently works for the Vancouver Public Library and the AskAway virtual reference service. She also trained as a teacher, and has a strong interest in library instruction and digital literacies. Her current favourite podcast is Roderick on the Line. Sam also co-hosts the weekly podcast S.S. Librarianship with fellow librarian Allison Sullivan. You can email them or reach them on Twitter to learn more about podcasting, or to be a guest on the show!

As entertainment mediums, genres, and technologies have expanded and changed in recent years, library staff have expanded our Reader’s Advisory skills – into music, audio books, movies, board and video games, and more. Another growing medium, thanks in large part to the growth of easy-to-use home recording and internet sharing technologies, is the podcast. At its core, a podcast is a regular, ongoing or serialized audio program available on the internet, via websites or subscription services. While the term “podcast” is tied to the iPod, it is (despite recent efforts to the contrary) a non-proprietary format, used by individuals, corporations, and everyone in between. There are also a growing number of video podcasts, and some podcasts offer companion material in the form of videos or written articles, but for our purposes, I am focusing here on audio podcasts.

The genres available in podcast form vary just as widely as any other medium. Some of the major podcast access platforms, particularly Stitcher and iTunes, divide podcasts into categories and genres, and also offer their own advisory suggestions based on listener behaviour. There are many sources for podcasts, depending on how the patron wants to listen: for listening through an app and managing subscriptions, there are services like iTunes, Stitcher, or Podkicker, among others – but almost all podcasts also broadcast from their own websites, which generally contain archives.

Production also varies, from the rebroadcast of professional radio programs (NPR and CBC both make most of their programs available in podcast form each week), to recordings of lectures and interviews from institutions like Harvard and the New York Public Library, to programs recorded by amateurs with a computer, a microphone, and something to say. The podcast is also often used as an extension of more traditional media – Entertainment Geekly is one example, hosted by two writers from the Entertainment Weekly magazine.

Whole networks have sprung up around comedy, education, and social & cultural commentary – these are just a few of the most prominent ones:

The hosts of My Brother, My Brother and Me

The hosts of My Brother, My Brother and Me

  • Maximum Fun hosts such diverse programs as bizarre advice show My Brother, My Brother and Me, music dissection program Song Exploder, and medical history romp Sawbones, among others.
  • The Nerdist network has grown from the original Chris Hardwick-hosted Nerdist podcast to include many other programs. Breakout hit The Thrilling Adventure Hour features fully realized drama; more low-key fare includes Mike and Tom Eat Snacks, wherein actors Michael Ian Black and Tom Cavanagh do pretty much what the title indicates.
  • BookRiot is another example of a growing network; the podcast, hosted by the editors of, is part of a larger books-and-reading community, and has recently been joined by a second show, Dear Book Nerd.
  • How Stuff Works is an online science, technology and education network featuring podcasts like Stuff You Should Know, Stuff of Genius, and Stuff You Missed in History Class.

The interview is a staple format of the podcast – comedian Marc Maron’s WTF was one of the earliest successful programs to take full advantage of the uncensored nature of the medium, engaging in meandering, thoughtful (and often NSFW) conversations with comedians, actors, writers, and musicians.

Many shows also use the podcast format for fiction, providing audio versions of short stories and even performing dramatic pieces with actors, music and sound effects (Welcome to Night Vale, The Thrilling Adventure Hour, Podcastle, Machine of Death, and many others).

When providing podcast advisory to patrons, many of the traditional questions about genre apply – are they looking for fiction? Nonfiction? Science? Entertainment/cultural commentary? But there are some other questions more unique to this medium to keep in mind – are they after something that the whole family can listen to together? Many podcasts are uncensored, but most will be marked “explicit” if they deal in mature themes or language. Do they want something with polished, radio-level production values, or are they content with something a little more homegrown?

Roderick on the Line

Roderick on the Line

Additionally, like social media, podcasting can be just as much, if not more, about the personalities and spheres of interest of the hosts as anything else. Content can vary quite a bit, particularly in the more conversational programs. Roderick on the Line is one example, beloved by listeners not for its content as much as for the articulate, thoughtful, and humourous ways that the hosts discuss the wide range of topics their casual conversations touch upon. This is also where the growing number of podcast networks can come into the advisory process – if a patron enjoys one Maximum Fun show, they might like others.

Another aspect of podcast listening to keep in mind is the sometimes fleeting nature of the content – some shows, WTF among them, only provide a certain number of recent episodes for free, and earn money to maintain production by charging a subscription fee for the back catalogue. Many podcasts also contain advertisements, and some raise money through annual pledge drives (Maxiumum Fun, This American Life). It’s a new medium, and its business model is still evolving; this is worth pointing out to patrons as they become invested in this new way of accessing stories and commentary.


S.S. Librarianship

Finally, even librarians themselves are getting in on the podcast game: library staff and library patrons alike who want to know more about the worlds of books, technology, and librarianship would do well to check out shows like Circulating Ideas, T is for Training, and, of course, S.S. Librarianship (which is co-hosted by your humble author, and includes the weekly Readers Advisory segment “Mind Grapes”).

NOTE: Because of the homegrown nature of the medium, podcasts are growing and changing all the time; this article is far from a complete list. Additionally, the relatively low bar for production and distribution of podcasts means there’s potential here for new programming ideas –  if you’re looking for new learning opportunities for your library, consider teaching your patrons how to podcast!

Throughout the month of May students from UBC’s School of Library, Archival and Information Studies will be posting their best Readers’ Advisory tips to the RAIG blog!

Readers’ Advisory Sessions at PLA 2014: Audiobooks

Today’s post comes from Anna Ferri, the 2014/15 BCLA student representative, one of the two UBC student representatives with RAIG, and a current MLIS candidate.

This year I was bound and determined to make it to the Public Library Association Conference in Indianapolis, March 11-14, 2014. Since the conference is only held every other year, this was my one chance to attend as a student, with both the reduced conference fee and with no one’s agenda but my own interests. Accordingly I went to several Readers’ Advisory sessions and brought back a few tidbits to share. For brevity’s sake, I’ll post a couple separate blog posts during this month on sessions I attended. The full program for PLA is on the conference website, along with an array of handouts for each session that are really worth checking out.

All About Audiobooks: Improving Readers’ Advisory for Listeners

One of the first sessions I attended, and one of the standout sessions of the whole conference for me, was “All About Audiobooks: Improving Readers’ Advisory for Listeners”. This panel included librarians, a representative from NoveList, a board member from the Audio Publishers Association, and the founder of AudioFile magazine. Their incredibly informative discussion was organized around the new audio recommendations feature in NoveList, available with NoveList Plus, and the Audio Characteristics appeal terms they developed for that purpose. But the discussion ranged far and wide and was peppered with a lot of excellent advice.

For instance, remember that your ear cannot skim content that your eyes might skip over. While this may seem like a reference to slogging your way through a long dreary text, the real point here was about the reader’s sensitivity to content. With audiobooks, it can be especially important to assess a listener’s tolerance for foul language, violence, sexual content, or even more particular things like children getting hurt or misogynistic language. It isn’t as easy to skim past or skip over difficult content in the audiobook format.

Another suggestion was that full cast audio plays can be an excellent recommendation for families who are traveling together by car for the summer. A good western or adventure tale with a full cast, sound effects, and good production values can keep all ages engaged and amused. But be wary of how sound effects might impact drivers. A thrilling cops and robbers tale can get a little too exciting for mom or dad when the sound of a siren comes blaring out of the stereo.

Appeal Characteristics for Audiobooks

It was exciting to hear that NoveList has taken the time to develop a rich set of appeal terms (34 to be exact) around audio characteristics. These are listed at the end of their downloadable guide to appeal terms. These terms can be used to group together or help delineate audiobooks in a way that is relevant to how listeners experience narration and production along with the more traditional plot, tone, writing style, etc. Whether used within the bounds of NoveList or just kept on hand as a ready way for any librarian to discuss audiobooks with patrons, they are a fascinating and potentially useful list.

“Detached”, for instance, refers to narration that is “emotionally removed from the story” and can ask the reader to do more of the emotional work or interpretation of the novel. Remember that the audio appeal characteristics refer to the narration style and not to the emotional content of the book as a whole. Audiobooks with a “detached” narrative style can be especially good for book clubs. The panelists suggested Night by Elie Wiesel as read by George Guidall as an example of an effective use of this narrative style.

Audiobook RA Resources

The panel also listed several of the key places to go to keep up to date on quality audiobooks. Of course there’s a bit of a bias towards resources curated or sponsored by organizations represented on the panel, but these are still some excellent places to scan for keeping up with current audiobook trends.

The Listen List – A yearly list from ALA’s RUSA of 12 excellent audiobook titles including fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and plays, each presented with a description of their appeal and several listen-alikes.

AudioFile Earphones AwardsAn ongoing recognition of the best audiobook narration in current tiles published in the AudioFile magazine and available on their website.

Audie Awards – Sponsored by the Audio Publishers Association, these awards recognize “distinction in audiobooks and spoken word entertainment”. Both the winners and finalists from past years can be found on their website. – A new website from AudioFile that is updated weekly with a curated list of select audiobook reviews. One especially nice feature is a little button at the top of the page that brings you to a list of categories, including Top Picks, for easy browsing. It’s a ready way to bite off a manageable chunk of the most current audiobooks.

Throughout the month of May students from UBC’s School of Library, Archival and Information Studies will be posting their best Readers’ Advisory tips to the RAIG blog!

Max Wyman on Libraries and Reading for Pleasure

RA in a Half Day 2013 finished with a rich tale of Max Wyman’s addiction to reading and the ways our culture can support this kind of addiction. As closing keynote, Max Wyman, Canadian arts critic and author of The Black Tulip Conundrum, eloquently described his life as a “readoholic”; “I don’t drink. I don’t do drugs. I don’t have to. Language is enough. The intoxication of language is the best kind of state.”

By taking us through his own life from very early childhood on, Max spoke to how reading could infiltrate a life and develop life views that impacted everything he did and wrote himself. He realized early he didn’t just want to be a doer of reading, he wanted to become a peddler, by producing works himself from as early as age nine. Now he is an enabler of readers, contributing to developing other people’s reading habits both in his contributions to the Vancouver Sun and as a board member on the Canada Council for the Arts.

Max also spoke of how “reading begets reading” so that tossing your hands up and proclaiming some types of reading as less valuable is counter productive. To encourage reading, consider it in all forms and consider how it is changing along with technology. Books, he declares, will not disappear, but youth now do not simply read a text left to right along a page. Instead they scan. We need to be flexible in how we use technologies, including books, to encourage reading in all forms. All of these are tool for the ideas we need to inform the heart because, “We live in a thrilling and terrifying world and need every tool we can get to deal with it.”

Challenging RA Questions

This year RA in a Half Day responded to some of the takeaways from last year’s event and included more interactive components and RA interview role playing. Tara Matsuzaki served as the master of ceremonies for a scintillating series of challenging RA questions presented as mock interviews. Questions were presented to the audience and every table was asked to come up with recommendations and ideas for how to solve their reading needs. Imagine a room of 70 talented librarians, MLIS candidates and library allies leaning in and sharing their collective skills and knowledge on readers’ advisory. It was a flood of ideas!

War Films for Dad – Heidi Schiller, North Vancouver City Library

Heidi Schiller acted the part of a patron looking for war films, especially from WWII, for a father who has already seen all the classics. The audience really picked up on looking outside of film towards TV series like Band of Brothers and Foyle’s War. The question also came up as to whether or not he would like a humorous adaptation such as MASH and how far outside WWII he would be interested in going. So some suggestions even looked at the similarities of war films based in the 20th century conflicts to films like Gladiator or Troy based on conflicts in much earlier eras. There were a lot of suggestions for where to find quality suggestion lists, from various library websites to even the genre page on Wikipedia.

Moving from YA to Adult Fantasy – Meghan Savage, Surrey Libraries

Playing the part of a teenage patron wanting to move out of YA fantasy literature into adult Fantasy, Meghan challenged the audience to meet her interest in stand alone novels or short series with a romantic flare. Neil Gaiman’s work came up immediately and universally as a great cross-over author from YA to adult fantasy. Kelley Armstrong was also mentioned as an author who wrote both YA and adult fantasy, though much of her adult works is more urban in focus. Sharron Shinn, author of several fantasy series with a romantic focus, and Jim Butcher, with a more adventure driven series, were mentioned as authors of series that can be consumed out of order without too much disruption of story lines. The point was also made that fantasy contains many sub-genres to consider.

Positive Graphic Novels to Teach – Robbie Burma, Vancouver Public Library

Robbie Burma offered the biggest challenge to the audience by playing the part of a teacher looking for sunnier graphic novels to suggest for a 12th grade general English curriculum. It proved to be proved to be a real challenge to rule out the grittier, more violent and/or darker graphic novels while remaining age appropriate and maintaining literary depth. The end result was the need to dig deeper into the patron’s needs and widen the collaboration by audience members as much as possible to get to the best suggestions. The most consistent mentions were for Escape to Gold Mountain by David H. T. Wong and American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang.

Just a Good Book – Anthea Goffe, Fraser Valley Regional Library

It can be a stumper when the patron’s interests are really broad and vague so Anthea played a male patron just looking for any good read, fiction or non-fiction, but hopefully something that had a little literary merit balanced with a fast paced story. A few questions pulled out her appreciation of Hunger Games and Into Thin Air and her dislike of John Grisham and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. The audience found this challenge great fun and indulged a taste for gushing about many great titles and authors ranging from Bill Bryson to Lee Childs and from Margaret Atwood’s series beginning with Oryx and Crake to The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J Maarten Troost.

Pre-loaded E-reader Gift – Barbara Edwards, Vancouver Public Library

Finally, Barbara brought in the factor of eBooks by asking for recommendations including both fiction similar to Amy Tan or Downton Abbey and some quirky cookbooks to pre-load on an eReader gift for her daughter-in-law. The issue of the eReader type was brought up both in the mock interview and by audience members. Issues included the inability of Kindle owners to download library eBooks in Canada and the quality of visuals for cookbooks on a black and white eReader. The existence of The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook seemed ideal, at least on a colour eReader, but the audience also realized a need to ask more questions about what “quirky” meant in relation to cookbooks.

Thrilling Speed-Dating Across the Genres

There was a whole new crop of genres to speed-date at this year’s RA in a Half Day. These excellent 10 minute overviews offered so much food for thought, we had to include a coffee break mid-way to give everyone time to digest it. But at least everyone was all topped off with ideas and ready to go for the Challenging RA Questions that followed.

These brief summaries will give you a taste of the speed-dating presentations, but there will be more complete reviews to follow. You can also contact us for a full copy of any of the genre presentations.

Noir – Marcus Mendes, Vancouver Public Library

Very first comment from Marcus Mendes on Noir fiction – Noir does not take place in polite society. Through a series of evocative quotes from great representations of Noir fiction, Marcus pulled out the key features of the genre from the swirling cigarette smoke and booze soaked stories to the charter types of the Femme Fatale and the Chump . The basic premise, though, is that things are going to go down hill, seriously and fast.

Chick Lit – Heidi Schiller, North Vancouver City Library

Heidi Shiller reacted to the previous presentation by immediately describing Chick Lit as the “arch opposite of Noir.” At its essence, this literature is addressing issues of modern womanhood in an often humorous and lighthearted. These books have an urban and modern focus (not to mention shopping!), but they also often include romance sub-plots while not being simply a romance genre because the protagonist’s relationship to friends and family are central to the story. However, there is some conversation over whether or not Chick Lit as either a genre or just a label for these titles is dying out.

New Adult – Tanya Thiessen, Surrey Libraries

Right away Tanya Thiessen addressed the fact that with New Adult RA, we have to be comfortable talking about sex. New Adult is a marketing term for (at this time) mostly eBook and online, self-published fiction with 18-25 year old protagonists often in college settings facing issues of identity development and exploring sexuality while still dealing with the fallout of difficult childhood experiences. All of this is wrapped up in a fast paced, emotionally intense story with a focus on a love (and sex) relationship. There are availability issues with these titles in libraries (being mostly eBooks and online titles) but many are available free or very cheap.

Self-Help – Jenny Fry, Surrey Libraries

A clear message from Jenny Fry’s presentation on Self-Help is that you can’t look in one place in your stacks to find it. From the 150s to the 650s, there’s Self-Help across the shelves so find out where the many varieties are at and what they focus on. Three key aspect of self help to remember in providing RA are the kind of tailored guidance, accuracy and included forms and features included. Jenny wrapped up her presentation on Self-Help with the perfect statement of Self-Help – “Life is your biggest DIY project.”

Graphic Novels for Adults – Matthew Murray, UBC – iSchool at SLAIS

According to Matthew Murray, you could just define Graphic Novels as comic book with spines (good audience chuckle on this one). However, you also have to remember that Graphic Novels are a medium, not a genre, so it includes materials in all genre areas. For Readers’ Advisory, its good to be aware of the publishers, because they tend to have a particular style, tone and quality that readers gravitate towards. In addition, ComiXology, while not available to libraries, does provide access to free digital editions of many popular titles.

Horror – Naomi Eisenstat, Surrey Libraries/New Westminster Public Library

The heart of the Horror genre, according to Naomi Eisenstat is emotional, the fright of the reader. While it can have many styles, even humorous, the menacing tone is consistent. Horror often includes elements of thrillers and mystery but there are often unresolved endings. Consider what kind of horror the patron is looking for, either in the storyteller or more violent style.