Author Archives: nvcllibrarian

Self Help with Jenny Fry

Jenny Fry, from Surrey Libraries, gives us the run-down on Self-help books at RA in a Half Day:

Genre Title: Self-Help

Presented by: Jenny Fry (City Centre Library, Surrey Libraries)

Description of Genre: From Wikipedia: Self-help, or self-improvement, is a self-guided improvement—economically, intellectually, or emotionally—often with a substantial psychological basis. Many different self-help groups exist and each has its own focus, techniques, associated beliefs, proponents and in some cases, leaders. Alcoholics Anonymous, probably the best known self-help culture has given us new language: recovery, dysfunctional families, and codependency. Self-help is about getting information, finding a support group, maybe on the Internet or in person, where people in similar situations join together. Potential benefits of self-help groups include friendship, emotional support, experiential knowledge, identity, meaningful roles, and a sense of belonging.

  • psychology 150s
  • co-dependency 158.2, 362.29, 613.8, 616.86
  • success/healing/change 158.1
  • depression/mental illness 616.8527
  • anxiety 616.85233, 152.46
  • relationships 158.2, 306.7, 362.837
  • memory 153.1, 616.89
  • addiction/recovery 616.8527
  • techniques 158.1, 305.42, 616.85223, 616.8527
  • emotions 152.4, 158.1082
  • grief 155.937
  • dating advice 646.77
  • parenting 649
  • business books have a lot of self-help for people who don’t want to read self-help books 650.1
  • novels & poetry

Important titles and authors:

  • 50 Self-Help Classics – Tom Butler-Bowdon
  • How to Read How-To and Self-Help Books: getting real results from the advice you get – Janne Ruokonen

Well-known authors: Dale Carnegie, Robert Atkins, Dalai Lama, Stephen R. Covey, Suze Orman, Anthony Robbins, Wayne Dyer, Eckart Tolle, Deepak Chopra, Gail Vaz-Oxlade, Mitch Albom

Helpful resources


Other tips:

Common misconceptions:

  • “It’s a cult” – good self-help is not a cult
  • I’m too smart to need self-help” – take a chance that it will cover the basics, embrace humility and the power of simple ideas repeated, you don’t know everything, you can’t, no one can
  • “I read it and it didn’t work” – there is no magic, you have to make it work.

Criteria for Evaluating Multicultural Self-Help and Guidance:

  • Tailored guidance: does the author offer advice that is special to the targeted audience?
  • Accuracy: does the author offer advice that is accurate, ethical, feasible and appropriate?  Does the advice conform to established norms in the field?
  • Form and features: non-fiction readers have an expectation and a preference for checklists, forms, self-tests, lists, and examples [From: Non-Fiction Readers’ Advisory, edited by Robert Burgin, Chapter 10: Books That Inspire: Nonfiction for a Multicultural Society by Alma Dawson and Connie Van Fleet, p 191]

Self-help is the development of your potential, including beliefs, goal setting, learning new habits, making positive changes re: your mental attitude and your ideas. We live in a state of constant learning for new skills and habits. We need to have a healthy dose of realism: if it sounds too good to be true, it is.

The most successful people seek new knowledge, internalize it and turn what they know into effective action. You often need someone else to tell you what you already know because it reinforces the ideas and the message, which helps you internalize it. Taking action doesn’t guarantee success but it boosts the odds.

There are not necessarily clear-cut answers or solutions to certain issues – at best, you learn you aren’t alone, that you can live with it and look forward despite reality. Does it seem too simple to be true?  Does it seem like just commonsense? It will nonetheless require motivation and discipline to achieve.  A great deal of effort has gone into making it easily communicated and understood. Yes, there are scams, as there are everywhere.

The dirty little secret of Self-Help: everything works….for a while (placebo effect).  Just by intervening in the current situation or the status quo by focusing your attention, consciously paying attention will get some results.

The value lies in actually doing it, taking the advice, and making changes.  The most important thing: get started.  One book isn’t enough, use several.  Beware the quick fix – the quick fix may is rarely sustainable.  Jump-start your system.  Use your commonsense and be open to discovering new things.  Action produces initial changes.  Habits produce permanent changes.

When we are drowning in information, we benefit greatly from someone who can provide succinct key ideas in a structured and organized manner. Structure brings better results than willpower. Great ideas are not necessarily new ideas. Focus on the message, not the messenger.

Good self-help asks you a set of questions which leads to a diagnosis of your present situation and then sends you down the right course of action.

Life: your biggest DIY project.

Chick Lit with Heidi Schiller

Here is Heidi Schiller from North Vancouver City Library discussing Chick Lit at RA in a Half Day on Oct. 30th, followed by her Chick Lit takeaways:

Speed Dating Through the Genres – Chick Lit

Description of Genre:

Chick lit is genre fiction that addresses issues of modern womanhood, often humorously and lightheartedly. Although it sometimes includes romantic elements, chick lit is generally not considered a direct subcategory of the romance genre because the heroine’s relationship with her family or friends is often just as important as her romantic relationships. Most chick lit novels are set in the contemporary world, in a big city, and include details about fashion and trendy restaurants/bars/hotspots.

The term gained traction in the 90s and was originally used by a New Yorker reporter to describe the trend of “girlishness” evident in the writing of female newspaper columnists, and has since been adopted by the publishing industry. Some argue the term is now dead, despite there still being a large audience for the genre. Publishers now use the term “women’s commercial fiction” or “contemporary romance”.

Covers are highly identifiable with bright colors and a cartoonish feminine pop art sensibility.

Important titles and authors:

Sex and the City (1996) by Candace Bushnell, The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing (1998) by Melissa Bank, Bridget Jones’s Diary (1999) by Helen Fielding, The Nanny Diaries (2002) by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus, The Devil Wears Prada (2003) by Lauren Weisenberger, Sophie Kinsella’s Shopoholic series, Marian Keys, Jane Green, Jennifer Weiner, Emily Giffin, Plum Sykes

More Recent Titles: Bond Girl by Erin Duffy, Size 12 and Ready to Rock by Meg Cabot, Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham (2013), The List by Karin Tanabe (2013),

Helpful resources (print & online):

  • Novelist: Search for Chick Lit and click on “Lists and Articles.”
  • Popular Chick Lit booklist on Goodreads
  • blog with reviews
  • blog with news and reviews

-Heidi Schiller

Noir Fiction with Marcus Mendes

Vancouver Public Library’s Marcus Mendes covered the basics of Noir Fiction as part of our Speed Dating Through the Genres presentation at RA in a Half Day on Oct. 30th. Here is his presentation, followed by some important take-away points!

Boiled to Black

Who done it?  It wasn’t Colonel Mustard in the conservatory with the candlestick; it was Deputy Sheriff Lou Ford in the bedroom, with his fists. Like Deputy Ford, early Noir was American. Europe soon followed, at first in poor imitation, but now has some of the best noir authors.

Noir tales aren’t polite, nor do they take place in polite society.  The proceedings are dire, strewn with violence and conclude with severe loss.

There are a variety of definitions of the genre.  Here are some of my own:  Noir is closely aligned in spirit with the Greek Tragedies. The extant tragedies deal exclusively with the causes of, war itself, and aftermath. The golden age of Noir (late 1930’s – 1960) -and film noir- continues the exploration of people caught in circumstances beyond their control.

The best high-octane noir should have episodic drive, a tone of fatalistic ruination, and unaffected narrative. It is not unusual to have an unreliable narrator.

The best of the genre are hardboiled and drenched with existential unease.  If existential stress is not present, it is simply hardboiled, also quaintly called Thuglit. For example, all of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer series are hardboiled, but not all are noir.

Noir fiction includes a number of sub-genres such as Comedy: Bowker, David / How To Be Bad; Westerns: deWitt, Patrick / The Sisters Brothers, and historical: Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther series

                                                           Some characteristics:


Out of the Past: “Cigarette”? reply, “Smoking”. In Noir’s golden age everybody smokes. Cigarette’s convey language and mood.  When alone, a person stares at the ceiling and smokes.

In Neo-Noir (post 1970’s) cigarettes are rare.


Everybody drinks. In neo noir this may be combined usually with tablets of pain-killers.

Femme Fatale

Not always present or fatal.

The Patsy or Fall-Guy

Either the protagonist or secondary character/s is always destined for downfall.

The Investigator

There is usually someone investigating something- typically death by trauma.

The Police

Because of ‘The Investigator’ factor, the police usually make an appearance, often in a starring role.

The Knockout

Whether Classic or Neo, knockouts supplement murder.

Snappy Dialogue

More usual in Classic Noir, but often still found in Neo-noir.

–Marcus Mendes

Video: Seattle’s David Wright at RA in a Half Day

Did you miss David Wright at our RA in a Half Day Workshop on Oct. 30th? No worries! You can watch the Seattle Public Library librarian’s inspiring keynote on the power of form-based and digital readers’ advisory right here on the What Are You Reading Blog!

This video would make a great training tool, as well as provide persuasive arguments to administration for why form-based and Facebook-based RA is so great. Please stay tuned for more videos from RA in a Half Day, which we’ll post over the next few weeks.

Readers Advisory and Literary Prizes


The recent Booker shortlist announcement got me thinking… should I promote the finalists? How? And if I promote the Booker, should I also promote the Giller? What about the Pulitzer? The Women’s Prize?

There are so, so many literary awards that it can get overwhelming. That’s why I want to know from you: if you had to pick JUST ONE literary award to promote, which would it be? Take our Awards poll and tell us what you think! And then tell us about your reasoning in the comments section, and let us know if we missed anything!


Heidi Schiller, North Vancouver City Library (Visit my Reader Blog!)


Book Club Season Begins: What’s Your Model?










As an adult readers’ advisory librarian, the “Back to School” hype doesn’t resonate quite as profoundly as it does for teen and children’s librarians. However, September does mark a notable beginning of the adult programming season for most libraries. Unlike our counterparts in the children’s dept., who are winding down from a frenzied summer of reading clubs and zombie walks, we’re just revving up. For many of us, September signals book club season, author reading events and more.

Today I’d like to talk about book clubs.

Here at North Van City Library, we have a drop-in book club model. Every six weeks on a Wednesday evening from 7-8:30, from September – June, anyone is invited to drop in for a discussion on a particular book. The books and dates are listed on our website ahead of time, and are also printed on a book mark we give away to interested people. I also maintain an email list of approximately 80 participants who get reminders and follow-ups regarding meetings.

We decided to do it this way instead of offering a member-only group with a limited number of spots because we wanted to provide access to a book club experience to as many people as possible. Since the club started, we have had anywhere from 9 to 37 people come for a Wednesday evening discussion. When more than 10 show up, we break up into groups of 5-7 people. One person from each group volunteers to facilitate their group’s discussion with the list of topics and questions I provide, and then I float around to the different groups. I also ask the participants to bring their own topics and questions about the book to discuss in their group. At the end of the night, we gather together and each group’s facilitator gives a quick synopsis of the group’s discussion to everyone.

I love this model. It allows for different and interesting conversations to happen each meeting. It provides greater access to book clubs than the member-only model. People appreciate the flexibility of not having to commit to every single meeting. And community members get to meet new and interesting people each time, as well as connect with regulars.

We choose books by compiling a list of suggestions from participants and myself, then voting on them via an online poll in the spring. I try to always include at least two local authors who I can then invite to my local author series, which provides for nice synergy and cross pollination between the two programs.

There are downsides to this model, however. We still only have 12 copies of each title, which means I have to maintain a somewhat complex holds list within our ILS. It also can get a bit chaotic with several groups having sometimes lively discussions in a room that is quite large (cap. 120) but doesn’t have the best acoustics.

Overall, I think this model works well for us here at North Vancouver. What about you? How do you do book club? What suggestions do you have for how to make these types of groups better?

–Heidi Schiller, North Vancouver City Library (

Better Blogging

MacBookLibrariansToday, I’ll be blogging about blogging. How very meta!

I started my library’s Readers’ blog, The Top Shelf, about two years ago and it has steadily grown in readership ever since. Last year we had more than 4,000 views, and this year we hope to double that. But that doesn’t mean we are satisfied. When it comes to blogs, it’s important to constantly be improving and experimenting, both because you learn from mistakes and because the ever-changing technology demands it. From my experience, I’ve compiled a few tips to improve your library blog’s readership, credibility and effectiveness.  Many of these are goals for my own blog, and will be taking my own advice over the next year.

  1. Read other blogs, especially ones that aren’t library related. It’s useful to get outside the echo chamber and notice what keeps you coming back to a blog and why it works.
  2. Use a conversational tone. If you have trouble with this, speak the post out before, or as, you write it.
  3. Keep it short.
  4. Use images, and give their creators credit.
  5. Give your blog a facelift. Upgrade to a paid theme for usually no more than $75. (WordPress offers these in-house, or you can purchase them at themeforest.) Stay tuned for The Top Shelf’s makeover this September!
  6. Get yourself a legit url. Instead of, it will only cost me $17 a year to be
  7. Find out who your readers are. Create a polldaddy survey and ask their age, gender, profession, etc., as well as what types of posts they like and don’t like. Offer a prize as an incentive.
  8. Encourage interactivity and participation. Ask your readers to comment on posts. Ask them specific questions. Ask for recommendations. Offer prizes and giveaways. Invite them to write a guest post.
  9. Similarly, encourage community participation in the blog. Feature local readers, interviews with authors, guest posts by authors and book-related people, profiles of library staff, video reader reviews, etc.
  10. Use multimedia: video, images, podcasts, polls and surveys.
  11. Have regular columns and features. Be sure to create categories for them.
  12. Post regularly: once a day is our goal, but twice a week is realistic for now.

Now it’s your turn: What are your tips, goals, best practices for your library’s blog? What has worked? What hasn’t? Please comment below!

–Heidi Schiller, North Vancouver City Library

(Photo courtesy of Mike Licht)