Author Archives: nwpllibrarian

Reading Trumps Ignorance

Reading can often open our minds to the experiences of others in ways that our individual lived experience cannot. After the most recent election in the United States many libraries and readers have united to recommend books that can help  counter voices of prejudice and ignorance. #Resist.

Here is a selection of links to inform and inspire:

ICYMI:  Libraries Across Borders List – Books that Trump will never read – but you should


11 Books to Helps Us Make it Through a Trump Presidency

Donald Trump is afraid of Books

Libraries Resist: A round-up of Tolerance, Social Justice and Resistance in US Libraries
San Francisco Public Library’s We Love Diverse Books program:

But, what about fake news, you ask? Try these:

How to spot fake news:

A Policy Proposal for driving out fake news and promoting better sources of journalism:
Has your library used any of these ideas or similar to create displays, book lists or other RA activities?  Tell us in the comments.

Blind Date with a Book

If your library hasn’t tried a “Blind Date with a Book” display yet, put it on your radar for next year.  With a bit of planning and organization it’s a great way to inject a bit of whimsy into your displays.

The New Westminster Public Library has run a Blind Date with a Book for a few years now, and it’s great to hear patrons get enthusiastic when they see the display go up again.  We make sure we have signage that tells the public what to do (the first year a few people thought we were giving out presents and wanted to keep the books!) and use distinctive wrapping paper that catches the eye. We don’t limit ourselves to books – DVDs, audiobooks, and CDs have all made it in at one time or another.


We write brief descriptions of the book and print them on labels that we stick to the front, and photocopy the barcode and attach this too, so the surprise isn’t ruined by having to unwrap the book at checkout.


Once the display is up, we schedule social media posts on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, and enjoy filling up the displays and getting feedback. Admittedly people don’t always like their blind date book, but taking a chance is part of the fun! This is a great way to get people to read out of their comfort zone. Staff across the library also enjoy having input as to what gets recommended, and everyone loves the challenge of writing a brief teaser description for the materials on display.


How does your library run a blind date with a book display? What clever ways have you found to entice readers to pick up something unfamiliar?


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.

RA Made Easier with Bibliocommons

Does your library system use BiblioCommons? If so, there are a number of helpful tools you can use in your reader’s advisory.

I was recently helping a new immigrant who was interested in reading Canadian award-winning books. A simple click on the Explore link on the BiblioCommons home page and then selecting Awards brought me to a page on which awards are organized by country, with Canada at the top! You can also choose the Movies & TV or the Music tabs to search award-winners in these formats.

Is your patron interested in grabbing a bestseller for a trip to the beach? Click on the Explore tab and then choose Bestsellers. Choose the patron’s favourite list (e.g. Globe and Mail or New York Times) and you’re well on your way to a successful reader’s advisory transaction.

If you’re familiar with using BiblioCommons, you may already be using these features in your reader’s advisory on a regular basis. But does your library make use the of Staff Picks lists option? At the New Westminster Public Library we have a staff BiblioCommons account that we all have access to. We can then create lists of books or other materials that we love and recommend.

For example, I created the Heather’s Hot Topics list that features books and documentaries on snowden coverpopular topics, such as the existence of Heaven and the 2008 financial crisis. BiblioCommons provides images of the covers, which is a great way for patrons to get a quick feel for the items, and you can write brief annotations so that patrons can learn more about each item without leaving the web page. (Tip: Limit your annotations to 140 characters and you’ve got a ready-made tweet for your library’s Twitter page!)

All moses coverof our staff lists are gathered together on the Staff Picks page. We each have our own reading, viewing, and listening tastes, so there’s an assortment of personalized lists on various topics, genres, and formats. Is a student writing a paper about inequality. Good thing my colleague created the Joe’s Good Reads About Inequality list. Is a patron interested in reading a good fiction book featuring Jewish characters. I may not be well read on the topic, but fortunately we have access to Faith’s Great Canadian Jewish Fiction.

Another plus to having the lists in BiblioCommons is you can easily print them or send the web links to a patron’s email address. Don’t forget to rate and tag your items, and with the Add Details tool you can add similar titles. By using these tools, you’re encouraging your patrons to do the same, which makes using BiblioCommons a much more fruitful experience for everyone.

And you can go a step further. At NWPL we have Staff Picks stickers that we can sign and place on the covers of our recommended items as well as stickers for the spines so that the picks can be found when scanning the shelves. This is useful when we’re helping patrons in the stacks or replenishing our ongoing Staff Picks display.

Take advantage of the unique collection knowledge of your colleagues through the use of Staff Picks lists in BiblioCommons. It’s a fantastic way for staff to build connections with patrons, and soon you may find patrons saying, “Hey, there’s the Sci Fi guy. Let’s go ask him!”

Share your favourite tips and tricks for using BiblioCommons in the comments below!

Heather Hortness is an auxiliary librarian with the New Westminster Public Library.

The Challenge of Reading Challenges

Our library celebrates its 150th birthday this year, and as a gift to the community we created a book of 150 reading challenges, which replaced the Adult Summer Reading club we have done in previous years. Our intention was to create a marketing piece for the library that would showcase our collections and share our enthusiasm with everyone who uses the library.  Erin Watkins, our Manager of Programs and Community Development, was instrumental in getting this off the ground.  Thanks, Erin!

This is what we discovered while putting the booklet together:



Many hands make light work. We had staff from multiple areas of the library contribute ideas for the challenges, but we had one person compile them. This allowed for diverse interests, collection areas and material types, which we hoped would appeal to a broader range of our community. The challenges were meant to encompass all aspects of our library’s collection in as many formats as possible to inspire people to move beyond their tried and true reading, viewing, and listening habits. Literacy is not just about books, and having the challenges touch on multiple formats will give people a chance to explore areas of the library that they may have previously ignored or been uninterested in. Having staff from all over the library contribute really helped set the groundwork for the challenges. Having one staff member compile the results was a way to ensure we kept to task and made it to our goal of 150 challenges – one for each year the library has been in existence.

Enthusiasm helps! Staff enthusiasm for a project like this helps us all see how diverse our colleagues and their interests are, which makes the workplace a fun place to be. It also means that we are better able to use that knowledge in a readers’ advisory situation because if we don’t share the reading interests of the patron in front of us, we can certainly find someone who does.

More heads are better than one. Collaborative work meant that wrangling 150 challenges into a semblance of order so they could be put into a booklet was much more effective. It also established a way for us to riff off each other’s ideas and build on each other’s work. One of the most exciting aspects of this format meant we could move beyond the familiar territory of the Adult Summer Reading club booklist and offer book bingo, a crossword puzzle, and a drawing challenge as well.

We have built in social media components in terms of a section of the challenge being called “Share” where we encourage community members to share their challenges with us on social media, and we have already had some really fun contributions for community members.

NWPL Instagram

If you are thinking of doing something similar at your library, don’t hesitate! Not only will it reinvigorate your passion for connecting with library users, but it will empower you to learn even more about the collection in your own library and inspire your own reading/viewing/listening habits. We can’t wait for the conversations we’re going to have with our library users: in the stacks, at the desk, on social media – all about what we love to watch, read, and listen to. It’s going to be a great summer!

What are your plans for adult summer reading inspiration at your library? Comment below so we can all be inspired!

Shelley Wilson-Roberts is the Public Services Librarian II at the New Westminster Public Library.