Author Archives: thematthewmurray

About thematthewmurray

Matthew completed his MLIS at the University of British Columbia School of Library, Archival & Information Studies in Vancouver, Canada. Since then he has worked in the area of Scholarly Communications for universities in Canada and the USA.

Best Bets 2016

Each year we pick our favourite books that we can’t stop recommending to people. Check out our 2016 list below!

You can also download a printable PDF version of the list.


Between the World and Me
by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Written as a letter to his teenage son, this is a short and very well-written meditation on what it means to be a black man in the US. Powerful, accessible and highly recommended.

– Jenny Fry, Surrey Libraries




02The Pier Falls: And Other Stories
by Mark Haddon

The award-winning British author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time has written a collection of nine short stories. I found myself haunted by the characters and stories long after I finished the book. Haddon’s dark tales take the reader to such places as the British seaside, the Amazonian jungle and a tiny, desolate Greek island.  Genres in this book include sci-fi, mystery, adventure and more. The stories are so good…I bet you can’t read just one!

– Lori Nick, Fraser Valley Regional Library


03The Library at Mount Char
By Scott Hawkins

Once the Librarians were normal American kids. But after being orphaned they were raised by Father who trained each child in one catalogue of knowledge – languages, healing arts, math and sciences, war, and death. Years later Father has gone missing and the Librarians must find him, or at least resolve who exactly is now in charge. Hawkins tosses you into a deeply strange, complex, and violent fantasy of our world that rewards with a most haunting reading experience.

– Anna Ferri, Vancouver Public Library and West Vancouver Memorial Library 

04Lab Girl
by Hope Jahren

Hope Jahren is a brilliant, hilarious feminist geobiologist. Her exceptional memoir traces her life’s journey thus far, exploring the lab of her scientist father as a child, studying within a male-dominated field, managing mental health breakdowns, enjoying recognition of her research, and reflecting upon marriage and motherhood. At its core, Lab Girl is the tale of her three-decade long intimate working relationship with her eccentric lab partner Bill, her love and admiration of plants, and her scientific vocation.

-Tara Matsuzaki, West Vancouver Memorial Library

 05H is for Hawk
by Helen Macdonald

This book is impossible to classify. It is memoir, it is nature writing, it is a meditation on family relationships – but it is much more than the sum of its parts and will draw you in. MacDonald’s writing is beautiful and her ability to evoke feelings in the reader makes this book a really powerful experience.

– Shelley Wilson-Roberts, New Westminster Public Library


06Big Little Lies
by Liane Moriarty

Mother warfare on the playground! What more do you want? How about a whodunnit thrown in the mix? This tale of small-town scandal, snobby parents, and murder is a deliciously entertaining read that will have you flipping frantically to get to the final page. And that is no lie!

– Alan Woo,  co-founder of This Book is RAD



07Captive Prince
by C.S. Pacat

In this high fantasy trilogy, Prince Damen is ousted from his throne and sent as a slave to Prince Laurent, the ruler of an enemy kingdom, where he must hide his true identity to stay alive. A compelling, fast-paced, character-driven narrative of political intrigue, tightly-plotted action, and queer romance. (Note that the first book in particular contains some graphic, dark themes.)

– Chloe Riley, Vancouver Public Library


08Dear Mr. You
by Mary-Louise Parker

This book took me for a spin. I’ve always enjoyed Mary-Lousie Parker’s acting roles and sass (Weeds, Angels in America, etc), so I was curious to pick up this book. I devoured this book in one sitting. Through a series of letters to the men who have impacted her life, Parker shares personal narratives that are hilarious, dark, sad, and moving. Her language is evocative and her stories are fascinating, personal, and vulnerable. Highly recommended.

 Meghan Savage, Surrey Libraries

09Humans of New York: Stories
by Brandon Stanton

Based on the blog Humans of New York. Stanton photographs strangers in the Big Apple, but in this sequel, he adds captions, pieces of conversations he had with those people. It is a powerful narrative and a celebration of our shared humanity, regardless of our roots, faiths, social statuses or bank accounts. We’re all human and yearn to belong and to be loved, and this shows so beautifully in Stanton’s images and captions.

– Ana Calabresi, Burnaby Public Library

10My Name is Lucy Barton
by Elizabeth Strout

Lucy Barton, recovering in hospital from complications from minor surgery, tells her life story, with particular focus on her relationship with her mother. This is a beautiful, astonishing book which captured me from the first page – I read it almost straight through, captivated by the title character and the story of her life. It’s a life both ordinary and extraordinary. The voice is true and the story she tells moved me and made me consider my own memories. I cannot recommend it too highly.

– Claire Westlake, North Vancouver District Public Library

11A Head Full of Ghosts
by Paul Tremblay

In a desperate attempt to save their daughter, a  down-on-its-luck family agreed to an exorcism on a reality TV show. Tremblay has written a horrifying novel that requires no gore to chill your bones. He pays homage to the familiar possession tales while turning the conventions upside down, leaving us to figure out who is telling the truth.

-Virginia McCreedy, Port Moody Library


Paper Girls, Vol. 1
Written by Brian K. Vaughan. Illustrated by Cliff Chiang

It’s time to join the American Newspaper Delivery Guild and meet the raddest group of newspaper delivering, video game playing, dinosaur fighting, time travelling, 12 year olds girls that 1988 has to offer. Brian K. Vaughan, the writer of hit Image comic Saga, is joined by Cliff Chiang, whose art manages to capture the personalities, emotions, and actions of the characters perfectly. Who knew newspaper delivery girls could be so badass?

– Matthew Murray, creator of the Readers’ Advisory for Library Staff Facebook group

Loan Stars: A New Reader’s Advisory Initiative


Taking the lead from the American website, Loan Stars is the new readers’ advisory service that allows library staff across Canada to collaboratively select their favourite forthcoming titles. Using CataList, the online catalogue tool available free to libraries, librarians can nominate their favourite picks, the most popular of which will be marketed to libraries and library users alike.

The details: 

  • LoanStars is available to all library staff (anybody with a library email address)
  • We will be launching voting in January with the goal of having the first LoanStars list in March or April.
  • Library staff can vote on their favourite pre-publication adult book, Fiction or Non-fiction. We may later have a juvenile list but right now we are keeping it to adult titles.

How to vote: 

  • Voting takes place in CataList (, a free tool that allows library staff to access the most up-to-date publisher catalogues. Titles need to be listed in CataList in order for you to cast your vote.
  • Books need to be nominated a month prior to the publication date. i.e. books with a publication date of March need to voted on prior to February 1st. In this example, we will compile March lists in early February and circulate them to libraries – giving librarians an opportunity to vote.

How to get your hands on books: 

  • Librarians can vote on any book they wish to nominate pre-publication (which is in CataList)
  • Librarians can get digital galleys via NetGalley. On the CataList homepage there is a link to a NetGalley catalogue which is all NetGalley content that is available on CataList (check back often as there are new books available weekly)

For now, we recommend that librarians sign up to be added to the Loan Stars mailing list ( They can also sign up with CataList and NetGalley and get ready to nominate books! We recommend focusing on titles that are coming out in the spring.

We need lots of participants!  Please consider being a part of this exciting new initiative.

For more information, contact:
Claire Westlake
North Vancouver District Public Library

RA in a Day Genre Guides

Every year at our RA in a Day workshop we run “Speed-Dating Through the Genres”, brief ten-minute long presentations about various genres of books. The presenters also create printable guides to the genres, which you can find right here on our website! We now have almost twenty different genres covered, so check them out!

This year we added four new genres, the handouts and presentations for which you can find below. Thanks to the presenters who created these guides and presentations!

Classics for English Language Learners by Anna Ferri

Dystopian and Post Apocalyptic Fiction by Sarah Dearman

Feminist Memoirs by Stephanie Hong

Personal Finance by Jenny Fry

RA in a Day 2015 Must Reads

At this year’s RA in a Day workshop we asked for your “must read” books, and you gave us a phenomenal list of 25 titles. The list crossed genres and age groups, fiction and non-fiction, and featured new favourites and old classics. You can find the titles below listed in alphabetical order by author. Check out our poll and tell us how many you’ve read!

Feed by M.T. Anderson


Horton Halfpott: or The Fiendish Mystery of Smugwick Manor by Tom Angleberger


A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson

El Deafo by Cece Bell


Little Black Lies by Sharon Bolton


Hippos go Berserk! by Sandra Boynton


Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates


Fact Vs. Faith: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible by Jerry A. Coyne


Sweetland by Michael Crummey


All the Light we Cannot See by Anthony Doerr


The Odd Egg by Emily Gravett


A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James


The Woefield Poultry Collective by Susan Juby


The Reason You Walk by Wab Kinew


Displacement: A Travelogue by Lucy Knisley


Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie


We were Liars by E. Lockhart


The Book of Flying by Keith Miller


A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry


I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson


The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness


The Nest by Kenneth Oppel


Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind by Ann B. Ross


All my Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews


Medicine Walk by Richard Wagamese


Best Bets 2015

Every year we pick our favourite books that we can’t stop recommending to people. Check them out below!

Download a PDF of this list.


A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson

A God in Ruins is the companion novel to Life After Life which features Ursula Todd – as she lives her life over and over again – trying to get things right. A God in Ruins turns its attention to the much-loved Teddy, Ursula’s younger brother. Teddy is recruited as an RAF bomber pilot in the WWII and has accepted the fact he would die during the war. However, when the war is over, and he is still alive, he must adjust to a life he never thought he would live.

-Theresa de Sousa, Richmond Public Library



The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia by Michael Booth

Although I’m half Danish, I don’t know that much about the Nordic/Scandinavian countries, so this book was a light and engaging way to learn a little history, politics, sociology and psychology – along with some entertaining travel stories. The author is a British travel writer who lives with his Danish wife in Denmark. His writing is great: funny, quirky, and enlightening.

-Jenny Fry, Surrey Libraries


03The Girl with All the Gifts by M. R. Carey

Melanie loves school, especially when Miss Justineau reads the class Greek myths, but it doesn’t matter that she is smart and inquisitive. Not only is she kept in a cell, restrained in a wheelchair, watched by armed soldiers, she is also going to be dissected soon.

A haunting post-apocalyptic tale with superb world building.

-Virginia McCreedy, Port Moody Library


04Caffeinated: How Our Daily Habit Helps, Hurts, and Hooks Us by Murray Carpenter

This book is a wander through the strange world of caffeine, touching on history, science, commerce, globalization, and politics. It is both an expose and a love story, complex yet still unable to catch the full range of complexities caffeine embodies. This fascinating book is a good, light read for people who like the micro-history format or anyone who is willing to examine their caffeine habit a little bit closer.

-Anna Ferri, West Vancouver Memorial Library


05All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Marie-Laure is 12 and blind when Nazis invade Paris. She and her father flee to the walled waterfront city Saint-Malo with a most valuable and dangerous item in their possession. Young orphan Werner grows up in a German orphanage. Skilled at fixing radios, he finds himself tracking the resistance for the Nazis. The war brings him to Saint-Malo where his life and Marie-Laure’s converge. This story was a beautiful, suspenseful, illuminating perspective on WW2.

-Meghan Savage, Surrey Libraries


06The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine

This dazzling novel centres around twelve sisters in Prohibition-era New York. While their repressive father plots to marry them off, the sisters, led by the eldest, Jo, begin sneaking out to dance in night clubs and speak-easies. An elegant and non-magical retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses fairy tale, this novel is full of emotionally complex relationships, brought to vivid life with Genevieve Valentine’s deft storytelling and lyrical language.

-Chloe Riley, UBC School of Library Archival and Information Studies



The Woman Who Borrowed Memories by Tove Jansson

Perhaps best known for her Moomins books, this volume introduces English readers to the first major collection of Jansson’s short fiction. One of the major themes running through the stories is characters in physical or emotional isolation. This would be a good, representative collection for fans of short-stories and Scandinavian literature.

-Caroline Crowe, Vancouver Public Library




Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Americanah is the work of a masterful storyteller: thoughtful, witty and irreverent. It is a novel of ideas: race, aspiration, and nationality. It is also a star-crossed love story that wends its way across three continents and three decades. Original and absorbing.

-Tara Matsuzaki, West Vancouver Memorial Library




Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

A post-apocalyptic literary thriller with beautiful writing, compelling characters, and a stand-out plot. Even if you are sick of dystopian novels, you’ll want to read this.

-Heidi Schiller, North Vancouver City Library




10Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham

A quirky, edgy memoir by the creator and star of HBO’s Girls. Dunham examines her life from childhood, dating, and college life to fame and fortune through individual essays that are humourous, dark, and thought provoking.

-Sarah Dearman, Fraser Valley Regional Library




11The Good Luck Right Now by Matthew Quick

This novel tells the story of Bartholomew Neil and his struggle to find meaning after the death of his mother. Written as a series of letters to Richard Gere after Bartholomew finds a “Free Tibet” postcard in his mother’s drawer, this book is quirky, funny and philosophical and makes for a great departure from the ordinary.

-Michelle Whitehead, Greater Victoria Public Library



12The Martian by Andy Weir

Mark Watney may not have been the first human on Mars, but he might be the last. Left behind when the rest of his team was forced to evacuate, Mark must use all of his ingenuity to stay alive until, or if, help will arrive. Funny, gripping, and you’ll never have wanted more for someone to succeed in their attempts to grow potatoes.

-Matthew Murray, UBC School of Library Archival and information Studies


13The Colony of Unrequited Dreams by Wayne Johnston

A powerful, sweeping novel with unforgettable characters that tells the story of Newfoundland’s first premier. Don’t let the subject fool you – Joey Smallwood and Sheilagh Fielding will stay with you long after you finish the book – which is just as rewarding a read the second time around.

-Shelley Wilson-Roberts, New Westminster Public Library

The Machine: Using a Raspberry Pi for Readers’ Advisory

Today’s post comes from Matthew Murray, one of the two UBC student representatives with RAIG, a current MLIS candidate at UBC, and someone who’s involved in too many different projects.


A Raspberry Pi is a tiny, low-cost computer that was created to teach young people about computer science and programming. They’ve been embraced by the maker community and are being used for everything from robots to spinning wheels to cellphones to Minecraft servers.


A few months ago I saw a post on Tumblr that showed an “Electr-O-Matic Book Fortune Teller” that used an Arduino (a computer similar to a Raspberry Pi) to print book recommendations onto receipt paper when people pushed a button. This seemed like a relatively easy project for myself and some other students to use to get experience working with a Raspberry Pi.

The first step was setting up the Raspberry Pi itself. Raspberry Pis run a version of Linux that’s a lot less scary than you might think. We messed up our installation, but you don’t have to do that!


Next we had to set up the mini thermal printer (we bought ours from Adafruit). This involved cutting and stripping some wires, then screwing them into a DC power adapter so we could plug the printer into a power source. Then we installed the printer driver onto the Raspberry Pi.


Once we did that we connected the printer to the Raspberry Pi’s GPIO pins using the included wires and printed off a test page.


Actually, first we wondered why nothing was working once we’d hooked everything up. Turns out you need to plug the HDMI cable into the Raspberry Pi in order to have anything show up on the computer screen. Despite being supposedly intelligent, tech-savvy graduate students, we forgot to do this at least four five times (so far) during this project.

Once we had the printer working we started work on hooking up the button. This is a complicated process that involves:
1. Acquiring a button that doesn’t actually have the necessary connectors.
2. Purchasing the wrong resistors.


Of course you can choose not to follow our steps directly and just get the proper pieces the first time. Either way, you then wire everything into a breadboard and connect it to your Raspberry Pi. (Your breadboard doesn’t have to be quite so long, but we ended up using ten resistors instead of one because we originally had the wrong type.)


You’ll then have to install or create a program on the Raspberry Pi that understands when your button has been pushed and tells the printer to print a review. We’ll hopefully have one available on our blog soon! The reviews for our machine are ones that we wrote and include title, author, and a brief description. You could choose to include other information such as ISBNs or call numbers.

Once all of that is done you’ll have a working machine that will print off book recommendations! You’ll probably want to get some sort of box to put everything in, but we’re still working on that.


We haven’t completely finished this project yet, but we’ll be posting updates (and eventually complete instructions) to the ASIS&T at UBC blog! In the future we might expand the machine so that it will have more than one button to allow readers to pick from different genres, moods, or other qualities (books with covers the colour of the buttons?)


We’ll be showing off our machine at the Vancouver Mini Maker Faire on June 7th-8th at the PNE, you should come by and check it out!

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!

Providing LGBT Reader’s Advisory Services

Today’s guest blogger is Amanda Wanner, the Library Coordinator for Qmunity’s Out on the Shelves Library and an MLIS student at UBC’s School of Library, Archival and Information Studies.

An average-looking teenage girl approaches the reference desk, and shyly asks, “do you have any novels with bisexual girls?” Quick! What do you do? Do you rattle off the first (or maybe the only) book you can think of? (“Have you tried Annie on my Mind”?) Do you give the patron a blank stare? Does your body language look welcoming and casual, or do you tense up and give the impression that you are uncomfortable?

Based on a landmark 2005 study of public libraries in Vancouver1, a surprising number of librarians handled a similar query with devastating incompetence. In this study, a confederate patron (a high school girl) asked 20 different library reference desks, “I am planning to start a club at my high school. A gay-straight alliance. What books do you have that could help me out?” Some of the worst responses to the reference request included blank stares, raised eyebrows, walking away in the middle of the reference interview, tense body language, and making disparaging remarks about the topic.

The study reported:

Despite the fact that the reference desks were not busy, it seemed to Angela [the confederate patron] that many librarians wanted to conclude this “non-routine” interaction as soon as possible. In three cases, Angela recorded that once the librarians clarified that she wanted gay and lesbian materials, they became even more rushed, despite the fact that no customers were waiting. During the interviews, two librarians uttered what Angela considered were disparaging remarks about her topic: one referred to gay and lesbian-related fiction as “weird fiction,” while another said that she had moved teen gay and lesbian fiction to another location so the library “wouldn’t offend anyone.” (Curry, 2005, p. 70).

Given this history, is it any surprise that LGBT patrons may not feel comfortable approaching a reference desk? For members of a historically marginalized community, approaching a reference desk to ask about LGBT-related items takes courage. Sure, we live in Canada, where we have made great strides for gay and lesbian civil rights. But civil rights battles for trans* rights are still ongoing, and changing minds and attitudes in some areas will take time. The study quoted above was conducted in 2005. How do librarians today deal with LGBT questions? Have things gotten better?

As a specialised genre, many do not know how to find LGBT materials. It’s easy to consult a booklist, or rattle off the one or two popular LGBT titles that come to mind (“I bet we have a copy of Boy Meets Boy somewhere…”) – and cross your fingers that the patron isn’t looking for something more specific.

But here’s the dirty truth: LGBT books are not a monolith group, and nor are the members that belong to it. In fact, if you look carefully, you will find that LGBT literature is a robust genre, ranging from poetry and essays by sex workers to campy lesbian novels to gender variant young adult novels. Many of these wonderful books, in fact, are carried by our public libraries, but can get lost in the catalogue, buried by inappropriate or offensive LC subject headings.

Are you prepared to provide reader’s advisory services for wide-ranging queries such as:

  • “I’m looking for a good young adult book with a gender variant character. What should I read?”
  • “I think I might be bisexual! Do you know of any good books that star a bisexual character?”
  • “My son has started cross-dressing. Do you have a good book that deals with transgender youth?”
  • “I’m looking for a campy lesbian mystery novel. Do you have any, preferably something really recent?”

Don’t freak out! Resources abound to help you navigate this tricky genre!

Book awards

One of the best ways to keep abreast of recent developments in queer literature is to consult the “Lammys” (Lambda Literary Awards), the largest and most visible awards given in queer literature. Competition categories are highly varied and specific, making it a great source for reader’s advisory research. Prizes are awarded in areas as diverse as “lesbian erotica”, “bisexual fiction”, “transgender fiction”, and “LGBT speculative fiction”, to name a few.

Other notable awards for LGBT literature include:

Booklists, blogs, tumblr…

Using social media is key to keeping on top of new developments in LGBT literature. The breadth of blogs, tumblrs, and booklists online is extensive and overwhelming, so I’ll just name a couple of key spots here. This list is by no means comprehensive!


Looking at recent publications from LGBT-friendly publishers (especially local ones) is another great way to stay on top of the literature. A few good local publishers to keep an eye on include:

For more, see Lambda Literary’s list of LGBT Publishers and LGBT-friendly Publishers.

User generated content


One of the best ways to navigate LGBT literature is to go straight to the source. How do patrons themselves describe these books? User-generated tags and lists ensure that similar items are grouped together by the population actually reading the materials, and help sidestep the issue of inappropriate or outdated LC cataloguing.

For example, when looking up Zoe Whittall’s novel Holding Still for a Long as Possible in the VPL’s Bibliocommons, the LC subject headings listed for the book are (as of the date of this writing):

These headings aren’t very useful if you’re trying to find a queer-related book! However, patrons reading the book have tagged it as:

  • transgender
  • ftm
  • glbt
  • glbtq
  • lesbian
  • lgbt
  • trans*

What a goldmine! As you can see, using tags has the benefit of allowing users to use their own language to describe books as the language changes, but because tags aren’t a controlled vocabulary, there can also be some repetition or redundancy. That’s okay! Clicking any of these tags brings up a dynamite list of other related books that users have also tagged.


Finally, use a social media site created specifically for bibliophiles, such as Goodreads, LibraryThing, or Shelfari. On Goodreads – my site of choice – users can add books to “shelves” (aka add public tags), which are a good way to check whether others have pegged a book as LGBT. The “listopia” function is another way to find similar books based on different characteristics of the book. Users are able to create lists, add to them, and vote on the most relevant titles, making them highly flexible, diverse, and comprehensive.

Making Changes at YOUR Library

When thinking about reader’s advisory services at your library, always include LGBT content. Why? Even if you never see them, LGBT patrons live in every community. If LGBT patrons are not visible in your library, it may be because they do not feel welcome, not that they do not live in the area.

What can your library do to serve the LGBT community?

  • Try creating displays of books that are visible and prominent. Displays that are outdated, placed in unused corners – or worse, completely absent in the first place! – sends a message about the types of services your library offers.
  • Train staff to handle LGBT reader’s advisory questions with sensitivity and tact (including information about pronoun usage, gender neutral bathrooms, and the diversity of LGBT books available).
  • Create a reader’s advisory booklist/manual for patrons with robust LGBT suggestions. Many patrons who are interested in LGBT materials will never approach the reference desk in the first place. Providing anonymous, asynchronous, or self-serve options are critical for this population.

Looking for more information? Check out the LGBT reader’s advisory manual I created for the Out on the Shelves Library at Qmunity, where I am currently the Library Coordinator.

1. Curry, A. (2005). If I Ask , Will They Answer?: Evaluating Public Library Reference Service to Gay and Lesbian Youth. Reference and User Services Quarterly, 45(1), 65–75.

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!