Author Archives: timotmcm

The League of Extraordinary Librarians Readers’ Advisory Course


If it’s nae Scottish lit. its guff!

Do you remember the film The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen? Probably not because besides from Sean Connery the movie was far from extraordinary.

How about The League of Extraordinary Librarians, have you heard of them? No? Then you are in luck, because this fantastic group of truly astounding professionals have designed a free online training resource to help YOU and your library get up to speed with readers’ advisory.

Click HERE to get started!

The League’s course is comprised of 15 complimentary modules. While each can be taken individually, I’ve found (and they recommend) that taking them all consecutively yields the best results.

So the next time you think about polishing your personal professional toolkit, ask yourself: are your reading recommendations at an Allan Quartermain (Sean Connery in the movie) level of extraordinary?

-Tim McMillan, Vancouver Public Library

Readers’ Advisory for Santa

You’re making a list, you’re checking it twice… ok we’ll spare you the rest of the jingle, but if you’re anything like me, you’re deep in a panic over what to get that pesky relative or friend with exacting and specific taste in books. Instead of second guessing while lining up at your local book megastore, or kicking yourself over your misfired selections at the online checkout, take advantage of your library’s forms-basanta-reading-520x345sed readers’ advisory service to make the picks.

The blog highlighted the growth in forms-based RA in our post of September 2013 and since then, more public library systems have added personalized book recommendations services to their websites. With this explosion of professional expertise online why rely on store displays that push overstock or superficial online read-a-like prompts (Herman Melville to Clive Cussler!?!?).

Some public library systems have tailored their forms service to specifically address a desire for recommendations to third parties. At Vancouver Public Library we offer a Great Gifts service as well as our standard Books Just for You forms-based RA. The former offers a shortened layout with language altered to accommodate the third-person gift-buyer. When responding, we are sure to limit our recommendations to titles that are easily available from Canadian booksellers and simple to source for the shopper.

If your Library offers a forms-based RA service, explore the possibility of adapting the questionnaire to be suitable for gift shoppers. If that’s not a possibility, try advertising your existing service’s ability to function as gift recommendation maestro. Don’t worry, Santa will thank you.

Submitted by Tim McMillan, Librarian at Vancouver Public Library

Your Brain on Fiction

There has been a long-held misunderstanding that reading fiction is just a passive pleasant diversion. Avid readers of fiction know that it takes serious brain work to bring meaning to a writer’s words and create a fully fleshed out sensory experience. Now there is brain research to back them up. In a recent posting to Psychology Today, Canadian professor and novelist Dr. Keith Oatley wrote the following regarding the findings of a 2012 study by Geoff Kaufman and Lisa Libby, “Empathy is an example in day-to-day life. But yet larger effects, perhaps, occur in fiction when we identify with a literary character. So, although we remain ourselves we can become Anna in Anna Karenina or we can become Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice…We might think that we have just one life to lead, but fiction enables us to lead many lives, and to experience being many kinds of person.”

As well, Raymond Mar, a psychologist at York University and crecharge-your-minds-153o5pbolleague of Dr. Oatley’s, has found that the brain networks that we use to navigate our exchanges and relationships with other people are closely related to those we use to comprehend and appreciate stories.

Canadian author Cory Doctorow, author of Little Brother and Makers, recently described his own visceral experience of reading a new book in a posting to Locus online – a sci-fi and fantasy fiction magazine, “Yesterday, I actually made a loud, horrified noise as I read an advance copy of Daniel Kraus’s forthcoming – and wonderfully horrifying – novel, Scowler. People on the bus stared at me. My heart raced. I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. My brain knows that none of the events depicted in Kraus’s novel are real, and yet my autonomic nervous system goes into full-on sympathetic reaction mode as I read the – once again, totally made up – accounts of the characters in the novel.”index

So as the holiday reading season approaches, why not plan some time to exercise your brain with a great novel or short story collection.

The final word goes to author Jessamyn West, “Fiction reveals truths that reality obscures.

Happy reading!

Submitted by Barbara Edwards, Librarian at Vancouver Public Library

Readers’ Advisory as the Library’s Brand – David Vinjamuri in Vancouver

Tim McMillan is the acting Head of the Fraserview Branch of the Vancouver Public Library and an Adult Services Librarian. He is keenly interested in readers’ advisory as he finds it to be the library professional’s most challenging and essential task. He enjoys reading non-fiction, especially classics of Classical scholarship and hopes to one day connect a reader to a long forgotten 871 from compact shelving.

On May 20 the Vancouver Public Library hosted Forbes Magazine scribe and New York University adjunct professor David Vinjamuri for a colloquium on branding, merchandising and discovery in public libraries. While many of us may shy away from commercial-lingo, what stood out most from David’s presentation was his identification of our brand as being  readers’ advisory. Having library-professionals identified as the one indispensable resource by an expert from outside of the sector was most encouraging.

Vinjamuri defined Brand as “a promise of authentic and consistent expertise delivering a product or providing a service.” For us, this means our unique and deep understanding of reading trends and preferences. It is what makes us special. The statistical data he presented showed that people are aware of the full range of library programming and services, but that our knowledge of books is what defines us in the public’s eye. Since this is what we are known for, we have to be the best at it.

Easier said than done in today’s information saturated world! What is particularly challenging for library professionals is the sheer volume of books being published. The acquisitions of American public libraries in the 1950s could keep pace with the annual output of American publishers at the rate of approximately 11,000 volumes a year. In the 2010s, the latter number has increased exponentially. Today, public libraries are prevented from acquiring all but a fraction of what rolls off the presses of big publishers.

If individual systems are incapable of acquiring the totality of books produced, what chance do we as individual librarians have at reading our way through this mass? More importantly, how are we to know what to recommend to interested readers? How are we to be the best at readers’ advisory?

Vinjamuri offered a few suggestions. First, libraries should stop playing catch-up with best-sellers. The reading public is already well aware of the Kings, Baldaccis and Pattersons; these titles do not need a librarian to put them in the hands of their next reader. Instead, we could focus on mid-list titles that much of our user community may be unfamiliar with. By omitting the heavy-hitters from our reading lists and bulk acquisitions, we could concentrate on higher impact, lesser known authors whose buzz we could help nurture.

Anythink logo

Visual merchandising our collections could offer public libraries a means of paring down the reliance on best-sellers while providing opportunities to showcase rarely seen areas titles. Facing severe budget cuts, the Adams County Library in Colorado downsized their collection and re-branded itself as Anythink. The centrepiece of their new approach is visual merchandising and they have made their Visual Merchandising Guidelines freely available online. With a relentless focus on the user as a customer and a vocabulary steeped in the language of commercial retail the document’s subtext is that libraries must adopt the visual layout and tactics of the bookstore to successfully compete for the public’s attention.

A Naked Singularity            Wool

The burgeoning self-publishing market offered by the online giant Amazon was recommended as another area where librarians could refine their brand as reading experts. Author-published titles have come a long way since the days of vanity press: Sergio de la Pava’s Naked Singularity and Hugh Howey’s original Wool novella are critically acclaimed and literary examples of titles whose popularity has outstripped many titles by recognized authors from established publishing houses. With an English-language title base that is manageable enough to individually vet, self-published works offer opportunities for public libraries to promote their advisory expertise. The recent example of Illinois public libraries’ Soon to be Famous Illinois Author Project of 2013 was particularly compelling: the Chicago Public Library system and two other urban systems in Illinois curated a successful contest to discover the next great self-published book.

David Vinjamuri’s presentation gave the audience a great deal to think about. Certainly, several British Columbia libraries have successfully adopted a more retail-centric approach to promoting their collections and the example of a library-curated self-published author search is feasible for a large system. Hopefully, the Anythink Libraries Visual Merchandising Guidelines will prove useful to smaller systems as well.

For more information please see the slides from the presentation, linked here with the kind permission of the author: