Category Archives: Blogs

Book Club for Masochists

book club for masochistsMany members of the BCLA Readers’ Advisory Interest Group are part of the Book Club for Masochists, a group they started while attending SLAIS to “become […] better librarians by reading books [they] hate!”

The premise is a good one for pushing you out of your comfort zone: each month they select a genre and members read a couple of books from that genre that they will share with the group.

They’ve got quite a few genres under their belt now including:

Space Opera
Aboriginal/Indigenous/First Nations
Cozy Mysteries
Books in Translation
Religion (non-fiction)
Psychological Thrillers
Technology (non-fiction)
Gothic Literature
Historical Romance

Read about their feedback on books—what they recommend for a particular genre and what they advise avoiding. This is a great resource for encouraging you to read something new or for helping you find a book for a patron in a genre with which you’re unfamiliar. Be sure to tune into their very first podcast, published March 17 2016 on the genre of Historical Romance:

Has anyone participated in a similar-themed book club?

-Meghan S, Surrey Libraries


Canadian Library Month: People of the Library Blog

Project’s Purpose

To celebrate Canadian Library Month in 2014, GVPL chose to engage the public by showcasing both the many different aspects of our staff and the library work that they do. During Library Month we wanted to show off the staff that are at the heart of the library with a social media site celebrating the individuals who work at GVPL. Modelled after the popular Humans of New York site, we spotlighted a different staff member each day in October.

Each post included a first name, photo and short vignette based on the answers to the following questions.

  1. The best part about my day is ___________.
  2. Something that surprised me about working at the library is ___________.
  3. When I’m not working at the library, I’m ___________
  4. My favourite item in the collection is….(could also be your favourite goofy/unique item) (ideally staff could pose with the item)___________.
  5. I’m inspired by ___________.

Staff Participation

I initially sent an email out to all GVPL staff asking for their participation. A week or so later, I sent a more personal follow up message, and sometimes phone call (phone calls work well for added pressure!) to specific staff that I thought would be particularly interested. The final staff list was narrowed down so that we would have a relatively diverse group of staff from a variety of branches, in a variety of positions etc. I used a brief MachForm to receive staff responses and this was an effective information gathering tool as I was notified when each staff member had completed the form.


Our timeline included doing the initial planning for Canadian Library Month in August & September, and the implementation in October. We promoted the site externally through our Facebook and Twitter accounts multiple times every week to show the library & library staff in a different light and reinforce that the library and our staff are part of the wider community.

Overall, I found Tumblr very straightforward and easy to use. The theme that I chose was The Minimalist Theme, created by Pixel Union, a local Victoria web design & development company. The minimalist theme is (surprise, surprise) a very uncluttered one, which I thought was best so that the photos & content were the focus. Through Hootsuite, a social media management system that we already use at GVPL, I was able to schedule posts ahead of time, which meant very little ongoing maintenance was required. I would recommend scheduling posts ahead of time so that they can be reviewed and edited in case changes need to be made

The photos that accompanied the vignettes were taken mostly by staff who had photography experience but participating staff could also choose a personal photo if they preferred.


The site helped to foster a positive work environment for staff and celebrated their personal contributions to the library system. The site also acted as a community-builder because patrons and community members could like, share, follow, or comment on the posts. It was also a great opportunity for the staff to get to know one another better and encourage one another.  One of my favourite posts from Joy, Children’s & Family Literacy Librarian said, “I’m inspired by the smart, creative people I work with, who meet challenges with positive spirits, who read and discuss ideas, who enjoy their jobs and look for new ways to bring literacy to young children and families.” If we do this project, or something similar again in the future, it would be a great way to focus on and highlight favourite parts of the collection through staff recommendation.

You can take a look at the final product by following the link below:

GVPL’s People of the Library in celebration of Canadian Library Month 2014

I would encourage any library system to try out this type of project! Feel free to contact me with any questions or comments

Sarah Isbister is a Children & Family Literacy Librarian at the Greater Victoria Public Library

What is Readers’ Advisory? The Musings and Challenges as a Lib Tech Student

Seven months ago, if you had asked me what “readers’ advisory” meant, I would have given you an ever so slightly confused look and awkwardly tried to fake an answer. It wasn’t until I was introduced to this group that I gained some much needed knowledge and professional insight around the topic. After learning what RA is all about, the terminology almost seems too obvious and it warrants an “Ohhhhh! Duh!” response. It’s so prevalent in my daily life that I can’t fathom how it took me so long to get acquainted with a formal definition. I constantly make recommendations in the bookstore I work at, review novels on Goodreads, reblog book images on Tumblr, rave about new reads to friends, and share shelfies on Instagram. But what does this all mean to my studies and my professional development? And why did it take me so long to get familiar with a term that embodies one of the aspects I’m most passionate about in the library field?

With my second year at Langara’s Lib Tech program on the horizon, there’s still so much to learn, and I do wonder how much (or how little) of it will be readers’ advisory related. More importantly, how can I help foster a stronger interest for it within my program so we can be equipped with the knowledge and skills to be resourceful and insightful with our advising. As the program’s namesake implies, much of the learning is focused on the technical aspects of the field. One of the primary benefits of the program is the emphasis on practical experience via the coursework and practicums. And while many of my peers have aspirations to work in areas outside of public libraries, I would like to think that we all enjoy reading and discussing books to a certain extent. I was fortunate enough to spend my first year practicum at VPL’s Information Services department where I was able to get some hands on experience developing my RA skills. As a result, I have to consider my peers who did not have similar opportunities and how can we tailor a shared interest in reading into a professional skill set?

In first year, we did cover some of the digital tools utilized for RA via an introduction to library 2.0 (but without explicitly discussing RA as a whole). Moreover, I know that readers’ advisory is briefly covered in a second year reference services course. But I feel like that’s not quite enough. Whenever I have mentioned readers’ advisory as a concept or in relation to this interest group, the aforementioned slightly confused face is a popular reaction. So how I do combat that reaction and build a stronger interest in the topic?

One of the main challenges that I’ve come across is how to get my peers interested in attending RA in a Day, especially if they may be unfamiliar with RA in its technical terminology. While it’s something that I plan to heavily advertise as the school year kicks off, I want to ensure that my instructors are also promoting it as an opportunity for professional development. Perhaps, I can organize an information session to get students interested, especially those in their first year of the program so their interest can build earlier on. Or maybe the program can sponsor some student attendees. I am also floating around the possibility of trying to host a department-based club/group or reading round table of sorts to get my peers discussing books and practicing our skill sets in a fun (a.k.a. non-academic pressure filled) environment.  

While this blog post may have been filled with questions I don’t quite know how to answer, it’s allowed me to think about the goals I want to set up to help build a better foundation and appreciation for readers’ advisory within the lib tech program. Any tips and tricks are greatly appreciated and more importantly, how did you get familiar with/interested in readers’ advisory while attending school?

Stephanie Hong is a second year student at Langara’s Library and Information Technology Program

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!