Category Archives: Blogs

Reading Wildly! How do you promote Readers’ Advisory in your workplace?

A colleague brought this article to my attention at our recent BCLA RA Interest Group meeting–it’s about a Children’s Librarian named Abby Johnson who has “developed the Reading Wildly program to inspire [her] staff to read different genres and improve their readers’ advisory skills.” Every month, a genre is assigned and staff members are asked to read one book in that genre that they then book-talk to their co-workers at a meeting. Genre-lists are created based on the recommendations and staff have reported increased confidence when recommending books to patrons. Check out the American Libraries article to see how it has worked.

This idea may be more of a challenge for Adult Services Librarians when considering book length! Check out Abby’s personal blog for more information. This month, the genre assigned was Sports Books, as seen in her image below.

Has your library attempted something similar in an effort to improve staff readers’ advisory skills and encourage reading wildly?

Changes and Ceremonies: RA and Alice Munro

It's all going according to plan...

It’s all going according to plan…

Let’s take a break to discuss a challenge too many of our libraries face — we have run out of copies of books by Alice Munro. Of course, readers eager to experience Canada’s champion writer can always read samples of her short stories online, but that’s not enough for many readers.

Readers’ Advisory for Alice Munro is difficult, and I have a confession: I’m not entirely sure I’ve read a short story of Alice Munro’s unless you count an extract during my English 12 Provincial – which I think is only fair that we do, but I digress. I’ve been playing a grand game of catch-up here, and I’m happy to I share what I’ve found.

Let’s begin with what I knew of Alice Munro as a Canadian who has (probably) not read Alice Munro: She wrote critically acclaimed short stories set in a small town in the… Maritimes? Her stories were mostly about the internal lives of girls and women living in these modest surroundings. The plots of her short stories were more character-driven than action driven, and for some reason I was certain that one of her stories featured a woman who was burnt to death by a lantern.

I was wrong about the Maritimes (Huron County, Ontario is Alice Munro’s jam) but otherwise the bare facts are mostly right. However, the more I’ve read, the more I realized that I had a very shallow understanding of her work. There are many articles that reflect how deeply her readers are impacted by her writing. This article from the Toronto Star is an excellent example, as is this piece from Book Riot. Read-alikes seem almost like a mechanical response to works so particular and personal. And if I recommend Margaret Atwood, how badly will the patron give me the fish-eye?

As individual as Munro’s work is, a list of similar writers can be a useful starting point. Writers recommended by Novelist include Edith Pearlman and Elizabeth Hay. There are also several other recommendation lists to be found online, such as the one on Vancouver Public Library‘s Reader’s Cafe

Non-Fiction is also an option. Halifax Public Library’s Readers’ Advisory Blog has a brief post that discusses supplementary materials for Munro’s works, including biographies and critical essays. One might also consider non-fiction titles and/or memoirs that cover similar settings or issues as Munro’s.

I’ve found in my grand game of catch-up several interesting articles that examine what Munro’s win means for different areas in lit. The Millions has published a Beginners Guide to Canadian Lit and The Globe and Mail took the opportunity to celebrate the short story.

For readers intrigued by Munro more for her critical acclaim than for her style, we can point out Lynn Coady, whose short story collection of Hellgoing has recently won the Scotiabank Giller Prize. For readers looking for other Canadians who won international awards, we could also point to titles like Ondaatje‘s The English Patient, Martel‘s Life of Pi, Atwood‘s Blind Assassin, Shield‘s Larry’s Party, or Michael‘s Fugitive Pieces.

Libraries can also consider programs to bolster Munro-Mania. For instance, the Guildford Branch of Surrey Libraries is featuring a drop-in book club on Alice Munro’s Dear Life.

How would you approach a readers’ advisory interview with a reader new to Alice Munro?

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)

Readers’ Advisory from a Newbie Keener

ra_1Academic Theory vs. the Real World

The BCLA What R U Reading blog is meant to be a Readers’ Advisory toolkit for librarians. With this in mind, I wanted to take the opportunity to write as a recent MLIS graduate about how I do RA and what tools I use. My hope is that this post is helpful for library students, other new graduates, and even those who have been out of library school for a while. As a keen reader, it is interesting to reflect on what guides my reading and my RA.

For my own interest, and hopefully yours, (and because I burnt out on theory at library school), this post will be more practical than theoretical and hopefully useful. Posting as a recent grad has allowed me to reflect on the differences between academic theory and what was taught in library school and real world, on the job RA.


One thing that I noticed right away on the job, is that RA is much more complex, interesting, and relational than they tell you in library school. But this is only true if you are willing to engage in conversations, relationships, and a variety of materials, genres, and formats. In discussing my blog post topic with some librarians from a few different library systems, the overall feeling amongst them seemed to be that their work off-desk is so time and energy consuming that they do not often have enough time to invest in RA. This includes both doing RA with patrons and having the time to stay current with RA resources and trends.

There are many tips that are worth mentioning and the following are only a few recommendations. Make your reading pool deep and wide, and ask for recommendations from patrons and other staff who you know read avidly and widely. Check your library’s (and even other libraries) website for new titles, especially if you are at a branch where you are only seeing materials intended for your branch and the collection is fixed rather than floating. Pay attention to current media that may influence reading patterns and trends, (ex. The Great Gatsby & The Hunger Games being released on film) try to anticipate what patrons interests will be and find read-a-likes/watch-a-likes/listen-a-likes. Pay attention to holds lists, Fastreads, and what is circulating highly in your system.

“Can you recommend a good book on…?”

Take special notice of the genres that you gravitate away from and make an extra effort to read a selection of those titles (especially popular ones). This will help you to avoid some biases when doing RA (which patrons ALWAYS pick up on). Work to understand the appeal factors of each genre: pacing, characterization, story line, and frame.

Really listen to patrons RA questions and do not assume that because they read one genre, they will or will not enjoy others. Ask patrons what the last book they have read is and what they thought of it? Or what was the last book that they really enjoyed? Another tactic that I use is to ask patrons what their favourite books is/favourite genre/top 5 favourite titles. The most effective practice that I use currently is to browse the shelves with patrons or grab a few items off of the shelf and ask their thoughts/opinions. I find this really effective in making the process active, engaging, casual, and conversational.

Online Resources

Online resources are readily available and (generally) free. It’s a matter of finding the online resources that appeal to you and that are useful, current, and reputable. The following are some that I have found helpful.

• Awards, Prizes, Notable Lists

o The Pulitzer Prizes
o New York Times Bestseller Lists
o The Man Booker Prize – Literary fiction

• Related to Genres:

o Barry Awards from Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine
o Bram Stoker Awards – Horror
o Romance Writers of American – Honor Roll
o The Hugo Awards – for Science Fiction

• Book Clubs/Reading Groups/Discussion

o Book Club Resource –
o Harper Collins Reading Groups –
o Oprah’s Book Club

• Listservs – subscribe daily or weekly

o Fiction_L
o NoveList
o Nextreads

• Blogs

o The Reader’s Advisor Online
o Smart Bitches, Trashy Books
o Comics Worth Reading
o Harlequin

• Websites

o Booklist
o The Horn Book
o Library Journal
o Oprah Magazine
o Overbooked
o Publisher’s Weekly
o Quill & Quire
o School Library Journal
o What Should I Read Next
o Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA)

• Social Networking

o Goodreads
o Shelfari
o Facebook – Books I Read App
o Twitter

Readers’ Advisory is a complex and fascinating aspect of librarianship that is in constant flux, now more than ever. It is exciting and challenging to consider how we are currently practicing RA and how we will continue to expand and improve RA services to support our library users.

Sarah Isbister, Public Services Librarian, GVPL


Readers’ Advisory Tools: Focus on the 49th Shelf

With Christmas on the horizon (tomorrow, already!?), I’ve been thinking a lot lately about “shopping local.” I prefer to find unique gifts at craft fairs by local artisans and businesses. I should also apply the notion of “shopping local” to readers advisory at my library. It’s always great when I can support a Canadian author, illustrator, or publisher by recommending a Canadian book to a patron. The 49th Shelf helps me to do just that.

Thanks to the 49th Shelf for use of their logo.

Thanks to the 49th Shelf for use of their logo.

What is the 49th Shelf? A website, blog, Facebook account, and Twitter account that promotes discovery, discussion, and celebration of Canadian books. “The 49th Shelf is a project of the Association of Canadian Publishers (ACP), in partnership with the Canadian Publisher’s Council, and it has received significant development funding from the Department of Canadian Heritage and the Ontario Media Development Corporation (OMDC). is the lead sponsor for the project for 2012.”—49th Shelf

What can you do?

  • Browse users’ lists and recommended reading such as “Holiday Books from Atlantic Canada
  • Browse by category and author
  • Create your own book-lists and reviews
  • Contribute to the “Read Local” Map by pinning a book on it
  • Win samples of new releases and enter contests
  • Subscribe to monthly newsletter
  • Read author interviews
  • Listen to podcasts

The 49th Shelf reaches out to librarians in particular. In their words, the 49th Shelf is

“An online resource that makes it easier for you to discover and sort Canadian titles by theme, peer feedback, reading level, and/or curriculum linkage. You can make lists based on your discoveries. You can also compare your choices against other librarians or teachers, ask their advice if you’d like, and pass title selections to colleagues for review or ordering.”

Questions that I can’t answer? Email for more info

Happy Reading and Happy Holidays! Check back in January for more blog postings.