Category Archives: Book Clubs

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?

Book Club Season Begins: What’s Your Model?










As an adult readers’ advisory librarian, the “Back to School” hype doesn’t resonate quite as profoundly as it does for teen and children’s librarians. However, September does mark a notable beginning of the adult programming season for most libraries. Unlike our counterparts in the children’s dept., who are winding down from a frenzied summer of reading clubs and zombie walks, we’re just revving up. For many of us, September signals book club season, author reading events and more.

Today I’d like to talk about book clubs.

Here at North Van City Library, we have a drop-in book club model. Every six weeks on a Wednesday evening from 7-8:30, from September – June, anyone is invited to drop in for a discussion on a particular book. The books and dates are listed on our website ahead of time, and are also printed on a book mark we give away to interested people. I also maintain an email list of approximately 80 participants who get reminders and follow-ups regarding meetings.

We decided to do it this way instead of offering a member-only group with a limited number of spots because we wanted to provide access to a book club experience to as many people as possible. Since the club started, we have had anywhere from 9 to 37 people come for a Wednesday evening discussion. When more than 10 show up, we break up into groups of 5-7 people. One person from each group volunteers to facilitate their group’s discussion with the list of topics and questions I provide, and then I float around to the different groups. I also ask the participants to bring their own topics and questions about the book to discuss in their group. At the end of the night, we gather together and each group’s facilitator gives a quick synopsis of the group’s discussion to everyone.

I love this model. It allows for different and interesting conversations to happen each meeting. It provides greater access to book clubs than the member-only model. People appreciate the flexibility of not having to commit to every single meeting. And community members get to meet new and interesting people each time, as well as connect with regulars.

We choose books by compiling a list of suggestions from participants and myself, then voting on them via an online poll in the spring. I try to always include at least two local authors who I can then invite to my local author series, which provides for nice synergy and cross pollination between the two programs.

There are downsides to this model, however. We still only have 12 copies of each title, which means I have to maintain a somewhat complex holds list within our ILS. It also can get a bit chaotic with several groups having sometimes lively discussions in a room that is quite large (cap. 120) but doesn’t have the best acoustics.

Overall, I think this model works well for us here at North Vancouver. What about you? How do you do book club? What suggestions do you have for how to make these types of groups better?

–Heidi Schiller, North Vancouver City Library (

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