Category Archives: RA Events and Training

“On becoming a diverse reader” in BCLA’s Perspectives

A new issue of BCLA’s Perspectives has been published! This issue includes an article by two of the members of the Readers’ Advisory Interest Group, Chloe Riley and Virginia McCreedy, on Dr. Brenna Clarke Gray’s keynote address at the recent RA in a Day workshop, which challenged library workers to read more diversely:

Dr. Brenna Clarke Gray is a professor at Douglas College and a contributor at Book Riot. Her keynote address was entitled “Doing the Work: Diversifying the Reader’s Experience, Come Hell or High Water.”

For other reports on this year’s RA in a Day event, check out our write-up on the Literacy Levels workshop, and our RA in a Day 2015 Must Reads. We also recently published a post on why #WeNeedDiverseBooks.

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


Welcome to RA in a Day 2015 & Literacy Levels Workshop

This year’s successful RA in a Day event (yes, a full day this year!) was held today at Vancouver Public Library’s Central branch. The BCLA Readers’ Advisory Group extends thanks to those of you who joined us in person today, or who chimed in the conversation on Twitter (#RAinaDay). We also offer thanks to Library Bound for once again sponsoring the event.

We’d also like to acknowledge that this year’s event took place on the ancestral, traditional and unceded Aboriginal territories of the Coast Salish Peoples.

RA in a Day 2015 opened with a literacy workshop hosted by Joan Acosta, formerly of The Westcoast Reader and Diana Twiss of Decoda Literary Solutions. Diana began by reframing how we measure literacy, explaining it is not an on-off switch; instead, we should consider literacy as a spectrum of how well readers can read.

Literacy and reading are learned skills that need to be practiced. Diana points out that reading consists of three cognitive processes: analyzing, interpreting, and monitoring. These are the skills and strategies that fluent readers often have. For instance, fluent readers are strategic and selective in their reading, and can make inferences, set goals, and monitor their comprehension. They often have background knowledge to assist them, and can summarize and reflect on their reading. Importantly, they expect to understand.

Meanwhile, struggling readers often read the entire text start to finish, rather than skimming or scanning. They may have more limited vocabulary or struggle with decoding sentences. They may have trouble connecting ideas, or reflecting on what they’re reading. They often lack background knowledge, and may not read widely or often.

It is important to remember that there are multiple and varied reasons for reading difficulty, including affects of aging, poor vision, physical or emotional stress, and learning disabilities, to name only a few.

In the interactive workshop, Diana and Joan asked us to work in small groups to analyze some books to attempt to find a fit between reader and text. Elements of the text that we can consider in terms of literacy levels include: the number and complexity of sentences, the number of words per sentence, multi-syllable words, presence of abstract words or idioms, presence of visual cues and sight words, and layout and organization of the page. Additionally, a personal story or narrative can connect a reader to a text.

It also helps us to know the reader’s familiarity with a topic, their background knowledge, their interest in the topic, reading skill levels, and comprehension strategies. Finding out some of these elements can help us match them with an appropriate text.

Finally, don’t hesitate to ask readers direct questions about their reading levels and comprehension skills. While there can be stigmas associated to literacy levels, we should work towards trying to shed these attitudes as most readers are approaching librarians because they want our support and guidance.

Coming up soon: reports on the inaugural BCLA RA in a Day BookSlam; our perennial favourite Speed Dating Through the Genres; and a keynote from Dr. Brenna Clarke Gray of Douglas College and Book Riot.

Librarians’ Choice at Burnaby Public Library

Avid readers are always looking for good reading recommendations. In the age of internet, social media, and sites like Goodreads, you might think that the opinions of librarians wouldn’t be of much interest to library users but, of course, the opposite is true. It’s important for librarians to recognize this and position themselves as a preferred source of inspired reading recommendations.

When I started working at the McGill branch of Burnaby Public Library several years ago, then Library Manager Barbara Jo May had been doing a book recommendation program for a couple of years, similar to her “Ain’t on the Globe and Mail Bestsellers List” sessions at BCLA conferences. Librarians delivered fast-paced reviews of recommended reads. I participated as a newbie to booktalking, and when Barabara Jo left I carried on coordinating the program.

We decided to call the program “Librarians’ Choice”. We use four librarians (including Information Clerks sometimes) and cover about twenty books in an evening. Each book review is about two minutes. Some popular titles are included, but the focus is more on the “under the radar” books that might otherwise be missed.

Two librarians start off and alternate, then we break for refreshments which gives staff a chance to chat with the attendees, then the next two librarians go on. We provide a booklist so the audience can follow along, and we have often observed patrons madly taking notes. We put display books in the room, and encourage people to browse and talk. The program takes ninety minutes, usually 7 pm to 8:30 pm and we pre-register.

I coordinated this program for four years at the McGill branch. The loyal following that Barbara Jo built up early on continued to grow. Our turnouts would range from 30 to 40 plus, with our International Mysteries evening going viral! Some events were themed — for example: Varieties of Love, Historical, Thrills and Adventure, Real Reads (non-fiction). But many events were a generic selection of mostly fiction with some non-fiction as well and promoted with reference to the seasons: Fall into Books; Winter Reads; Spring into Summer.

BPL-touch-of-mysteryWhen I moved to the Bob Prittie Metrotown Branch a year ago, I discovered that the reading tastes are a little less eclectic than at McGill. Metrotown readers *love* mysteries, so we have so far hosted two mystery evenings at Metrotown, the first one also went viral so we had a full house; the second attracted 30 plus avid mystery readers. We are planning another mystery evening in the fall, and will try a general one in November. We are also planning to include DVD recommendations in at least some of our events. Librarians’ Choice also continues by popular demand at McGill with new librarians coordinating.

It is really gratifying to see people return to the library with their Librarians’ Choice lists as they read their way through the recommended titles. There is a real eagerness to get the inside scoop on what library staff are reading, and I think this is part of the appeal of this type of program. Also, avid readers just enjoy being at an event where something they love doing is celebrated.

And here is a little inspiration for library staff: I was on the Information Desk one day and a woman approached me and said “I just wanted to tell you how much I love the book events that you do. Reading is a solitary, introverted activity, and your events create community among readers.” Wow!

Georgina Flynn is the First Floor Information Desk Supervisor at Bob Prittie Metrotown Branch,
Burnaby Public Library

Is 2015 the Year of the RA Makeover?


Here is a makeover project that I can get behind! Library Journal and NoveList are partnering to offer a webinar called The Year of the RA Makeover.* Join this session if you believe that your library could benefit from a fresh look at readers’ advisory service. The webinar will cover how to update this foundational service, including:

    • What do readers want most from your library?
    • How do you measure your RA service?
    • What are the most important things to consider in designing and delivering RA services?

In preparation, the NoveList blog is offering 15 Ways to Makeover your RA.  Here’s Part 1.

Panelists Robin Nesbitt – Manager, Columbus Metropolitan Library

Jackie Parker – Lead Librarian for Readers’ Services, Sno-Isle Libraries

Becky Spratford – Readers’ Advisory Librarian, Berwyn Public Library


Duncan Smith – Vice President, NoveList


Tuesday, February 10, 12:00 – 1:00 PST.  Register here.

* Hat tip to Tim McMillan of VPL for bringing this webinar to my attention.

Topics in RA for Immigrant Readers

This year the interactive section of RA in a Half Day was led by our guest speaker, Keren Dali who provided us an opportunity to share insights, develop conversations, and exchange ideas about serving immigrant and ESL readers.

Discussion Topic #1

In discussing the use of fiction or films set locally, such as in Vancouver, the thought was that this would generate good integrated programming for newcomers, “old-timers” (immigrants already settled into the community), and native residents. Struggles included how to attract the mixed audience, how to evaluate it, and, in smaller communities, finding specific local materials.

The suggestion when talking about inclusive and integrated book clubs was that you could encourage integration by building immigrant reader opportunities into an existing book club. Concerns included worries about choosing materials translated into enough different languages, who would select the titles, could the library have them available in all necessary languages, and how to promote it. Dali encouraged us to accept the idea that libraries will not always be the place where readers get their copy of the book. Discuss this issue with the book club members, because if you buy the book in many languages, many of those books will never again circulate after the book club is finished with them.

Group Discussion

In discussing the solicitation of feedback from immigrant groups including operating multilingual advisory groups, it was easy to list numerous advantages. A multilingual advisory group could crowd source local expertise in literature from various languages, helps the library develop a clearer picture of the need of these readers, mitigates the lack of formal research available on the subject of immigrant and ESL reader communities, and increases awareness of the collections and services libraries offer while building comfort and agency in that section of the community. There were definite concerns over having some local language communities or certain individuals dominate the conversation, a concern that Dali actually stressed on several occasions in her talk. In addition there were concerns about the level of understanding and expertise that the community had in using library tools like BiblioCommons or even in how to analyse the qualities of and recommend reading material.

In thinking about specific ESL communities that our libraries serve, the issue of having staff who speak the language of the immigrant communities was a major theme. Some libraries were struggling to serve smaller foreign language communities when they have a huge dominant foreign language community they have already identified and designed significant services for. A big part of the discussion revolved around how to break into these smaller language groups. Additional concerns revolved around how to assess the literacy level of various local language communities in their own native tongues so that our multilingual collections are representative of their reading level needs.

More Group Discussion

A discussion on multilingual collections including selection, management, and marketing them included some useful suggestions including building community partnership programs, employing pop-up surveys on the website and in house, contacting local adult education programs, and advertising to immigrant families via story time. Concerns included finding a good source for materials purchases, managing the scope including both your staffing and monetary resources, figuring out how to make the contacts, and dealing with a significant lack of knowledge in our communities generally (but yes in immigrant communities especially) about what is offered at libraries. They really encourage perseverance in connecting with these communities and educating them on library collections and services, a point that Dali re-enforced as being critical. Keep talking about your libraries programs and collections and keep working to build trust in with community.

A big thanks to the wonderful RA in a Half Day participants who shared some great conversations and ideas!

Keren Dali Kicks Off RA in a Half Day 2014

Another exciting RA in a Half Day from the BCLA Readers’ Advisory Interest Group kicked off in the Richmond Cultural Centre with on opening welcome from Theresa de Sousa, Librarian at Richmond Public Library. Again this year, BCLA Readers’ Advisory Interest  would like to thank Library Bound for sponsoring the event.

Barbara Edwards, Community Relations Librarian at Vancouver Public Library introduced the first speaker of the day, Keren Dali, a researcher who studies the reading experiences of immigrants. Chock full of practical ideas and positive messages, Dali offered a wonderful amount of insight into how immigrants pursue and think about reading for leisure. She emphasized the interest of immigrant readers in reading in English, genre fiction, and not the obvious “easy reader” materials. However, they often do not understand how the North American publishing industry works (assuming, for instance, that hardbacks are unabridged and paperbacks are abridged), nor have experience in the vast array of genres that we have in the English literature tradition. They need guidance in understanding the landscape of English language reading materials from how the publishing industry and libraries work to the basics of genre designations and the big name authors in these genres. Find out what is popular in literature in their native language and help them translate that appeal into the appeal of various English language literature genres.

Communicating with people new to your own native language will produce interaction fatigue (repeating yourself, consciously simplifying your language, slowing your speech, making them repeat themselves). This is natural, reduces with practice, but can inspire anxiety and cause us to try to shorten these transactions or make us abrupt. Warmth, interest, and positivity in are critical in the Readers Advisory transactions as part of these inter-cultural interactions that are building their comfort and proficiency in Canadian society. Dali suggests that we often think of immigrant readers in our libraries as “newcomers” but many are actually “old-timers” who have been in the country a few years and are already adjusting to the culture. They are ready to move beyond materials on the immigrant experience, easy reader materials, and they want to move away from being served as readers with special needs. Above all, she encourages us to “ASK YOUR READERS!” Develop these conversations actively and via workshops, mixed ESL book groups, and immigrant advisory groups so that we are building relationships in this community and helping this population to develop comfort and build connections here.

Next up, Keren Dali will be leading us in an interactive activity on immigrant Readers Advisory services.