Category Archives: RA Tools

Genre Tip: Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror

Confused about Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror genres? Wondering how to tell the difference between Steampunk, Cyberpunk and Splatterpunk? Try this handy sub-genre list from Worlds Without End to brush up on all things SF/F and Horror.

Image result for science fiction clipartImage result for wizard dragon clipartImage result for horror fiction clipart


Celebrating Black History Month at the Library: Websites to Inspire

ZoraBlack History Month, also known as African-American History Month in America, is an annual observance in February in Canada and the US for remembrance of important people and events in the history of the African diaspora.

If you are looking for books and/or promotion ideas, check out these links for inspiration:

The CBC’s 10 Books to read for Black History Month.

The Guardian’s Black History Month reading list.

Flavorwire’s 10 recent nonfiction books to read for Black History Month.

NPR’s reading list of black letter collections.

The Village Voice offers 10 Lesser-Known Books About Race.

HuffPo’s 14 Books to Read This Black History Month.

So tell us, how are you celebrating Black History Month at your library?

-Heidi Schiller, North Vancouver City Library.

Image of Author Zora Neale Hurston via.

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

Teen Book Finder App

The other night, I had an RA dream. Not a nightmare, exactly, but I woke up vaguely frazzled. yalsa app 4In my dream I was at a library job interview, and I had to booktalk two books that the interview panel gave me. I had 5 minutes to get my thoughts together. No problem, I thought. But then some of my co-workers distracted me with random chatter about their weekends, and then I couldn’t find the books. I knew what they were, but I started to panic and couldn’t think of their titles. Once awake, I believe they were, A Wrinkle In Time and Harry Potter (#1). Some leftover angst from a grade 5 tour I once gave in the 90’s, perhaps.

No point to this tale, really, but I came across an app that might have been useful in my dream. YALSA’s Teen Book Finder!




yalsa app 2yalsa app 3


Kind of a cute little tool, it organizes all of the past YALSA award winners, as well as Booklist’s teen choices with a variety of sorts, including year and genre. It also has a map function where it can supposedly find the closest library that owns the title you choose. However, I tried A Thousand Splendid Suns while in Port Coquitlam, and it gave me VPL (Central) as the only public library in the lower mainland, plus some college libraries. Perhaps this feature works better in the US.

It’s available for iOS and was recently released for android.

I came across another intriguing RA app in the works, the Librarian Book Recommendation App from the In the Stacks folks.

In the Stacks

If you’ve got any handy RA apps to recommend, please post!

The Machine: Using a Raspberry Pi for Readers’ Advisory

Today’s post comes from Matthew Murray, one of the two UBC student representatives with RAIG, a current MLIS candidate at UBC, and someone who’s involved in too many different projects.


A Raspberry Pi is a tiny, low-cost computer that was created to teach young people about computer science and programming. They’ve been embraced by the maker community and are being used for everything from robots to spinning wheels to cellphones to Minecraft servers.


A few months ago I saw a post on Tumblr that showed an “Electr-O-Matic Book Fortune Teller” that used an Arduino (a computer similar to a Raspberry Pi) to print book recommendations onto receipt paper when people pushed a button. This seemed like a relatively easy project for myself and some other students to use to get experience working with a Raspberry Pi.

The first step was setting up the Raspberry Pi itself. Raspberry Pis run a version of Linux that’s a lot less scary than you might think. We messed up our installation, but you don’t have to do that!


Next we had to set up the mini thermal printer (we bought ours from Adafruit). This involved cutting and stripping some wires, then screwing them into a DC power adapter so we could plug the printer into a power source. Then we installed the printer driver onto the Raspberry Pi.


Once we did that we connected the printer to the Raspberry Pi’s GPIO pins using the included wires and printed off a test page.


Actually, first we wondered why nothing was working once we’d hooked everything up. Turns out you need to plug the HDMI cable into the Raspberry Pi in order to have anything show up on the computer screen. Despite being supposedly intelligent, tech-savvy graduate students, we forgot to do this at least four five times (so far) during this project.

Once we had the printer working we started work on hooking up the button. This is a complicated process that involves:
1. Acquiring a button that doesn’t actually have the necessary connectors.
2. Purchasing the wrong resistors.


Of course you can choose not to follow our steps directly and just get the proper pieces the first time. Either way, you then wire everything into a breadboard and connect it to your Raspberry Pi. (Your breadboard doesn’t have to be quite so long, but we ended up using ten resistors instead of one because we originally had the wrong type.)


You’ll then have to install or create a program on the Raspberry Pi that understands when your button has been pushed and tells the printer to print a review. We’ll hopefully have one available on our blog soon! The reviews for our machine are ones that we wrote and include title, author, and a brief description. You could choose to include other information such as ISBNs or call numbers.

Once all of that is done you’ll have a working machine that will print off book recommendations! You’ll probably want to get some sort of box to put everything in, but we’re still working on that.


We haven’t completely finished this project yet, but we’ll be posting updates (and eventually complete instructions) to the ASIS&T at UBC blog! In the future we might expand the machine so that it will have more than one button to allow readers to pick from different genres, moods, or other qualities (books with covers the colour of the buttons?)


We’ll be showing off our machine at the Vancouver Mini Maker Faire on June 7th-8th at the PNE, you should come by and check it out!

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!

Readers’ Advisory Sessions at PLA 2014: Audiobooks

Today’s post comes from Anna Ferri, the 2014/15 BCLA student representative, one of the two UBC student representatives with RAIG, and a current MLIS candidate.

This year I was bound and determined to make it to the Public Library Association Conference in Indianapolis, March 11-14, 2014. Since the conference is only held every other year, this was my one chance to attend as a student, with both the reduced conference fee and with no one’s agenda but my own interests. Accordingly I went to several Readers’ Advisory sessions and brought back a few tidbits to share. For brevity’s sake, I’ll post a couple separate blog posts during this month on sessions I attended. The full program for PLA is on the conference website, along with an array of handouts for each session that are really worth checking out.

All About Audiobooks: Improving Readers’ Advisory for Listeners

One of the first sessions I attended, and one of the standout sessions of the whole conference for me, was “All About Audiobooks: Improving Readers’ Advisory for Listeners”. This panel included librarians, a representative from NoveList, a board member from the Audio Publishers Association, and the founder of AudioFile magazine. Their incredibly informative discussion was organized around the new audio recommendations feature in NoveList, available with NoveList Plus, and the Audio Characteristics appeal terms they developed for that purpose. But the discussion ranged far and wide and was peppered with a lot of excellent advice.

For instance, remember that your ear cannot skim content that your eyes might skip over. While this may seem like a reference to slogging your way through a long dreary text, the real point here was about the reader’s sensitivity to content. With audiobooks, it can be especially important to assess a listener’s tolerance for foul language, violence, sexual content, or even more particular things like children getting hurt or misogynistic language. It isn’t as easy to skim past or skip over difficult content in the audiobook format.

Another suggestion was that full cast audio plays can be an excellent recommendation for families who are traveling together by car for the summer. A good western or adventure tale with a full cast, sound effects, and good production values can keep all ages engaged and amused. But be wary of how sound effects might impact drivers. A thrilling cops and robbers tale can get a little too exciting for mom or dad when the sound of a siren comes blaring out of the stereo.

Appeal Characteristics for Audiobooks

It was exciting to hear that NoveList has taken the time to develop a rich set of appeal terms (34 to be exact) around audio characteristics. These are listed at the end of their downloadable guide to appeal terms. These terms can be used to group together or help delineate audiobooks in a way that is relevant to how listeners experience narration and production along with the more traditional plot, tone, writing style, etc. Whether used within the bounds of NoveList or just kept on hand as a ready way for any librarian to discuss audiobooks with patrons, they are a fascinating and potentially useful list.

“Detached”, for instance, refers to narration that is “emotionally removed from the story” and can ask the reader to do more of the emotional work or interpretation of the novel. Remember that the audio appeal characteristics refer to the narration style and not to the emotional content of the book as a whole. Audiobooks with a “detached” narrative style can be especially good for book clubs. The panelists suggested Night by Elie Wiesel as read by George Guidall as an example of an effective use of this narrative style.

Audiobook RA Resources

The panel also listed several of the key places to go to keep up to date on quality audiobooks. Of course there’s a bit of a bias towards resources curated or sponsored by organizations represented on the panel, but these are still some excellent places to scan for keeping up with current audiobook trends.

The Listen List – A yearly list from ALA’s RUSA of 12 excellent audiobook titles including fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and plays, each presented with a description of their appeal and several listen-alikes.

AudioFile Earphones AwardsAn ongoing recognition of the best audiobook narration in current tiles published in the AudioFile magazine and available on their website.

Audie Awards – Sponsored by the Audio Publishers Association, these awards recognize “distinction in audiobooks and spoken word entertainment”. Both the winners and finalists from past years can be found on their website. – A new website from AudioFile that is updated weekly with a curated list of select audiobook reviews. One especially nice feature is a little button at the top of the page that brings you to a list of categories, including Top Picks, for easy browsing. It’s a ready way to bite off a manageable chunk of the most current audiobooks.

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!

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!