Thursday, July 9, 2015

Hot and Steamy Reader's Advisory

Read Kate Tigue's column in the July 9, 2015 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin. Kate is a Children's Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library.

After a long and dreary winter, the hot weather we thought would never arrive is here!  It’s July and that means the dog days of summer are right around the corner.  And whether (get it?!?) or not we realize it, many of us change our reading habits with the change in weather (ha, I can’t stop!).  Some of us eschew heavier tomes and gravitate towards light beach reads.  Others (like myself) use the summer to catch up on books we’ve wanted to read, the ones we never seem to get to during the rest of the year.

Perhaps it’s my subconscious shaking off the wool of winter but without realizing it, I almost invariably choose titles set in warm climates.  I also gravitate towards books I’ve been meaning to read : classics that I’ve never gotten to or critically acclaimed titles that I seem to miss during the height of their popularity.   My book settings also seem to take on two specific flavors of hot weather:  exotic, foreign travel or steamy Southern nights.  Currently, I’m working my way through A Passage to India, E.M. Forster’s societal portrait of British colonialism.  Forster’s direct style belies a complicated exploration of class and race relations in the small Indian town of Chandrapore. Two English ladies arrive in town, eager to be shown the “real India” and only find discouragement and distaste amongst their compatriots for the local Indian population. A series of miscues and a mysterious happening in the Malabar Caves further refine Forster’s main idea about good will and cultural understanding between the colonizers and the colonized.

The reflection process I just described goes by the fancy librarian term “reader’s advisory”.  Basically, reader’s advisory is all about finding patterns in your reading and looking for clues in your hobbies and interests in order to identify new titles to explore.  Librarians do this by asking questions about books you’ve enjoyed in the past or which aspects of a genre really pique your interest.  We might also ask about your personal hobbies or topics you like to research.  We aren’t being nosey, I promise!  We’re just trying to find out what makes you tick as a reader.

I may be a bit prejudiced here but I do think a real, live librarian is your best source for reader’s advisory.  But if you can’t make it here to the library or want to find titles on your own, I’m willing to share a few insider tips to help you find your next good read. Firstly, and I can’t stress this enough, keeping a reading record of some sort is the best way to help you find what you want to read next.  Say what?  Use our past to help shape our future?  I know, it’s a novel idea.

There are many lovely tools out there to help you track your reading.  There is the old-fashioned way of keeping a reading journal by writing down a title once you’ve read it.  However, if you are more technologically inclined and have a Minuteman library card, you can turn on a feature called “Reading History” that will keep a record of what you check out.  Please note this isn’t an automatic feature; you need to sign into your Minuteman Library Network account and opt in under the “Reading List” menu.  Once you do that, our system will keep track of all your checkout items.  You can also used the “Saved List” feature to save titles that you want to read in the future.

Another great option is GoodReads ( GoodReads is a reading-oriented social media platform owned by  GoodReads has “shelves” where you can keep titles that you’ve read, things you are currently reading, and books you want to read.  The social media aspect of the site allows you to friend other people and see what’s on their “shelves”, read their book reviews, comment on their choices and send personal messages to users.  You also can access exclusive author interviews, online book groups, create your own lists, and see book recommendations.  The best feature of GoodReads is the ability to review the titles you’ve read. Not because other people necessarily read them (although they might!) but because it will allow you to describe things you like and dislike in books you read.  Even if you are tracking your reading by hand in a journal, it helps to write a few notes down about each title as you record it.

Once you track your reading, you can look over your history and see if some general themes emerge.  Perhaps you know you like mysteries but you might notice that you prefer hard boiled detective fiction or detailed police procedurals.  Or you might start to see that you like books from different genres with a similar theme, a consistent writing style or character type.  Perhaps your book list indicates that you like mostly female main characters or a direct, concise prose or books that explore themes like religion or justice or freedom.  In my example from my own reading list, I chose A Passage to India because I enjoyed other books like The Sun Also Rises by Hemingway and many of Graham Greene’s novels. These books all involve foreign settings, a straightforward writing style and an exploration of religious themes.

Now that you know what you like, how do you find more? Well, a trip to the library is the most personalized low-tech option out there. Once you are here, it’s time to browse!  Most people avoid being overwhelmed by starting in our “New Book” area on the first floor to narrow down their choices.  Checking out our Adult and YA SpeedRead collections also help readers pick up on what’s popular right now. Finally, we also have specific paperback collections of westerns, romance, mysteries, and science fiction novels. If you need more direction than just general browsing, look for BookPage, a monthly magazine that features new releases reviewed and sorted by genre at our Circulation and Reference desks. The library also keeps a current New York Times Bestseller list for people to peruse and a monthly list of new books just added to our collection.  Both are located in hard copy at the Circulation and Reference Desks.

If you are looking for some online resources to help you find your next title, our library catalog provides a fantastic built-in recommendation service.  If you use the Encore version of the Minuteman Library Catalog to search for a book you know you enjoyed, you can see a list of book covers of titles that have similar characteristics at the bottom of the page.  If you hover your cursor over the “Why Is This A Match” feature underneath a book cover, a brief explanation of how this title matches up to the one you searched appears!  If you need more recommendations, your library card also grants you access to NoveList, our amazing reader’s advisory database.  NoveList is curated by librarians around the country and allows readers to use a favorite author or title as a template to locate other authors and titles of interest.  Readers can also enter words that describe the contents of a book they would like to read, and NoveList retrieves titles that contain these words.

If you are like me, it’s never enough!  Here are more online tools for working on your own reader’s advisory:

What Should I Read Next (  Enter your email address, type in a title, and this site will analyze a huge database of their users’ reading lists to come up with…well…what you should read next!  You can build your own lists and add to the recommendation data.

Your Next Read (yournextread): This is another user data-driven book recommendation site.  Type a title you love and see what others have recommended based on it.  You can give each recommendation a “thumb’s up” or a “thumb’s down” to refine future book title suggestions.

GoodReads ( This social media site features book recommendations generated by the site itself (which are generally mediocre and not that targeted) and the ability to directly recommend books to other users that you’ve “friended”.    User to user recommendations are more personalized and interactive, especially once you’ve read a friend’s review of a title.

FictFact (  Have trouble keeping up with all the series you read?  FictFact will send an email to alert you any time a new book in one of your series is published. You can also set up a book release calendar, make lists of the different series you read, and figure out the correct order of new series.

At the library, we are always on the lookout for the next read!  Now you can be too!