CLICK HERE for quick access to the materials for the 2016-17 Speculative Fiction Genre Study.
The website now features UNRESTRICTED access, including notes from our meetings; however, in order to attend the meetings in person, you must be a member of ARRT. Click here for information about how you can join.


I can come to your library, book club meeting, or conference to talk about how to help your readers find their next good read. Click here for more information.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Proof Practice Works for EVERYONE!

I am hoping that by now, every one of my readers know about my 10 Basic Rules of RA Service. Rule 10 is:
      -- Get Booked podcast as a practice tool
      -- Participate in #AskaLibrarian
      -- reader profile exercise
I always say this in my training sessions, but I practice using at least one of these tool every single week, and it always helps. Yesterday I had such a valuable experience in my own practicing that I thought it was worth sharing with all of you.

I was listening to The Get Booked podcast while I was driving around. This week it was all about Nonfiction and one of the books that came up was The Poisoner’s Handbook by Deborah Blum, an excellent nonfiction about the birth of forensic medicine.

I am currently working on finding my 15 year old daughter, with dreams of being a forensic scientist/medical examiner books to read for fun. She loves Sherlock Holmes both the originals and the modern updates like The House of Silk [which she is reading right now]. She also loves narrative nonfiction. And as you can see here, Blum’s book is a perfect match for her.

Here’s the thing though....I read this book in 2013 and really liked it. Here’s my review. But, I had completely forgotten about it when asked by her for something to read. This proves that all of us need practice.

Hearing about books, anytime, anywhere, especially listening to people talk about the feel of the book and why someone may like it not only introduces us to titles we didn’t know about, but also, reminds us of the the perfect book we read already but had forgotten about, a book that might be the perfect match for the reader in front of you, if only you could remember it existed. And in this case, I didn’t remember.

Practice works for everyone, from the newbie to the expert like me. Thank goodness I practice. My daughter is going to be thrilled when the hold comes in[seriously I placed a hold immediately]. Don’t think you are too good to practice. No one is ever too good to practice and today’s post is the proof.

Click here to read my review of The Poisoner’s Handbook. And, while you are at it, why not go back and peruse through some of the books you haven’t read for 5 years or so. Speaking of, some of you may not have notes. To those of you, I refer you back to my 10 Rules page, Rule 4. Start taking notes!

Have a great weekend. Spring has finally sprung here in Chicagoland and I am going to enjoy it.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Trend Alert: Graphic Medicine

Many of you probably saw this article in Public Libraries Online about Graphic Medicine, but in case you didn’t, I have linked it here and reposted the text below [mostly so the content is saved even if the link breaks].
Graphic Medicine has been on my radar, and probably most of yours for a while, you just probably didn’t realize it. What to I mean? Well think of all of the popular graphic memoirs dealing with illness that you currently have on the shelf, and we are talking pretty popular ones too: Stiches,  Ghosts, and all the way back to one of the seminal titles in this category-- Epileptic by David B.
All of these titles deal with medical issues. But Graphic Medicine has moved well beyond the memoir-- there is even a series of Comics and Medicine conferences. It is a trend that is now being talked about throughout librarianship, as the Public Libraries Online article illustrates. 
As the article below notes, the best place to see everything that is going on in the field is the Graphic Medicine website. Understanding this trend is the first step. Then you can use their database of book reviews, links, and more. I would especially suggest that you follow librarian Matthew Noe’s This Week in Graphic Medicine reports. He is also very interested in RA for Graphic Medicine and talks about it frequently. 
The site has indexed all sides, examples, and experiences of what "Graphic Medicine” is, and presented in a way that allows you to fully grasp how wide, useful, and exciting the field is. Look, I am a librarian and married to a doctor and I learned a ton looking through the site, watching some conference presentation videos, and reading a lot of the info linked here, so I am sure you can learn something too.
As with all of my trending posts, I try to alert you to new genres or issues that are emerging so that you can anticipate the patrons’ wants. But as always, with a trend, the best pace to start is a display. Use the Graphic Medicine site to identify the plethora titles you already have, put up a sign that says “Graphic Medicine,” and watch the titles fly off the shelves. 

A Prescription for Graphic Medicine

by Shelley Wall on April 12, 2018
Graphic medicine is a rapidly growing area of creation, research and teaching that brings together the visual/textual language of comics with stories of illness and health care.
In recent decades there has been an explosion of comics exploring medical experience from the point of view of patients, family members and health care professionals. The term “graphic medicine” was coined by physician and comics artist Ian Williams when he began to catalogue such works. The website he inaugurated,, has evolved into a robust, multi-faceted resource for anyone interested in learning more about the field.
And what a rich and varied field it is. There are graphic memoirs (“graphic pathographies”) about almost any state of health or illness you can name for example, cancer, bipolar disorder, infertility, Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, addiction, spina bifida, HIV/AIDS — and in a wide variety of artistic and narrative styles.
While it may sound strange to create or read comics about something as serious as a life-altering medical condition, comics is, in fact, the perfect medium to capture the ambiguities, contradictions and occasional absurdities of the illness journey. The interplay of image and text can communicate in ways that text alone cannot, and the comics medium, as a familiar and non-threatening form of narrative, can possibly ease the discussion of difficult topics.
For patients and families, reading graphic pathography can provide reassurance that they are not alone in what they are going through. For readers with no personal experience of an illness, reading graphic pathography can educate and promote empathy with others — as well as providing the same human interest and narrative pleasure as all other kinds of memoir. For health care professionals and students, reading graphic medicine helps to promote empathy for the patient experience, and stimulates reflection on topics such as ethics and communication in health care. And for scholars in the humanities and social sciences, graphic medicine provides a powerful lens for the analysis of identity and culture within the context of health and illness.
In addition to reading comics, making comics is an important feature of the graphic medicine movement. You don’t have to be an artist to “get out your crayons,” in the words of graphic medicine pioneer MK Czerwiec, and draw your story. In some medical schools, students are invited to create comics as a way to reflect on formative experiences; in two recent initiatives at a children’s rehab center in Toronto, nurses and the parents of pediatric patients attended comics-making seminars to tell and share their stories. In other instances, cartoonists work with patients to document their health care stories, as in the wonderful “Sketches from Outside the Margins” initiative in Seattle/King County.
Visit to learn more about the field and the annual Comics and Medicine Conference, to find reviews of works of graphic medicine, to check out “This Week in Graphic Medicine,” a regular blog post by medical librarian Matthew Noe that highlights the newest relevant books, articles, events, podcasts and other media, and for information about the “Graphic Medicine” book series from Penn State University Press.
Shelley Wall, MScBMC PhD, is an Assistant Professor, Biomedical Communications Program at the University of Toronto.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Audiobook Resources from BookRiot

Recently I was asked which resource I would suggest for patrons and library workers who wanted to know more about audiobooks.

I mentioned the I really like Audible to see customer reviews of audiobooks and to hear a snippet of the author reading, and that I also use Audiofile Magazine for industry news, but these both help more if you have a patron who already likes audiobooks and needs help finding more. Also, you need to know a bit more about audiobooks in general, like understanding the listening experience, in order to be able to use these resources well.

For the library worker or patrons [or both] who want to learn more about good audiobooks, why people like or dislike audiobooks, and even for great lists, I use the Audiobooks Archive tab on BookRiot.

Use this link anytime to see everything they have written about audio books. From excerpts to essays to reviews and lists on any topic or genre you could imagine, this is a great resources to interact with. You can read about audiobooks as a topic, a format, and an experience as well as find suggestions. Even an audiobook newbie will gain a better understand of the format using this resource.

This is a wonderful tool for those who are feeling lost in the midst of the audiobook’s current explosion of popularity. Give it a try. It’s updated at least once a day, so you can visit often.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Using Goodreads During the RA Conversation for Individualized Results

Goodreads is one of my favorite resources for helping readers precisely because everything on the site is driven by actual readers and, most importantly, their opinions.

As I make very clear in my 10 Basic Rules of RA Service, one of the very best uses of Goodreads for us, the library workers, is the customer reviews-- specifically the 5 star people who LOVE the book and the 2 Star reviewers who didn’t like it and very often share their reasons why. You can get more appeal information about how and why a book did or did not work from these reviews than you can anywhere else.  Even talking to a reader isn’t as useful.

My second favorite thing on Goodreads was something that is now gone, the “Others who enjoyed this book also enjoyed....” carousel. Again, the reason this worked so well as we tried to understand the appeal of a title and help readers is that this list was based on the actual readers and what else they liked. Unlike resources like NoveList, where professionals (myself included) try to intellectually match books for specific reasons, this carousel was purely based on the opinions of readers. And as we know from serving patrons and from just looking at ourselves, we often like things for reasons that don’t make measurable sense.

With that carousel gone, it was as if we lost our connection directly into the messy brains of readers. The data of people’s likes and dislikes that make sense to each individual but are harder to recreate with logic, is now lost. Or is it?

I have spent some time exploring Goodreads to recapture this more intuitive and emotionally driven type of readalike suggestion engine and I think I have found that by doing more targeted work, you will actually get even better results for your readers than you did with the carousel.

Let me explain by using a title that has a lot of appeal points-- I Am Providence by Nick Mamatas. Click here for my review. This is a book that is a Lovecraft parody aimed at uber fans, newbies, and anyone in between. It is also a mystery, a horror novel, and fan fiction about a Con. There are many people who have enjoyed this book but they have also come at heir opinion from different angles. And that’s why using Goodreads to find someone a similar title is your best bet.

But how to narrow down what a specific reader liked about I Am Providence and then find similar titles?

Screen shot from
right gutter of entry.
First thing I would do with someone who liked this book is to go immediately to the list of shelves Goodreads users have filed this book on. You can see a screen shot of where to access this info on the left. Click here to see them all 387 of them. These shelves are basically what a given user wanted to remember about the book. More often than not they are frame or appeal terms. You can read these “shelf” titles to a patron and see what piques their interest.

For example some readers have shelved this as “mystery-thriller,” “Lovecraft,” even “NPR” [lots of patrons only read books they hear about on NPR; I helped a few of those over the years]. But my personal favorite was “Random Horror Stories.” As a reader, this spoke to me about this book and my experience reading it. It is horror, yes, but hard to file in a standard horror subgenre. I like it, a lot, but it was random.

So let’s pretend I am the patron here looking for a similar read. You show me the shelves to try to get the RA Conversation going [and note, you can do this without having read the book, so you can do this with any patron for any book because the “appeal” terms are on the screen] and “Random Horror Stories” catches my eye. Even though only 1 reader of I Am Providence used this shelf term, the link lead you to a huge lists of titles including books by Paul Tremblay and Stephen Graham Jones, who I will tell you from experience, would totally work as readalikes for this book for me as a reader. And right at the top of the list is a book on my current to-read list-- Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi-- further proof that this works. A book I have been meaning to read shows up immediately on the screen. Done. That’s what I am reading next.

You just helped me find my next good read by using resources to show me how to help myself! Success.

What I love about doing this is that you have to have a conversation with the patron in tandem with the resource in order for this to work. Together you can find a suggestion and it doesn’t matter if you, the library worker, have read the book or not. You can use the reviews [5 star and 2 star] to find out a bit more about any title in question, straight from someone who read it and liked or disliked it, to help them as they pick their next read.

This is RA Service at it’s finest. At first I was mad at Goodreads for eliminating the carousel. But, now I would like to say “thank you.” You made me work a little harder, but in the end I have a much better way to help my patrons. Not only will it achieve more targeted and individualized results, but it will also help to develop the RA relationship by encouraging conversation between myself and the patron.

Monday, April 16, 2018

What I'm Reading: Goodreads Updates

After las week’s barrage of “No holds barred Becky,” as my friend Jez put it, I need to pull it back a bit and get caught up on my non-paid reviews.

Today I am posting the links to my reviews of books the have appeared on Goodreads but not here on the blog. I periodically post the authors and titles here mostly so that they are searchable for both me and you. All of these titles were read in 2017. I had the reviews done in Goodreads but realized the I never gathered them into a post for the blog.

It’s like I discovered buried reading treasure this weekend when I was going through my Goodreads. I cleaned them up a bit and added some more readalikes too. It was very cathartic.

The links go to my Goodreads review each of which have my three words and readalikes.

Read in print:
Read in Audio:

Friday, April 13, 2018

RUSA CODES Conversation-- RA 101 With my Editors and Friends Joyce Saricks and Neal Wyatt

So one thing I have learned being a RA trainer is that library staff are clamoring for the basics. Libraries are realizing that getting their entire staff on board behind promoting patrons’ leisure needs is imperative. Creating conversations around books, movies, audio books, all the things we circulate for patrons’ wants, this is an activity that is key to our mission and one that all staff can participate in at some level.

When I started doing this RA training thing full time, I thought that I would be doing all second level RA training. I wrongly thought that everyone knew the basics. Nope. What I found is my basics classes are the most requested-- for current practitioners to get a refresher and to recruit new staff to provide basic RA-- still 3 full years later.

The RUSA CODES Research and Trends Committee also noticed this and asked Joyce Saricks and Neal Wyatt to help them answer people’s questions in the next CODES Convo.  

The details on this one day, email event are below. I normally only lurk on these, but since this is my specialty, I am scheduling time to participate too.

Please consider joining us and getting some of your co-workers subscribed too. Even if all you do is follow along [live or after the fact], it would make for a great conversation in a staff meeting later.

I will also post the notes here on the blog when they are available a few days after the event. Below are the details on how you can subscribe.  I hope to “see” you there.

CODES Conversations: RA 101April 24, 2018 10am-6pm EST 
What are the key ideas, practices and sources everyone should be learningabout as they begin to do readers' advisory work? Join us and special guestmoderators Joyce Saricks and Neal Wyatt and bring your questions, suggestionsand advice! 
CODES Conversations are focused electronic conversations on issues facingcollection development and readers’ advisory librarians—or anyone interestedin those areas. The conversations are open to all who wish to participate (orlurk)! 
Use this link to join us!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Library Reads: May 2018

I love the concept of Library Reads. I absolutely love it. Library workers get to read books before they come out and vote for their favorites. Among other things, the lists this creates shows the publishers that even though people get the books for “free” at the library, our opinion drives overall sales.

But here’s the thing everyone. We have been given this power and we are not using it correctly. We are failing. We are wasting it. Once again, this list is almost all white. And there are a whole bunch of authors and titles which don’t need our help with promotion [Seriously, Amanda Quick? Who doesn’t have her on automatic order by now.]

Let’s use this list to promote books by marginalized voices. This is where we can make a difference. Why aren’t we all going out of way to look for titles that don’t get recognition? Then we can show the publishers that we want these titles by promoting them ourselves. If we get our patrons excited about less mainstream [white-hetero] titles before they come out, the publishers have to pay attention. 

We can do so much more to make changes in publishing and help our patrons find titles they would never know about without us by NOT promoting the big name titles.

We have more power than you think. Your choices matter. I often say this when I visit libraries in person, but it bears repeating here today-- By voting for a title for Library Reads you are not proclaiming to the world that it is THE BEST book you ever read. You might even personally enjoy a mainstream title coming out in the same month more, but that doesn’t matter. You are not voting for your personal favorite book. Use your vote to boost a title that is wonderful but may not have as a good a chance to stand out from the crowd without your help. That is the point of this venture. No one will hold you to this being your all time favorite book. [People actually worry about this; they have told me.]

Please also reconsider how you vote. Many of you have told me that you vote for the “Big” name titles and the smaller ones. THIS DOES NOT HELP. You are simply adding to the big vote getters total and diluting your vote for the diverse title. If every single one of my readers laid off of voting for the more mainstream titles and instead voted for a more diverse title, many of those mainstream titles would still get in, but maybe a few more marginalized voices would too. Can we try it?

And finally, stop blaming “Library Reads." This is on you. Every. Single. One. Of. You. Library Reads is simply the organization that facilitates everything. We are the ones who make the list. As I mentioned on Monday in this post, you need to own up to the fact that institutional racism exists and touches every one of us, even me.

Okay, so that’s my rant. And here’s the thing, people involved with Library Reads behind the scenes don’t disagree with me, but they are helpless because YOU HAVE ALL THE POWER. Please choose to use your power to make a difference.

Below is my standard Library Reads statement on how you can use it as a resource and how to participate, followed by the May 2018 list.
Today is  Library Reads day Library Reads Day means three things here on RA for All:
  1. I post the list and tag it “Library Reads” so that you can easily pull up every single list with one click.
  2. I can remind you that even though the newest list is always fun to see, it is the older lists where you can find AWESOME, sure bet suggestions for patrons that will be on your shelf to actually hand to them right now. The best thing about Library Reads is the compound interest it is earning. We now have hundreds and hundreds of titles worth suggesting right at our fingertips.
  3. You have no excuse not to hand sell any Library Reads titles because there is a book talk right there in the list in the form of the annotation one of your colleagues wrote for you. All you have to say to your patron is, “such and such library worker in blank state thought this was a great read,” and then you read what he or she said.
So get out there and suggest a good read to someone today. I don’t care what list or resource you use to find the suggestion, just start suggesting books.

Click here to for the very easy to follow directions on how to participate. You get access to unlimited eARCs.

May 2018 LibraryReads


by Claire Legrand

Published: 5/22/2018
by Sourcebooks Fire
ISBN: 9781492656623
“Fierce, independent women full of rage, determination, and fire. The first novel in the Empirium trilogy holds appeal for both young adult and adult readers. For fans of Game of Thrones, Once Upon a Time, and The Hunger Games.”
Kristin Friberg, Princeton Library, Princeton, NJ

The Other Lady Vanishes

by Amanda Quick

Published: 5/8/2018 by Berkley
ISBN: 9780399585326
“Historical romantic suspense. Who would suspect that the quiet California seaside tea shop waitress is actually an escaped mental patient? The second book in Quick’s Burning Cove series has the same 1930s vibe and glamorous, gossipy Hollywood ambiance as The Girl Who Knew Too Much.”
Beth Mills, New Rochelle Public Library, New Rochelle, NY

The Death of Mrs. Westaway

by Ruth Ware

Published: 5/29/2018 by Gallery/Scout Press
ISBN: 9781501156212
“Ware’s best book by far. I finally stopped trying to puzzle it out and just sat back to enjoy the ride.”
Susanne Guide, Union County Public Library, Liberty, IN

The Perfect Mother: A Novel

by Aimee Molloy

Published: 5/1/2018 by Harper
ISBN: 9780062696793
“A frank look at mommy culture wrapped in an original twist on the suburban, psychological thriller.”
Jennifer Winberry, Hunterdon County Library, Flemington, NJ

Love and Ruin: A Novel

by Paula McLain

Published: 5/1/2018 by Ballantine Books
ISBN: 9781101967386
“Biographical and historical fiction. Another fascinating Hemingway wife from McLain who always writes interesting women and great period detail.”
Elizabeth Angelastro, Manilus Library, Manilus, NY 

Tin Man: A Novel

by Sarah Winman

Published: 5/15/2018 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons
ISBN: 9780735218727
“A beautifully written story of love, loss, grief, friendship, and acceptance. The story winds in and out of time in a figure eight like waves reaching shore and receding again.”
Donna Burger, Bryant Library, Roslyn, NY 

Our Kind of Cruelty: A Novel

by Araminta Hall

Published: 5/1/2018 by MCD
ISBN: 9780374228194
“Disturbing psychological suspense with an unreliable narrator. This is a love story. Or is it? It’s more a story of obsession.”
Jennifer Ohzourk, St. Louis Public Library, St. Louis, MO 

Paper Ghosts: A Novel of Suspense

by Julia Heaberlin
Published: 5/15/2018 by Ballantine Books
ISBN: 9780804178020

“Grace has spent years secretly investigating the disappearance of her older sister. Grace’s prime suspect is Carl Feldman, a photographer, who has been acquitted of the crime and now suffers from dementia. Grace decides that a road trip may jog Carl’s memory.”
Galen Cunniff, Scituate Town Library, Scituate, MA 

The Favorite Sister

by Jessica Knoll

Published: 5/15/2018 by Simon & Schuster
ISBN: 9781501153198
“Perfect for the reality TV addicted, this book is gossip laden, full of edge, and contains plenty of surprises.”
Sharon Layburn, Huntington Public Library, Huntington Station, NY 

The Ensemble: A Novel

by Aja Gabel

Published: 5/15/2018 by Riverhead
ISBN: 9780735214767
“Set against the backdrop of the highly-competitive and merciless world of classical music, this brilliantly written debut is an exquisite portrait of a group friendship spanning decades. Gabel weaves a lyrical tale of four young musician’s journeys and their complex, yet resilient, relationships with each other. For fans of The Interestings, A Little Life, and A Secret History.”
Mayleen Kelley, JV Fletcher Library, Westford MA

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

RA for All Roadshow Visits North Central TN for Regional Training

Today I am in the suburbs of Nashville to train staff from three of Tennessee's region library systems.  We are going to train the trainer to spread my version of interactive, patron friendly, conversation based RA service across another region of TN. I am slowly but surely hitting the entire state.

Below you can find the slide and handout access. And please note, all of these programs have been updated.

  • RA for All Signature Program: This program follows Becky's 10 Rules of RA Service
  • Booktalking: Harnessing the Power of Sharing Books With Readers: slides here
  • Demystifying Genre: slides here featuring a diverse collection of authors for your library
  • RA Rethink: Merchandising and Upselling Edition: This is about displays and promotion but I use fancy words so your administrators will give these old techniques the credit they deserve.  slides here

There is information here to help everyone out there and the slides are filled with dozens of links to take you further into each topic. Just because you aren't at this presentation doesn't mean this post won't help you to help a reader.

I would especially point all of you to the genre slides so at the very least you can stop telling me you don’t know any “diverse” authors to suggest.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

You Can Use The Words of Others to Booktalk

Starting tomorrow and a half dozen times over the next 45 days, I am going to be promoting the idea of booktalking-- all over the library-- to many different organizations across a few different states.

I love talking about booktalking as much as I love booktalking. My booktalking training is one of my favorite and most popular programs. You know why? Because every single person on staff at your library can booktalk. Everyone. From the maintenance crew to the Director.

In my program I share stories about specific libraries who have cultivated a culture of booktalking at their library. But the basic idea is, anyone on staff can and should talk about what they are reading, watching, and listening to with each other or with patrons-- out loud for others to hear. As long as the things you are talking about are something that can be checked out from the library. Even new movies are good to talk about at work because they will be available at some point and you can use them to start a conversation about other movies or books.

The point is that booktalking is not only about hand selling a title to a specific patron based on their likes and dislikes. Rather, booktalking is a way to start conversations at the library. When you talk about leisure items at the library freely, openly, and often, you are both demonstrating that you care about leisure items AND advertising that you are qualified to help patrons find some themselves.

This is a concept I spend a a good 30 minutes developing in this program, but today on the blog I want to point out something I have learned after presenting a version of this program for three years now. I have found that many library workers don’t want to talk about what they are reading or watching. There reasons are valid and fair for sure. Some cite privacy concerns, especially those whose job is not at a public desk; they don’t want to have to share what they do in their free time. Others rightly comment that they are reading, for example, erotic romance, and work at the Children's’ desk most of the day [this has come up enough that I think you might want to ask your youth staff if they have any suggestions here]. Still others say, I want to talk about the book I just read, but I am not comfortable finding the right words.

For all of these reasons, and just so you can share books you haven’t read, I have what I thought was common sense advice, but through training after training I am learning is quite a revolutionary idea--

Use the words of others when you booktalk!

I just assumed people knew that a “book talk” didn’t need to also be written by them. I was wrong to assume.

Yes, you heard me. You don’t have to write the words about the book you are talking about, heck you don’t even have to have read it. The point of the booktalk isn’t to prove you have a great way with words. The point is to talk about an item...period.

One of my 10 Rules of RA Service is “Use Resources.” We have trained patrons for over 100 years that librarians do not know the answers to every question, rather we know how to find the answers. We use resources. Guess what, we can use them for leisure reading too. As long as we are honest that the words are not ours, it’s fine. In fact, it is better than fine. It is what we are best at. Its what our patrons expect us to do.

That’s right. Many of you think your patrons will be disappointed in you if you “read” a booktalk. Why do you think that? You read them answers about reference questions. They don’t expect you to pull facts about North Korea out of thin air. Here’s the truth, we put this pressure on ourselves. Our patrons expect us to use resources. So stop giving yourself more stress and more work to do. Use resources!

So where can you find booktalk material? Reviews, professional or from Goodreads, blurbs from other authors [check Fantastic Fiction for those], other libraries’ websites, book lists, etc.... Heck, I ever pull books of the shelf and read the blurbs and summary off the back with the patron. You can read all of these to a patron and say, “Wow, this book looks so interesting. Here’s what someone who enjoyed it says.” This is a book talk! You are starting a conversation about books by using the words of others.

I often keep the conversation going with the patron here by adding, “Well I will put that on my mountain of a TBR pile. What about you? What are you reading?”

Using resources for your booktalking material means you can talk about ANY BOOK AT ANY TIME. You have no limits now.

This also goes hand in hand with yesterday’s post when I talked about owning up to us not doing everything we can to curate and promote diverse collections. Another excuse some library workers make as a reason for their failure in this is that they don’t have time to read all the diverse titles, and that is why they don’t promote them. While I think this excuse is BS, this concept of using reviews and book talks by others counters this excuse. Now you can freely talk about any title in the world. 

I hope my sharing this advice encourages all of you to get out there and talk about more books with patrons, especially those you haven’t read yourself.

Monday, April 9, 2018

National Library Week Tough Love-- Call to Action: Curating and Promoting Diverse Collections Is Non-Negotiable-- Period, End of Discussion

Let's get this out of the way....Happy National Library Week.

Okay done.

Unlike others, I am not going to spend this week posting about how wonderful we are for two reasons--

  1. My job is not to coddle you all. You read my posts and hire me to train your staff because I give it to you straight. I identify what we are doing wrong and I try to help you all fix it. My entire professional life is dedicated to serving patrons better-- all patrons at every public library. Make no mistakes, I may be smiling and positive when I present training programs, but the content of those programs is driven by the mistakes we all make every single day.
  2. We are falling very short on on most basic duty-- crafting collections that represent our communities AND the world at large. And, to make matters worse, many of you out there think that's just fine. [By the way, it is NOT.]
Let me back up a bit. This is a post about how crafting and promoting diverse collections is your duty as a public library worker. I have written about this before many times and you can use the diversity tag to see my previous rants. I wish I could stop writing about it. But ignoring this problem it not an option for me, and I am going to keep on you all for as long as it takes. 

Just when I think things were getting better, we had a week like last week. I am not going to recap the entire situation but the short version is that black authors finally stopped their silence when it came to their horrible treatment within the Romance Writers of America. Over the weekend, NPR ran this story summarizing it for those who need to catch up. 

The realization that the RITA awards have a huge diversity problem was surprising, but unfortunately not shocking. Now some of you may have been shocked, especially since last year, romance novels by  authors of color from Alisha RaiAlyssa Cole, and Beverly Jenkins were among the most praised and critically acclaimed titles. But, me, unfortunately I am not shocked because well, people are racist-- even all of you who think you are not.

We are going to talk about all of you in a moment, but before you get mad at me, let me share a story of me confronting my own latent racism in the last few months and how good it felt to admit it and rise above it to make the right choice.

Last year I was asked to be on the Horror Writers Association's Life Time Achievement Awards Committee. I am not going to go through the entire process with you, but I will skip to the chase. The final ballot came down to two VERY deserving nominees. A "White Man" and a "Black Woman." As a group we voted to only give one award. Each of us [5 people] had an equal vote. I will tell you that I struggled with this choice. The old white male was very deserving. He was a name most people would recognize. His work is amazing. He deserved the award. But the black woman deserved it just as much. She is one of the best known and most award winning poets in speculative fiction, period. She had given back to the association and the community of all writers, but especially those of color. She was not as well known in the wider world, but in the world of HWA it would have been hard to argue she was not among the most deserving authors regardless of her race.

But, knowing her [heck, I was the one who threw her name in the ring] I still felt "wrong" voting for her over the best selling white man, at first. And then I asked myself why I felt this way. There is no denying that I am pre-programmed to think the white male deserves it more because, through no fault of his own, the publishing industry was behind him for years and year. Whereas, this woman grew up poor, fought to go to a top tier University [where she was a math major!] and went on to be one of the top voices of her generation of writers regardless of race. And she never stopped being positive and giving back.

If I was going to tell you all to consider diverse voices and come to terms with the fact that publishing is racist and we have to work to rise above it, how could I ignore the signs here. I knew that my vote would send a statement that authors of color are just as worthy, that despite the lack of institutional support they have been doing great work, and that if we don't start coming to terms with the latent racism inside all of us, we will never progress.

Voting to make Linda Addison the first African American winner of the HWA's Life Time Achievement Award was my proudest professional achievement. It required that I check myself and be true to my beliefs and not ruled by the status quo. I got to celebrate with Linda. I got to see the entire banquet praise her and honor her. I sat next to former LAA winner, Ramsey Campbell, an old white man, and I saw him silently, shed tears of joy watching her accept this honor, watching her join him in the "Pantheon" of genre greats.

But this is NOT enough. I am only one person. I am not telling you this story to praise myself. I am telling you this story because every single one of us needs to face the fact that institutional racism is a thing that touches all of us. Checking yourself is something we all have to do...All. The. Time. Even my POC friends have admitted to me that they often defer to white authors. All of us must confront this.

Last week, as the RWA stuff was blowing up and the conversation moved into the library world, I thought, finally, we can have an honest conversation about diversifying our collections, our displays, and our lists. But no. One of the most disappointing moments I had as a library worker trainer and advocate for diverse collections was to see librarians use this excuse---

"I try to add books by authors of color to my collections, but no one reads them, they don't circulate, etc... So I stopped."

I was following these threads on Twitter and literally holding myself back. I started writing this post last week because I was so angry, I knew I needed time to process this so that my post would be constructive and not reactionary.

So here is where I will begin. First, your duty as a public librarian is to have the widest possible collection for your patrons. The library is a place where people can explore the world through books, videos, databases, etc... No matter what the racial make up of your community is, you need a diverse collection. You are not only trying to have materials that reflect who lives in your community. The library has NEVER been about that. It has always been a place for people to learn and grow. We are a window to the world. We have always been this. Therefore, why would your leisure reading collections be any different?

Second, I will address the side argument/complaint that there isn't enough money to buy all the popular white people books and all of the good POC books. Nope, not having it with this argument. There isn't enough money to buy all the books in general. There never will be. It is our job as professionals to curate our collections. It is not easy. I know. I did it for 15 years. But it is what many of us are hired to do. You may have to look a little harder for more diverse titles, but if you are doing collection development, you are required to curate a collection that is as diverse as possible. Think you can't. I think you are unwilling to confront your own racism as I was forced to in my story above. Think about every purchase you make. It is easy to look at each choice in a vacuum, but you cannot. Each single choice is part for he larger collection you are building. If you cannot curate a collection that represents all voices so that your community can access the world through your collections, then I think you need another job.

And if your job doesn't involve selection, you are still not off the hook. You can be a thorn in the selector's side. Beat the drum for adding more diverse titles. Be a pain. Badger them. Badger their bosses, badger the administration. You are in the right here. Tell them I made you if you worried about getting in trouble. Be strong. They will eventually be forced to give in. If they don't let me know and I will publicly shame them. I'm not kidding. I have nothing to lose and only better libraries everywhere to gain. This is a hill I an willing to die on because I know in the end, I will be standing tall.

Third, there are plenty of books by white people that don't circulate. In fact, since your collection probably has way more white authors than not, I would bet actual money that there are way MORE books [in pure numbers] by white people that don't circulate than those by POC that don't. You gonna weed those too? This argument holds no weight. It is lazy, racist and dumb. Yes, I called some of you dumb. Feel free to stop reading my blog if you are offended.

Fourth, you need to put books by POC on display so people can find them. Some of you claim to have done this and that they still don't circulate. To this I ask, did you only put them on display as "diverse authors?" For example, was your display, "Black Authors To Try," "Voices from Around the World" or the like. Because this sucks. You need to promote all authors together. So in your "Fantasy" display of ALL fantasy titles worth a read you have titles representing all people and cultures. You should never have an ALL white displays about anything because the world is not all white. It never has been. Our displays need to reflect the WORLD as a whole. Again, the library's role has always been to educate and enlighten the public.

There are black authors who write about things other than slavery, native authors who write about more than life on the reservation, hispanic authors who write about more than illegal immigration. I have merely given you one choice with each of those links in the previous sentence, Authors of color write books about everything, just like white authors. Their books can be added to any display. This should not be shocking. Stopped being shocked by it. Stop making excuses. Just stop and start doing this. The books will be checked out if you promote them as the good reads they are. I promise.

A side argument here has always been, "But my white readers are confused by the ethic and racial differences in these stories." Again, this is dumb. Take me, a middle aged white lady, who was raised Jewish. Guess what, my whole life I grew up reading books where Christian allusions were implied in everything. I figured it out. Imagine what all the POC readers have had to do reading about white culture in most of the books we have offered for their whole lives. Did anyone question that they "didn't get it?" It's not that hard to read about people different than yourself. Sorry. it just isn't. I have done it my whole life and I make a living out of it now. In fact, it's fun.

Fifth, readalike lists for white authors should not only contain white people. But also, readalike lists for POC authors should not only contain POC people. I already wrote about this topic regarding Stephen King and Luis Alberto Urrea-- click on their names to see each post. This is one of the largest examples of how we fail in promoting as diverse a list of titles as possible. And it is the most ubiquitous racist thing we all do--- all the time.

I think this is enough for now. You get my point. It is our job and responsibility to offer diverse choices to all readers. We must make it easier for them to find good stories...period! We must check ourselves and our own racism-- you can call it checking our privilege but I think that hiding behind "privilege" does not make us account for our part in the problem. Calling it racism does because that is what it is.

I also want to be clear that I am calling out every single one of us, myself included. If you cannot see yourself and your negative actions in this post and you do not think you can do better, than I am telling you, look harder. Right now.

I promise not to be negative all week, but it would betray my professional self and my commitment to serving all of you if I did not take this opportunity to firmly, but kindly remind us all that we have to do better.

Thank you for your time and have a wonderful National Library Week.

For past Call to Action posts, click here.