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Readers Advisory January 15, 2007

Posted by L Wolfe in Library Stuff.

Which is correct, or does it depend on the usage: readers advisory, reader’s advisory, or readers’ advisory? Google it and you get a variety of results. Search ALA, same thing. Anybody know? Correct or not, I am going to use no apostrophe just because it’s less to type. Since I have very little experience in this area, I decided to look into a few online and/or Web 2.0 services and tools for readers advisory and see how they stack up against Novelist, a popular library subscription based database. I chose a title I recently read and used it to search for similar titles.

Amazon: Several tools come up when entering my title Queen of Dreams, by Chitra Divakaruni. “Customers who also bought” listed 5 titles, 4 of which were by the same author. The “Similar books” link displayed 9 titles even though it promised 50, 6 of which were by Divakaruni. Scrolling down past the reviews, I could check out the list of tags customers had used for this item. Much more useful, but definitely user-driven was “Listmania” and “So you’d like to…” which provided links such as:

  • For the Imagination: A list by Etruria
  • Enjoyable Indian Authors: A list by “kharisma74”
  • My favourite Indian Books/Authors: A list by Swapna
  • Read Indian Fiction of the 21st Century: A guide by Chris Rachael Oseland
  • Read novels about India: A guide by A.

Reader’s Robot is more of a browsing readers advisory site, but does offer searching the database by appeal factors and accepts user recommendations.

WhichBook: This is a fun site that uses a list of characteristics such as “happy — sad, “optimistic – bleak” to find books. You click on each bar between the adjectives and are able to slide towards the word you want. You can only select four of these at a time, but it brings up interesting results. There is even a link to find the title at a nearby library, although this was useless to me since the site is UK based. No way to search by a title at this site. Since I have not a clue as to what makes this book similar to other titles (other than the India thing), I don’t find this site very helpful. For those readers who know specifically what they want, I can see it being useful.

What Should I Read Next: a search with my title turned up a very general list of titles that did not appear to relate to my book at all. Here are a few examples:

  • Black Beauty – Anna Sewell
  • Stupid White Men: And Other Sorry Excuses for the State of the Nation! – Michael Moore
  • Firestarter – King Stephen
  • Mrs. Dalloway – Virginia Woolf, Merry M. Pawlowski

The site goes on to state,” To get more accurate suggestions, add more books you’ve loved to your list – to do this you’ll need to register. You’ll also be building our database and improving everyone’s suggestions.” I suspect my title is not in their database, so the search just kicked out a generic list.

StoryCode: This site does let the user know if a title is not included in the stories that are “coded” on the site by other users. To code my story, I had to create an account and answer questions about the book. The coding then is compared to other story codes to find similar books. This is so subjective and I felt my answers were pretty vague, not so helpful if they are being used to find other titles. Here are the top ten titles in the list I got after adding Queen of Dreams, all of which were in the 70%-80% match:

  • Assassin`s Apprentice (Robin Hobb)
  • Wicked (Gregory Maguire)
  • Broken Verses (Kamila Shamsie)
  • A Big Boy Did It and Ran Away (Christopher Brookmyre)
  • Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (Susanna Clarke)
  • Prestige, The (Christopher Priest)
  • Cometa: Last Queen of Sheba (Gisela)
  • Shadow of the Wind (Carlos Ruiz Zafon)
  • Ha-Ha, The (Dave King)
  • Crimson Petal and the White, The (Michel Faber)

Library Thing: Book Suggester and UnSuggester: Both appear on the “Book Suggestions” page, with fields to enter a title and either suggest or unsuggest. I tried my title and was offered, “People with this book also have…” in two versions, “Books with similar tags.” and “Books with similar library subjects and classifications.” The list included books by the same author and did appear to be similar. I tried the UnSuggester using another title, but Psychic Junkie: A Memoir, By Sarah Lassez was not in the database. In my defense, I schlepped through this book thinking it had to get better as a co-worker had put it on the shelf as his “staff pick.” Turns out he only read the first 8 pages. He can never again be trusted…

If you are lucky enough to have access to this database (offered through both SLPL and SLCL), it does offer great features. You can create an account, book lists, and find similar titles. Novelist’s similar books button offers a subject search in which a checklist of topics can be selected to search for similar plotlines. This seems more definitive than other methods and helpful for users who have trouble describing a story. You can also “Describe a Plot” to find a book to read or a title you have forgotten. Here are a few of the titles in the list of similar books:

  • Divakaruni, Chitra Banerjee, Vine of desire, The: a novel (2002)
  • Suri, Manil Death of Vishnu, The (2001)
  • Malladi, Amulya Mango season, The (2003)
  • Tan, Amy, Bonesetter’s daughter, The (2001)
  • Tademy, Lalita, Cane River (2001)
  • Mukherjee, Bharati, Desirable daughters: a novel (2002)
  • McGrath, Patrick, Ghost town: tales of Manhattan then and now
  • McInerney, Jay, Good life, The (2006)
  • Veitch, Rick, Can’t get no (2006)

Another plus for librarians, Novelist offers Readers Advisory help in the form of a monthly email newsletter, a workbook, a curriculum designed for library staff, and other resources. Novelist definitely has more options than some of these other sites, but I can see them jumping on the Web 2.0 bandwagon and adding some user driven tools. And so they should! This type of data could be very useful for the collections and acquisition departments of a public library. Sure, we rely on publishers, vendors, and book reviews, but it’s our users who want the books. They should play a part in shaping our collections.



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