I am definitely a proponent of using any and every tool at our disposal for the purpose of making literacy more accessible. Along these lines, it appears that the traditional role of reader’s advisory is quickly becoming a thing of the past – in a good way. I am always perplexed by the traditionalists among us who exclaim loudly about the deprofessionalization of libraries due to some innovation which makes all our lives easier – because there is job security in wasted time, I suppose. There are many aspects of this phenomenon related to public library roles in particular (self check-out, OPACs, simple signage to waylay those ubuquitous “where’s the bathroom” reference queries), and I’ve known many a librarian to get pretty huffy to have such precious duties stripped from the daily routine. The ideal of Library 2.0 is to provide the tools to provide service better, faster, more cheaply, and more democratically. This is very close to the ALA mission “to promote the highest quality library and information services and public access to information.” So come on. Let’s consider shifting our roles to value-added service (the specifics of which are the material for future posts) rather than insisting on being superfluous dinosaurs sitting behind a reference desk twiddling our thumbs.  

These are just a few tools related to reader’s advisory that I’ve been checking out lately:

 1. ReadMe Wiki

This is part of the MetaFilter wiki – one of Jessamyn West’s many impressive projects.  Through a Wikipedia-like interface, it includes categories of topics on what to read (broken down somewhat similar to a bibliographic classification scheme, though more limited).  The sub-categories include such topics as “For a bookclub” and (particularly useful) “For a bookclub on the verge of dissolution.”  Clicking on this link leads to a MetaFilter blog page called “Dead Book Club Walking” which provides suggestions on how to keep a book club going. 

While I find the categories in the ReadMe Wiki to be pretty limited at this point, it shows the potential of these types of wikis for community reader’s advisory and recommendations.  The popularity of consumer models such as Amazon prove that readers want this power.

2. LibraryThing

It’s taken me way too long to really play around with LibraryThing.  And sure enough, I’m having fun.  I would recommend it for anybody with a hankerin’ for catalogin’.  It’s free to catalog up to 200 books (or $10 for an unlimited 1 year subscription/$25 for a lifetime subscription).  It uses the Z39.50 protocol to get bibliographic information from LC, Amazon, and “more than 80 world libraries.”  Users can take this information to catalog personal collections in Dewey, LC, or use personal tags.  It’s also the “MySpace for books” in the sense that users can share recommendations, find read-alikes, get ratings, find readers with similar interests, blog about books, etc.  In other words, it’s like a cataloging party.

Libraries can also use LibraryThing in conjunction with their OPACs.  Many public libraries (such as the Atlantic Public Library in Iowa and the Danbury Connecticut Public Library) are taking advantage of the library widget within their catalogs to add things such as new book recommendations, links to similar books, tags, and links to other editions and translations.  This is an easy, free step towards creating Library 2.0 OPACs.  With the links to read-alikes and the other unique LibraryThing tools, it’s also an instant, free reader’s advisory service.

3. Local library blogs

I was a bit surprised recently to see that the Santa Fe Public Libraries’ blog, Icarus, was voted one of the best public library blogs by the Free Range Librarian.  I guess they’re doing something right.  It is so easy anymore to integrate blogs into websites that I would be surprised by any library unable (or unwilling) to make the effort to do so.  Of course, there are still libraries out there lacking websites or OPACs.  It seems to me that a library blog is a win-win arrangement from all perspectives.  It is another means by which patrons can approach reader’s advisory on their own terms, find other readers with common interests, and in the process maybe even find a book club or meet new people.  

4. WorldCat Lists

These lists have been written up in a variety of blogs lately, including Thom Hickey’s Outgoing blog on “library metadata techniques and trends.”  It’s another potential tool for libraries and individual readers looking for ways to share books and book recommendations.  According to the OCLC site, the purpose is 3-fold:

1. “Keep track of items you plan to borrow next”

2. “Recommend favorite books and movies for a particular subject or genre”

3. “Organize resources for a research project”

These tools share the characteristics of being user-friendly, fun to use, universally applicable, and practical.  There are many more like them out there, and the potential for future developments is only beginning. While I don’t consider myself what the Annoyed Librarian likes to call a “twopointopian”, if something makes service better and lives easier and more productive, I consider it my professional duty to promote it.

(jumping off soapbox)

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