Friday, November 20, 2009

RA in a day: Genre Talks: Narrative Nonfiction Readers' Advisory

The second, and last session I attended at RA in a day was one in which I participated, “Genre Talks: Narrative Non-Fiction with members of the RA Committee.” The description for the session was that we would “blitz the room covering a variety of non-fiction genres, focusing on the appeal of each for the reader and book-talking a few examples;” I like to think of it as speed-dating your non-fiction collection. Members of the committee really did move from table to table, giving an intro to a specific nonfic genre and 5 core Canadian titles in that genre. Here are some notes…

Traditionally, we have viewed our role as readers' advisers to include mostly fiction recommendations. If we did recommend non-fiction, it was strictly by subject headings. Our booklists were fiction only, or, if they were non-fiction, they were called bibliographies and offered nothing in the way of annotations or evaluative reviews; God forbid we should mix the two and have a booklist with both fiction and non-fiction recommendations on it! Popular professional opinion tended towards thinking that there was no fertile ground for RA in non-fiction – patrons could simply search using the catalogue’s headings, and find what they wanted, and the concept of appeal factors being applied to non-fiction was unthinkable.

Then there was a shift! Now we’re talking about abolishing Dewey in some public library non-fiction collection, books have been published, and NoveList is including non-fiction in NoveList Plus! More recent developments that include non-fiction within RA include the development of reading maps, and OPLA’s Readers’ Advisory Core Competencies including non-fiction in its definitions of collection knowledge (defined as an “understanding of, and familiarity with, the depth and breadth of materials and resources in the branch and/or system, including material in all formats and media, both fiction and non-fiction”).

We began to realize that subject headings weren’t always adequate: they did nothing to characterize non-fiction using appeal factors or account for the power of narrative, they were often so specific as to be utterly useless in making connections to other texts, they sometimes didn’t link titles in a non-fiction series, and they sometimes didn’t list nonfiction award-winning books.

We also began to realize that authors aren’t as prolific in nonfiction, and they often write about completely different topics, making for bad read-alikes! Non-fiction reading, much more than fiction, lends itself to dipping in and out of texts; as librarians, it can sometimes be difficult for us to embrace the idea that not everything needs to be read cover to cover. We also began to differentiate between mediums or types (graphica, essay, humour, letters, memoir) and genres.

In other words, in our profession, there are various barriers to nonfiction RA service: our own reading limitations, our collections and the way they are arranged, and even our patrons (they know to come to us for subject search and fiction recommendations, but not necessarily recreational non-fiction reading suggestions).

With respect to appeal factors for narrative non-fiction, there are overlaps with fiction appeal factors, but many appeal factors for nonfiction are unique. Kenneth Shearer (in Burgin) makes the point that nonfiction and fiction exist on a continuum, a “textual terrain” – are all nonfiction books completely true + factual? (Think: Frey!) Many advance a point of view, or offer a comforting perspective. Neal Wyatt adds to the traditional appeal factors these, for narrative nonfiction: detail, learning/experiencing, language, setting and tone. Why do people read nonfiction? Vickie Novak (in Burgin) lists some reasons: to indulge our curiosity, for the suspense of real-life stories, to bring meaning to our own experiences, because of a personal/emotional connection with a particular subject, to be inspired, to make history come to life, to learn something, to be transported, to live vicariously!

Now, here’s the giant stumbling point for librarians: we often recommend nonfiction based on subject, not appeal!

Here are some suggestions to market nonfiction in your library:
  • Have nonfiction stickers like fiction stickers for specific genres
  • Use shelf talkers
  • Create displays
  • Promote nonfiction reading lists on your library's website, and in reading guides and reading maps
  • Practice whole collection RA!
And now, here are the various titles we promoted during our speed-dating sessions:

Genre #1: Travel, five core Canadian titles:
  1. Never shoot a Stampede Queen: a rookie reporter in the Cariboo by Mark Leiren-Young
  2. What the Psychic Told the Pilgrim: A Midlife Misadventure on Spain’s Camino de Santiago de Compostela by Jane Christmas
  3. Fantasy in Florence: Leaving Home and Loving it by Rod McQueen
  4. Beauty Tips from Moose Jaw: Travels in Search of Canada by Will Ferguson
  5. Solo: Writers on Pilgrimage, edited by Katherine Govier
  6. Upcoming title: Burmese Lessons by Karen Connelly; Toronto: Random House, 2009.
Genre #2: Sports, five core Canadian titles:
  1. Searching for Bobby Orr by Stephen Brunt
  2. Tropic of Hockey by Dave Bidini
  3. 100 Greatest Canadian Sports Moments by James Bisson
  4. Inside the Olympics by Dick Pound
  5. Inside Out: Straight Talk from a Gay Jock, by Mark Tewksbury
Genre #3: History, five core Canadian titles:
  1. More Than an Island: A history of the Toronto Island by Sally Gibson
  2. Tip of the Spear: An Intimate Account of 1 Canadian Parachute Battalion, 1942-1945, A Pictorial History By Lieutenant-Colonel Bernd Horn and Michel Wyczynski
  3. Holding Juno: Canada’s Heroic Defence of the D-Day Beaches: June 7-12, 1944. By Mark Zuehlke.
  4. The Battle of the St. Lawrence: The Second World War in Canada, by Nathan M. Greenfield.
  5. Battle of the Atlantic. By Marc Milner.
Genre #4: Adventure, five core Canadian titles:
  1. Beyond the sky and the Earth: a journey into Bhutan by Jamie Zeppa
  2. Fatal Passage: the untold story of John Rae, the Arctic Adventurer who discovered the fate of Franklin by Ken McGoogan
  3. The Riverbones: stumbling after Eden in the jungles of Suriname by Andrew Westoll.
  4. Rowboat in a hurricane: my amazing journey across a changing Atlantic by Julie Angus.
  5. Starting out in the afternoon: a mid-life journey into wild land by Jill Frayne.
Genre #5: Current affairs, five core Canadian titles (this one's my category, so send your complaints to.....! Also, I am aware of the fact that I went totally left-wing with that. I suggested to my audience that you do a left/right display ... depends on how you feel about library fistfights, I guess... We also had a really interesting conversation about RA for this genre that goes against, um, your own political leanings!):
  1. Blue covenant: the global water crisis and the coming battle for the right to water by Maude Barlow
  2. The Trouble with Islam Today: A Wake-up Call for Honesty and Change by Irshad Manji
  3. Future: tense: the coming world order by Gwynne Dyer
  4. No logo: no space, no choice, no jobs: taking aim at the brand bullies by Naomi Klein
  5. Race against time by Stephen Lewis
Genre #6: The arts, five core Canadian titles:
  1. Crean, Susan. The Laughing One: a journey to Emily Carr.
  2. Friedrich, Otto. Glenn Gould: a life and variations.
  3. McMichael, Robert. One Man’s Obsession.
  4. Nadel, Ira B. Various Positions: a life of Leonard Cohen.
  5. Sullivan, Rosemary. The Red Shoes: Margaret Atwood starting out.
  6. Two more “Can’t Miss” titles: David Gilmore's The Film Club: a true story of a father and son, and Carol Shields' Jane Austen.
Genre #7: Cooking and food, five core Canadian titles:
  1. The 100-mile diet: a year of local eating by Alisa Smith & J.B. MacKinnon
  2. Apples to Oysters: a food lover’s tour of Canadian farms by Margaret Webb
  3. Anita Stewart’s Canada by Anita Stewart
  4. The complete Canadian living cookbook
  5. Fat: an appreciation of a misunderstood ingredient, with recipes by Jennifer McLagan
Genre #8: Health, five core Canadian titles:
  1. Lives in the Balance: nurses’ stories from the ICU edited by Tilda Shalof
  2. The Man Who Forgot How to Read by Howard Engel
  3. The Doctor Will Not See You Now: the autobiography of a blind physician by Jane Poulson
  4. Cockeyed, by Ryan Knighton
  5. Scurvy: how a surgeon, a mariner, and a gentleman solved the greatest medical miracle of the age of sail by Stephen R. Bown
Genre #9: Memoirs, five core Canadian titles:
  1. The View from Castle Rock by Alice Munro
  2. A Journey of Days: relearning life’s lessons on the Camino de Santiago by Guy Thatcher
  3. Small Beneath the Sky: a prairie memoir by Lorna Crozier
  4. Not Yet by Wayson Choy
  5. Pathologies: a life in essays by Susan Olding
Genre #10: Science, five core Canadian titles:
  1. First Principles: the crazy business of doing serious science by Howard Burton
  2. Slow Death by Rubber Duck: how the toxic chemistry of everyday life affects our health by Rick Smith, Bruce Lourie and Sarah Dopp
  3. In Bad Taste: a quest for the world’s most exotic foods by Massimo Marcone
  4. World In Six Songs by Daniel Levitin
  5. Bonk: the curious coupling of science and sex by Mary Roach
Genre #11: True crime, five core Canadian titles:
  1. Schroeder, Andreas. Fakes, Frauds and Flimflammery; even more of the world’s most outrageous scams.
  2. Vallee, Brian, Torso murder: the untold story of Evelyn Dick.
  3. Vallee, Brian. Edwin Alonzo Boyd: the story of the notorious Boyd gang.
  4. Miller, Orlo. The Donnellys Must Die.
  5. Siggins, Maggie. A Canadian tragedy: JoAnn & Colin Thatcher: a story of love and hate.
(Man. When I look at this, it amazes me how much work we did. I have excluded here our intros to each subgenre and our annotations - if you really want them, e-mail me. Meanwhile, YAY team!)

Selected resources:
  • Baker, Sharon L. and Karen L. Wallace. The Responsive Public Library: How to Develop and Market a Winning Collection.
  • Burgin, Robert (ed.) Nonfiction readers’ advisory.
  • Sarah Statz Cords. The Real Story: A Guide to Nonfiction Reading Interests
  • Wyatt, Neal. “Working with nonfiction enriches readers' advisory and offers your readers more.” LJ Series "Redefining RA": Exploring Nonfiction. Library Journal, 2/15/2007.

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