Monday, November 26, 2012

RA in a day 2012: Keynote speaker: Patrick Brown, Community Manager at

Keynote speaker: Patrick Brown, Community Manager at

Patrick was an engaging speaker who outlined using Goodreads for readers advisory, either as an individual (inputting your books and using their “Recommends” feature for your own tastes) or as a library (creating an account for your library: Patrick cited Salt Lake County Library as an example of creative use of group space on Goodreads. There are many other libraries on Goodreads as groups, not to mention, ahem, librarians!).

Speaking about the importance of readers, and librarians who are readers, in the online environment, Patrick reminded us that “people want to connect with people, not brands.” In other words, your library may have far fewer friends than you expect on Facebook, in part because the online environment, and the experience of reading and sharing reading experiences, is about personal connection.

Patrick’s talk really brought us full-circle to Sandra Martin’s talk this morning, highlighting the importance of readers in the online environment, and the ways in which readers are reaching out online to one another to create community. I didn't take a lot of notes for this session - by the end of the day, I wanted to sit back and enjoy listening!

Some other interesting things happened at RA in a day. Most importantly, congratulations to my good friend Shonna Froebel, who is the 2012 recipient of the OPLA's Award for Leadership in Adult Readers' Advisory. Here she is with OPLA RA committee chair Sharron Smith.

We also had several great poster sessions around the room, including Oshawa Public Library and CNIB - Book Club Guides, Mississauga Public Library - Readers to Writers at MPL, the OLA Forest of Reading®, and a poster made by me about the OPLA RA Committee Core Competencies (read them! use them!). There were also wonderful vendor displays from LibraryBound, Random House Canada, Penguin Canada, HarperCollins Canada, and the OLA Store

Friday, November 23, 2012

RA in a day 2012: The role of fiction and reading in community-building


The Role of Fiction and Reading in Community-Building with Dr. Raymond A. Mar, Associate professor of psychology at York University.

This was a follow-up to Dr. Mar’s 2010 presentation at RA in a day (see notes). In 2010 he talked about narrative fiction as a “simulation” exercise: when reading a novel, for example, you imagine what it would be like to be in the book. With neural imaging, the areas of the brain that deal with social processing light up when subjects are reading. We develop socially when we read, absorbing complex social information in a format that is easier to understand, and there is a correlational relationship between reading and decoding social information.

In his talk this year, he expanded on his research and examined the role of reading fiction in community development (tying into our theme for the day). He outlined recent research his team has done which as found that the genres people read matter; in fact, their study showed that the two genres that best predicted social abilities were (somewhat surprisingly to many) romance and suspense/thriller. Dr. Mar proposed that the former can be perhaps explained by the fact that all romance is about social abilities, social context and relationships.

He also explored the idea of “embodied cognition,” and its relation to reading: even abstract thought (i.e. when reading about an experience) is rooted in perception/action in the brain. Just thinking about a character’s activities, for instance, will activate the areas related to these actions in the motor cortex. In other words, Dr. Mar said, “experiences were akin to reality.”

Reading also predicts more egalitarianism and reduced gender stereotyping; a reader is “forced” to take the character’s point of view in order to understand and inhabit the story, and he or she thus develops empathy. As always, Dr. Mar was a really fascinating speaker.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

RA in a day 2012: Luncheon Speaker Deborah Harkness

Luncheon Speaker: Deborah Harkness

Deborah Harkness, author of the bestselling novels, A Discovery of Witches and Shadow of Night, was a great speaker: passionate, funny, interesting – you can tell she teaches! She enthralled us with background information about her novels, including the fact that Ashmole 782 is a real manuscript, and it is really missing. She told us “it’s the only alchemical manuscript I ever called up and wasn’t able to get.” Matthew Roydon is also a real historical figure, and she herself is most similar to Emily, not Diana (as many people often assume). She talked about how her students, who she sees at a time of great change in their lives, influenced her portrayal of Diana: “I teach a lot of talented young people who are desperately afraid of their own power.”

Deborah also told us about how the idea for the novels was born: she was on vacation with her parents, recovering from academic responsibilities that left her out of touch with pop culture. When she spotted a copy of Breaking Dawn in the airport bookshop, her parents had to explain the series to her. Her first thought was “what do vampires do for a living?” She mused that they would want a career with some longevity, but not in proximity to, say, blood. So, a geneticist might be an idea… Similarly, a witch would make a good historian, for example. She also outlined the structure of the series: while the first book was set in the present day, the second was more historical fiction, and the third will have more science-fiction aspects to it (she hinted about genetics).

Finally, Deborah talked about using her newfound fame and fortune for good: she observed that the ability to “have an opinion” was cool. “No one cares about what a history professor thinks about libraries,” she explained, referring to media coverage of library closures in the US and UK,” but now that I’m a novelist, well, yes, thank you for asking, I have a lot of opinions about that!” She made a room full of librarians happy when she told us of her early literary influences (including The Witch of Blackbird Pond, one of my childhood favourites), and the quality time she spent in libraries as a child. “I’m here talking to you,” she told us, “because you were here for me when I was little.”

Monday, November 19, 2012

RA in a day 2012: Getting Your Community Reading: Sharing Your Successes

This post is about the second session of the day, Getting Your Community Reading: Sharing Your Successes. 

As a member of the RA Committee, the host organisation of RA in a day, I chaired one of the table discussions during this session. From the committee’s perspective, we developed this session as a response to feedback from previous years: attendees wanted more opportunities to talk to one another. My fellow committee member designed this session so that delegates changed places and sat at a table named for an Evergreen-shortlisted title, everyone brainstormed and shared great programs at their libraries, and then each table presented their favourite adult reading program with the room.

At my table, we heard about:
  • Mississauga Library System’s outreach efforts and Bingo game with literary genres (read them all to fill your Bingo card and win prizes!). 
  • TPL’s Film Club, arts and history lectures, book clubs (including in Cantonese!), bulletin board with patron suggestions (we’re trying this at Carlingwood this month! Come in to the Adult Info desk and leave us a suggestion for a display we are building) and the Thought Exchange series
  • Kitchener’s One Book, One Community program, and their participation in Word on the Street.
  • Milton Public Library’s memoir-writing workshop for seniors, Lifescapes (see photos from their book launch). 
  • Haliburton County Public Library’s “Chair yoga” for seniors, and their Shakespeare Club
  • Vaughn Public Library’s Teen Summer Reading Challenge
  • Someone (I forget who) had a GREAT idea about soliciting book recommendations from high-profile community members (eg. the manager of local business, councillor, school principal, etc). 
I asked the table about their “favourite” failures, and one library (I forget which) shared a story of a Book Club Boot Camp outreach program ("we’ll come to you, and help you design your book club") that didn’t have many takers in the community. We then talked about how marketing / program promotion happens at each library:
  • Some wished they had a Marketing department, but several others at the table concluded having one was often a mixed blessing. 
  • At Kitchener, the Marketing department takes care of travel costs and arrangements, etc. for speakers, as well as promotion. 
  • We talked about paying for advertising in community newspapers (some do, some can’t). 
  • Word of mouth is always the best way to promote a program: invite people who have their own network! Also, people trust their friends but may not trust/know us. 
  • One library faxes programs to the management of apartment buildings and gardening centres in the area.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

RA in a day 2012: Online Book Clubs

The 7th annual "RA in a day" workshop for adult readers' advisory wrapped up recently. This year, we had a theme, which was "Reading Builds Community," and the day was once again hosted in the lovely Bram & Bluma Appel Salon of Toronto Reference Library.

As vice-chair of the hosting group, OPLA's Readers' Advisory Committee, I was fortunate to not only attend, but get to participate in planning and delivering the day's events. Over the coming week or so, I will share some notes from the sessions.

Today, we'll start with our first session, Online book clubs, with Sandra Martin from The Globe and Mail, and Margaret Elwood, the Book Buzz Librarian at Toronto Public Library.

Sandra Martin (standing) and Margaret Elwood.

Margaret spoke first about Book Buzz, TPL's virtual book club. She outlined some of the preliminary research done in an initial survey, showing that book club members are generally 98% female and 88% retired (therefore likely over the age of 65). Book Buzz was an attempt to attract active, engaged adults under fifty (via anonymous participation, no formal meetings), and avoid the book club stereotype. Current Book Buzz members (of which there are 1281) are 84% female and 64% are under the age of 50! There is still high interest in reading fiction, but also non-fiction, mystery, and biography. There is a moderate interest in sci-fi/fantasy, graphic books. The original Book Buzz researchers also looked into other active, successful online book groups, and found that successful ones had an active facilitator/moderator, so they made this a core focus of the site. Book Buzz currently uses Web Crossing software as a platform, but Web Crossing will soon be discontinued, and they will be moving to a social network type of site within the year.

Margaret spoke quite movingly about how the online book club forum broke down barriers: they had teens participating, and one deaf person. Book Buzz, she said, “places no constraints on accessibility.” She also discussed participation inequality at length – the idea that 1% of your participants will post regularly, but many others will find significant value in reading other people’s posts.

Sandra spoke about the Globe’s recent foray into online book clubs, calling 2012 “the year of living experientially” after she was asked to be the online book club facilitator. Sandra, a long-time book lover and member of the Quadrangle Society’s book club at Massey College, was approached by the Globe about an online book club. This was framed within attempts to “entice people to read the Globe online,” a “corporate imperative.” The online book club now uses to host the site. Interestingly, Sandra said that Globe staff thought people would want to read non-fiction rather than fiction (she credits this to journalistic bias!), but of course many book clubs are the opposite. So far, the book club has featured Half-blood blues by Esi Edugyan, Prisoner of Tehran by Marina Nemat (in part because of the Canada Reads controversy), summer picks, and The casual vacancy by J. K. Rowling. Books are chosen by popular vote via a poll on the website. Sandra’s favourite aspect of an online book club is “feeling like I am in a really good conversation and knowing I don’t have to drive anyone home.”

Friday, November 16, 2012

Seen reading on OC Transpo

Soon enough...

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

October from the rear view mirror

October was all about Courtland apples, visits to old haunting grounds, sugar pie, seventh wedding anniversaries, and family bonding. Delish! I finished my bonding with Rushdie over Joseph Anton (amazing journey into his craft, and into his insane life during the fatwa - my only concern is his portrayal of every woman in his life....). I was blown away by Miranda Hill's Sleeping Funny, gripped by the plot twists in Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, slightly bored by The Sweet Girl by Annabel Lyon, sad that Toby's Room by Pat Barker was definitely no Regeneration trilogy, and oddly sympathetic (especially for someone who has been cheated on) with the rat narrator of This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz. I also bid farewell to a good friend, who OPL is losing to RPL, and planned world domination via Book Bank.

In other news, here's some work stuff I've been excited about:

  • I'm pretty thrilled that (and tired from) tying with the Children's department (almost!) this month. We had 310 adults at a wide variety of adult programs for this month; children's programs attracted 330 children!
  • We've been trying a Chinese storytime this fall, led by one of my colleagues, Feng (we went to library school together - shout-out McGill MLIS class of 2004!). So far, it's getting on its feet with a few participants: a few other branches have packed Chinese storytimes, so I am confident ours will grow.
  • We had a great, loud, crowded TAG meeting with "a dynamic and powerful discussion on diversity and LGBTQ" given by one of our community partners. Patron going by the Adult Info desk: “I’ve never seen so many Teens at Carlingwood Branch– how did we do it?"
  • Those adult programs: We held three “Coffee with the Community” events this month. The most successful, by far, was Coffee with Councillor Mark Taylor, for which we had 11 attendees. Our Reflections on Aging reading circle wrapped up, but will be offered in January again. Feedback: “the facilitators were excellent as well as the reading material they chose.” Also, “I really enjoyed the time and information regarding books I can borrow in the future.  I hope CA will have more reading circles.” This is one of the programs I am most proud of, thanks in large part to the wonderful coordinators, Wendy and Trudy. We also had Kim Thuy as part of OPL's Author Visits, who a patron described as an "exciting articulate speaker. I loved how she just spoke from the heart - no notes.”
  • Our new part-time librarian started! We are all really excited to have her as a part of the team.
  • We received over 60 grey bins one day near the end of this month! The team pitched in and worked together to process this high volume; some extra hours helped, too. I wonder how many people realise how much material is shipped inter-branch every day?... As I always say in outreach, over a month, we ship the same weight as a female beluga whale and her baby (I have visuals, of course!)
  • We visited local schools and community groups, as always. I personally visited two groups.
  • We blogged! The branch library pages on the website are getting an update soon, so branch blogging will soon be an option.

Lastly, Carlingwood Branch celebrated its 46th birthday! It opened in mid-August 1966, with an official opening ceremony on October 13th. At 13, 500 square feet, the new branch had a staff of six (now 30) and a collection of 5000 books (now approximately 120, 000 items). The branch was designed by architects Craig and Kohler, at a cost of $411, 106. Check it out: