Finding the Perfect Book

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I’ve noticed that I’m stuck in bit of a collection development brain cloud right now. Don’t get me wrong. I know the importance of having a solid expertise in all the tech toys, but here’s the truth. In my heart, I love the books. I wish I had a magic wand to pass that love on to every person, creature, spirit that walks the planet. Unfortunately, the only wand at a librarian’s disposal is a solid book collection and expert book knowledge. A librarian must be able to discern the best books in a multitude of genres. She must read books almost as often as she eats. That’s the only way. No shortcuts.

I had a déjà vu moment last week when I was searching out some new children’s books at the public library. A young girl, about 8, had solicited the help of a library assistant to help her find a realistic fiction book she needed to read for school. I painfully listened as the librarian recommended The Boxcar Children, Nancy Drew and Beverly Cleary. I knew this girl would not jump at any of these choices. Those books are ancient by today’s standards. It was easy to judge, but truth be told, there was a time when I was no better at recommending books.

When I started out in my first librarian job, I was an instant pro in all areas except one. My reader’s advisory skills were deplorable. I simply did not have enough books under my belt to adequately deal with all the varying interests of my students. I felt like a failure all the time. There was nothing I could do but search out book recommendation lists on the web and hope they didn’t lead me astray. Many of them DID lead me astray. And be warned. Some of the lists that come from the “professional organizations” are the worst. Here are my suggestions for how to disguise your lack of book smarts during those first few years.

Know the Series

Zero in on the current series. Top sellers often evolve into series. When people like a story, the author settles in and writes more. Kids love series because they don’t have to think about what to read next. When you have several books on a shelf that clearly go together, they suddenly become more visible, interesting and desirable. But use caution. Series get dated. Don’t go back further than 5 years. Kids today have many options, so they have little patience for the stuff we loved.

Find Useful Websites

You need to find websites that are current and creating new content often. Librarian bloggers are an indispensable source for book reviews. Many of them are experts in collection development and are motivated to empower other librarians with that knowledge. Check out these awesome websites/blogs for reviews and lists that are honest and constantly updated.

Create Cheat Sheets

Cheat sheets are great if your brain is like mine and you have a hard time remembering the books you’ve read. Creating lists unique to your collection can help ease the pressure.

  1. Decide the big genre categories that interest your students; such as mystery, humor, historical, fantasy, dystopian, sports, etc.
  2. Choose one book that you think best represents each category.
  3. Go to websites such as http://www.librarything.com or http://www.goodreads.com and type in each book title.
  4. Cross reference the recommended books with your own collection.
  5. Type up a list of 10-20 books with a 2-sentence description.
  6. Eventually skim read each book to decide if it is worthy of staying on the list.
  7. Maintain the list by adding/deleting so your list remains current.
  8. When a student requests reader’s advisory, refer to your lists.

People are tough customers. You may only have one shot to turn them on to a good book. Read often. Read fast. Read strategically. If a student stumps you or you draw a blank, don’t give up. Work on it later and get back to that kid as soon as possible. Your skills will grow, and secretly he will think you are the coolest adult in the building.


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