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Magazines > Computers in Libraries > July/August 2017

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Vol. 37 No. 6 — July/August 2017
FEATURE

Reader's Advisory: Four Sites That Will Help You Fake It
by Bethanie O’Dell

Before the internet, the most experienced librarians answered these questions based on hours  of reading  The New York Times’  best-seller list.

READERS'S ADVISORY:

Serving in a reader's advisory (RA) capacity in a library can result in both the most enjoyable and the most frustrating conversations we have with patrons. Sample questions may include, "Do you have that vampire book?" "Can you help me find the book with the blue cover?" and "I want to read the entire Star Wars series in order—can you help me figure out what that is?" You most likely have had those types of questions, but if you have not, you will. Reader's advisory is one of the joys of the library services desk. You stand there for hours, waiting for patrons to walk up and ask for help. But you have approximately 5 minutes to impress them before they leave. Talk about pressure!

Before the internet, the most experienced librarians answered these questions based on hours of reading The New York Times' best-seller list. Technology enables Google to become, in a sense, an alternative librarian. Google can answer almost any question with a few clicks of the mouse, if you know how to ask the right question. Those few clicks will lead you to sites such as TasteDive, Goodreads, Fantastic Fiction, and LibraryThing, which will change your RA life. Academic library, public library, or school library—it does not matter what kind you work in. While some of us may see the avid reader more than others, we still have the occasional patron who approaches the service desk with the expectation that he or she will discover his or her next favorite book.

When in doubt about what to recommend, here are some tools that will help you fake it, not that you need to. Just recommending these resources may be the best advice you can give.

TasteDive (formerly TasteKid)
tastedive.com

TasteDive uses data from its other users to make recommendations for your reader.
TasteDive uses data from its other users to make recommendations for your reader.

In 2009, Andrei Oghina created TasteDive (formerly Taste­Kid) with the help of his brother Felix and friend Romi. TasteDive is a popular website that allows the user to discover recommendations for books, music, movies, TV shows, and games. It functions as a social media site and uses the trends of the user to develop recommendations. Unlike most websites, TasteDive does not require an account to receive recommendations, making it more user friendly for school libraries that may have some restrictions on website privileges.

Users can search everything in the site’s library, or they can limit their search to filter by music, movies, shows, books, authors, or games. This filter is key to advancing the results to search specifically for book recommendations while conducting RA. The user enters his or her search term in the search box, and the database provides recommendations based on social media interaction, genre, tags, and search terms. Instead of the database making its own connections with tags, it takes the trends from the account users to facilitate recommendations. For example, if five users enjoy Twilight, but they also like The Vampire Diaries, the system will see the trend and make recommendations to other Twilight fans as a possible title of interest.

The search engine makes recommendations based on the popular search. For example, doing a general search (under “EVERYTHING”) for Alice in Wonderland provides movie recommendations, but with a prompt box asking, “Did you mean book: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland?” (see Figure 1). Once the user selects the prompt box, it corrects its recommendations to suggest book titles.

The search engine lists 10 recommendations at a time for the user to browse. It also has interactive features for the user where they select a specific title. A user with an account can “like,” “dislike,” “save,” or “meh” the results from the title’s source box. This is a crucial feature for the account user because this interaction is what influences the statistics generated for the search. It either promotes the title for future recommendations or removes it as a suggested title from the search. This interactive source box provides trailers (linked from YouTube) for movie recommendations or plot summaries from Wikipedia.

Using this tool as a librarian is convenient because it does not need a user account to access materials. TasteDive provides you with the information you need to convince the reader you have read it, seen it, or played it (thanks to the detailed Wikipedia summaries). However, librarians should still be aware of trending titles since user interaction generates recommendations. Therefore, if a title is new to the market, recommendations may not be available yet. This tool is also a little more challenging to navigate when searching for recommendations based on a book series. For example, searching “Harry Potter” usually provides recommendations for each book in the series. This results in seven of the 10 recommendations, including each Harry Potter title, which can be limiting when your patron reads the entire series and wants something new.

Regardless, this tool is useful for doing a quick search, and creating a login provides more customized results, especially for patrons with a similar taste in book genres.

Goodreads
goodreads.com

Goodreads launched in 2007 and is the oldest, but most successful, recommendation tool on the list. Co-founded by Otis Chandler and Elizabeth Khuri Chandler, this site functions as a social media tool. With more than 55 million users, it provides a significant number of reviews, all submitted by other Goodreads users.

When searching for a particular book title, the user can see books that are similar to the title that other readers enjoyed (see Figure 2). For librarians who have an account, their patrons can friend them. This allows librarians to recommend titles to specific individuals based on their friend list.

Goodreads' best features for librarians are its series list and community-made lists. Most readers enjoy reading books in order, even if they don't have a traditional order. A quick Goodreads search for the series will resolve this issue quickly by providing the intended reading structure—chronological order or by publication date. For example, The Arcane Society series (see Figure 3) is a popular one that is easily confused since Jane Ann Krentz publishes under multiple pen names (Amanda Quick, Jane Castle, Amanda Glass, Stephanie James, to name a few). Regardless of the author's name, you can quickly navigate to the correct order for recommending the book series.

The lists option is also a great way to find book suggestions, as each list is customized by the Goodreads community. To start, there are the more common lists to access, such as "Books That Should Be Turned Into Movies," "YA Novels of 2016," and "Best Books of the Decade: 2010s." But there are also more customized lists, such as, "Hottest Guy on a Cover," "Best Adult Vampire Books," and "Memoirs by Women." There are thousands of lists to help you, and they are all neatly organized by common tags (romance, YA fiction, historical fiction, etc.). This list option comes in handy for those challenging phone conversations with a patron who wants another book recommendation, with the expectation that the librarian has read them all.

Fantastic Fiction
fantasticfiction.com

Fantastic Fiction is a collection of fiction books and fiction author pages. It was created by a team in the U.K. in 1999 before Dave Wands, the founder, left his IT job to work for the company full time (Fantastic Fiction, 2016). This website also shows a list of books published during the current month. This is a great feature for patrons who check in regularly, anticipating their favorite author's next book. The list of books usually includes those by more widely known authors, such as Lee Child, Jeffrey Archer, James Patterson, etc. The front page offers a great list for librarians who are planning the next book display, considering that many of the books become best-sellers.

Another outstanding feature is the ability to search by a specific author. For example, George R.R. Martin's author page has a brief bio along with a list of all the works he's published (including short stories, short anthologies, and collections). It also contains a list of upcoming books, such as The Mystery Knight, which is slated for publication in July 2017.

Similar to Goodreads, Fantastic Fiction provides the order of a book series. This comes in handy when searching for book series, such as Junie B. Jones, in which reading the books in order is not required, but the reader insists on doing so. As with Goodreads, the user can click on a title for a summary, usually provided by Amazon. In this case, it may read more like a sales pitch than an informative overview.

The biggest downside to Fantastic Fiction is that the site on­ly searches fiction books, which makes Goodreads' series list more appealing. But the collection of books and authors on this site is extensive, and the author pages provide an overview of all published works, whereas Good­reads requires a few additional clicks. Sometimes, clicking a mouse can be critical when providing RA since it requires additional time spent searching and less time recommending. Overall, Fantastic Fiction is a great RA tool for quickly accessing an author's collection as well as what the author will be publishing soon.

LibraryThing
librarything.com

Of all the sites mentioned, LibraryThing is the most restrictive when it comes to access. Its recommendations aren't as instant as TasteDive's and Goodreads'; it requires users to have an account. As a social media site, it also provides recommendations based on other users. In a nutshell, LibraryThing is a social cataloging website that will provide book recommendations for users who create bookshelves for their account.

This site is a great recommendation tool for librarians with patrons who love keeping track of their books. By creating bookshelves of books they own or have read, the site generates feedback from other users based on the materials categorized.

LibraryThing is a community. There are hundreds of book groups for readers to join. While Goodreads and TasteDive focus on small communities of users (such as adding friends to your friend list), LibraryThing focuses more on book groups. These groups help expand the book recommendations as well as provide virtual book clubs. However, the site also gives general recommendations based on themes identified on the user's account. Therefore, if you have a fan of vampire novels, and your book collection and shelves reflect that, it is likely you will receive additional recommendations on vampires, the occult, and supernatural fiction. It also allows the user to search for book recommendations based on standard tags (science fiction, historical fiction, etc.).

The most appealing feature of LibraryThing is its latest addition, TinyCat. TinyCat is considered the "OPAC for small libraries" (LibraryThing, 2016). It can be perfect for individuals who want to sort their book collection into categories or for small libraries with funding restrictions. As a volunteer librarian for a small church library, I think this is an excellent site for organizing the books and promoting them to its patrons. With a little more than 500 books in the library (mostly cataloged in the 2000s), this is a great way to organize them and promote them online so patrons can access materials outside of church office hours, as well as potentially check out materials. Access this catalog here: librarycat.org/lib/graceunited.

Conclusion

With hundreds of books published monthly and self-publishing on the rise, the expectation that librarians have the ability to read every book ever published will never be met. Therefore, using tools such as these will help ease user worries, and they require little experience with navigating. They can be used by librarians for RA or book club marketing, and they can also be promoted as resources for patrons to use. After all, on some occasions, having patrons find their own recommendations (such as books similar to Fifty Shades of Grey) can reduce some of the more awkward RA scenarios. Whichever way you decide to use these tools, always remember that RA boils down to community. Readers want to feel connected to other readers and share their adventures, and that is the advantage of these four websites. They demonstrate that behind every great novel recommendation is a friendship that is just waiting to be made.

References

(2016). About Fantastic Fiction. Fantastic Fiction. Retrieved from fantasticfiction.com/about.htm.

(2016). Introducing TinyCat: The OPAC for Tiny Libraries. The LibraryThing Blog. Retrieved from
blog.librarything.com/main/2016/04/introducing-tinycat-the-opac-for-tiny-libraries.

(2017). About Goodreads. Goodreads. Retrieved from goodreads.com/about/us?rel=nofollow.

Oghina, Andrei. (2016). About. TasteKid. Retrieved from tastekid.com/read/about.


Bethany O'DellBethany O'Dell  (bodell1@emporia.edu) is the virtual learning librarian and an assistant professor at Emporia State University.
She received her M.L.S. and M.S. in instructional design and technology from Emporia State in 2016. She provides research support for students on a regular basis and enjoys teaching people about the use of different web tools, emerging technology in libraries, and digital literacy.
O'Dell's personal research also includes gamification and mobile learning.