Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Finding and Sharing Good Books

National Library Week begins on April 13th, and libraries around the country will showcase their collections and services. Idaho State University's Oboler Library will promote reading for its own sake--for FUN! Displays will highlight appealing elements of great fictional titles, such as character, plot, setting, and language.

Nancy Pearl, a famous librarian, has written books to direct readers to great books: see Book Lust (2003) and More Book Lust (2005), which can be found in our catalog. If you want to find a great biography of George Washington, or a horror book that isn't terrifyingly scary, she's the one to consult. Pearl subscribes to a theory articulated by Joyce G. Saricks and Nancy Brown in their book Readers' Advisory Service in the Public Library (2nd ed., American Library Association, 1997). They claim that the majority of readers do not choose books based solely on their genre type, rather they read a book because of its appeal in one of four areas or elements: plot, character, setting, and language.

To find more readers-advisory books, you might consider conducting a subject-heading search in your library's catalog using the following subject headings: "Best books" and "Books and reading--United States." For the first subject heading there were 88 titles in ISU's Oboler Library catalog, and only 25 titles for the second subject heading. I would venture to say that most public and academic libraries keep readers advisory books on hand as a service to their patrons and also to support their librarians, who do get asked for book recommendations.

What if you want to browse a few titles to find a good book before going to the library? What if you want to share all the books you have ever read with family and/or friends? Lots of online, social-networking sites make this possible. These websites allow you to create your own account and keep track of what you have read and what you want to read; in this post I will only talk about two--aNobii and GoodReads. They allow you to rate the books, comment on them, and share them with friends. LibrayThing even allows you to catalog your books, and some users buy scanners to make this possible, reducing the amount of time it takes to input the information. is very user friendly and easy to learn how to use. You can browse anyone else's bookshelf, and when you find a book that you have read you can click the link that says "Add to... My shelf." If there's a book title you might like to read, then click the link "Add to... Wish list." It will appear immediately on your shelf. When you create your account, and after you have uploaded books to your shelf, you can write comments about the books you have read, tell where you got the book, rate the book, and browse other peoples shelves. When you browse others' shelves you can click on a link below that person's name and add them either as a "Friend" or "Neighbor." It explains that a "neighbor" may be someone you do not know, but you would still like to keep track of the books they are reading as they may have similar book-reading interests. works almost exactly the same as They distinguish themselves in the way they allow you to rate your books, put them on your shelves, and how you view any given shelf. GoodReads allows you rate a book with five stars, while aNobii only allows you to choose four stars. It allows you to choose how many books you view per page, but aNobii always shows you only ten books per page. GoodReads will send you emails every time a friend comments on a book, unless you tell it otherwise. For those who use Google's Gmail, you can immediately invite all of your friends to start using GoodReads. aNobii allows you to generate RSS feeds to anyone's shelf, allowing you to keep up-to-date with the books your friends are reading.

LibrayThing offers a unique feature in its package; it allows its users to find dissimilar books. If you like a particular book, then you enter the name of that book in the "Unsuggester" search box. It returns books that you would likely not enjoy reading. I believe it compares the book title with the ratings its users have given it, as well as analyzes the shelves of others who did not like the book you entered or have never read it.

These online applications can really spark your interest in reading and remind you of long-lost friends/books you have not visited for a while. It certainly can help you build a long list of books you would like to read. Give it a try, and you will find out what your friends and family like to read as well as discover new friends with similar reading tastes who can point you to books you never knew existed.

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