Picture from "The Library Dragon" by Carmen Agra Deedy, illustrations by Michael P. White

"Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist.
Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed."
- G. K. Chesterton

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

WESTERN -- The Rattlesnake Season by Larry D. Sweazy

(Book # 1 of the Josiah Wolfe, Texas Ranger series.)

I first heard about Larry Sweazy and his Texas Ranger series on a local NPR broadcast. He was being interviewed regarding the second book in the series The Scorpion Trail which had just won the 2011 Will Rogers Medallion Award for Western Fiction and the 2011 Best Books of Indiana literary competition in the fiction category. While I have never considered myself a big fan of Westerns, I was intrigued by the fact that Sweazy currently resides in my home town of Noblesville. Consequently, when I decided I wanted to read and review a Western, Sweazy was my first choice. While The Scorpion Trail was the more critically acclaimed of his novels, I knew I’d have to start at the beginning with The Rattlesnake Season since I can’t stand starting in the middle of any series.

The Rattlesnake Season serves as an introduction to the character of Josiah Wolfe. Wolfe is haunted by memories of the violence he participated in during the Civil War. He has also suffered the traumatic loss of his daughters, from influenza, followed swiftly by his wife, in childbirth. With a young son to support, he accepts an offer from his former commander, Captain Hiram Fikes, to rejoin the Texas Rangers. His first duty is to assist Fikes in transporting a former colleague, Charlie Langdon, to trial. When Langdon escapes and Fikes is killed, Wolfe ends up escorting the Captain’s body home and in the process meets Fikes’ daughter, wife, and favorite prostitute, Fat Sally (who he names his horse after.) He also discovers just how far Langdon will go for revenge.

It took me a while to warm up to Wolfe who, in typical Western fashion is both a loner and ultimately a hero. Sweazy takes time in developing this character so that by then end of the book I felt a genuine connection with him. Most of the major characters are well rounded and believable although I Fat Sally was a bit of a stretch. This beautiful Mexican woman, supposedly Captain Fikes’ favorite prostitute, serves Wolfe a fantastic meal and then beds him (for free!) because she’s grateful for his service to her favorite customer, Fikes? I don’t think so! Still, I don’t think we’ve seen the last of Sally or the captain’s daughter, who is definitely set up to appear in future books. While there was a bit too much detail for my taste, Sweazy’s lyrical descriptions add to the strong sense of place – Texas in the 1870s – and the overall mood of the story. While there is definitely violence, it is not extremely graphic. The same can be said of the one sex scene. In fact, the book could almost be classified as a “Gentle Read” and it contains much less profanity than I image I would have heard in the true old West.

All in all, found the book to be an easy and ultimately enjoyable read and I actually think I’ll continue on with the series when I have time. Now that I have a connection with the character of Wolfe and some background on his life and the people in it, I’m actually rather looking forward to reading the award winning second book even though I’m not usually a fan of Westerns.

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Sunday, March 4, 2012

Library 2.0 and Readers Advisory

In recent years many public libraries have embraced Web 2.0 technologies as a means of promoting their services and materials. ““Web 2.0” is an umbrella term that is used to refer to a new era of Web-enabled applications that are built around user-generated or user-manipulated content, such as wikis, blogs, podcasts, and social networking sites.” (Smith, 2011) The movement of libraries to use these social media application has been dubbed “Library 2.0”. While initial use of these applications may have focused on community outreach and library promotion, there has been an increasing movement to use them to expand readers’ advisory services to users. “Library 2.0 tools play to the strengths of RA work and can deepen and broaden the interaction, introduce new ways of connecting books to other items, and enable librarians to enlist the entire community of readers in the collaborative creation of RA services for everyone.” (Wyatt, 2007)

This paper will review some of the literature regarding recent public library practices of using Web 2.0 tools for RA. In addition, I have studied the web pages of six central Indiana public libraries to see how they currently use these technologies. These libraries are the Indianapolis Marion County Public Library (IMCPL), Hancock County Public Library (HCPL), Carmel Clay Public Library (CCPL), Hamilton East Public Library (HEPL), Plainfield-Guilford Township Public Library, and Greenwood Public Library. I also contacted each of these libraries to ask the following questions:

Which of these tools would you say have been the most effective as a supplement to traditional readers’ advisory? Do you plan to either discontinue or increase the usage of any specific social media tools for expanding readers’ advisory in the future?
According to a Pew Internet study, “two-thirds of online adults (66%) use social media platforms such as Facebook.” (Smith, 2011) Another study found that three fourths of teens and young adults use these social networking sites. (Lenhart, 2009) While most adults say they use social media to connect with family and friends, fourteen percent “say that connecting around a shared hobby or interest is a major reason they use social media.” (Smith, 2011) How does this translate for libraries? If we consider books and reading a shared interest or hobby, it means that sites such as Facebook and Twitter could be excellent tools for sharing book recommendations.

Still such tools can prove problematic with RA since the person in charge of the library’s Facebook or Twitter page may not be trained to make book suggestions and/or library users may not realize they can use these mediums to ask for advice. One library found a solution. They held a RA Facebook event. “To generate interest, [they] teased the Facebook event, telling customers via Facebook and Twitter to start thinking about three good books they had read to share with our RA team. (Rua, 2011) This team was then able to give customized book recommendations quickly on the day of the event. The event was a huge success with 200 customers participating and 300 new fans added to their page.

Blogs, YouTube and podcasts are all Library 2.0 technologies that libraries utilize to promote books and solicit readers input. Many libraries use blogs to review materials in the collection. These reviews can then be commented on by readers. Zeller’s notes that these reviews reach people beyond the physical boundaries of the library and that, in her experience, “nearly every item discussed on the blog has circulated following the publication of the review.” (Zeller, 2007) Similarly, library can use YouTube and podcasts to provide video and audio book trailers and book talks. Users can then comment on these and in some cases, even create their own. “Creating commercials for upcoming and already available literature has become the latest Library 2.0 trend which includes interactive services and programming that encourage community involvement through the use of technology.” (Ellis, 2010)

Another Library 2.0 tool increasingly used are book-centered social networking sites, such as GoodReads, LibraryThing, and Shelfari, which focus on gathering readers and their book titles. According to Stover, such sites are a combination of the in-person RA interview and the more in depth form based questionnaire. Not only does the user share recent titles they have enjoyed but they have time to reflect upon the qualities they enjoyed in that title. These sites allow users to tag or review titles and participate in discussions or forums. Librarians can use these tools in many ways. Stover recommends using them for book clubs or searching them for suggestions when working the RA desk. “It's a quick and easy step to click a "historical fiction" or "cozy mystery" tag or shelf and get many suggestions immediately for the patron waiting at the desk.” (Stover, 2009)

“One of the most exciting social environments emerging right now is a place few might have expected: the catalog.” (Wright, 2010) New library system interfaces allow users ability to tag, review, make lists and even add audio and video to the library’s catalog. These interactive catalogs may just be the next big thing in expanding readers’ advisory beyond the physical library.

In reviewing my six library web pages, I found that these libraries were utilizing some, but rarely all, of the Library 2.0 technologies described in the literature (see chart below.)

Most of the libraries I looked at had a specific web page devoted to Books and RA. IMCPL has a page they call Readers Connection. This “group effort” by the IMCPL staff incorporates several Library 2.0 technologies. This is primarily a blog where staff and patrons can read, comment and submit book reviews. There are also links to the Readers Connection Twitter account, reading lists, and other book related information. One tool IMCPL uses that none of the other libraries I looked at have are RSS Booklists. According the website “We add new items to our collection as often as we can. Add one, or all of our RSS feeds to your favorite reader (like Google Reader) to keep up with what we’re adding.”

Carmel Public Library incorporates several Library 2.0 technologies into their Readers’ Page.  There is a form patrons can fill out to receive a personalized reading list. Book Alert is a service that allows patrons to receive monthly recommendations of new books that meet their reading criteria. Staff and patrons also post book reviews that can be commented upon. According to Carmel librarian, Brian Barrett, patrons have been particularly receptive to their online winter and summer book clubs. Patrons not only list the books they have read but can also comment on them. In addition, others can react to these comments. Barrett says that “This has created a discourse and patrons seem to enjoy seeing what others are reading.”

Plainfield has links on their materials page to the company who provides the “DearReader” services. These subscription library services include an email book club, Author Buzz, and Book News. HCPL also uses the email book club which allows patrons to sign up for specific book groups then get a daily five minute read in their email. By the end of the week they have read the first few chapters of the book and can then decide if they want to go to the library and check it out. According to the online book club founder, Suzanne Beecher, “Today more than 330,000 library patrons start their morning with a book excerpt in their email.” The company also maintains a forum where readers can post comments. Laura Brack, Innovative Technology Coordinator at Plainfield-Guilford Twp. Public Library, says “The email book clubs are a hit (as of January 31 we had 131 ‘members’) because people don’t have to do anything extra to take advantage of it.” Additionally she says that, “These DearReader services are awesome, and are so flexible and fairly easy to use. It’s a lot to manage, but many of our patrons have commented that they love the service.”

Greenwood Public Library has a link on its web page to a page called Readers Resources. Readers Resources includes links to Library 2.0 tools such as book trailers, blogs and Goodreads. Greenwood librarian Emily Ellis says Greenwood is “making efforts to really push Goodreads.” The only other library I found to have begun incorporating book-centered social networking sites was HCPL. Their teen librarian has a link on the teen web page to her LibraryThing page as well as a teen blog and YouTube videos.

Every library I looked at had a Facebook presence and all felt that it was their most successful social media tool. Unfortunately, none are using these quite as creatively as the library Rau described, but there are attempts to do some passive RA. Plainfield’s Laura Brack says she uses their Facebook page to “share blog posts from Huffington Post, NPR, and other similar websites about top ten books, notable books, books-to-movies, etc. “ Hayley Netherton, the HEPL reference librarian in charge of that library’s Facebook pages says they tried to utilize Facebook notes to share book lists but the EdgeRank algorithm (which determines what comes through on users newsfeeds) prevented these from reaching most of the library’s friends. They plan to attempt this again in the future. Greenwood’s Emily Ellis says that “with Facebook, we consistently receive comments and can easily spark online discussions on library services and readers’ advisory. It is also convenient to link back to our website and our reader resources page.” Twitter is beginning to catch on with public libraries but is not yet as prevalent as Facebook.

So what does the future hold for libraries looking to expand readers’ advisory services using Library 2.0 tools? As previously noted by Wright the future of RA may just be within the library catalog itself through the development of interactive catalogs. So far, IMCPL is the only library that actually has begun to develop an integrated catalog. Their catalog, Sherloc, contains enhanced content for most of their books including professional annotations and reviews. What makes it interactive though are links to the titles in Google Books. Google Books allows patrons to interact with other readers and see how the book has been rated or reviewed by nonprofessionals.

An integrated catalog is on Hancock County Public Library’s wish list for the future. Assistant Director, Dave Gray commented that, depending on funding, the library would like to add the SirsiDynix native Facebook application to their catalog. This would allow patrons to search the library’s catalog and access their account via their Facebook account. The RA component of this application would allow patrons to share and “like” what they’re currently reading and invite friends to check out their virtual bookshelves. Brian Barrett says that Carmel is considering creating links in their catalog to other sites such as Goodreads and Novelist. This would enable readers to look for read-a-likes, additional reviews, new authors, etc. and thus make it more interactive.

Greenwood’s Ellis sums up the future of RA and Library 2.0 very nicely. She states that “Our library has a social media committee that meets on a monthly basis to discuss ways to improve our online presence, increase usage, and introduce any new ideas. So I suppose we plan on increasing usage of our social media tools as we find the niche for our community.” Public libraries will need to experiment with various Library 2.0 tools in order to find those most effective for increasing readers’ advisory with their particular patrons. Ideally, this will be a group effort between the RA librarians and the “techies” who may be more knowledgeable of current trends. Ellis was the only librarian I contacted who mentioned an actual social media committee but such a committee would definitely be a positive move for libraries wishing to more effectively use social media for readers’ advisory in the future.

Works Cited

Barrett, Brian. “Re: Readers Advisory and Social Media.” Message to the author. 20 Feb. 2012.

Brack, Laura. “Re: Readers Advisory and Social Media.” Message to the author. 28 Feb. 2012.

Beecher, Suzanne. “Dear Reader Library Services” 2012. Website. (accessed February 25)

Ellis, Emily. 2010 “Book Trailers: Available at a Library Near You.” Indiana Libraries, 29 no 2:
24-26. Library Literature & Information Science Full Text (H.W. Wilson), EBSCOhost
(accessed February 18, 2012).

Ellis, Emily. “Re: Readers Advisory and Social Media.” Message to the author. 28 Feb. 2012.

Lenhart, Amanda, et al. 2010 “Social Media and Young Adults”. Pew Internet Project, February
3. http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2010/Social-Media-and-Young-Adults.aspx

Netherton, Hayley. “Re: Readers Advisory and Social Media.” Message to the author. 20 Feb.
2012. E-mail.

Smith, Aaron. 2011 “Why Americans Use Social Media.” Pew Internet Project, Nov. 15, http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2011/Why-Americans-Use-Social-Media/Main-report.aspx.

Spurgeon, Erin. 2011 “SirsiDynix announces the Industry’s First Fully Native FacebookApplication. SirsiDynix Newsroom, June 24. http://www.sirsidynix.com/press/sirsidynix-announces-the-industry’s-first-fully-native-facebook-application

Stover, Kaite Mediatore. 2009 "Stalking the Wild Appeal Factor: Readers' Advisory and Social
Networking Sites." Reference & User Services Quarterly, 48, no. 3: 243-269. Library Literature & Information Science Full Text (H.W. Wilson), EBSCOhost (accessed February 18, 2012).

Wyatt, Neal. 2007. "2.0 For Readers." Library Journal, 132, no. 18: 30-33. Library Literature & Information Science Full Text (H.W. Wilson), EBSCOhost (accessed February 18, 2012).

Rua, Robert J. 2011. "Mission: connect." Library Journal, 136, no. 8: 26. Library Literature &
Information Science Full Text (H.W. Wilson), EBSCOhost (accessed February 17, 2012).

Wright, David, and Abby Bass. 2010. "No Reader is an Island: New Strategies for Readers'
Advisory." Alki 26, no. 3: 9-10. Library Literature & Information Science Full Text (H.W. Wilson), EBSCOhost (accessed February 18, 2012).

Zellers, Jessica. 2007. "In Blog Heaven: A Painless New Approach to Readers' Advisory."
Virginia Libraries 53, no. 3: 23-24. Library Literature & Information Science Full Text (H.W. Wilson), EBSCOhost (accessed February 18, 2012).