Becky Spratford

This is Circulating Ideas. I’m Steve Thomas. I was pleased recently to go speak at the Illinois Library Association conference in Springfield, and I was able to do a few interviews for the show, including today’s guest, Becky Spratford. She’s a reader’s adviser at the Berwyn Public Library. She also runs two very popular blogs, RA For All and RA For All Horror, and she writes content for NoveList. She’s also the author of The Reader’s Advisory Guide to Horror. You can find her on Twitter @RAforAll.

Becky, welcome back to the show. You were on the show earlier, so, welcome back.

Thank you. I’m so glad to get my own episode this time.

Yes. So, we’re not going to spend the whole time on horror and stuff like that, but this episode is going to come out the week of Halloween, so we can’t ignore it. And you do love horror. So– And we’ll talk about it a little bit more in a different context, but to start off with, you mentioned this earlier, when we were talking: Can you talk about what your favorite horror book is? What the scariest book is for you?

It’s interesting. You asked two different questions there. You asked what my favorite horror book is, and what I find the scariest. So, my favorite horror book of the last, you know, 20 or so years is The Ruins, by Scott Smith, and I wrote about it a lot in my book, and it is extremely terrifying. There is a movie version. The movie version is awful. And one of the things I love about The Ruins is it’s set in Mexico, and these people are on vacation, and it has the hallmark of all the things I do find the best in a horror book. It’s just like a horror movie. They say, “Hey, we’re on the beach. Let’s go to some ruins!” Bad idea number one. “Let’s go into the forest! Oh, look! This is an untread path.” Bad decision number two. “Oh, look at this amazing hill rising in front of us! Why are all the natives waving and telling us not to go up? Let’s go up!” And then you’re stuck in this isolated setting. It is terrifying. They are trapped. There is literally a man eating plant. And, let’s just put it this way, it has one of my favorite endings, because it’s very realistic to what would happen if that actually happened to you. Now, in terms of what I find the scariest, I, for me, I find things the scariest that relate most to my own life. So, people read fiction for escape, and I like to say that my life is really happy, so therefore I like horror because it’s an escape for me. It’s a different world. The things I find scariest, though, are things I think could actually happen. So, although it’s not a horror book, something like Station Eleven, which just came out, which is about this flu that kills people very quickly. I have small children, my husband’s a physician, so these kind of things are scary to me because they sort of hit at my real world situation. And I find that people, in general, my readers and the patrons I help, are most terrified by things that are– That hit the home. That hit home the most to them.

I can’t remember if it was something that you wrote on your blog, or something else when I was doing the research for this interview, you said that horror is not a genre, it’s an emotion. Can you kind of elaborate what you mean by that?

Horror is a genre, I should say, but as a genre, it’s biggest appeal is its emotion. It’s actually closest to romance, which sounds counter-intuitive, but both of those genres are about how the book makes you feel, and horror is about the emotion it makes you feel. It wants you to feel fear. It wants to hit you in the gut. It wants to just grab you in those dark places, and that’s what it’s trying to do. If you don’t want to feel that, you shouldn’t be reading it. And that’s not a judgment. That’s just– As a reader’s adviser, and as a fan, you want people to read the books that are right for them. So, I happen to have great patrons at the Berwyn Public Library who love dark, scary books. I’m not sure if they gravitate to me, because I’m there, or if they already lived there and we’re just very lucky, but we talk about that. And I do not– I also help little old ladies who want inspirational, and romance, and I don’t push the horror books on them, because they cannot handle feeling that emotion. But they love the emotion of the love story, and especially some of the gentle ones, with the heartfelt emotion and the nostalgia and the heartwarming. So, yeah, it is an emotion. If you’re not going to want to feel that fear, you shouldn’t be reading it.

It’s not like a genre like mystery, where the whole point is a crime happens and it is solved, and that’s the end. It’s much more plot driven in that sense.

Interestingly, it’s plot driven, per se, but a good horror novel will not succeed unless it is character driven, also. And I happen to be a reader for character, and so, the very best horror novels have protagonists who are flawed, who the reader can get behind. And who they are rooting for to beat the bad guy, the bad, evil spirit, whatever’s after them, and without fully developed characters that you can really understand and want to be behind, it won’t work. And so, horror is this great mix of a plot and a storyline that’s moving, but with enough character development for readers like myself, because, in reality, my dirty little secret is that my favorite genre is actually psychological suspense, and not horror. And I say it all the time, so I guess it’s not a dirty little secret anymore. But because that it’s a little more character driven, with the same feelings of anxiety and dread. And I write about that a lot in the book, and on my blog, about psychological suspense, but– And I also love literary fiction. So, I like the horror gives me a little more of the action when I want it, but still those great characters.

I was thinking more that the mystery ones are the ones that are plot driven. That’s more– I mean, you certainly want an engaging character, but that’s really– What happens is what’s important. Whereas, yeah, like you said, the character– You need to feel– Because you have to feel for the character in order to be afraid for them. Because if you don’t know who they are and don’t care about them, then who cares if the man eating plant eats them?

I say that, actually, in my book, and I’ve said it on my blog. I say, “If you don’t like the main character, you don’t like the protagonist, you do not care if the zombie gets them.” And if you don’t care that the zombie gets them, and you’re rooting for the zombie, you’re missing out the point of the novel.

Right. [laughs] So, let’s talk a little bit about reader’s advisory. You did write a book, I have it with me. Let me read the title. You can just tell me the title, probably.

The Reader’s Advisory Guide to Horror, ALA Editions, 2012.

And what I want to talk about is, in terms of people who maybe don’t like horror, that’s almost more of who the audience for this is, because if you already like horror, you already know horror. You know you can do that. So, how do you address people like that? Who, not necessarily– Not specifically horror, but what advice do you have for them to how to be a reader’s adviser for genres that you don’t personally care for?

I have been very lucky that in my career I got to work hand in hand with Joyce Saricks, who really created reader’s advisory, in the 1980s, and we taught a class together at Dominican University, for, I think it was almost seven years, and we’re still very good friends. And so, I use her sort of model of the appeal. So, take out if you like it or not. This is why people like blank genre. Horror, for example. And yes, my book is clearly geared toward people who aren’t fans. And so, I try to make it more empirical. Like, “This is why people who like horror like horror.” And I have a whole chapter on that. And, in terms of your larger question, about being a reader’s adviser, and how you work in genres that aren’t your favorite, that is what I try to do a lot of preaching to when I go out there and do consulting, and talk to libraries. You use the enthusiasm your patrons have for the genre they love, and you use their words, their adjectives, what they love about it, and you use that to fuel you to help them find more. It doesn’t matter if you like it or not. It doesn’t matter if you read it or not. If you understand why they like it, you will be able to understand how to help them. And I always do that. I just channel their enthusiasm. So, as a result, yes, I’m the go to librarian about horror, but I’m also the go to librarian about gentle reads, about romance. I help all the romance readers at our library, as do other people, but I am fantastic at it, and none of us read in it. But it’s because I really, truly want to help them. And some of my ladies, God bless them, they’ve been coming to me for 14 years, and they think that romance is my favorite genre. They have never outright asked me what I read. It doesn’t matter. I’ve used their enthusiasm, and used what they love, to help them. And so, they feel comfortable with me, and share in those books with me, and it works.

Sometimes people are dismissive of genres. Not just horror, but sci-fi, anything besides a straight up “literary fiction.” Is there any such thing as a bad book?

No, I think the only bad book is a book that is poorly edited, poorly written. But I think it’s a bad book if it doesn’t find the right readers. I mean, I am always out there saying, my job, and I am so lucky to have this, I look at myself as a matchmaker, between all those books in our stacks– Just think about it. Those stacks are filled with books that no one’s reading. I’m a matchmaker between those books and their perfect reader, that’s coming in. There is a perfect reader for every one of those books. Now, in terms of collection development, because I also buy the fiction for my library, in every genre, and if there’s bad choices I can make for my community, I don’t want to waste my community’s tax dollars, and in that case there is a bad book. Because if I waste my tax dollars that my citizens have paid on a book that isn’t something they would enjoy, then that’s a bad book for our collection. But I think as long as a book finds a reader, it’s a good book for someone. Now, I think it’s different when we talk about non fiction, because there are books that are just wrong, and are perpetuating bad things, but with fiction, as long as it’s edited well, and there’s no grammatical errors, if it finds its reader, it’s a good book for them. I always say, “As a librarian, you are not successful until every single one of your books is checked out at the same time.” We really try to do that at the Berwyn Library. We go out of our way to find those books we thought people would like, that maybe only circed three or four times when they were new, didn’t circ again for five years, but we believe that there readers in our community. Then we really try. I think that’s your job as a librarian. To give those books a chance, and don’t just weed them immediately if you feel like there is a reader there. And you know. You know your readers and your collection. Even if you’re not doing the purchasing, you understand who’s coming in. And so, I do a lot of that, too. Give those books an extra chance.

You do write a lot, when I was going back and reading your blog, about passive versus active reader’s advisory. Can you kind of talk about some strategies for doing both, and the differences between those?

Sure. Active reader’s advisory is when you get out there and you’re physically– One of my patrons calls me “the book pusher.” “Oh, no! The book pusher’s in! I don’t need any books!” I think that’s a good example of active reader’s advisory. It’s when you are getting up from the desk, going in the stacks, encountering readers. Asking people, “Is there anything I can do to help? Do you need any suggestions?” I do a lot of sitting at my desk and saying to the people in our department, “Hey, guys. I’m here. If you need suggestions, ask.” And then if they come over, that’s your active. When you’re book talking, making suggestions, working with readers, and being a book pusher. Passive is everything else we do. It’s the lists we put out for people to find. It’s the shelf talkers we have at the Berwyn Library on our staff suggestion– Or, staff recommendations shelf. It’s the lists you make, it’s the– We’re starting to put stickers in the back of the books, so when you get to the end of the book, “You liked this book? Here are other books you can read.” We’re right in the beginning of doing that, and I blogged about that recently. It’s everything else you do so that they can find the books themselves. The books, though, I mean, they’re not active. They’re passive. They’re sitting on the shelf. Turning them face out. Everything you can do. We do a lot of large, planned displays. Displays are your best passive reader’s advisory. But we also do a lot of small, impromptu displays, where we just put out a picture, and then we put books that go with that picture. And it makes people stop. But my favorite form of passive reader’s advisory are the return carts. If you don’t have your return carts out, and I say this everywhere I go, get them somewhere where people can browse them. Besides your new shelf and your displays, that is the place where patrons want to go. Because they see those as “approved.” They have no idea if someone liked them, but at least they know someone took it home and checked it out. They don’t know that sometimes we put books there that were misshelved, or that we found somewhere, that we were reading. [laughs] You know what I mean? But they think those books were taken home by someone, and if they were good enough to be taken home, they are good enough for me to look at. There are so many books in the library. We’re a middle sized library, and we have a lot of books. And we try very hard to make smaller sections for people to browse, but we can’t. There’s still this huge section that is just sitting there, imposing, books down rows and rows. So, the return cart is a great place for people to go, and you can do a lot to help patrons. You mentioned in your presentation today, at ILA conference, that the Harvard Innovations Lab, and one of the things at the Harvard Library, one of the things they’ve done, is that awesome box, that a lot of people are doing. And I’ve blogged about that. And that’s a way to even make your return cart even more specialized, because patrons say, “This book was awesome, so I’m returning it to this box,” and then you can put those on a separate cart. And we’re trying to do some of that.

What’s funny about that is that’s almost a hybrid active passive reader’s advisory, because it’s participatory. There’s people helping you do that. The next question I wanted to ask you is sort of esoteric, or wishy-washy maybe. Can you– Since you’re big on displays, you’re big on passive reader’s advisory, can you just describe that feeling that you get when you see somebody taking a book from your display? “It’s working.”

I have a version of that that’s a little bit different, but yes, I love when people stop. I’m actually proud of all of our staff, we work together, and since there’s only two librarians in our department, but we have, like, six or seven employees, we work really hard on training, and I’m proud of all of them when they do stuff. But here’s an example of what you’re talking about. So, passive reader’s advisory. I was in charge of a display a couple of years ago of– for women’s fiction. So, our guy who’s in charge of displays, his name is John, he’s fantastic, pulled all the women’s historical fiction for the display. He was in charge of the larger list, I was in charge of making an annotated list of 10 books that are about real life women. So I made that list, and the annotated list, and we put it out on the display. And one of the books is an out of print book called Sally Hemmings, by Barbara Chase-Riboud. And it had been out of print. I think it’s back in print now. This is before The Hemmings’ of Monticello came out. But when she wrote that book, in the late ’70s, early ’80s, she got death threats. Because she was saying that there’s evidence– You know, this is fiction, but she used historical documents in her story, as many historical fiction writers do. That, “Thomas Jefferson did not have children.” You know, “Sally Hemmings did not father Thomas Jefferson’s children.” And it has since been proven to be the case, but that book kind of got lost. It made a big splash when it came out. It won some awards when it came out, some very small awards, mostly women’s press awards. And it got lost. And I really felt like it was a good book, and it was coming back in vogue, the whole Hemmings of Monticello and all. The proof. So, I put it on the display, and people took the list, and, you know, we always check our circ stats on our– We check things out, to– Our code is BYS, and we do BYAD for adult display, so we can run reports on what’s checking out, and I saw the circ stats on the book. It was doing well. But the aha moment, that warm, fuzzy feeling came, when maybe six months later– No, that was in March, so, like, in May, when I was asking my book club for suggestions of books to do, one of them says, “You know, I don’t know where I heard about it, but this book, called Sally Hemmings, by Barbara Chase-Riboud? I read it, it was fantastic!” And it took everything in me not to be like, “I told you about that book! I wrote that annotated list! I’m the one that was like, ‘You have to read this!’” Of course, she didn’t know that. It wasn’t signed. We do things as a department. That was one of my proudest moments.

So, another way that you can do reader’s advisory, we have active, we have the passive, and there is virtual RA you can do. Can you talk a little bit about different ways that you can do that? Use some new technological ways to reach out to people?

Sure. That is one of my new passions that I’m pushing. And if you onto my blog, I have lots of links in my recent presentations link about my presentation, “Bridging the Physical Virtual Divide.” And what we try to do at our reader’s advisory department, and maybe because I’m there and it’s my passion, is make it seamless, the services. The ones you have in the building and the ones you have online are the same. So, we didn’t just rush in and start, “Let’s just start doing stuff on Facebook!” So, what we did was we said, “What do we do best?” Well, we push books best. So, we created a staff recommendations shelf in the library, called “The Browser’s Corner,” and then– It’s literally a corner. And put those shelf whizzes, the shelf talkers they use at bookstores, and then recreated it online. So, at the browser’s corner you can see books people like at the Berwyn Public Library. And yes, we are dorks. That is BPL at the BPL, and that’s on purpose. Way to nerd out. We were very excited about that when that worked out. But on there, you can go and you see appeal based, adjective based suggestions, and we let our staff– And we let the whole library do this. It started just reader’s advisory staff, and now it’s gotten so much momentum, and the community loves it so much, that everyone, from all over the library, even non public service areas, like technical services and such, contribute. And what we do is, we suggest books. And we let them do anything as long it’s not on the new shelf, which is six months. The last six months. And we have these book talks. And so, then– Or, these book annotations. We would like to turn them into book talks. That’s why I went to your podcasting class. Because they’re already there, and we could read them. We’re trying to branch it out. And we do some social media around that. So, we’ll link what’s on the website, we link to it. We put things out on Facebook about it. And what we have now is this huge wealth of information that’s online, and we have people using it to find book suggestions. And I’ve had people come up to me and be, like, “Remember when you told me to read that book, Passage by Connie Willis?” I’m like, “I haven’t suggested that book to anyone at the desk in two years. Oh! It’s on the browser’s corner!” It was either there physically, or it was online, and they found it. And they can search by different recommenders. I love that. So, what we’ve done to branch that out, then, is that’s the place where you go to start. We also posted lists. Suggested reading lists for genres. If you like 50 Shades of Grey, I have a graphic novels for grown ups list. Again, they’re not signed, so you don’t know who’s doing them. We encourage all staff to do them. The recommendations are, but not those lists. And then, we even took it a step further, and now we have patron suggestions, through our book lover’s club meetings, where we meet at a bar and talk about a book you like. And then, we put those online also. So, we just create this one virtual portal, and we go out from there. But again, focusing on what we do best, which is talking about books to readers, and creating displays. In this case we’re just creating a display as a shelf of staff recommendations that’s always there, but it lives virtually, too. And we’ve had great success. But we focused on that one thing, and tried to make everything go from there, which is helpful. I think when you start to try to do a little bit of everything, if you’re trying to tweet about books and have a book discussion on Facebook– We do have a teen book discussion on Facebook, which works well, but we have a separate teen Facebook page. So, we just try to focus on one thing and branch out from there, and we’ve had great success.

All right. So, we are recording this part of the interview while we are walking around Illinois. We’re walking around Illinois, we’re walking around Springfield, Illinois.

Springfield, the capital!

The capital. Abe Lincoln central, you might say. I do have a lot of Abraham Lincoln tchotchkes to bring home, thanks to the Presidential Library and the Museum. So, Becky, we’re going to pick this up here. We were talking reader’s advisory. You wrote an article a couple years back about reading maps. Is that the correct terminology for that? Can you talk about what reading maps are, I thought it was interesting, and sort of the idea behind them?

Sure. So, reading maps, as I do them, are based on an article that Neal Wyatt, and that’s spelled N-E-A-L if you want to search it, in Library Journal wrote, and you can still find that on the Library Journal website, about reading maps. So, she came out to my class at Dominican University to talk about it. And it has it’s roots in the pathfinder, that a lot of librarians are familiar with, where you take a book, and you send– Well, you take a topic, and you send students on a journey to find and discover other things. Well, she took it and said, “You know what? Let’s do this whole collection reader’s advisory approach, where when we’re suggesting books to people, it’s not just other fiction books. There’s non fiction, there’s art, there’s music, there’s videos, there’s television shows. How do we capture that in a way where readers can discover it organically?” And so, we took that and ran with it at the Berwyn Library also. And I had one of my students work on it a lot, too. And so, what we do is, in an HTML form in a website, we take a book at the center and– So, for example, I have a reading map on, shockingly, Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter. That was not planned, but that’s what it’s on. And from there, you can go out. You can learn more about the author, and there’s links to go, and there’s information there. You can get read-a-likes based on if you like Abraham Lincoln, read-a-likes if you like alternate history, read-a-likes if you like other vampire books, read-a-likes if you like comic horror. But also, links about, like I said, about Lincoln, about the author, and all these different places you can go in one place. And what’s fabulous about the internet is that it lets you just link to all those places, and create this web, and readers can discover on their own. So, maybe they go to your link to the author’s website, but from there they go, maybe, somewhere completely different than where you were going to send them. Or, they go to your list of– And we talked about passive reader’s advisory. I don’t know what they liked about Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter. Was it Abraham Lincoln? Some people read everything about Abraham Lincoln, real or not. Was it the vampires? And they can choose, and then they can keep going out. So, if they go to our catalog, or they go to Goodreads, and then they find more books on those topics. We’re letting the readers discover what they want. We’re just providing the portal for them to get there. One more thing about that. We let the people who work in our department pick books they like, and this is a great way to showcase the skills of our staff. We created a template, but within that template they can choose the colors, they can choose how the graphics, they can choose the links. They can make it however they want, and they can pick books they love. So, we’re encouraging our staff to take the books they really love, and share them with people, and take them on a journey.

I was thinking, when I was looking at the examples you posted in that article, it’s almost like a visualization of the reader’s advisory process. Sort of, this is what librarians are thinking in their heads as we’re doing reader’s advisory. They say Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, and all of a sudden your head you’re going, “OK, if they like Abraham Lincoln more, here’s where I’m going to go. If they like vampires, then here’s where I’m going to go. If they’re into more, like, comic stuff, this where here I’m going to go.” So, it’s an interesting little visualization.

In fact, when we were training the staff on how to do them, we talked about that. When you’re doing the interview with the person– We have a staff member, I mentioned him before, John, who does our displays, and he loves Anne Rice. Loves Anne Rice. So we did one of her books. And I said, “Well, when you’re helping people who say they come and love Anne Rice, where do you send them?” And he’s like, “Well, I ask them if they like her vampire books, or her witch books, or her mummy books, or the whole thing.” And then, I’m like, “That’s what you’re doing, then. That’s where you’re going. You’re doing those questions you would have asked, and you’re answering it for every possible answer, in a visual form.”

You are not only a librarian, but you are also a trustee. Can you talk about what it’s like to be a trustee, as a librarian? Like, when you talk to other trustees, obviously you have a different viewpoint you’re coming at it with.

Yeah, it’s interesting. I happen to be a trustee at a library where the current Illinois Library Association president is the director. But I have been on that board to build a new building, and also to hire that director. So, I’ve learned all those insights about making the budgets from the director’s perspective. Having the library an influence there is good, but sometimes it can be– The other trustees are like, “Well, but we’re not librarians, and we have our opinion, too.” And I’m always making sure I’m letting them have their opinion, but I do have to say that I’m able to back up the staff a lot of times, when I find that other trustees don’t always think about how the library works. They have these ideals, and so I really try to bring that message to it. It’s hard sometimes, though, because you struggle. You want to be responsible with the taxpayers’ money, because that’s what your charge is, and I’m one of those taxpayers, but I want the library to have everything! I want to do it. We have been very fiscally responsible, I am very careful in how I manage that, but that insight I bring, I think, has enriched our library, in my town, and I’m very proud of that. I’ve been on that board for 14 years, and it is an elected position, and I have two more years left on my current term.

Do you think you’ll want to keep doing it?

I’m not sure. Part of me feels like I’ve been there long enough. I’ve seen us through a new building, and that was a huge process. I’ve also seen us through the hiring of a new director, and obviously she’s successful, because her peers voted her president of our state library association. The problem is finding people with the passion to serve. And as long as I can identify someone to run in my stead, I’d be willing to step down. But I want to make sure I leave it in good hands. And right now we have a solid board, and I feel like I could, but we’ll see what time brings.

So, we are recording this at the Illinois Library Association conference, I may have mentioned that earlier, and you gave two presentations. You’ve given one already, you’re going to give one the next day, as we’re recording this. Your first one was about reviews, and I know you review for NoveList and on your blog, obviously, as well. What do you think the process of doing reviews adds to your experience as a librarian? Does that help with your reader’s adviser skills? Not reading the reviews, because that obviously helps with reader’s advisory, but writing the reviews. Does that help the way you frame reader’s advisory, or something like that?

And that was the whole point of the presentation. It was called Leveraging Your Librarian Influence For The Power of Reviews. And what we talked about– We had someone from Book List, we had someone from Library Journal, and myself from NoveList. We really wanted to emphasize that libraries should be the book place in your community, with bookstores leaving and closing. And so, yes, it really does make me better, because I think about, “How am I going to sell these books to everyone out there?” To the patrons, to the librarians. The things I put on NoveList, they’re not really reviews, they’re information, but we did call them reviews in the presentation. But I’m trying to describe the essence of an author’s appeal for people. I’m trying to make read-a-likes on there. It makes me think about everything I do, and all those readers, and providing read-a-likes for every reader, like we talked about with reading maps just previously. It improves my skills, and I was trying to give a pep talk to over librarians that not only will it improve your skills, but it’ll make people come to you for more when you’re perceived as the expert. I really liked that.

What all do you do with NoveList, like, specifically? So, you said it’s not really reviews. We’ve all kind of used NoveList, the libraries who have NoveList. What is it that you’re contributing?

Sure. So, one of the things I talked about in the presentation was, one of the best things you can do to look smarter– And NoveList wants you to look smarter. They want you to use their information. They don’t mind if you cut and paste it onto library materials as long as you say it’s from NoveList. What I specifically write are 100 word author statements, which are unsigned. So, if you go right now on NoveList and look at Joe Hill or Lisa See, those are two off the top of my head, I wrote those, even though my name’s not there. 100 words about why people like that author, and a start with title. We also can provide title to title read-a-likes. We provide series to series read-a-likes, author to author read-a-likes. And I write some of those longer pieces. The reading maps article you talked about was for their newsletter, which goes out to anyone, whether you’re a subscriber or not. We’re very lucky in Illinois, the State Library does underwrite it, so most libraries in Illinois have NoveList. They underwrite the cost for us. And then, I write the longer, 1300 word, longer read alike articles about authors. But what I said to people, to even look smarter, is you could add a component of NoveList to your catalog, and then when someone searches, and the example in my presentation was using Stephen King’s 11-22-63, a non horror Stephen King, you could go in right away and see suggestions. It also links to Goodreads, because NoveList works with Goodreads. So they see right away that, “Hey, I use Goodreads! The library knows what they’re doing!” And then they see suggestions that are signed by people. Now, the benefit for my patrons are they see my name. And then they’re like, “Oh, our library knows what they’re doing.” And that translates to them thinking all of us are really competent, and are the book experts. It just goes a long way.

Those are signed?

Yeah. So, the author to author, the title to title, those’ll say a name. If they’re unsigned, they were computer generated. NoveList calls those handwritten annotations.

So, your other presentation is the one that you’re doing tomorrow, and you were talking about that earlier, too. I’ll let you talk about that. It’s working with friends groups, and making them better. Tell me what the title of it is.

I love my title. I came up with it: “How to Take Your Friends From Drab to Fab”. I also wear many hats at the library. I’m also the Friends of the Library liaison, and that was sort of given to me because I was so good at reader’s advisory, and creating relationships with patrons, that they were like, “You know what? The person who’s doing it is not as good at creating relationships with patrons. You’re so great at it.” And, you know, it’s one of those, like, “You’re so good at your job! Let’s give you more to do!” Which we all know as librarians. I really do love it, though, and I’ve gone out of my way to– I still have a lot of retired women on my board. I did just get a young woman who’s in library school, who’s a stay at home mom, to join my board, and I’m fantastically happy about that. She brings her baby to meetings, which everyone loves. We’re just trying to be more progressive in our outreach to the community. I’ve convinced them that they are not just a group that hangs out and does nothing, that they are a social organization for the library. We try to fund, as I like to say, the sexy things. So, we fund the video games if we’re starting a video game collection. New things. We do a trivia night at a bar once a month, that the Friends of the Library do. Recently we were in the local newspaper as one of the top five things to do that week in the suburbs of Chicago, which made me so proud. So, we’re going to talk tomorrow about that. And I also– One of the things I found when I became a Friends liaison, and you talked about this in your presentation, “Creating Community”. I didn’t feel part of the Friends liaison community. I was a really big part of the reader’s advisory community, and I wasn’t with the Friends. And I’m trying to create community. In this presentation I’m doing with two other librarians from my area, we started a list serve on the Rails website, it’s actually open to anyone in the country, they made it special that way, so you can join it, and it’s a place where Friends liaisons can come together and collaborate, and work together, and share successes and failures with each other.

So, your Friends group are really the people who can do those special projects for you, like you said. And so, like I was talking about in my presentation, it was more the Kickstarter kind of thing. A lot of libraries are not set up financially, in a sense, that Kickstarter makes sense for them, but a Friends group could could say, “Well, we’re going to run a Kickstarter to do this for the library, and then we will donate it to the library.” So, it works for that, too.

And the slides for both my presentations are on RA For All, and they’re going to be there for a while. Right now they’re on the front page, and this is going to be up soon, after we talk, so that’ll be there for a while, and then they move to my recent presentations tab. So, anyone’s welcome to look at those and get in contact with me to talk about it more. I’ve definitely, this year, made it a goal to put a little more emphasis on my work with the Friends. I sometimes feel badly, because reader’s advisory is what I’m really supposed to be doing, and it’s my passion, and Friends has been something I’ve been given, but I’m the kind of person that wants to give my all to it. So, I’m really trying, and this is going to be a pep talk for all the Friends liaisons in Illinois, and I’m pep talking myself, too.

Is there a– When we talked last time, we talked at the end of 2012, and you recommended Joe Hill’s Nosferatu, which ended up being a big, huge hit. Is there something else coming out that you think is going to be the Nosferatu of 2015? Or, late 2014?

It’s totally out already. I just put a post up on, what are we, October 15th today? On my blog. It’s called Bird Box by Josh Malerman. It’s also going to be in Library Journal, in the back, in Neal Wyatt’s reader’s column that I have in the October 15th issue of Library Journal. This is one of the best books I have read all year. And I mean, I have read some of the big literary fiction books. It is a debut writer. He’s from Detroit, so it’s set in that setting. It is a world where something has happened. We don’t know what it is, because if you’ve seen it, you end up very violently killing yourself and possibly others around you. The story’s set on two planes. Four years after all this happened, and there’s very few people left, and then with a young mother and her two children, who are living in a house, and they’re about to get in a boat, go down a river, to a possible place of salvation. They cannot open their eyes. I mean, think about the claustrophobia. And then it flashes back to four years before, with this same woman narrating, to what happened. And to– We know she’s in a house where terrible things happened, that there used to be people there, and we see what happened to them. Every single person in every– Not every person, but every department in my library, somebody’s read this book. We all love it. We are sending it to everyone. There is no gore, but it is one of the scariest books I’ve ever read. I mean, imagine a world where if you open your eyes, you die. That is just– And navigating a world like that. And it also has a great ending. But it’s a perfect example of a terrifying book without blood, without gore. And I can’t believe it’s his first book. It was fantastic. I think everyone should read this book.

And, give us the title and author one more time.

It’s called Bird Box, by Josh Malerman. I found it on The Library Reads, which all of you should be following, which I post on my blog, too. And I have to tell you, every person I’ve given it to, librarians and patrons alike, I haven’t had a person who didn’t like it. And it makes me excited, because it is truly a horror book, but it shows that you don’t have to have the blood and guts to be horror.

That’s really what keeps people away from a lot of things, like from horror, because they’re just like, “Eh, that’s just gross.” And so, you couldn’t get into that. You get, like we talked about earlier, the emotion. You get the emotion of it without the “Eww” kind of gross part of it. Just, the pure emotion of that.

And seriously, I dare you to go outside with your eyes open after you finish reading the book. It is scary.

All right, Becky. Thank you so much for coming back on the show again. I’ve wanted to have you on since we had you on the first time, and I’m glad we were able to do this face to face. So, thanks a lot.

Yeah, I’m really glad it was in person and not just over the internet somewhere. So, thank you, Steve.


That’s great.


That was fantastic.


All right, Becky. We are recording this at the Illinois Library Association conference, and I have just one question for you, Becky. What are you dressing up for as Halloween, for Halloween this year?

That is an excellent question. I usually answer the door at the house, my husband takes the kids out, so I go scary, and I have a really, really ugly mask that scares the heck out of kids, and I throw a witch hat on top, usually, for good measure.

And what– If you had to dress up as a book character, who is the scariest book character ever? We are asking this because Becky has her horror blog, so she has to know the scariest book character ever.

I should have asked ahead of time, to be warned! The scariest? See, I tend to like those monsters that are not easy to recreate. So, my favorite horror book of all time is The Ruins, by Scott Smith. And so, that monster is a giant plant that eats people, so I’d have to say that that’s what I’d have to dress up as.

All right. Thank you very much, Becky. That’s it.

Thank you.

So, that’s it.