LibraryReads – Tenth Anniversary

Steve Thomas: Rebecca and Stephanie, you’ve both been on the podcast before, so welcome back to Circulating Ideas.

Stephanie Chase: Thank you.

Rebecca Vnuk: Thanks for having us, Steve.

Steve Thomas: LibraryReads is celebrating its 10th anniversary this month, and that is very exciting. For people who may not know, let’s get back to the basics. What is LibraryReads and how did it get started in the first place?

Stephanie Chase: I think back when we started LibraryReads, so that was back, starting in the late aughts, approaching the early 2010s. I think there was a lot of interest in more formalized support around readers’ advisory. What we were seeing as Book Expo America started to welcome more librarians and library staff into that space, how could we really capitalize on the impact that libraries really do have in moving books forward, promoting authors recognizing the role that libraries and library staff really play in discovery.

If you cast your mind back, you can think back to how that was a really big discussion for a period of time. And so the story goes that at a Digipalooza, there was a conversation about how do we step into this space and why doesn’t anything like the IndieNext list, which is put together by independent bookseller staff recommendations, why isn’t there anything like IndieNext for libraries? That simple question just got the wheels turning among this group of people, library staff were really involved in the readers’ advisory space, involved in Book Expo America had connections with what existed at the time with the Association of American Publishers, their trade libraries committee. There was just a lot of things swirling at the same time.

So we decided to just try see what would happen if we made it easy for library staff across the country to share what they were really excited about, what were they planning on promoting to their patrons, and recognizing that that is a very different thing than a “Best Of” list. It’s really about what you are excited about, what you’re excited to share, what you’ve loved reading and want to promote, and recognizing that for library staff in particular, a lot of those books are not the top best sellers because they don’t need our help. Our patrons are already coming in. We have long holds queues on those. It was really about bringing forward what are the things that we’re recommending to patrons when they’re waiting for the hold. So I think we just have this lovely kind of mix of all of those things coming together. And really being able to start that and try.

From the get-go, we really wanted to work with publishers to make that happen. IndieNext functions that way, that list. We were really lucky to have some key people at some of the big publishers at the time who were also really interested in this question about the role that libraries play in discovery, so that from the beginning we could really count on support from the people who are putting out the books and the people who are promoting the books, and so that was a really important factor at that time too.

Rebecca Vnuk: When people ask me kind of like, how did this start, and what do you compare yourselves to? Absolutely, I say we’re based on the IndieNext list and also will tell people the same thing that you said. It’s not a “Best Of” list. This is not an award committee. It’s not a juried, 10 people get to pick these books. No. It is the voice of library staff across the United States. The New York Times bestseller list, everybody knows those books and none of them are on the shelf right now, and so we are not trying to be that. We are trying to be a more personable companion to that list.

That is one of the things that people like about our list that sets us apart are those annotations that come from library staff. We could have easily just said, let’s pull the top holds in America’s library for this week. You know, Library Journal does that. We actually now work with them. I love it. Every Monday they contact me with, “here’s the title that’s got the most holds in America’s libraries. Can you give us three LibraryReads past selections that would be good read-alikes? And to me, that’s exactly the goal that we’re trying to do is everybody knows those best sellers, they know those top holds. We have this kind of extra kick to it with that personalized touch.

Steve Thomas: Rebecca, how did you end up getting involved with LibraryReads?

Rebecca Vnuk: At the time that LibraryReads was formed, I was working at Booklist, so I, not being in the public library anymore, didn’t want to kind of intrude on that space, but we partnered up, I was asked a couple of times to emcee different events because I had been working on behalf of Booklist with various publishers to do a lot of their author events and kind of became known for being able to do interviews and that sort of thing. And so right up until, I think it was right before you guys decided, Stephanie, to go bigger and incorporate and get an Executive Director, I had left Booklist and ran another magazine briefly and then was sort of out there available and the stars just kind of aligned perfectly that I was looking for my next thing to do, and Stephanie and the crew were looking for someone to run LibraryReads and it just kind of naturally fit together with both of our needs, which I’m forever grateful for.

Stephanie Chase: We were volunteer led for, I think, the planning years and then really, I think the first four years or so of our existence, so all volunteer time. We were able to hire a staff person as an administrative staff person, Allison [Escoto], who’s still with LibraryReads, which is also awesome, love her. So when we were coming to that point, we knew we wanted to incorporate, we had done a lot of research about what type of organization we should be. That was my final job as the chair was to finish the incorporation and hire the Executive Director. So it just felt we are at this great time where we had a lot under our belt, we knew what worked, we had strong relationships, and we also knew there was really no way that that original group… so the original group that really founded LibraryReads stayed engaged for a long time. And we were talking about this as we were prepping. I think I was the chair of the steering committee, what the board was then called at the time for seven years. It was just such a good time to hand it over, a really strong structure that had a brand that people knew about to somebody who had the time. And then in our case, so lucky with Rebecca, like the connections, the expertise, the interest to just really keep moving the organization forward.

Steve Thomas: Can you talk a little bit about, you mentioned Stephanie, especially when you were setting it up of, the working relationship with publishers. I know a lot of the publishers have library marketing units. What’s that relationship like with the publishers?

Stephanie Chase: I can definitely start historic and then Rebecca, I think you can bring us to where we are now. I think it’s really important to remember that the list is a hundred percent driven by library staff votes. So the publishers do not have any control whether something appears on the list or not, except for the push that they’re gonna put behind titles and materials.

So when we started, again, we were really looking at the way IndieNext worked as a model and we approached the publishers to really help us get the organization off the ground. And I really wanna do a shout out to Christopher Platt, Miriam Tuliao, who were on the original steering committee, who along with Nora Rawlinson really did such incredible work gaining support from publishers to essentially give us the seed money to get going, and you can see on the website the founding partners, which included Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Other Press, the Penguin Group, Quercus Publishing, Random House (they’re together now, of course) Simon & Schuster, Workman, and W.W. Norton.

So we were really lucky, again, to have publishers who recognized that this was a really effective way to focus their marketing, and to also, again, get back some of what they were interested in looking for at the time too, about how they can support and influence what’s happening in the library market. From the beginning, there was that relationship and that understanding. At that time too, Edelweiss and NetGalley were kind of in their infancy, I would say, in the library market. I know LibraryReads continues to still do a lot of work about what does it mean to read pre-pub, what’s an advanced reader’s copy? We’re in this place where we could really help publishers who were trying to make that transition. How do we start to have some of those same relationships with library staff as often our reps really do with local bookstore staff?

Rebecca Vnuk: Yes, I echo all of that and I think that what is really interesting is, as you mentioned, Steve, all of the top publishers, and small ones as well, have marketing teams that are specific to libraries, and I feel like LibraryReads has given them a chance to focus on readers’ advisory folks in particular.

I think anybody who has done readers’ advisory in the last, you know, maybe five or so years, 10 years going back, we can identify the main players, right? We know the Kaite Stovers of the world, and we know Robin Beerbower, and we know Robin Bradford, and we know these names that we see on reviews and that we see on websites and blurbs and that sort of thing. The publishers knew some of them, and LibraryReads really helped them kind of realize there’s more than just these top 40 people that keep voting. We have hundreds, and actually now we get thousands, of votes every month. It became a really great way for them to focus their marketing efforts. To this day, when they’re handing out their galleys at shows, or they’re doing their mailings, or they’re sending out their emails, they have our logo splashed all over it. They have our vote dates, the deadlines splashed all over it. They make sure that they mention in their marketing emails, “Don’t forget to vote for LibraryReads by June 1st!” Like, they are really pushing it and they will contact me. To say, “Okay what are the vote numbers looking like right now? What is the minimum number it takes to get on the list? We wanna try and pick our three or four books this month that we really wanna put a solid push behind. What do you think trend-wise and that sort of thing.”

It just becomes this wonderful back and forth relationship that didn’t really exist before. I think they all kind of had individual relationships with some of these bigger folks and with people at larger libraries, which is great, but now their reach has gone even farther, and I’m really happy that we can facilitate that. We are seeing lately especially last year was the first year we had exhibited at ARSL in person, and I can tell you with confidence the number of votes that we are seeing from people who had not voted previously, the number of people from smaller systems and smaller libraries has really shot up, which is very exciting. That’s something I’m really pleased about, and I think the publishers are really pleased about that too, because the more reach, the better.

One of the things that we did when the pandemic hit, and all of a sudden, hey, there’s no more conferences to go to. There are no more author panels. Where do we get these galleys from? We really stepped up and said, what can we do virtually for you guys? How can we put together virtual author panels? Can we get folks to come and do your interviews for you or do your emceeing? And how do we reach out to our user base to get them more invested in doing the downloads on Edelweiss and NetGalley.

We really were shocked, I think, that during the pandemic, our numbers went up instead of down. I thought for sure, “Oh my gosh. What’s gonna happen to us? Are people, what are they gonna do if they can’t go to BookExpo and they can’t go to ALA and come back with their 16 book bags full of galleys?” And everyone really rose to the occasion and was like, “That’s cool. If I have to download it, I have to download it.” We do have our users that love their downloads and love their Kindles, and that’s all they wanna do. But I was really surprised to see our numbers continue to go up every month, and they dipped slightly in March, and by May of 2020 they had gone right back to where they were and have grown ever since. I’m fascinated by that and I think our publishing friends are really happy about that because I’m sure that they were panicking, like, “What do we do if we don’t have the in-person opportunities to give those galleys out anymore?” So it’s been interesting.

Steve Thomas: Well, I think as much as sometimes maybe some parts of a publishing unit don’t appreciate libraries as much as we want, definitely there are parts of the publishing houses that see our value, and work well with us and through organizations like LibraryReads a lot of times to reach that market.

Rebecca Vnuk: Yes. I don’t have any concrete numbers, but I absolutely have anecdotal email evidence when a book appears on the list, they see a spike in sales. Many reps tell me that, and they track all that very carefully, which is exciting to hear. So we definitely know we are making a difference in getting the word out about certain books.

Steve Thomas: Do they get the numbers from NetGalley and Edelweiss of how many are downloaded?

Rebecca Vnuk: Here’s the interesting thing. They get some numbers but not a full picture. On the user side, when you’re going to vote for a book on either platform, it asks if you wanna share that information with the publisher. The user has to check the box in order for them to get those numbers, or at least to get those annotations. I’m not clear if they get actual numbers or not, but they will often email me and say, “Hey, we thought maybe this book was gonna hit the list this month,” and they can of course only see their own books. So it’s kind of like the runners up in the Miss America pageant, like where do they all fall?

So we know the points and we will never tell, but they will often be like, ” We expected x, y, z book to hit the list because we know it got 50 votes. Can you tell us what happened?” And then I get to go look and say, “Well, you know, this month it took X number of votes to get on the list, and you just barely didn’t make it.” They watch that stuff very carefully. They’re really invested in the data that way.

Steve Thomas: How has LibraryReads changed over the past decade? How is it different now than it was when it first got started as that volunteer loose organization?

Stephanie Chase: I think when we started, we were really very focused on the list. We were really focused on having a product and doing what we could do again, within our volunteer capacity to make that a strong, reliable, influential product. So, to that extent, we spent a lot of time on those relationships with those partners. We spent time encouraging people to start reading pre-pub. Again, if you weren’t in that small group as Rebecca was talking about, it’s a whole different practice to be reading three or six or nine or 12 months in advance and to have access to the resources to do that. So we spent a lot of time on just encouraging people to think differently about their reading skills, why it’s important to read pre-pub, the influence you can have on what’s being published, what’s being shared if you do that, to really make sure that we had a list that really highlighted, again, as Rebecca said, those voices that were not from the usual players. So how could we help the publishers really see the extent to which this is a space that library staff really do occupy and really can have a lot of power in.

As the list started to really be strong, as volunteers, we started adding some education component. We did an on-conference a couple of years pretty early on. We did start working in some ways with NoveList, sometimes supporting them in some of their webinars. But I think for me, the piece that has just really been so effective since Rebecca came on is really around the professional support and the training that LibraryReads does.

Rebecca Vnuk: So I’ll jump in on that then. When I was interviewing for the job, the two things that I really tried to put out there to be a good candidate were A) I had existing relationships with all of the publishers and with NoveList and with ALA and Booklist and Library Journal, and B) I really saw the ability for our organization to start doing professional development for readers’ advisory.

And again, my stars aligned and it all worked out that they were like, “Yes, that’s what we want,” and I’m feeling really happy that it’s worked out that way because what we’ve done in the last five years, we do a lot of workshops and webinars with Booklist. As I mentioned earlier, we do this weekly read-alikes thing with Library Journal and a lot of our board members make themselves available to do different emceeing and hosting and interviewing, and we work now with our friends at NoveList on these Crash Course webinars and on other webinars and training things. And as Stephanie mentioned, so the volunteer group was doing the unconference, which is a great way to just do one day all about readers’ advisory, here we go. And that is really difficult to do with just volunteers. It’s difficult enough to do it when you actually have staffers to do, but at least when I came on, then I could kind of run the day and pull from our board to do the actual events.

We had done two more since their original one and then the pandemic hit and that’s when we shifted our focus to what can we offer and really what should we be offering as opposed to how can we work with what is already in place? Like let’s not reinvent the wheel, right? So when we started talking to NoveList, they were like, “We wanna do these genre webinars. How can we create these?” They brought us in on the ground floor on that, which was excellent, and we were so pleased and proud to be part of that.

It just sort of blossomed from there. We took the last unconference that we did. We took some pieces of that and have put it into a very flexible, very adaptable program that can be done as an online webinar or pre-recorded or taken out on the road, so to speak. We did several of those last year and are doing more this year. We are going out more and more now to various state and local conferences, knowing that that’s how we reach some of these folks that don’t get to go to ALA every year, or they don’t get to go to PLA, but they can go to their state conference, so we’re exhibiting at those conferences, and we’re offering up this program for free. I’ve done it on Zoom a few times already this year for various libraries.

We are also fortunate to be in a place where we have funds to offer as well. So I’m gonna do a little commercial plug here. Go to our website and under our participate tab, you’ll see a little tab for continuing education and support. We have travel grants available to library folks who, as long as you are working in adult readers’ advisory services and you are heading to a conference that has content for adult readers’ advisors, we can help out with that. We also have funds available to give to institutions if they want to send folks to a webinar or they wanna bring in a speaker or bring in an author. We’ve got that available and I’m really, really pleased. That program is still kind of in its infancy, but we’re excited to have that available.

It was definitely one of my big goals because when you think about it, there aren’t a lot of institutions or organizations that just focus on readers’ advisory. We wanted to be almost like a clearing house for that, right? We didn’t wanna take over what anybody else was already doing, and that is why I’m so grateful for the relationships that we have with Library Journal and Booklist and ALA and NoveList, that we’re all working for the same goal. We want these books and authors to be promoted. We want readers’ advisors to be learning constantly and to feel supported and with the end goal of just having more books available for more readers, and the fact that we all kind of have that goal is this wonderful working relationship that we have then. So it’s an exciting thing to be part of.

Steve Thomas: Yeah. Currently where technology’s ubiquitous, there’s so many different competing forms of media out there, why do you think that libraries should continue to focus on books and reading?

Stephanie Chase: Rebecca, I’m sure that you have some thoughts on this, but I think when you describe the reason why you think people wouldn’t want it, is precisely why people do. There is so much happening in the world. There’s so much to choose from that when you can have someone you trust, and I think in this case, there’s so much trust with library staff when you’re like, “Oh, library staff like this. I’ll try it!” It just is such an important part of that. People have long looked to library staff to help with guidance, and they love to see what we’re reading, so it just really makes sense.

Rebecca Vnuk: Yeah. I think it’s interesting that for years, I’ve been, and you guys as well I know, have been a librarian for 20 something years, and we’ve heard since we were in grad school, “Oh, who’s gonna need libraries anymore? You can Google anything you want! And blah, blah, blah. There’s so many different forms of entertainment, like, who’s gonna need this?” And it’s not going away anytime soon, hasn’t disappeared in those past 20 years, and I think it’s not going to in the next.

I’m always laughing at the fact that we think that everyone is so consumed by social media, and don’t get me wrong, they very much are. But look at BookTok. Like that is a thing. Who would’ve guessed it? Who would’ve thought that people would be talking about books on social media? And they do it, it’s driving lots of sales, and I’m excited about that.

So I feel like to Stephanie’s point, library folks, we’re almost some of the original influencers, if I may say so boldly, right? Like, people know that we are the book people, we are the readers, we are the curators, if you will. Maybe the cultivators is a better word. We know books and if we are enthusiastic about something, we mean it because we don’t have anything to sell, right? Everyone, even on social media, your favorite creators and your favorite influencers at the bottom line, they’re trying to sell you something, right? They’re trying to make money, they’re trying to push a product, and libraries have never been that way. We are excited about something because it’s good. We are excited about something because we are enthusiastic and we want to share. And I think that that is absolutely at the core of what we do, and it drives us and it works. It works.

Stephanie Chase: I think the market works in our favor too. I realized I should have looked this up because certainly pre pandemic, you had started to see this plateauing of adoption of digital reading, so you have the vast majority of the reading public, still very much interested in reading in print. So I think that piece, as bookstores have disappeared, you can’t go to Target and get someone to help you find something on the shelf. So again, libraries become this place where if you’re really interested in that physical piece, then that’s what you want. And I think when you look at some of the most successful services that public libraries in particular offered during the pandemic was curbside pickup, so the ability to still talk to someone about books, right? So out the window with your mask on to say what you were looking for and that you trusted library staff to bring you a bag of books.

I think for me, every time you look at these studies, I know Pew has done a lot of research in this, younger people skew very heavily toward print, so you’re describing a market that has not really changed its reading habits. It may have added, but it has not subtracted. So there’s still such an interest, a desire, to be reading in a physical print format, and the avenues to access that have continued to narrow.

Rebecca Vnuk: For 20 years we could say, “Hey, what’s your most popular display in the library?” It’s actually the carve books that have just been returned by people.

Stephanie Chase: Totally.

Rebecca Vnuk: Everyone wants to know what their neighbors are reading and everyone wants to know what’s popular and they want a personal suggestion, and that is kind of the enduring quality of LibraryReads. There is a name attached to that vote. There is a person it is that is saying why you should read this, why they liked it. It really adds this very human and personal element to something that could be just a piece of paper with 10 books on it or just a bestseller list, we’re just gonna base it off what’s popular and the fact that it is a personal recommendation is always gonna be our strongest suit. And I don’t see that changing anytime.

Steve Thomas: Yeah, you’re kind of in the middle of “bestseller” list and “best of” list cuz like, best of list are getting one person’s opinion about what the best books are, bestseller list are getting just what’s sold, but you guys are sort of, it’s personal, but it’s aggregated personal. It’s not just one person’s opinion, a lot of people thought this was the best book this month. So you get that melding of different opinions as well.

Stephanie Chase: Most excited to share. Favorite, not necessarily best.

Rebecca Vnuk: Those are two very different descriptors. People like to, I think across any product, not just books, but people want to be reassured that what they’re choosing is good, that they have made a good choice, that they have picked something that other people related to as well. How many people come in and they really do wanna just look at the New York Times bestseller list because they feel a reassurance that, “Oh, if so, many people are interested in that, it must be good.” We get this little bonus of being, “Oh, well it’s the book experts in this world that are telling you that they liked this, so then it really must be good!”

Steve Thomas: Well I feel like Best is more intellectual and favorite is more emotional.

Well, as we all know, the book challenges happening all over the US currently. Do you all have any advice, as book people, for librarian and library staff who are facing this kind of pressure to restrict access to certain materials in their libraries?

Stephanie Chase: Way to follow a softball up with a hardball, Steve.

So I think I would encourage library staff to remember that they are not alone in this. It’s happening in communities, of, all kinds, all across the country. And that there are really strong resources there for support for you in general. So, you know, ALA and PEN America are both doing really important work in this area and offer a lot of resources and support. So I would really encourage people to take a step out of that immediate situation they’re in and just broaden back out to the broader profession to find resources and support. I think that that can be helpful.

And then I think some of the techniques, at least for me, that we have long used to promote our collections can still be really effective in this way. I think we’ve often talked about if you don’t want diversifying your collection to be performative, then it has to be consistent and it has to be spread across your collection. So don’t put up a Pride Month display, right? Don’t do a display of LGBTQ+ authors once a year. Make sure that you have LGBTQ+ authors in all of your displays that you do all year, right? Make sure you’re doing that with authors of color. Don’t just put a display of Black authors up in February. You should be having books that represent the Black experience highlighting and celebrating the Black voice all year round. And so you don’t need to have a display that says like, great mysteries by Black authors, just have a great mysteries display. So I think that’s work what we should be doing regardless and, in this time, finding ways to subtly raise those flags can be really important. Right?

A lot of what we talk about with library collections, with library displays, with programming is that we have the power to really help people be feel seen in this world. We have the power to really expose people to stories and experiences that they might not otherwise do so, and readers who are looking for that kind of validation, we just need to make sure that they can find ways to see it. When I look at a display and I see it is mostly woman authors, or authors in translation or any of these kinds of things, I could see that subtle signal that somebody’s trying to send to me that they are trying to cultivate and share parts of their collection that are not always so visible.

So I think that kind of, I mean, I hate to say like underground work cuz it’s not, it is just the work that we should be doing. I think that could be really effective, especially where we’re seeing, around these book bannings, people are really moving on to displays. So I think we have to be very, very thoughtful about displays. Most libraries do not have a policy, so this is a homework for public libraries listening. You really need to have a display policy that is as strong as your collection development policy, but if you’re really doing that work and in a meaningful way, you’re not creating a display that is easy for someone to come in and just say, that shouldn’t be here because you are infusing your displays, you’re infusing your staff picks, you’re choosing what you put face out on your shelves. You’re really doing that consistently in a way that is really hard for someone to pull the thread out on.

Steve Thomas: If you can, the way you work, is there a way that you all can, as LibraryReads, support diversity and inclusion in the books recommended on the list?

Rebecca Vnuk: Absolutely. So this is something that we’ve had some criticism for in the past, and I feel like we do our best to address that. The ways that we do that are, first of all, people need to remember that the LibraryReads organization and the board do not influence what’s on the list. We all vote, but our votes count just as much as everybody else’s. We don’t tell them what to vote for, and we don’t tip the scales one way or another.

Where we do have the ability to tip the scales is in all of the author programming that we do, we are very clear about choosing a diverse group of authors for our author panels. And we always have been, from the start, before I came along, that was very clear that we wanted to have a wide range of authors appearing in our events, and we stick to that to this day.

The other initiatives that we’ve done are… Stephanie, actually, I believe is the person who started, they came up with the idea for the Hall of Fame. Our Hall of Fame section of the website is authors who have hit the list three times. When that third book comes up, they are moved into our Hall of Fame, which means they still get the recognition for their book that month, but they’re moved off of the main list, which creates more space on that main list, mostly for debut authors is what we’re finding. We saw a really wonderful increase in debut authors appearing on the list, and we see a lot more diverse authors and different genres than we had been seeing previously come up on the list.

The other thing that we’ve done in conjunction with that is this last year we created a board Bonus Pick, which is a book that someone on the board read. It has to at least have gotten some votes. We’re not just gonna pluck something out of thin air, but it didn’t quite get enough to make it to that top 10. So a board member is saying, “Hey, I claim this book is something I wanna make sure everybody sees.”

And when I was looking at it, cuz we’re gonna start putting them right now, it appears as bonus content on our social media. And then we’re going to create printable lists to go along with it. And I was looking at it and I think it is majority non-white, non-cishet authors. And then we didn’t even do that on purpose. It just turned out that way.

And then just this last month, we’ve included a notable non-fiction pick, which is also just again, going to spread the wealth about who gets promoted here. So we do things like that and we work with Nora Rawlinson, who has her wonderful Early Word trending list that she works on, she’s got a whole spreadsheet of diverse galleys that are set to come out and that gives people something to choose from. We’re always encouraging people to read outside what you’re usually reading, make sure you’re deliberately choosing non-white cishet authors, and that’s a good resource to use to get those books. And so we have definitely seen the votes go up for that sort of thing.

Stephanie Chase: I also think, especially under Rebecca’s leadership, I’m not gonna say LibraryReads is the sole driver for this, because that is not the case, but I do think where Rebecca talked about LibraryReads serving in that, like, clearing house or that first stop with publishers, recognizing that we were able, as an organization, to push the publishers and push the library marketing groups to talk about books in different ways and to talk about different books.

So I do think LibraryReads was very effective early on in saying we don’t want you to push what you’ve always been pushing on us. We wanna know who is a debut author. We wanna know your genre titles. We wanna know your authors of color. We need you to give us this information that you weren’t giving before, pushing back on what they would offer up as authors for panels. So I do think that because we could speak in that clearinghouse single voice, we were able to really encourage publishers in the adult market because that was really absent.

In a same way that the list focuses on adult titles, because there’s such strong lists already in existence for youth titles, that movement, like the We Read Diverse Books movement was really strong in youth titles and absent in titles geared for an adult audience. So I do think LibraryReads was one part of things that were happening in connecting with publishers to highlight and push and market and share titles that really represented different experiences and breadth and diversity of experiences that was not the case before. Also, still a long way to go, but I do think that LibraryReads is really important in that.

Steve Thomas: And for people who are not overly familiar with it, the Hall of Fame authors, that doesn’t mean once you’re in the Hall of Fame, that you’re just like shunted off and you’re never spoken of again. You still mention when those authors have new books coming out and they still get noticed.

Rebecca Vnuk: And we do still encourage people to vote for those books. It’s not like, once you make it into the Hall of Fame, we’ll promote every single book you put out after that. Nope. People still have to read them. They still have to vote for them. But we do, on our social media, every book gets its own post so that the author gets tagged in it and they can share it easily and every book gets on the printable flyer.

We are really fortunate, our friends at Booklist are putting our print list as the centerfold of their awesome new product Booklist Reader, and they do it as a two pager. They do the regular list and the full hall of fame list, which is really great that we’re still getting those books attention. And that was kind of our goal. We didn’t wanna stop paying attention to the bigger authors because of course their books are still wonderful and we still want to promote them, but we didn’t wanna have months where, you know, it’s only 10. We really, we’ve gone back and forth about, should we expand? Should we make it 12? Should we make it 20? And 10 just feels comfortable to us. We thought, how can we prevent having months where all 10 match the New York Times bestseller list, because that’s totally opposite of what our goal is. And doing a Hall of Fame was the perfect way to make that happen.

Stephanie Chase: I think authors are really excited too. A lot of the publishers have these kind of wonderful follow-ups that they do after the list comes out, and I think of HarperCollins in particular, which interviews the authors, and I feel like the authors are so excited to be able to say they’re in the Hall of Fame. I really get the feeling it does not feel like a consolation prize. It feels like a leveling up.

Rebecca Vnuk: Yes. I went to a bookstore event earlier in the month, which was Justin Cronin, author of The Passage and The Ferryman, being interviewed by Blake Crouch. Justin Cronin’s book was our number one pick for May, and Blake is recently in the Hall of Fame. So I went up to the table after the interview was done, and I went to go get my book signed and I gave them each a LibraryReads pen and I was like, you know, “This is gonna sound really weird, but I don’t know if you realize this, but your book was the number one LibraryReads pick.”

And Justin Cronin is just like, so excited, that was the best thing that happened this month. And I’m like, wait, really? And then I got to chat with Blake Crouch, who we actually have interviewed before, and now he’s in our Hall of Fame, and he remembered all of this. So the authors absolutely are, are very excited to be recognized by library folks. I think it’s that they understand that we are the people that know books the best and it’s exciting to them when we’re embracing their books. So that was just kind of fun.

Steve Thomas: Yeah. That’s cool. So looking ahead, how do you envision LibraryReads continuing to evolve in the future? Do you have any goals for the organization that you can share publicly? I’m sure you have secret goals.

Rebecca Vnuk: Secret domination, world domination. No, that’s actually a good question cause during the pandemic, the board was not able to meet for our usual annual retreats where we all get together and brainstorm over a weekend, and figure things out, so I’m excited to bring folks together at ALA in Chicago this summer. I really want us to just sort of spend time talking about where we’ve been, where we are now, what we’d like to do, and then start working on a strategic plan. I think our goal for the first five years has definitely been met, by expanding our reach, expanding our user base, and now we’re sort of entering into the last phase of everything that I had really wanted in these first five years, which is getting out to these smaller conferences and exhibits, and that is gonna be our focus a little bit for the next year or so. But I don’t really know where we’re gonna go in the future. It’s up to the board and the fates to see what happens for us.

Stephanie Chase: I think LibraryReads has been really good at meeting the needs as they come out of the publishing world too, right? So I think things will continue to be happening with publishing consolidation and LibraryReads, I think has been really effective in stepping into that space. Again, having Rebecca as the Executive Director is so great, and the steering committee and board members, the list is so incredible of who remains, who is and remains involved in this organization. So just really bringing together people who are thinking about these things. I think LibraryReads has for 10 years, been really effective at bringing those two pieces together. What’s happening, what’s our expertise, or what do we see, so trends from the publishing and trends from the library side. I really imagine the organization is gonna continue to be in that place where we’re really effectively bringing those needs together in a way that really works for library staff. And so some of that is driven by the needs that library staff have.

Rebecca Vnuk: And this might be a good opportunity for me to bring this up. We aren’t just operating in a vacuum either. Our current board is 10 people strong, and then we have a dozen plus of our prior board that are our advisory council, basically, and then we’ve also identified an additional 50 library staff folks that, we’re calling them our power users for a while, the people whose vote every single month for multiple titles and the people who show up again and again in those annotations and the people who are really invested. They appear at all of the events that we have, all of our author panels, they come every month to the Twitter Early Word Galley Chat. All of those power users, we’ve brought them together in an official capacity by calling them LibraryReads ambassadors. And so we have this group people, and they are from all across the United States. They’re at all different types of libraries. We’ve got folks from big systems, we’ve got some from small standalones, all of these people who are invested in what LibraryReads is doing.

And so we poll them, we ask them, what do you need? What are the challenges you’re facing right now? How is LibraryReads able to help you when you’re talking about books? What can we do for you looking for us? So we’re definitely trying to make sure that we’re meeting library staff with what they need.

So think of us as 10 additional books, well, really 12 now that we’re doing our Bonus Pick and our non-fiction. So in minimum, because for example, the June list that just came out had 10 Hall of Famers on it, so think of it this way. This is 10 books minimum a month that you don’t have to read in order to be able to promote.

I say that every time we do a training and I’m introducing people to the list, I say, look at these annotations. We have carefully curated and edited down the annotations, so they are generally three lines long. It gives you just enough information about the plot of the book, just enough information about what the appeal factors are and who would want to read this, and just enough to compare it to other books so that someone can spend 35 seconds reading that annotation and have that book in their brain ready to suggest it to someone who comes into their library.

Steve Thomas: Rebecca and Stephanie, thank you so much for coming on the podcast and congratulations again on 10 years of LibraryReads.

Rebecca Vnuk: Thanks, Steve.

Stephanie Chase: Thanks for having us, Steve.