This is Circulating Ideas. I’m Steve Thomas. This is the final interview in my series from the Illinois Library Association conference, this time with Rebecca Vnuk. She is the editor for reference and collection management at Booklist Publications and is the co-creator of Shelf Renewal. She’s the author of three readers’ advisory nonfiction titles on women’s fiction and she was named a Library Journal Mover and Shaker in 2010.
Rebecca, welcome to Circulating Ideas. Shelf Renewal, I think, is how a lot of people know you. That’s how you sort of got your name as your, your big rock ‘n’ roll librarian [laughs], rock star librarian. How did you start Shelf Renewal?
Well that is a very good question. Shelf Renewal, let’s see if I can go back and remember exactly when it all happened. So, Shelf Renewal, in 2009 I had decided to leave the public library world. I had been working as a public librarian for almost a dozen years at that point and was feeling a little bit burned out, and I had a one year old son at home, and I was kind of at that point that I think a lot of people who have families reach, where they’re talking to patrons about why they can’t look at porn on the internet and thinking why am I not at home looking at my cute baby right now? [laughs] And so I had just-
I thought you were gonna say why am I not at home looking at porn over the internet.
[laughs] Well there’s that, too! And I had just decided you know what? I think I need a break, so I decided to take a couple of years off, and I didn’t wanna leave libraries completely and leave books behind and all that sort of thing. And I knew, all right, there’s gotta be stuff that I can do in the meantime to kind of stay connected to the library world. So how it all came about with Shelf Renewal was I had signed a book contract with Libraries Unlimited to write a book of annotations on women’s fiction, and I was also doing a book for them on women’s fiction authors, both at the same time. And so I had this writing experience under my belt and, you know, writing annotations and reviews was something that I was good at and had experience in and I thought, well there’s gotta be a way that I can put this online and kind of, you know, keep doing that and keep myself busy and keep my name out there. So my colleague, Karen Kleckner Keefe, a very good friend of mine–she’s currently the director at the Hinsdale Public Library here in Illinois–and at the time we were both readers’ advisory librarians and we were sitting, we found ourselves sitting at the ALA annual conference and watching Nora Rawlinson talk about her experience with EarlyWord, which hopefully everybody listening is already familiar with EarlyWord. It is a fantastic website that, she’s kind of this publisher darling and they let her know everything that’s coming out ahead of time, so she broadcasts that with this real library bend to it. Like, this is why, you know, you need to be aware of this book. You need to be aware of this author, here’s the push, people are gonna come into your libraries and, and put holds on these. So we started, we were just enamored of here and thought, okay, we wanna be her when we grow up, how can we do this? What can we do to emulate her? We’re sitting in the audience next to each other kind of writing notes to each other back and forth, like this is so cool, how can we do that, and we started thinking about, so what Nora does, did with, or does with EarlyWord is talks about upcoming books. It’s all advance reader’s copies, it’s all, you know, this is coming out in the next couple of weeks or couple of months, and we started thinking, well what about all those poor books that are sitting neglected on the shelf that used to be your best sellers? Or maybe they never quite were your best sellers, but at one time, you know, they were popular, you bought them, and now they’re sitting there, and they’re getting dust. Nobody’s gonna read them and they’re gonna get weeded, and we kind of thought can we sort of do the same buzz about books that are the backlist? And we, we, we left that conference and I think we took, you know, separate train lines home and texted each other the whole way home with all these fabulous ideas that we had, ’cause first we started thinking okay, you know, if I’m not working any more, how can we turn this into a money-making venture [laugh]? Like, what can we do, like, what could we sell the libraries with this, and all these crazy ideas, and of course, none of them are practical. And we decided well let’s just start by doing a website. So she and I kind of worked on it for about four weeks ahead of time before we launched it. We started writing content for it, and sort of decided, you know, we both have very chatty and informal writing styles and the way that we talk is very, you know, if I dare say snarky, and we’re very casual and very fun. We like to think that we have a good sense of humor, at least. And we thought well that’s gonna be our voice, right? We’ve sort of chosen our voice for this and we’re, we’re gonna pick this. So we decided to do, we decided kind of on our content ahead of time. We thought we’re gonna do these posts where we sort of match up something that’s talked about in the news right now, or something that’s hitting the bestseller list, and people are gonna come in and ask for it, and you won’t have it on the shelf. So what can you, what, what are the older books you can go back to? So we do those once a week, then we did what we call our dusty books, where we literally would just go into our library, pull a book off the shelf, and write a review of it, or find a review, or write an annotation and, you know, kind of save this book from being weeded. And then we’d also do our Friday webcrush of the week feature, which is where we found, we started off doing a lot of blogs because we’re like well, we’re a blog, we wanna give love to other blogs, you know, let’s, let’s do this. And so we started doing that. And so we, we worked on it for about a month to get some content ready before we started to, you know, give it a big push, and we actually were at the, another ILA conference, the Illinois Library Association conference that year where we sort of handed out, we did these little business cards ’cause we got somebody to do a professional logo and all of this. We were very proud of ourselves. Spent hours on WordPress trying to find a theme that we liked-
In red, black, and white color scheme, just very simple.
And we, we talked it up and talked it up and talked it up, and the conference ended on a Thursday, and the following Monday we got a call. So we put it out that week, got all of these hits, got everybody interested. We got a call the following Monday from Francine Fialkoff at Library Journal [laugh] who says I’ve heard about this blog that you’re doing. And we were like what the what, like this, this blog that we haven’t even been doing for a whole month yet? And we, she’s like we heard about this blog that you’re doing and we would like to know if, if we can be part of that, and we were like our money-making dreams have come true! It happened! It happened! We put it out there in the universe and it worked! So that was exciting. So for about, I think a little under two years, we, we were part of the, we were under the Library Journal umbrella. And they did pay us; as you know you don’t get paid very well for this sort of thing, but it was, hey, it’s better than zero! Because we did, we sat there and we thought about how to do advertising on this site, and we even talked to Nora Rawlinson, ’cause she was very excited by our idea and, you know, we, we loved her and said we’re trying to emulate you. And she even gave us, you know, the name of the person that handles her ads, and how much she can make off of them, and all that. And it is a lot of work. It is a lot of work to try and monetize a website or a blog, so we were kind of like mm, not really sure that we wanna put that much effort into it, and we won’t be very successful, so we were thrilled when Library Journal wanted to take it over. And so we, we had a lovely run with them. It was, it was really wonderful. They never tried to control our content at all. They never told us, you know, here are some things you have to review. They, they really left us alone, which was delightful, and then after about two years, almost two years, they came to us and said okay, now we’re reconfiguring the way we’re doing our blogs. We’re gonna cut some, we’re gonna keep some. They’re all gonna, we’re gonna have them all look the same and we wanna know if you would like to keep doing this for us, but we’re not gonna pay you any longer. And we said you know.. nah, I think it’s time to take it back. So we decided, you know, this was great, thank you so much, and thank you for not just cutting us high and dry, but, you know. So we, we took our leave from Library Journal, and probably a little less than three months later, I got my job at Booklist. And of course right away when I got hired, they were like we want you blog, and so they can’t pay me for it, since I already get paid from them, but they do pay a small amount to Karen for her blogging, which is nice. So she, we decided to keep it going and, and keep it on Booklist online. So it’s been a, been a very exciting thing, and I really, you know, yeah, it got my name out there. It, people recognized me from it, and I think that it speaks a lot to librarians who do feel, kind of, hey, these books are important, and write what do I reach for when somebody comes in and wants something from the bestsellers list that isn’t there, what’s similar? So I think that we kind of filled this need, which people really responded to, which was really fun.
So now that you are at Booklist, can you talk a little bit more about what, besides the blog, what, what you do for Booklist?
Sure. So, yes, so I’ve been at Booklist actually for three years now, three years in a couple days. And it’s great! I am, my official title is editor for reference and collection management, and I’m really pleased about that, because the previous person was editor for reference, and when that person retired and they were looking for a new person, they recognized very, you know, rightfully so that reference is not what it used to be. We get far fewer reference items in for review than we had before, and a lot of it is just kind of, I, I always kind of hate it when people say, you know, reference is dead. It’s like, no, I’m not out of a job, thanks [laugh]! And any librarian will tell you that, you know, okay, why am I sitting here at this desk then? It’s not dead but it certainly is not what it used to be; it has evolved into something completely different. And so I was very fortunate that the bosses at Booklist saw that coming and decided, you know what, we’re gonna make this person our collection development person as well, and I, I also, I’ve been kind of teasing that I, I would like to add “library liaison” to my title, because that, I think that that’s my role at Booklist, to sort of be this face out there and keep all my library connections and I, I value the things that my library friends can bring to me to give back to Booklist. Like, that’s what keeps us current and keeps us on top of things, and I love it. And so, the things that I do, I edit all the reference reviews. I do have about 75 freelance reviewers in my cabal [laugh] and we, they, I send stuff out, they send the reviews, I edit them. I do write some reviews when necessary. I try to get stuff out as much as possible because I have people who are specialists in various areas and I think that that is a, is always a much better quality review. And then I also, we have changed our audio reviewing up a little bit. We, our previous audio editor had retired last year, so we brought Joyce Saricks on as our kind of interim freelance section reviewer, and so she chooses what goes in the magazine and does the features for audio, but I actually do the copy edits of the audio reviews. So it’s just one more kind of, you know, nice thing for me to keep my hand in, in doing the reviews, or doing the edits for those reviews. And then the other things I do, I run various webinars throughout the year on different reference products as well as reference topics. We’re trying to move more into, a little bit away from kind of the hour long commercial sort of webinar into this more here’s practical tips when you can’t get to a library conference, you can watch one of our webinars and, and have kind of your continuing education that way. So we’re trying to do more of those for reference, and I, I moderate and plan and present on those. And then I also do two different newsletters, two e-newsletters for Booklist. The, one of them is called Corner Shelf, and that is all on readers’ advisory and collection development topics, and the other one, which we just launched this month, is called Top Shelf Reference, and that’s dedicated strictly to reference issues. So those are the, I think that’s pretty much what I do at Booklist.
[laugh] And we were talking a little bit before we started recording that you also do some ALA duties? Like you have, you go to conferences to help present and, I mean, to help represent ALA and represent Booklist.
So I’m very fortunate that as a employee at ALA and employee at Booklist, I do get to go to all of the conferences. We go to Midwinter, and every other year is PLA, and then the annual conference. And Booklist does have a booth at all of those conferences, which is nice. We’ve got a presence there, and our editors all are expected to come, and we sort of hang out at the booth and represent Booklist, and it’s sort of a nice way to meet and greet people who are subscribers, or hopefully potential subscribers, and just talk about what we do at the magazine and what they’d like to see in the magazine. And we always have giveaways. We give away copies of the, the most recent, conference copies of the magazine. And then we also, we have our meetings. We have a, many people probably don’t know this, that Booklist has an advisory board made up of about a dozen librarians from across the country, so we really try to keep our finger on the pulse of what librarians need from us, and we have this board. So we have our annual board meeting and a Midwinter board meeting, so that takes up a good chunk of our conference time, is talking to those people. And then we also, I sit in on the Odyssey Award committee meetings, and the Odyssey Award is for youth audio books, and so as the audio book copy editor, I sit in on those and act a liaison for that committee. And then for the past three conferences, I was on the Carnegie Award committee choosing the Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction, and I’ve now rotated off that committee, but I was on that, and those, that kind of stuff always happens at conference. And then I do a program, I get a program slot every year at annual, which is great, and it used to be known as the Booklist Reference Program, and now I’ve changed that to just be the Booklist Reference and Collection Management Program. So it’s kind of fun. I get to choose the panelists for that and the topic, and it’s, it’s kind of a great way for us to have a Booklist in the actual program part of the conference, so..
Yesterday, at this conference here, you actually did a presentation. Can you talk a little bit about what you talked about in that? The name of the presentation was Leveraging Your Librarian Influence Through the Power of Reviews. Can you talk about that, of how librarians can use reviews to.. show off their, their power, just to restate the title?
Absolutely. Absolutely. So this program was put together by Becky Spratford, our fabulous, famous, rock star Readers’ Advisory librarian. And-
Lots of rock stars.
Right, lots of rock stars. Awesome. And the, the kind of the thrust of the program was really, as librarians, especially when you’re a readers’ advisory, right, you, you have this knowledge kind of tucked away in your brain, and when people come up to the desk and ask you if they wanna talk to you about books or talk to you about authors, you have this opportunity to kind of let that knowledge go, right? And so our idea here was to sort of encourage people to take that knowledge and put it down on paper or, you know, out in the electronic world, and write reviews. These are things that you know. These are things that you do on a daily basis, and why not share, share it with the world? Like, that’s, you know, that’s how I became a reviewer, because I have a real passion for books, and a passion for the authors that I love, and I love to talk to people about books, and I was very fortunate that, when I was in library school, I had a professor, my young adult literature class professor, who was constantly writing notes on my things that I would hand in saying that, you know, you need to do this, this, you are a very good writer, you should think about reviewing, you know, you know what you’re talking about, and I had never, no one had ever said that to me before, right? Like, I can talk a mile a minute about books, but nobody had ever said hey, you should do something with that information. And so that really kind of made me think well hey, maybe I could do this, and so I started off by writing reviews for Voya because I was a readers’ advisory / YA librarian at the time, and then that led to me reviewing for Library Journal, which then led to me doing the books and the blog, and then now my book, my career at Booklist. So it all kind of, you know, fell into place. So we spent this program time yesterday trying to talk to people about how, you know, these are things that you already know, here’s how you can do them, here’s how you can be good at it, and here are the resources that you can, kind of get yourself out there. And so I talked a lot about contacting the various publications. So we talked about Booklist, naturally the best [laugh], and we talked about Library Journal, and we talked about NoveList, and we talked about Voya, and then kind of the tougher nuts to crack of Horn Book and Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus and all of that. And, and then I just talked about kind of this, sort of the, the way to learn how to review, different tips and techniques, and how to learn from your copy editor. How to be a better writer, and then Cara Kahn from the Plainfield Public Library talked about specifically reviewing ebooks for Library Journal–she’s one of their ebook reviewers–so she talked about that process and kind of her writing process and how she got involved in that, and then Becky finished up by talking about NoveList. NoveList is always looking for good quality librarians who can, you know, help them improve their product and make their database better and, and so she talked about her experience with that and how, you know, writing a blog, ’cause her blog is so famous, and how she just kind of got into that and doing that. And we, basically it was meant to encourage people who are interested in this to, you know, to, you should do this. This is something you know. You can do it. It, it’s easy.
One of the questions a lot of people have with readers’ advisory, a lot of problems people have sometimes, is they’ll say, well, I don’t, I don’t read romance, I don’t like romance, I don’t wanna read fantasies, a bunch of elves and wizards and whatever, that’s dumb, I have no interest whatsoever. So what do you, do you have tips for people like that, of.. when they have somebody that comes up and says well I love Game of Thrones, tell me more like that, and you know nothing, you have no interest in that, how do you stay up to date with a genre or something like that that you just don’t have any personal interest in?
That is a question that comes up an awful lot, especially for people who have to do readers’ advisory and don’t feel that they are prepared for it. I was fortunate enough in library school to have a semester-long class in readers’ advisory and not every school offers that, and, and it’s, people don’t take it, and you kind of find yourself, especially, this is one of the things that I always say, especially as reference, you know, your traditional reference question goes down, your traditional book questions go up, right? Like, people still come into the library to ask about the best sellers, or ask about this movie that is, that used to be a book, or ask about this or that author that they’re hearing about. So, whether they like it or not, a lot of people are turned into readers’ advisory librarians, and that is always the question, right? I don’t like to read this, I’m not interested in this, what do I do, how do I learn it? Well, there are a number of ways to learn that, and it sounds like I’m gonna be this broken record talking about reviews and about blogs, but really, that’s it. Like, no one says you have to read the book. You don’t, you know, I, there’s lots of stuff that I’ve never read, but I can talk to you about it because I’m familiar with it because I’ve read the reviews on it and because I’ve read people’s blog postings about it, or, you know, that sort of thing. And you really have to consider that, you know, this is part of your job, right? You, you might not like Game of Thrones, but you darn well know that people are reading that, and you know about that HBO show whether you’ve seen it or not [laugh], or whether you even have cable. And you know that people are gonna be asking you for it, so you really have to consider that part of your job, is learning about that. And it’s not difficult to look up the reviews on that sort of thing, or look at the fan’s chatter about it and, you know, you, you can, there are so many.. One of the things I love about libraries, and I love what they do with their websites, is that there are so many of them who will share their reader like lists that they’ve already done the work on, you know. It’s like it used to be, well, you could walk into the library and they would have their set of bookmarks out that said well if you like Game of Thrones, read this, this, and this. Well now everybody puts those up on their websites so you don’t have any excuse to say oh, well I don’t know anybody that writes like George R. R. Martin or, you know, any of that. I have done, for the last three PLA’s in a row, I’ve been fortunate enough to have a program accepted every time called “The Top Five of Five” where I’m joined by four other readers’ advisory librarians, and we each take a genre, and we give people a, kind of maybe five, ten minute spiel about here are the basics you need to know about this genre, and then we give them top classic, top five classic authors, top five up-and-coming authors, top five books you need to know, and top five trends in the genre.
All right. So you’ve written a few books actually on readers’ advisory for women’s fiction. Other than being a woman, what is the [laugh].. Why.. What, what, why did you wanna focus on that when you decided to write a book about readers’ advisory?
That is a very good question [laugh], and really just being a woman is the only qualification I need. No, so here’s the deal. So [laugh], the, the way that the, the books came about, I actually, I wrote two at once, and then the third one, the Genreflecting Guide to Women’s Fiction that I co-authored with Nanette Donohue of the Champaign-Urbana Public Library here in Illinois, just came out last November, and those came about because women’s fiction and chiclet was always my favorite thing to read. I like to tell people, I’m probably one of the most unpretentious readers that there is [laugh] because I read purely to be entertained. I like a good story, and I particularly like it, I read for a connection. I love to see myself and my friends in characters and in situations, and I like that sort of sense of familiarity that you get when you read, and so women’s fiction has this huge appeal for me, right? It’s, it’s enjoyable. We always, there’s actually, the office joke at Booklist about me is that my boss thinks it’s hysterical that my three favorite categories of books are chiclet, post-apocalyptic zombie fiction, and serial killers [laugh].
Where is, no, not a lot of crossover there! And everybody else at Booklist is all like oh, la-di-da, I like the classics and I like this very serious literary fiction, and I’m like, hi! Just tell me a good story, that’s all I want. So-
Exactly. Exactly, so it’s kind of funny. But yeah, he always comes to me with the weirdest stuff when he can’t figure out who else to give it to. So, so yeah, I like to be entertained, I like a good story, and to me, that is what women’s fiction does. So the way that I got into writing the books was, again, you know, everything sort of follows everything else. I had been reviewing for Library Journal for about two years at that point, and I was kind of their go-to women’s fiction, or one of their go-to women’s fiction people. My editor was very good at giving me books that she knew that I would enjoy and have a good time reviewing, and I actually was named their fiction reviewer of the year in 2008, which was a huge honor for me, and in her nomination, she had written that one of the reasons that she felt that I should be fiction reviewer of the year is that I really gave, I took my job seriously when talking about these heretofore frivolous books, right? Like who, chiclet doesn’t need a review, it’s all crappy anyway, it’s all.. whatever. And I was like no, there is some good stuff out there. These are just as important as anything else that people wanna read, so I’m gonna review this as, you know, right next to Herman Melville, right? So, so what was great was she had asked me to write one of their feature columns, and so I did this feature column called Hip Lit for Hip Chicks, and we, three pages worth of talking about chiclet and women’s fiction, and the editors at Libraries Unlimited, part of ABC-CLIO, had seen this, and it kind of turned on the light bulb in their head that, hey, you know, we’ve got this series–it’s the Read On series was the, one of the first ones that I had done for them–we’ve got this series where we’re talking about different genres, we could do a whole book on, you know, Read On women’s fiction, and here’s the right person to do it. So I get this phone call one day out of the blue and I was like yes, yes please. And when I started that one, then they contacted me and said, you know, we also have never really done anything on women’s fiction authors before, would you like to tackle that? And, that one was really.. that one was not as, probably broadly-appealing as the Read On one, but it always kinda has this special place in my heart because, up until that book, nobody, nobody did a profile of Jennifer Weiner or Jodi Picoult or of Danielle Steel. Like, you know, they’re these kind of throwaway women’s fiction authors that, oh, pah, we don’t take them seriously, and here I had this chance to put together this, it was.. it’s this bibliography of women’s fiction authors. Contemporary women’s fiction, it’s not Louisa May Alcott, it’s not Jane Austen, it’s contemporary women’s fiction authors and that was, that was exciting to me, to be able to kind of give this some credence, so yeah. And then the third book, they, about three years after the first two came out, the editors came back to me again and said well, you know, it’s time for a little bit of an update. Can you maybe put those two books together into this one volume that we’ll call, you know, the Genreflecting Guide to Women’s Fiction Interests, and.. and so that’s how that one kind of came about. So yeah, it’s been kind of exciting to sort of take the, take something that I like and be able to give it some professional credence, right?
Right. Well, that sort of leads into one of the other questions that I had for you, that is there any such thing as a bad book?
There is no such thing as a bad book. There might be books that are poorly written [laugh], and those are a different animal, but in my, this is my, you know, personal readers’ advisory credo, is every book has some worth if somebody wants to read it. If it speaks to a reader, if it entertains a reader, then that is a good book. I don’t think that, that there is any shame.. there’s no shame in my reading game, as they like to say. One of the things that I’ve kind of recently become known for is this sort of championing bad books, right? This summer, it started off as this big joke, my boss found out that I was, used to be a big V. C. Andrews fan [laugh]. They were horrified by that at Booklist, let me tell you. They were ready to revoke my, my ID card and not let me back into the building. But those books, you know, so I got the opportunity to write this fantastic blog post for the Booklist reader blog called “V. C. Andrews Made Me the Librarian I Am Today,” and it’s because, you know, as this 7th grade girl, I was obsessed with these books, and they were wildly entertaining, and all of my friends loved these books, and I started realizing, now in my forties, I’ll admit that online here, now in my forties, when I, when I talk to other women my age, we all read those books, right, and you just bring up the name, you know, Flowers in the Attic to anybody between the age of, like, 35 and 45, and they all start telling you about the black covers, and what they remembered from the story, and how they had to hide it from their mom, or it got, you know, lost in their locker, and that kind of stuff. And it started making me think that, you know, there was this big backlash coming up this summer about people who are reading young adult books, and I forget, was it Slate, one of the Slate writers I think, who wrote this whole article about how you should be ashamed of yourself for reading kids books. And I was like oh honey no! No, no, no! People should read what they wanna read to be entertained, and so I kind of wrote this as a response saying if it wasn’t for V. C. Andrews, that’s how I got my love for reading, and I wanted to read stories, and I wanted to be entertained. And.. so yeah, there’s definitely no such, if I can admit to liking V. C. Andrews, there’s no such thing as a bad book to me. And then this summer I got the chance at the annual ALA conference in Las Vegas, they had a booth set up sponsored by Sage for banned books week, where they wanted people to read a passage from a banned book and kind of, you know, advertise it. And a friend of mine who was running the booth had put on her Facebook page earlier in the day that, you know, while people were coming up with these great titles to read, she was just dying for someone to come and do Fifty Shades of Grey, and so I immediately commented back. I’m like, I’m in! I’m right, hang on, let me leave the room, I’ll be right there. And so I went on down and they, they gave me a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey, and I, I kind of said in my intro that, you know, I’m, I’m doing this because, as a readers’ advisory person, I firmly believe there’s no such thing as a bad book. If there is a book that someone wants to read, we should have that in our libraries, we should make space for that in our libraries, and then I did little reading from Fifty Shades that got put through the Safe Search filter from Youtube and my kids couldn’t watch it at home, thank goodness [laugh]! But, but yes, that’s my personal belief. No such thing, there may be some very, very poorly written books, but there’s no such thing as a bad book.
Talking about that, I mean V. C. Andrews was basically the Twilight of her day…
Sort of the same kind of complaints about her as, as about that. Do you feel like, with all the, like, hot things coming out in libraries, makerspaces, that books and readings are sort of getting a short shrift these days, and people are trying to move away from it in sort of a throw that baby out with the, I mean, ’cause my opinion is should we be doing that stuff, but that doesn’t mean that you stop doing the other stuff that we do well.
Yeah, absolutely. And, and this is where I definitely, you know, I put my little personal hat on. This is just me speaking. I, boy, I don’t know what to do about makerspaces. They don’t appeal to me. I have to be perfectly honest, because to me, the heart of the library is, is books and reading, and I think that makerspaces are great for libraries who have a couple of things in place. If they have the audience for it, then that’s wonderful. I think they should, they should do that. It makes me sad to see places spend time and resources on things that then, their public is like what the what? I would’ve rather had you buy ten more copies of Fifty Shades of Grey than buy this whatever, 3D printer. I know that’s a weird analogy, but.. you know, it, I feel sometimes we’re chasing after the flavor of the month sometimes, and I don’t like that. I, so I think, right, if you have the audience in place for that, that is demanding that, and if you have the budget for it, then, you know, that’s great. Go for it. If you have the resources to spend on that, great, but please do not take the resources out of your book budget for something like that, because five years from now, when makerspaces are old hat, people are still gonna be coming into your library for whatever the next Fifty Shades or Twilight or V. C. Andrews is and that really, to me, that’s, that’s our core, and that is, that is where we come from, you know. Librarians wear so many hats, and library buildings act as so many different things, I mean, I can’t tell you any librarian or any library that I’ve been in that acts strictly as an old-fashioned library, right? We are community centers, we are counselors, we are social workers, we are, you know, we do so many things, but at the end of the day, what we start and end our day with is books and information and reading and entertainment. And so, so that’s always, that’s where my heart is in libraries.
I was looking online when I was getting ready to do this interview, and you wrote a little thing about weeding that I, I agree with, that librarians in general, they either love weeding and love throwing stuff out and getting rid of it–and not just anything, but obviously deliberative throwing out, but.. or they absolutely hate it and cannot bear to throw anything out. Can you talk about that juxtaposition in the profession?
Yes. So weeding, other than women’s fiction, right, weeding is my baby. I write this, in the Corner Shelf newsletter, we have a regular feature called weeding tips, and I am actually nearing my deadline for handing in my next book [laugh]. ALA Editions is going to be coming out with a weeding book that I’ve written that’s due next month, and so it’ll be out next year, and yeah, weeding, it’s hard. It’s, you really do, you either.. I find people who are like yeah, great, let’s go gung-ho, or people who hate it, and I think that what makes it difficult for a lot of people is, you know, we’re supposed to be, we’re supposed to be all about books and reading, right? And so we say that, and then we turn around and we throw stuff away? It doesn’t make sense. How can you do that? We’re supposed to be this kind of keeper of knowledge, the keepers of information, and we start to sort of put this, you know, put these books up on a pedestal and forgetting that, that the library needs to evolve, right? We, one of the other things that I say a lot is, you know, we’re libraries, not museums. I don’t know any library who has unlimited storage space [laugh], and that’s not what we are meant to be. We are meant to be this kind of evolving and living creature, and.. so yeah, it gets, it can be very painful sometimes to talk to people who don’t like to weed, because they, they just look at me imploringly, like don’t, why do you say these things? Why are you encouraging people to do this? Please don’t! And [laugh], I’ve gone, I’ve had the opportunity to go to various libraries in the region and kind of give sort of weeding pep talks to people, and I will get people who email me ahead of time and say stuff like are you gonna say this, are you gonna say that, ’cause I really, you know, my boss needs to hear this, or they’ll say something like please don’t say this because I, I just don’t think I can bear it if you tell us to throw things away, you know. Please remember that, you know, we do have to have this, and I really try, I think I come across as this, as one of these gung-ho torch it all kind of weeders, but I’m really not. I try to balance that with this, you know, everything that I throw away, I have a reason for throwing it away, right? I’ve never, in all of the many, many, many, many, many weeding projects that I’ve done at the various libraries that I’ve worked at, I have never once gone in and thoughtlessly weeded something. I mean, I, I put, I put real effort behind it. I put real thought and research behind it as to why I’m getting rid of this book. Another thing that I talk about a lot is don’t look at weeding as just taking the books out, but look at what you’re replacing that with. Because we don’t weed and then leave giant spaces behind. I mean, that’s not our purpose for weeding. Our purpose is to, is to make room for new stuff coming in, and so.. I think it’s, it’s, it can be definitely easier nonfiction because even, even the people who like to hold onto everything and feel that every book is sacred, you know, they recognize when a medical book is out of date, or when a travel book is out of date, or the obvious stuff. It definitely gets harder with fiction because–and, and I go through this too–right, you know, the whole big thing is that is somebody’s favorite book, somewhere, and I’m just waiting for them to come in and check it out again, right? And, and we, we have to sort of let go of that sort of sentimentality about it, that, you know, it’s not doing anybody any good just sitting there on the shelf, taking up space, making the rest of the collection look bad, you know. It’s bringing you down [laugh]. So you have to sort of check your sentimentality at the door, and, and be a little bit more realistic.
So as, to wrap up, when you’re doing readers’ advisory, how do you keep, this is sort of almost a mirror question of the thing of how do you recommend things that you don’t know about.. so how do you keep that balance there of things that you know are great because you read them and you have passion for them but, you know, I don’t care about Lord of the Rings, you know what I mean.
I do know what you mean. That is actually a really good question, because when I talk to people about reader’s advisory, I actually try and give people the freedom to go ahead and recommend stuff that they do like, and here’s why: in a lot of stuff that you read about readers’ advisory and, you know, in the, the, the classes that they teach at the graduate level, they try to warn you against that, right? That you are not there to push your personal books on this person, and I kind of step away from that and I say well wait a second, you kind of are. They’re asking you because they wanna know what you’ve read. They, they.. they are looking at you, and, and we should be proud of this, right, they’re looking at you as like, this is the librarian. They know everything, they know books. They must know something good. I wanna know what they’re reading. And so.. so, right, so if somebody’s coming up to you and asking you for a romance novel and you hand them Lord of the Rings, like, then you’re just an ass [laugh]. Or then you’re just a jerk. I’m not advocating for that, but when someone comes up to you and says I need a good book to read, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with pushing the last thing that you read, or the thing that you like. I certainly think that it’s your job to ask them, okay, well let’s, what, what can you tell me that you like? What have you read lately? What can I steer you towards? But most of the time, and I know I’m going off on another readers’ advisory limb here, ’cause this is not what they teach you, I think most of the time, they’re not really asking you because they want you to ask them about what they’re reading. They’re really literally asking for a good book that you think is good. So I think, like in Becky’s case, and especially in Becky’s case, when they all know that she’s this horror maven, well they’re asking her because they want her personal recommendations, right? And, and if they’re coming up to her and saying okay, I like, you know, I like fantasy books where there are dragons, well then yes, hopefully she’s not just gonna pull some Steven King out of her hat and be like no, no, you shouldn’t be reading that [laugh], that’s not what I’m saying at all. But, like, right, usually that, you know, ’cause think of, you know, what’s the most popular place in your library? The cert card where all the books just came back. People wanna know what everybody else is reading, and they wanna know what’s hot. And so they’re asking you because they think you’re this, you’re the best reader in their community. You must know something good. So I don’t think, in my personal opinion, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with suggesting stuff that you like or that you read. It, there is just this line to cross that, you know, if they’re asking you about a certain genre, please don’t steer them towards something that you think is better. That’s even the worse thing, right? Like you shouldn’t be reading that, oh, what do you want with romance or dragon books? You ought to be reading Moby Dick [laughs]. You ought to be reading, you know, whatever I’m reading. That’s a different scenario. But, but I’m one of those people that thinks go ahead and give them a personal recommendation. Why not?
All right, cool. Rebecca, thank you so much for talking to me today, and I hope everybody comes and checks out the show notes to get some links to all those things that you talked about, and have a great day.
You too! Thanks for having me.
How do you pronounce your last name, to make sure I–Vnuk. That’s what I thought, but I wanted to make sure. So actually, let me not even bother to say any of that, because that’ll all be in the introduction.