Oprah will be scaling back her book club

In response to the news that Oprah will be scaling back her book club, Steven over at Library Stuff has this to say:

“Impact on libraries? I think that Oprah turned many ex-readers onto and non-readers back to the printed word. Even though she is not doing her thing anymore, many of her followers will continue to read. They will have to count on librarians more for reader advisory purposes and we should work on provding Oprah-type reading lists for our patrons. Thanks Oprah for what you have done for libraries and readers alike.”

He's spot on to advocate that we pick up the slack here. Heck, we're already doing Reader's Advisory work, and this is our chance to enhance and market it. The One City, One Book program is one way to continue book discussions at a regional level, but it doesn't help get quality advice and recommendations to individuals based on their own preferences. Libraians provide quality search, indexing, and cataloging services you just can't get anywhere else. The key word there is quality. The same holds true for Reader's Advisory. The only other people on the planet who can even come close to us are booksellers, and they don't have the same training and support network that we do (although they're close on that second point).

So what can we do to keep ourselves in this loop, even expand it? Well, many librarians already do in-house, face-to-face interactions pretty well, although certainly we need some good PR to boost awareness of it. But we could probably do a better job of providing automatic notifications of new titles (via email), online chatting with readers via IM (“call” us and ask for a good book), better collaborative filtering software as applied by librarians specifically for this purpose (“Emergent Words?”), and better dissemination of our reviews and advice.

For the dissemination angle, as a proof of concept I'd like to see a public library with a healthy RA service use a copy of Radio to start archiving their staff reviews of new titles. Genres could be set up as categories, and anyone on staff could add to the archive by just typing in the box in the browser. It should be pretty easy to add a macro to identify the author and a second one for the reviewer, you've already got the date (modifications could be added manually if need be), if you install the right software it's all searchable, and everything is archived automatically.

Why would I do this with Radio? Because for $40, a library could get this service up and running in a few minutes. The categories would make for easy browsing by date, and the right search engine software could provide for pre-configured searches of works by a specific author.

But the best part is that the service as a whole and each genre separately would have their own RSS feed that patrons could subscribe to with a news aggregator. It wouldn't be the most granular level of RA, but it would take the bibliographies we're already doing and make them available online in a more dynamic and portable way. You could even include links directly into your catalog for immediate status and availability (did somebody say “web service?”). If you set up a category for each reviewer, then patrons could learn which people they trust and subscribe just to those people's feeds.

I know there are other ways to do all of this, but the simplicity of WYSIWYG editing in the browser, plus the easy creation and maintenance of categories, plus the killer app addition of turning your review service into RSS feeds suddenly becomes a very powerful combination. Now you've got quality (librarians aren't just the “ultimate search engine,” we're also the ultimate collaborative filtering technology for books) plus quantity (by pooling resources multiple libraries could collaborate on something like this) plus automatic dissemination through channels the reader hand picks.

Granted, we're a few years away from news aggregators going mainstream, but the elevator is on the ground floor right now and the arrow is pointing up. I don't know enough about the languages behind news aggregators to say how, but I know you could use Radio as the backend for this even if you just wanted to display the categories on your web site for now. As Dave says, it's bootstrapping for now, but imagine a book review version of News Is Free with thousands of channels and reviewers, all maintained by the experts – librarians.

Don't get me started on how the reviews should be able to link to ebook and audio ebook versions listed in our catalog that a patron could check out right then and there…. [The Shifted Librarian]

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