Saturday, March 25, 2017

How Appealing is Your Medium?

From the book cover of Reluctant Medium by G.G. Collins
I have to confess:  I've been prejudiced against certain mediums.  Not people mediums, story mediums.  I was a die hard print reader until my daughter dragged me into the world of the Kindle.  Then I still thought this was just modern print, and refused any other mediums like audio, graphics, video game stories, and so on.  I was also prejudiced against any tablet-style medium - only plain old e-ink for TRUE READERS.  Ha!  Now I eat crow...  and have learned the value of all the various story mediums for various patron needs.  

In the last couple of years, we’ve seen an increase in ebook reading and audiobook listening at my library.  This has a huge impact on the reader, but I had never really thought of it as Reader’s Advisory before.  I thought of it more as technology advisory, but it is absolutely true that it has a major impact on the experience of reading a book. 

I have a lot of trouble with recommending audiobooks.  As Kaite Mediatore says in Reading With Your Ears, “The most significant element of appeal for a recorded book [is] audible presentation…”  The narrator is the key here, and I didn’t know where to turn for that kind of information.  Amazon, Baker & Taylor, and publishers will tell who the narrator is, but more details aren’t listed.  For example, I tried to listen to Bloody Jack by L.A. Me
yer, but found that the heavy British accent made it impossible to decipher.  Ergh!  So frustrating!  In writing, this is a wonderful story and I can “hear” the accent in my head, but as an audio it will never circulate in my library because no one can tell what it’s saying.  Of course, now Amazon offers a preview feature and that’s invaluable when we’re purchasing for the library, but what about the patron browsing the shelf?  How will he or she know if the audiobook is something they’ll enjoy?  I think they’ll need librarian “picks” to help them get started, and then if they find a favorite narrator, author, genre, or creator they’ll be good to go for a while. 

Format, I think, is becoming more and more important in audiobooks as it is for ebooks.  I found that circulation of our YA audiobook collection had decreased dramatically, and on investigating, discovered that local teens use Chromebooks for school, which don’t have a disk drive.  They don’t use Walkman’s (so old school), they don’t drive until 17 or older, so they simply don’t have a device on which to play an audio CD.  They will, however, happily listen to books on Playaway devices, or, more frequently, download them onto their phones.  This last option requires some training, but once they have the apps and their library login, they seem to really like it. 

Ebooks is a whole ‘nother issue.  Any books that are heavy on graphics, whether actual graphic novels or non-fiction full of charts and maps, will NOT play well with a regular Kindle or other plain ereader.  If your patron reads that kind of stuff, they’ll need a Kindle Fire, IPad, or tablet if they want the ebook instead of the print book.  I got an exercise book a couple of years ago on my Kindle and the photos are small and the charts are completely useless.  I had to get on the laptop and download them there, then print them out for use in workouts.  Fortunately, I got lazy and quit working out so
that’s not an issue anymore, lol.  The other major factor for ebooks is ease of accessing the books and ease of using the reader.  Kindle is a hands-down winner here, but for teens, who are unlikely to have their own Amazon account, the Kindle app on their phone will work as will Adobe Reader, which lets them read epub and pdf formats as well.  Maximum versatility.  Also, students who are required to read classics may be able to find them for free download if they’re in the public domain, but the formats will be not be supported by Amazon. 

There are a couple other interesting intangibles that people like about ebooks.  One new feature that has recently come up was when a mom at our library decided to get her daughter an ereader so that as she goes off to college, the mom can instantly send any books to help her get through the homesickness, or other issues, and they can stay connected.  Isn’t that nice?  Also, I have learned through my brother-in-law, who works for a textbook distributor, that more and more college books are becoming available through Kindle so students don’t have to carry those gigantic textbooks.  With newer ereaders that have bookmarking and comment features, this is a nice perk.  We have one family in my library who particularly likes to borrow ebooks because they automatically return and the poor mom constantly was trying to wrangle books and worry about late fines.  Ebooks to the rescue!
 I think the only issue they have now is the lack of enough titles to check out, so the libraries need to rise to that challenge. 

My new motto:  Right story, right format, right equipment for ALL!


Mediatore, K. (2003). Reading with Your Ears: Readers' Advisory and Audio Books. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 42(4), 318-23.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Non-fiction Annotation

The Hot Zone: 

The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus

by Richard Preston

Anchor Books (1999)
ISBN: 978-0385495226
Available formats:  Hardcover, Paperback


Charles Monet returned to his job at the pump house at the sugar factory. He walked to work each day across the burned cane fields, no doubt admiring the view of Mount Elgon, and when the mountain was buried in clouds, perhaps he could still feel its pull, like the gravity of an invisible planet. 

Meanwhile, something was making copies of itself inside Monet. 

A life form had acquired Charles Monet as a host, and it was replicating.

...Charles Monet is sitting on a bench in casualty, and he does not look very much different from someone else in the room, except for his bruised, expressionless face and his red eyes. A sign on the wall warns patients to watch out for purse thieves, and another sign says: PLEASE MAINTAIN SILENCE YOUR COOPERATION WILL BE APPRECIATED. NOTE: THIS IS A CASUALTY DEPARTMENT. EMERGENCY CASES WILL BE TAKEN IN PRIORITY. YOU MAY BE REQUIRED TO WAIT FOR SUCH CASES BEFORE RECEIVING ATTENTION 

Monet maintains silence, waiting to receive attention. Suddenly he goes into the last phase. The human virus bomb explodes. Military biohazard specialists have ways of describing this occurrence. They say that the victim has "crashed and bled out". Or more politely they say that the victim has "gone down".

Pools of blood spread out around him, enlarging rapidly. Having destroyed its host, the agent is now coming out of every orifice, and is "trying" to find a new host.  (excerpts from the book, emphasis mine)

The Hot Zone is an alarming and incredible account of the emergence of the highly lethal virus, Ebola, in the world.  Scientists have to track down this invisible invader, figure out where it came from, and determine how it travels and how to fight it.  Ebola has up to a 90% fatality rate within days of infection, and no cure, so the fight is especially urgent.  It arrives in the U.S. through monkeys shipped here for research and breaks out, prompting the secret mobilization of the military and top level scientists in a desperate attempt to isolate and destroy it before it can spread and kill.  The team will have to wade into the blood and face this terrifying life-form directly in order to keep the rest of us safe.  Would you be willing to handle it with only a pair of rubber gloves for protection?  “Shocking, frightening, and impossible to ignore, The Hot Zone proves that truth really is scarier than fiction.” (book jacket)

"In the opinion of General Russell, this was a job for soldiers operating under a chain of command.  There would be a need for people trained in biohazard work.  They would have to be young, without families, willing to risk their lives.  They would have to know each other and be able to work in teams.  They had to be ready to die."  (excerpted from the book)

Appeal Characteristics in this Book

Story:  Novelist calls this an issue-oriented story.  This is a well-researched and documented exploration of the origins of the ebola virus and its social and political implications for humankind.  It's also a warning to pay attention to ethical issues in medical research.

Pacing:  The pace of this story is somewhat of a roller coaster.  Parts of it are edge-of-your-seat thriller, and other parts are leisurely background description of the main players, and in-between we're caught up in a moderate to fast-paced tale that's part science and part detective story. 

Setting:  The Hot Zone ranges around the contemporary world from the caves, jungles, and cities of Africa to the highly modern and technological setting of urban research and military centers in the United States and Europe.  

Tone:  This is a thought-provoking and suspenseful story.  The story is mostly optimistic, but is also a warning and the tone is serious and, as Novelist says, sobering. 

Style:  The structure of the book is complex, jumping around in time and place, and highly detailed with a lot of technical terms.  The unfamiliar terms are explained well and give the reader a true sense of the world of the scientists.  The government and military are inordinately fond of acronyms and these are scattered liberally throughout the book.  

Characterization:  The central “character” in the book is the ebola virus itself, which is treated as an intelligent monster purposely hunting and attacking human hosts.  The other "characters" are the real scientists, doctors, healthcare professionals, military specialists, politicians, and victims surrounding the virus.  

Appeal terms:  true story, compelling, intense, suspenseful, fast-paced, medical thriller

Personal Note

This is the scariest, most mesmerizing, intense book I have ever read, hands down!  It seems like science fiction, blended with horror, but it's ALL TRUE making it absolutely freaky.  I'm so glad I don't live anywhere near any research facilities.  One of the most awful parts of book is when one of the researchers, Tom Geisbert, is doing what he thinks is routine work when he discovers that what he's been handling is Ebola - with no protection, he and his boss even smelled it!  He's on edge for a week, wondering if he's going to die, and has no idea what to do.  Oy! Just thinking about it again makes my blood run cold.

This is one of the best books I have EVER read.  There simply aren't words to explain....  This is a MUST READ!!  It even scared Stephen King, who called it, "One of the most horrifying things I've ever read...remarkable."

Wow.  Just, wow.  I have to read it again.  Now.  So do you.



No one around the Institute wanted to get involved with his Ebola project. Ebola, the slate wiper, did things to people that you did not want to think about. The organism was too frightening to handle, even for those who were comfortable and adept in space suits. They did not care to do research on Ebola because they did not want Ebola to do research on them.  

Ebola Zaire is the most feared agent at the Institute. The general feeling around USAMRIID has always been "Those people who work with Ebola are crazy." To mess around with Ebola is an easy way to die. Better to work with something safer, such as anthrax.

Movie rights have been purchased and an attempt was made which was not particularly successful.  It came across as a cheesy sci fi film, unfortunately.  Talk is going around the Web that another movie or TV series will be made which will hold more true to the book, but so far there are no definite plans.  

The outbreak of 2014-2015 affected countries around the world, including the U.S. with 4 cases diagnosed here.  It took a concerted effort from all major health agencies and military branches to isolate, contain, and finally defeat this outbreak.  Updates from this and any new outbreaks can be found at the Centers for Disease Control here

Did you know?: December 24, 2014 - The CDC announces that a technician will be monitored for three weeks after possibly being exposed to the Ebola virus at one of the agency's Atlanta labs. The agency reports a small amount of material which may have contained the live virus had been mistakenly transferred from one lab to another.  (  Major oops!

Book Trailers

Very well done trailer.

Hilarious student trailer.
I love the plush monkey autopsy!
Note the styrofoam cup face mask...
Great sound effect, lol...



Most of these are written by the same author, Richard Preston.  Micro was mostly written by Michael Crichton, but was finished by Preston.  Both Micro and The Cobra Event are fiction, while The Demon in the Freezer and Panic in Level 4 are non-fiction.  Jurassic Park is Michael Crichton's most well-known and popular work, Spillover is a highly acclaimed science non-fiction. 
All are considered "bio-thrillers".  


Historical Fiction Annotation

Queen Margot 

by Alexandre Dumas

Miramax Books (1994)
originally published in 1845
ISBN: 978-0786880829
Available formats:  Hardcover, Paperback


Queen Margot is a sweeping historical novel of political intrigue in the palaces of France during religious wars of the mid-16th century.  It’s based on real people and the real events of the time, climaxing with the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of the protestant Huguenots.  Margot (Marguerite de Valois) is a Catholic who is being forced to marry the protestant King Henri of Navarre in order to try to bring peace to the various factions.  Margot and Henri forge a friendship and alliance, and in true French fashion, agree to pursue their own romantic liaisons after the wedding, as long as they’re discreet.  Margot is passionate and desperately in love with La Molé, a French soldier and a protestant Huguenot, and ends up trying to navigate the treachery of her own mother, Catherine de Medici, while keeping her lover safe.  Queen Margot is an opulent and adventurous novel of French royalty, traitors, lovers, alliances, and passion, against a backdrop of social upheaval leading up to the French religious civil war.

This is a classic book, originally published in French in 1845 as La Reine Margot. and has since been translated into multiple languages.  

Characteristics of Historical Fiction in this Book

Story:  This story has lots of royal court intrigue and the fabulous, dramatic, romances for which the French are famous.  Secrets, assassinations, greed, power, lust, love, and political manipulation are the main themes.  "In other Historical novels, characters take center stage, and the lives of the protagonists are more important than individual events...Although historical details frame these novels, the narrative emphasizes the characters and their stories within these times."  (Saricks, 2009, p. 295)  This is the case in this novel, which focuses on Margot, Henri, La Molé, and Catherine and their various schemes and personal motivations, against the violent social upheaval of the times.  

Pacing:  This is a fast-paced narrative, with lots of action.  There are some pauses for descriptive paragraphs with fancy French names, which may slow some readers down, but only for a moment and the action picks right back up.  The characters are constantly on the brink of either disaster or success, and the reader is caught up in the race.  Immediacy, as described by Saricks (RA Guide to Genre Fiction, p. 297) is a good term for the pace of this book.  

Setting:  The story is set in 16th century France, during a very turbulent time in history, among the royalty and high court.  This world is sweepingly wealthy, privileged, and formal with rigid behavioral norms which transport the reader. 

Tone:  The tone of this book is adventurous and suspenseful as danger is ever-present, but also moody and dramatic since Margot is desperate, lonely, passionate, and anxious.  Heavy, epic, orchestra music would be the perfect companion to this novel.

Style:  Because the story was written in the 1800's, and originally in French, the writing is vivid, old-fashioned, and comparatively formal.  Dumas is known for his rich descriptions and this is true here as well, with complex and beautiful sentences:  "A farce, Réné, a farce!  I know not why but everyone is seeking to deceive me.  My daughter Marguerite is leagued against me; perhaps she, too, is looking forward to the death of her brothers; perhaps she, too, hopes to be Queen of France."  Note that the writing structure and vocabulary are advanced and may be a challenge for some readers.  

Characterization:  "Actual historical figures need to act in ways that are consistent with known facts... and act in ways that could have actually happened." (Saricks, 2009, p. 296)  In this case, Dumas plays with the characters, inventing personalities, quirks, and motivations, but they do stay generally consistent with historical facts, marriages and known alliances or major actions.  This works because personal, intimate details about these people are mostly unknown to history and Dumas keeps his versions of them believable and true-to-time/place.  They're a little bit stereotypical and caricatured, but that helps to keep them light and fun, rather than deeply complex which would end up dragging the story.

Appeal terms:  dramatic, adventurous, passionate, suspenseful, vividly historical, fast-paced, lush writing, complex plot and structure

Personal Note

I read this book mostly because my daughter read it first and recommended it.  Word-of-mouth is, of course, the best readers' advisory ever.  I found it lush, intriguing, and full of wonderfully deceitful characters.  It was so rich and detailed that I could picture everything perfectly.  I couldn't really relate to the characters since I'm not the kind of person that could just go around having lovers and affairs and secrets and doing all that manuevering - I'm way too straightforward, so I would've lost my head, literally, very quickly.  My favorite aspect of the book was the historical background since my ancestors came from this very time period, fleeing eventually to the fledgling New World colonies, changing their name from the French "Bruneau" to "Bronaugh" which was my great-grandparent's name. Reading about the Huguenots this way made my family history much more alive for me.


The story was made into a French film in 1994
and then re-made in an English version.
Portrait of Marguerite de Valois
 by Francois Clouet (1515-1572)
courtesy Getty Images


  • The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers are by the same author and written in similar style with similar settings.
  • The Huguenots is a non-fiction account of the same events depicted in Queen Margot so some readers may be intrigued and want to read more about the real history.
  • The Vatican Princess is also lush, historical, and full of intrigue and courtly deception.
  • The Confessions of Catherine de Medici is fun to read since it turns the story on its head with the point of view of the villainess.
  • Medicis Daughter is a re-telling of a younger Margot giving us another view of the same character.

The photo links below will take you to the Evergreen Indiana library catalog so you can borrow and read these great books, except for The Huguenots which will take you to Goodreads.

Saricks, J. G. (2009). The readers' advisory guide to genre fiction. Chicago: American Library Association.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

My Date With a Book Club

I had been eyeing this sexy book club that meets each month in that trendy coffee shop in a nearby college town. I’d seen it on the library events page and I just knew I would love it and it would love me back, if only we could get together. Fate stepped in and INSISTED that I go to book club – YAY!

It turned out just as fabulous as I had hoped. We met for coffee Saturday morning, enjoyed a lovely hot drink, stimulating conversation, and live guitar music. Heavenly…

Eight of us, 7 ladies and 1 brave guy, met on a bright morning, pulled up tables and chairs, loaded up with our favorite coffee shop drinks, and brought out our books. The guy and I were new to the group while the rest had been meeting and discussing together for several years. They were very welcoming, and us newbies felt right at home. I was the only one who read the book on an ereader – everyone else had regular print copies and they were loaded up with little colored sticky note flags marking the passages they wanted to discuss. All the regulars had taken notes as they read and were ready to jump right in.

This month’s book was Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist's Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations by Thomas L. Friedman, which was published this past November. This book club reads new releases, bestsellers, and books about current hot topics. They read 1 nonfiction book each quarter and 2 fiction books, chosen by the librarian who is in charge of the group. She also provides copies to everyone. Next month’s book is A Book of American Martyrs by Joyce Carol Oates (whew, heavy reading).

One of the first things I noticed was that there didn’t appear to be any leader. One older lady started us off with a comment and a question and conversation ensued. This was like hanging out with your friends and discussing a topic. Everyone was respectful of the others, and when a bit of cross-talking happened (which was twice), the older lady gently reminded us to “listen when others are talking”. I thought she was the leader, and only found out at the end that the actual leader from the library was the unassuming young woman 2 seats down from me. Ha ha, fooled me!

Everyone took turns jumping in and either responding to comments, or pointing out a new take on a related idea. They referenced passages in the book, and thoughts that they had noted as they were reading. Wow! This is a very experienced book club! There was one lady who sometimes went off on a tangent, but the club listened politely, responded kindly, and got back to the book. Very smoothly done – just exactly how a smooth, sophisticated, sexy, coffee-shop club should be! I felt so cool and smart to be part of it, lol! I also liked the Saturday morning time frame just like I thought I would – not at the end of a long work day (with loads of school work to do before bed, ha ha).

“They used their own life experience to make sense of texts and conversely used texts to make sense of life …” (Ross, 1999)

This quote struck me when I was reading the article, Finding Without Seeking by C. Ross. This was EXACTLY how this discussion went. The book was about making sense of the increasing acceleration of change in today’s highly technological, globally connected, environmentally sensitive world. The author was attempting to make sense of how The Machine, which is what he calls his worldview, works with all of these changes. As we discussed the ideas in the book, we used our life experiences to help understand it, as well as referring back to the book to explain some of the phenomena we’ve each observed around us. It was the same circle Ross mentions in the article and it fits perfectly with what happens within each of us as we read.

My only disappointment was that the date ended all too soon – only just over an hour. It was long enough for a great discussion without dragging, but I would’ve enjoyed perhaps another 10 or 15 minutes. Several people did hang around for a few minutes to welcome me again and get their books for next month. I noticed on the Structuring Your Meeting page of, that they recommend 2 to 2 ½ hours, but that’s total time – not just discussion time. We were at the coffee shop for about 1½ hours total and that was ok.

Can’t wait for my next Book Club Date!

References (2015). Structuring your meeting | I love libraries. Retrieved from

Ross, C. S. (1999). Finding without seeking: what readers say about the role of pleasure reading as a source of information. Exploring the contexts of information behavior, 343-355.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Special Topic Paper

I got this idea when I found a Goodreads group called Readers Advisory For All which is experimenting with the premise: "we are going to try this out here to see if a social networking site can be useful for future RA work." I was thinking I would join the group and check it all out as well as searching other social networking sites and blogs, and see how that seems to be working? Perhaps some types of networking work better than others? Or maybe it takes too long to get responses, making it useless in real-time? Maybe it's mostly just a good way to find new and better databases or resource-sharing? Or maybe it works super well, like Batman's computer: just ask a question and BLAM there's the answer! Is it just for pros, or just for readers, or both?

Gina Sheridan and Anna Huckeby, in their Tumblr article “Readers’ Advisory in a Mobile, Social World”, exemplify this very issue, asking, “Traditional RA gathers information from in-person interviews, when we hear reader likes/dislikes, interpret body language, and listen for appeal factors. It sets the foundation for a relationship based on trust. How does an online experience compare?” (Tumblr, Readers’ Advisory in a Mobile, Social World, Sheridan & Huckeby, March 13, 2014)

Using social media platforms for RA is not a new idea, librarians and readers have been sharing lists, reviews, databases, and book suggestions online for a long while now. Many libraries offer lists of popular genre titles, read-a-likes, annotated bibliographies, awards and “best” lists, and other RA tools on their social media sites as well as on their own websites. The real question is whether or not it can emulate or replace an in-real-life interaction.

I found a lot of evidence that many people are finding creative ways to use social media platforms as a real place of conversations about books and a truly amazing way to connect readers with exactly the book they're seeking. Goodreads, in particular, is a great way to do this. I joined the group, Readers' Advisory For All, and it's turning out to be a super way to get book recommendations, although a teensy bit slow and some people may reply to your post months or years later. Not good for you at the moment, but possibly helpful to others in the future.

I found Brooklyn Bookmatch on Tumblr, which is another crowdsourced RA conversation, and a real time RA board on Pinterest, Real Time Book Recommendations, and was referred to a number of Facebook RA events (couldn't locate those, but the idea is super).

I found a number of unique and interesting ways that libraries and readers themselves are attempting to use social media platforms to offer readers’ advisory services. Some are more successful than others in emulating the contact and interaction of real life RA, but all of them are offering at least something to try to reach out to readers. Every single one of them was positive, enthusiastic, and striving to be helpful (unlike my real life librarian scenario). I think that the future of online RA conversations depending a great deal on technology and our ability to adapt it to our needs. “George, McGraw, and Nagle identified two key steps for providing a successful RA service, beginning with understanding the importance of the service to the library patrons. Their next step involves providing training and support for staff so they can provide the best RA service possible.” (Anwyll & Chawner, 2013) This statement was in regards to traditional RA service, but it applies even more to moving to an online platform. Understanding the importance is the underpinning without which the library won’t commit the resources to full implementation, they won’t go all-in, and of course the staff will require training and support to learn how to use these platforms and how to think outside the box in inventing unique solutions for connecting with readers and providing the right book at the right time.