A colleague and I were asked to present at the RT Book Convention in a session intended for librarians and booksellers. This post is adapted from a portion of our presentation.
I love talking books with people. It’s my favorite part of my job. But there’s not always an opportunity for a traditional reader’s advisory interview and some readers prefer to find their own books or use passive reader’s advisory materials when searching out their next great read. These materials can go beyond basic lists by genre or topic.
CREATIVE READ-ALIKE LISTS
I often make lists—grocery lists, to-do lists, wish lists—but plain, old book lists, while instructive and useful, can be kinda boring. Certain subjects and certain readers call for more creative, visual, and dynamic ways of creating reader’s advisory lists.
Flowcharts are great to organize information with complex relationships and tiered groupings. They are ideal for books that appeal to readers for multiple reasons. They are also great for broad topics of interest that can be broken down into sub-categories. Flowcharts can also help identify the right read-alike for a certain reader rather than just focusing on the book.
For example, The Hunger Games has multiple appeal factors. Some readers like it for action/adventure, some for the post-apocalyptic/dystopian elements, and some reader’s gravitate toward anything with love triangle. Helping identify what made this particular book work for a certain type of reader can help connect them with their next favorite book.
Around the time The Hunger Games movie went into production a number of new releases started being touted as read-alikes. But with so many choices, a book could be a hit or a miss with a particular reader if it was put into their hands as a read-alike without additional follow-up questions. Grouping them by similar themes helped readers find the right book for them.
The wild popularity of The Hunger Games also shed a new light on older titles that had been published prior to The Hunger Games. Books with natural disasters or repressive governments benefited from the dystopian and post-apocalyptic buzz. By digging through the backlist, I could identify even more titles that might appeal to fans and put a book in their hand that day rather than just putting them on a long hold list for the most popular new releases.
A chart format might also encourage readers to branch out into a new area of interest. By making connections between books that go beyond genre or topic, you can easily promote older books languishing on the shelf to readers who are on the hold list for the hottest title.
Just as The Hunger Games flowchart came about because of a persistent inquiry from patrons, I made a humor flowchart after trying to assist several patrons in search of a “funny” book. I quickly discovered that what had me laughing out loud wasn’t always the same thing that patrons found funny. The flowchart guides readers through questions to see if satire, (contemporary or classic), funny paranormal fiction, cutesy romances, or hilarious sci-fi is right for them.
At my library, we’ve also made flowcharts to promote read-alike titles for special events, like our one community, one book titles. Do you have a visiting author or other book-related program? Consider developing a list of books similar to the author’s latest release. Patrons may check out those, too.
For our children’s selection, The Cabinet of Wonders, we gathered a list of titles that were similar and then grouped them by appeal factors, and in this case, used icons to help communicate them to young readers. Labels and less text makes this chart simpler for younger readers.
Winter’s Bone, our adult title, was perfect for creating a flowchart of read-alikes, because there were so many different appeal factors to tease out of the book. Some readers might want traditional Southern lit, others might admire the strong female protagonist and go for a title like The Reapers are the Angels.
Historical fiction is certainly a broad topic, and dividing a list by region and organizing chronologically is a fun way to help fans of the genre choose their next read. You can mix old and new titles and popular with less well-known titles. Timelines aren’t only useful for historical fiction, however. A timeline would be an interesting way to promote queer titles and show the evolution of the genre, and sci-fi fans may also be interested in discovering older titles to see how interpretations of technology in novels have changed or how many of the futuristic claims have come to pass.
MORE FLOWCHARTS FROM AROUND THE WEB
I love the design, topic, and snarky humor of this one. And that it features Ben Lerner.
This one is overwhelming for me, but you have to admire the thought and skill that went into making it.
Librarian (and author!) Lauren Gibaldi made this one.
This one features lots of new titles, which I love.
I wish this one was yes/no format, instead of guiding you straight through, but I love the “you have survived” note at the bottom!
TIPS FOR MAKING FLOWCHARTS & TIMELINES
Designing flowcharts is simple and easy and doesn’t require sophisticated design skills. Before beginning, I compile a list of titles I want to feature and group them based on the appeal factors, then work to fit them together in a logical manner. It may seem obvious, but organizing the information from left to right and top to bottom (the way we read) is the easiest to understand. When using arrows, don’t cross or overlap lines. I favor simple designs over complex, and more narrow, specific topics over ones that attempt to map the entire catalog.
Flowcharts are most successful when they spotlight an emerging trend. Knowing what’s popular in your library is the best place to find ideas. What titles are flying off the shelves? What kind of books do patrons regularly request? Although national trends are a good jumping off point, homegrown buzz is going to be your best source. I’ve made all of mine after persistent requests from patrons or to spotlight a special event. Since they are time-consuming to make, I’d rather make one I know will be used frequently.
Movie and TV tie-ins are always a good place to start when looking for ideas, as you may entice a reluctant reader to give the book a try.
I also find social media to be a great source of inspiration.
On Pinterest, you can check under the Film, TV, and Books tab to see what is popular with users, and on Twitter, check out the hashtag #fridayreads, where people share what book they are reading. We ask patrons what they are reading each Sunday on our library’s Facebook page, and often get 50 or more responses, which gives a good snapshot of what is popular within our community.
Programs for Generating Flowcharts
You don’t need fancy graphic design skills to create these types of charts! If I can do it, anyone can do it. These three resources all have templates and preloaded icons/pictures/etc to help create an awesome flowchart.
Publisher is my preferred method. You can copy/paste book cover images and import your own fonts, and they easily convert to pdf or jpg. It’s a Microsoft product, so if you’ve used Powerpoint or Word you can use this.
Excel FlowBreeze may be your preferred flowchart generator if you love Excel. I pretty much hate Excel, but the link directs you to a detailed tutorial.
If you don’t own Microsoft Office, there are great web-based applications that you can use.
Piktochart offers several free themes, a good selection of icons and images, and you can import up to 10 images as well. Upgrades give more theme options. I’ve used this program for my nonfiction read-alike lists and found it simple and effective. The images look great online.
Visual.ly and Easel.ly also offers several free themes, icons, and images. I’ve found it is more time consuming to make charts in these web-based services, but the give you more variety of pre-loaded themes.
Lovely Charts has web, desktop, and iPad versions. This program is ideal for text based flowcharts. With free trial desktop version, you don’t have the option to save so must complete chart in one sitting. Has the function of converting a text outline to a flowchart, which could be useful. The iPad version is affordable, but the subscriptions to the full web or desktop versions are more expensive.
OTHER READER’S ADVISORY GRAPHICS
Nonfiction Picks for Popular Novels
With teen readers, it can difficult to spark interest in nonfiction titles. With the adoption of common core standards for curriculum in schools, there’s an increased emphasis on nonfiction reading. Pairing nonfiction with popular novels can be an easy way to generate interest in nonfiction.
Like –> Try –> Why
Like, Try, Why is an idea I borrowed from EpicReads, the HarperTeen online community. While I love their original series, adapting it for the library meant that I could match titles regardless of publisher. These are quick and easy to make once you have a template.
I try to stick to a theme, like paranormal, horror, contemporary romance, etc., for all the titles featured on a list, then pair up ones that are most related. These are great for self-directed reader’s advisory and share well on social media.
Another bonus is that they are also perfectly suited for outsourcing the content. Have your patrons suggest titles and write a quick sentence explaining why they recommend the titles.
These are just a few ways I’ve jazzed up our reader’s advisory materials in the library. There are tons of creative ideas out there, and most I’ve borrowed or adapted from other sources. If you have other sources of inspiration for reader’s advisory materials, please share!