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April 16, 2008

National Library Week: A Twist on a Yearly List

Posted by carol
In celebration of National Library Week (April 13-19), we've invited librarians to share their insights about book clubs. Today, Robin Beerbower, a Library Associate and Readers' Advisor at the Salem Public Library in Salem, Oregon, tells us about her take on an annual tradition.

Librarians love lists. Everyone knows it. And librarians love books. So, of course, they love book lists best of all.

And that means it's an annual bonanza when a new year begins and publications from every corner of the literary world start sprouting lists of the best books of the previous year. I eagerly await these lists because they provide the foundation for a special annual project: a Best Books list that I create for library patrons and lively Best Books presentations that I give to library book club members every February and March.

I've been compiling the annual list for 12 years, but my list has a twist. Instead of just relying on the critics and editorial lists, I want to also include the passions of "real people." So, I query the entire library staff (including volunteers), library book group members, colleagues, and friends for their favorite books of the year.

The recommendations are compiled into a "Staff and Patrons Favorites" of 30-35 books that include fiction, genre fiction, and nonfiction. Since this list is subjective (one never knows what unexpected title will appear --- 2007 favorites included Sharyn McCrumb's NASCAR-themed novel Once Around the Track and the children's book Edward's Eyes by Patricia MacLachlan), I let the critics have a say as well. After combing all the best lists I can find -- including Booklist, Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, The New York Times Book Review, and local newspapers --- I whittle the final selections down to 30-35 titles of "Critics' Choices."

Once the list is completed, we turn it into a booklet for easy distribution. Then I give presentations that highlight the selections. These are fast-paced events; I show titles and book covers on a PowerPoint presentation and give a brief thumbnail sketch of each book on the list (all 70 plus of them!). I fire off brief plot descriptions, appeal factors (librarian talk for what people enjoy about a book) and/or author information, incorporating quotes from "the real people," all within 90 minutes.

We promote the program to book groups looking for ideas and enthusiastic readers looking for new mind food. We love the response; the presentations draw the highest attendances for a library staff-generated program (who says people aren't interested in reading?). The program is also presented at a local retirement facility, where a large audience is always guaranteed. The printed list is available to library patrons throughout the year.

It's a great project that continues to gather steam. I know people are paying attention because I often see patrons in the stacks referring to bedraggled copies of the list, and they start asking about the new list early each year --- much in the same way librarians look forward to those "best" lists from across the country.

---Robin Beerbower