This article originally appeared in the July 2012 RA News Newsletter. Sign up for this and other newsletters.
Like most of you out there, I was trained to provide readers' advisory assistance to patrons using Joyce Saricks' appeal based model: figure out what the reader likes most about the pacing, characterization, frame, tone, and storylines of their favorite books and then suggest titles with similar appeal to that reader.
Appeal factors had served me well as I helped patrons and trained new librarians for many years, but then in 2006, Neal Wyatt published an article in Library Journal entitled "Redefining RA: Reading Maps Remake RA." In this article, Ms. Wyatt coined a new phrase to add to our RA arsenal, "whole collection RA."
"Whole collection RA recognizes that our collections are richer than a short list of similar titles and that the world of the book is often more complex than the traditional list of three to five suggestions we generally make. Sometimes we don't want a read-alike because it removes us from the internal world of the book we loved. We are fascinated with a particular aspect of the title in hand and want that reading experience to be extended."
The idea of Whole Collection RA has gained traction in the last 6 years, and now librarians are trying to consider the entirety of their holdings when making suggestions to readers. So when someone who enjoys a thriller comes in to the library, the readers' advisor is encouraged to consider offering more than a list of appeal-based read-alikes, and instead, consider other places the reader may want to go, from books in different genres, to movies, to music, to nonfiction. The joy of this is, at the public library, we can help the reader go just about anywhere. Our collections contain so much beyond those 3-5 similar reading suggestions.
In the same article, Ms. Wyatt offered the perfect vehicle for providing whole collection RA, the reading map:
"Reading maps are web-based visual journeys through books that chart the myriad associations and themes of a title via other books, pictures, music, links to web sites, and additional material. Reading maps open up the world of the book for the reader by diagramming the internal life of the book, allowing readers to inhabit the text and its outward connections, and enabling readers to follow threads of interest that stem from any particular part of the work."
Joyce Saricks and I also had Ms. Wyatt come to our Readers' Advisory course to explain reading maps to our students in detail. Since then, I have offered the creation of a reading map as an alternative to writing a term paper to my students. I have them read Ms. Wyatt's article and use it as inspiration. But then I also provide them with some advice:
Over the years, I have received some amazing examples of reading maps from my students. In fact, I keep an archive of the better ones on their class blog. Then this past fall, Christi Hawn turned in the best reading map I had ever seen -- for The Hunger Games. It managed to recreate the experience of reading the book while also leading the patron on a journey through a web of outward connections and associations, ultimately enriching the overall experience a reader has with this novel.
Her reading map embodied all that Ms. Wyatt initially imagined, so I hired her as an intern to teach our staff how to create reading maps. Her job was to create a reading map template for our staff to use, teach us how to use the template to make a reading map, and finally, create a few maps for us to get our collection started. You can see the reading map collection she started for us as well as some of our staff maps at the Berwyn Public Library Browser's Corner.
In the second half of this article, Christi shares her tips and tricks for creating a dynamic and fun reading map so that the greater readers' advisory community can get in on the action. Using the map she created for Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy as an example, Christi describes the seven simple steps that anyone can use to create a reading map.
1. Choose a book or series to use as the basis for your reading map. Pick something you have read and like, and pick something that has frame, which means that the book has details you can explore and research. This includes but is not limited to setting, cultural reference, and social issues. Frame refers to the ideas that surround the plot. In this case, I chose The Millennium Trilogy for a reading map because I wanted to look deeper into the Swedish culture and politics portrayed.
2. Make a list of the connections you can think of off the top of your head. This might include historical references, references to other books, places, issues, and any read-alikes that initially come to mind. I knew I wanted to add unfamiliar terms referenced in the books, information on the issues, such as Nazism and the sex trade, and at least some Nordic Noir read-alikes.
3. Gather your information using various tools. NoveList, Google, YouTube, and GoodReads are only a few of the great resources out there. I used NoveList to find read-alikes including other Nordic Noir novels. Google as well as other EBSCO databases provided articles on Stieg Larsson, Nazism, and the sex trade. I searched YouTube to find trailers for the Swedish and American versions of the movies. Finally, although I did not use it for this map, it is always best to acknowledge the fan community where appropriate, especially since they may have done a lot of the work for you already. You can see my map for A Song of Ice and Fire for an example.
4. Vet your information. Use legitimate sources by checking for website information or staying with legitimate news sources. Use YouTube videos from corporate entity channels like PBS or National Geographic. I used information from a variety of news sources such as The New York Times and MSNBC.
5. Include basic information on every reading map. This includes, but is not limited to, biographical information on the author, reviews of the title or series, read-alikes, and any information about film or television adaptations. I found extensive biographical information on Stieg Larsson, lots of reviews, and of course, information on the recent movie adaptations.
6. Create a website for your reading map. A variety of different platforms are available; however, I prefer to use Google Sites as it is customizable. For example, I can use the book cover as a guide for the color palette and the overall look of the site.
7. Arrange the information on the pages of your website. The arrangement of the information is almost as important as the information itself. I created a page for "Nordic Noir," for example, to group the books that fit in that category separately from the other read-alikes.
Voila! Reading map.
There you have it! When you break the process down into steps, it is immediately less intimidating. The RA staff at the Berwyn Public Library were immediately inspired to start making maps; even the staff member who did not know what a hyperlink was is busy making her own reading maps.
I hope we have inspired you to try it out for yourself. Remember, don't let the technology frighten you. Keep the book at the center and begin taking readers on a journey. You will have fun making the map and your patrons will love using them.
Becky Spratford is a busy Readers' Advisor. Between serving the public at the Readers' Advisory desk at the Berwyn (IL) Public Library and corrupting the minds of library school students at Dominican University, she runs the two popular blogs, RA for All and RA for All: Horror. She is the author of The Readers' Advisory Guide to Horror, second edition (ALA Editions, 2012) and a proud member of the Horror Writers Association. She is currently working on a reading map for Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith.
Christi Hawn is a brand new Readers' Advisor with a passion for helping her patrons find their next favorite book. She graduated from Dominican University with her MLIS in the Spring of 2012 and works at the Oak Park (IL) Public Library. Besides her interest in reading maps, she loves young adult literature and working with both teens and adults. This is her first article.