January 16, 2020

A secret resource for readers’ advisory training

NoveList Plus is one of our library’s most powerful tools for providing readers’ advisory services for our patrons. I hope, though, that you haven’t overlooked one of my favorite training tools:  a colorful little booklet NoveList produces called The Secret Language of Books: A Guide to Story Elements. Within is an overview of the ever-expanding vocabulary NoveList uses to connect books in their database, including such story elements as appeal, theme, and genre — complete with concise definitions of each element and tips for using them to connect readers with books that will interest them.

I do staff training in readers’ advisory, and I used this booklet for my most recent class, called “Talking and Writing about Books.” My goal was to show how contributing to our library’s Staff Picks blog could help prepare our staff to suggest those books to patrons in person by identifying the factors that make each book appealing to the greatest number of readers. Writing up recommendations for the books we’ve read and liked helps build the vocabulary to help staff get beyond generic statements like “This book is great,” encouraging them to think about the elements that would be of interest to readers. 

While introducing NoveList as a resource for finding more information about a book, I handed out The Secret Language of Books and talked with staff about the many ways to identify a book’s appeal. My students were excited to receive the books and immediately began flipping through them. One student enthused, “I can’t wait to use this for my next Staff Pick!”

If you are planning to do any staff training in readers’ advisory, as I did, you can request spiral-bound printed copies of this guidebook or download an electronic version directly from the NoveList website

There are many ways The Secret Language of Books can be useful in training classes, from introducing the concept of story elements in a basic level class to providing a quick refresher in more advanced classes. 

In past classes, I’ve used The Secret Language of Books to point out other neat features of NoveList Plus, such as the huge variety in the new Theme elements, the heat level appeals in Romance, the usefulness of illustration appeals for planning storytimes, and the opportunity to help audiobook listeners as easily as other readers using this product. I also find it useful to show the list of additional ‘Library Helper’ access points in the back of the book so that staff know they can use NoveList Plus to find media tie-ins, high interest-low vocabulary books, translations, and more.

 All in all, I’ve found that this little book can be an RA trainer’s best friend.


Brett Keniston is a Collection Development Librarian for Boulder Public Library in Colorado. 





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