February 4, 2019

Innovation week: A deep dive into making our recommendations better

We decided to begin 2019 with one of our favorite topics – recommendations! Recommendations are at the heart of readers’ advisory – what books have changed people’s lives, or swallowed their consciousness for a while as they lost themselves to a new universe, or – as Marie Kondo might say – sparked joy? What can we do to help people find either more of the same, or the next new thing that will resonate with them? All of this is, for us, through the lens of what we can do to help you (librarians working directly with the public) answer these questions.

Here at NoveList we occasionally like to take time out from our daily business and drawback to think about our work in some new ways. Our developers do a “hackathon” roughly every 12 weeks, in which they identify a topic or library need and creatively brainstorm ways to approach it. (Look for something cool coming in the spring from NoveList as a result of one of the hackathons!) Similarly, our recommendations “deep dive” drew team members across the company together for two business days of discussion, innovation, and problem-solving.

As you may or may not know, recommendations are offered in NoveList for individual titles, but also for authors and for similar series. Many of our recommendations are handwritten by librarians and other book industry professionals, while others are based on matches made using our story elements – the genres, themes, and appeals that capture the heart of the reading experience. We covered a lot of ground in two days, from digging into the basic criteria of what makes a recommendation good to investigating the various ways in which our metadata powers many of our recommendations and thinking about ways to improve that. We touched on machine learning and what elements might need to come into play to effectively make personalized recommendations.

My favorite topic for the week, however, was cross-format recommendations. We live in a world in which the lines between different kinds of media are becoming more and more blurred – the podcast you listened to for YEARS before it was cool may be a novel or Netflix original series tomorrow, familiar characters (Sherlock Holmes, Elizabeth Bennett) pop up in all kinds of media from print adaptations to films to televisions shows to fan fiction. What might be some interesting ways that librarians can help users navigate this evolving world of story?

We’ve begun to try to answer this question in some small ways – you can look for our genre headings Books to movies or Books to TV to find things that have been adapted to film; the genres Movie tie-ins and TV tie-ins let you find books that have made the journey in the opposite direction. Our For Fans of… Recommended Reads Lists are available at different reading levels on the left side of the NoveList home page, and they pull together books around various popular culture trends, such as the television shows Riverdale or Black Mirror.

We don’t yet have headings for books that have been written based on podcasts (think Welcome to Night Vale) or on popular blogs (John Scalzi’s Virtue Signaling and Other Heresies), but these might be access points that we decide to create. A useful tool for charting the universe surrounding a popular story or character is our Adaptations, retellings, and spin-offs genre heading, applied to books in which prequels, sequels, modernizations, or variations of a previous work by a different author are offered. This genre can be combined with subject headings for the character or original work, which allows you to bring the universe of materials together.

Not sure how to search by genre? We’ve got a list of all our genres, a brief tutorial for searching by genre in NoveList, and some guidelines for a genre like romance on our website.

Do any of these topics raise your interest, or make you think of things you would like the NoveList team to explore? We’d love to hear from you!

Victoria Caplinger Fredrick is the Director Book Discovery of NoveList.

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