September 26, 2019

Sharing the Secret Language of Books

Librarians are always looking for ways to reach readers, but the quest to provide readers’ advisory can often be fraught with peril. Staff may not have time to or interest to conduct in-depth reference interviews. Libraries may not have the opportunity to provide training for staff on readers’ advisory practices or resources. Keeping up with the amount of titles published across all genres is a daunting, and truly impossible, task for one person. Plain and simple, readers’ advisory is not always easy and practical — and, truthfully, it can be downright scary.

That’s where NoveList comes in. We have experienced all the challenges mentioned above (plus tacos used as bookmarks!) and wanted to find ways to help librarians and readers alike. Over the years we’ve developed and refined our own language for matching readers with just-right books. These “story elements” cover the many different aspects of a book that catches a reader’s attention. Every year we compile the story elements, which include appeal terms, themes, and genres, into The Secret Language of Books: A Guide to Story Elements

I keep a well-worn copy of my Secret Language of Books on my desk at all times, post-it notes sticking out haphazardly from my favorite sections (I especially heart Library Search Helpers). Then it hit me one day that while I know how I use the guide and what I suspect libraries do with them, I am not totally sure what adventures await the guides as they leave our office in Durham, NC.

So, being the good librarian I was raised to be, I did some research! I pored through emails, testimonials, and past requests for Secret Language of Books from libraries across the U.S and Canada – even as far away as New Zealand. The results confirmed my suspicions: these small but mighty guides serve many purposes for library staff and readers alike. 

Here are some of the most popular ways you use the Secret Language of Books:

  • Staff training and development: This was by far the common response. Libraries will often request copies prior to a staff development day, citing that the guide is not only helpful in training their staff in how to use NoveList, but also with improving basic readers’ advisory services. As one library observed, “the guide really goes in depth to explain the more granular ways of searching for a patron’s next read.”
  • Reference desk resource: Libraries also request copies to stock at each of their reference desks for both patrons and staff to access. This can be a helpful tool to refer to when walking through an RA interview.
  • Conversation starter:  Libraries sought to use the guide as part of a greater discussion of how to improve readers’ advisory on a library or regional level. By giving everyone the same language, the Secret Language of Books can not only help to improve RA at a single desk or location but can inspire further dialogue about greater RA goals and practices.

Do you have your own favorite way you have used the guide? Let us know!

Need copies for your library? The Secret Language of Books is available in print and digital format. Get yours today!

Jen Heuer Scott is a NoveList Consultant. She is currently reading Atomic City Girls by Janet Beard. 


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