Share |

Using NoveList and Goodreads in Tandem

by Becky Spratford

*This article originally appeared in the March issue of RA News. Subscribe to RA News and any of our other newsletters.*

You may have noticed that NoveList has a direct link from each title in its database to the matching Goodreads entry. This is a wonderful addition to your Readers' Advisory arsenal. With just one extra click, you can access a treasure trove of information, actual reader comments, and display ideas. NoveList provides a library professional's perspective while Goodreads is reader-driven. Together, the two provide a much deeper understanding of reading options that allows you to fine-tune your Readers' Advisory services.

Here are three ways that pairing NoveList and GoodReads helps you provide better RA:

  1. Review professional opinions and reader comments at the same time for a more complete picture of the book under consideration.
  2. Compare professional cataloging with how readers categorize the books they read.
  3. Create Custom reading lists and book displays more easily.

Here's an example of how to do this using The Help by Kathryn Stockett.

Professional Reviews and Patron Comments Considered Together

NoveList combines professional journal reviews and its content is enhanced by editor-added appeal terms: from the NoveList database, you'll get a full picture of the merit and appeal of a title according to other Readers' Advisory professionals. However, giving the average reader a voice is Goodreads' major strength.

Why care about reader reviews when you have access to the top professional ones? Well, I like to think of each Goodreads user review as a patron who has come up to my desk to talk about a book they enjoyed. It can be difficult for patrons to open up in person, but on Goodreads they've had time to sit down and write out their candid thoughts -- essentially, a dream come true for RA librarians!

I focus on readers' five-star and one-star reviews, because these are the most passionate lovers and haters of a title. I could never get a patron to open up this honestly to me about a book at the desk, but on Goodreads, they do. And since Goodreads is not selling the titles in question, I feel better about the authenticity of these reviews.

For example, NoveList's professional reviews for The Help are glowing -- but Goodreads has 12,000+ reviews (one- and two-star) from people who did not like it. When dealing with a title that has become such a phenomenon, patrons may hesitate to admit their dislike of it to us. And because librarians pay attention to book titles touted for broad appeal we may lose sight of what some readers may not enjoy about it. Comparing professional and amateur reviews side-by-side provides a more balanced picture of the book's possible appeal.

The Genre Question

Genre remains one of the hottest issues in RA these days. At one time, popular fiction titles seemed to fit so neatly into just one genre; now, however, genre-blending is popular so it's hard to know where to place a title to attract all its possible readers. While readers are freed to read more widely between and among genres, this question of blended genres can make it harder for them to find titles they'll love.

NoveList uses a set list of approved genre terms -- a controlled language that helps bring blurry genre divisions into focus for many readers. But, for others, it doesn't capture the broadened/blended genre boundaries they are comfortable with. Goodreads users sort out genre questions subjectively for themselves by applying tags to identify their books' topics, genres, etc. Although their designations are not standardized from reader-to-reader, they create a "cloud" of terms that help librarians see how readers classify the book in their own terms.

NoveList's genre designations for The Help are:

  • Books to movies
  • Historical fiction
  • Literary fiction
  • Women's lives and relationships

On Goodreads there are 10 main genres listed, the most popular of which is "Book Club," not to mention the 13,767 "shelves" that the patrons have sorted the books onto. In this example, while the four genres designations on NoveList are useful, the non-standard addition of "Book Club" adds an important nuance. The Help's place as a book club favorite is often one of the reasons a patron may want to read it.

Creating Lists and Displays

NoveList offers professionally-vetted resources to help librarians gather titles for topical reading lists, storytelling sessions, book displays, and many other programming opportunities. For The Help, NoveList provides a wealth of information about both the book and the author in their articles and lists. 

Adding Goodreads allows you bring reader ideas into the mix . Readers passionate about a specific author, title, or genre spend lots of time making lists of similar or connected books and sharing them on Goodreads. Quite often, large numbers of readers work together to make extensive lists. At the Goodreads page for The Help, click on the "Lists with this Book" link. At last count, I found 20 pages of lists that include The Help. Not all will be useful to you but if even one lists helps you help a reader, then your time on Goodreads was well spent.

Harness that fan enthusiasm for genres -- you won't regret it. We do our best work by making the reader's perspective central to our thinking. Especially if you have a request on a topic that doesn't spark your personal/professional interest, reading what dozens of people have to say at Goodreads can fire up ideas that may never have occurred to you. You'll end up with displays and/or lists reflecting the tastes of readers you want to target -- and that leads to higher circulation statistics.

Try the NoveList/Goodreads combination yourself, and see things from a new perspective.

When Becky Spratford isn't scouring Goodreads for new ideas, she is busy working with readers and students. Between helping patrons at the Berwyn (IL) Public Library and corrupting the minds of library school students at Dominican University, she runs the two popular and critically acclaimed blogs, RA for All and RA for All: Horror. She is the author of The Readers' Advisory Guide to Horror, second edition (ALA, 2012) and a proud member of the Horror Writers Association.