27 Apr 2016

The Critical Curator: A Library Book Review Blog

Guest post by Mark Ward, Library Assistant at South Dublin Libraries and founder of BALLYROAN READS

I was reading a post from last year equating DJs and Librarians in which Martin O’Connor makes the important point that

“We really need curated content. We need curators. And this is where DJs like our John Peels’ Dave Fannings’ and Dave Couses’ come into play. They listen to the music. They decide what they like. They play it. We listen. And hopefully learn and branch out and educate ourselves from there.”

This struck a chord with me (no pun intended) as at the start of March, I launched a collaborative blog called BALLYROAN READS which features book reviews written by library staff, as well as posts about new and forthcoming books, and entries highlighting individual books with categories such as #brilliantbooktitles. Blogs, as Thomsett-Scott (2014) states “are one of the most established social tools on the web and are still incredibly valuable for marketing and outreach” (p.12). It is in this vein that each book reviewed or mentioned is linked back, where possible, to our library catalogue so that if the post has caught the reader’s attention, they can reserve a copy with ease.

Since starting it, I’ve received a lot of feedback from patrons, delighted that such a thing exists. I’ve also gotten a lot of posts from different countries, most notably the US, which is great in terms of expanding our library’s reach. As such, I’ve received a lot of comments, and have interacted with every single one, where possible starting (and maintaining) a conversation directly with our patrons and providing a reference/recommendation service to those outside of our catchment area, building on Rossman & Young’s assertion that social media offers “the opportunity to listen to users, to engage at point-of-need, and to build community” (2015, p. 541).

What’s important, and marketable, is the notion of library staff as curator. We already fulfil such a role – we decide which books to buy, to put on display, to shelve in closed stacks, or to wear out, however, we can make this more visible to our patrons by undertaking another role as curator; the critic. Library staff are always asked their opinions on books (“Have you read it? What kind of books do you read? Can you recommend me something to bring with me on holiday?) so this is a good way to put this knowledge and expertise into a concrete format. Importantly, the blog stems from the notion that we are reviewing books we actually read, no matter what they are, leading to a great variety of reviews, from cookbooks to history books to film books to poetry collections, from romance novels to graphic novels to literary fiction. Staff have also enjoyed letting their creative (and critical) side out with some happily stating that it encourages them to read more.

The blog, however, was designed with staff’s busy workload in mind. As such, each staff member, of whom eight contribute, writes a 250 word review per month, which for comparison in this post was about halfway through the fourth paragraph, with myself manning the other posts and the feedback. What strikes me is how easily replicable this format would be, and how beneficial that would be to both patrons, who are always looking for something good to read, and library staff, who are also always looking for new ways to market their stock.

Rossman, D. & Young, S. W. H. (2015). Social media optimization: Making library content shareable and engaging. Library Hi Tech, 33, 526-544.
Thomsett-Scott, B. C. (2014). Marketing with social media: A LITA guide. London, England: Facet Publishing.


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