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Building a community of readers

According to Barry Trott, Digital Services Director at Williamsburg Regional Library, studies show that people still think of books as representing a library’s “brand.” While libraries clearly offer a whole lot more, he said, it is incumbent upon them to deliver the content that their patrons want.

“The library catalog is the place where we encounter our users all the time, even those who never come into the physical building,” Trott explained. “The richer we can make the catalog records, the more likely our users are going to discover something that might be useful to them. That helps keep us relevant in people’s minds.”

“The richer we can make the catalog records, the more likely our users are going to discover something that might be useful to them. That helps keep us relevant in people’s minds."


A NoveList customer since 2000, Williamsburg Regional Library subscribes to NoveList Plus, a comprehensive database containing thousands of reading recommendations and book reviews. In 2009, the library added NoveList Select, which allows the library to pull related NoveList Plus content into its existing catalog records.

“Having NoveList content in the catalog through NoveList Select is really crucial to being able to provide readers with good reading ideas,” Trott said. “It is an important part of how we use the library catalog to build a community of readers.”

Users search the catalog from the library’s home page, and then click on the title for a detailed record. In addition to telling users where the book is located on the library shelf, the record also provides a book summary, author profile, professional reviews, and “You Might Also Like These” title and author suggestions. Users can also mouse over a “Why” link for a short blurb about why the title or author is a good match.

In 2003, Williamsburg Regional Library began a form-based readers’ advisory service. Users fill out a reader profile online, and the staff responds via email with reading recommendations. Trott said NoveList’s Author Read-alikes feature often provides library staff with ideas.

“We’ve done several thousands of these,” he said. “This is something libraries all over the country have started doing.”

Trott said Williamsburg Regional Library also uses NoveList content in book discussion kits that local book clubs can sign out at the circulation desk. Each kit includes multiple copies of the book along with author information, reviews, and a book discussion guide.

“I think ‘story’ is so much at the center of what people are looking for when they come to the library,” Trott said. “They are looking for stories that validate their experiences or expand their experiences. By providing readers’ advisory services, we help support their search for a story.”

In 2013, the institution began subscribing to LibraryAware, a web-based service that enables libraries to promote their reader services, databases, collections, and programs. Williamsburg Regional Library is using LibraryAware to create its weekly email blast to subscribers, and incorporating title lists as a new component of these newsletters. LibraryAware also makes it easy to include library content, both books and e-resources, into promotional and marketing materials. Trott said the library is also looking at ways to use LibraryAware to send responses to the form-based reader profiles it receives.

Although Williamsburg Regional Library has evaluated other readers’ advisory resources, Trott said the institution retains NoveList products because of the quality of the content and EBSCO’s responsiveness to user input.

“We’ve had a very long and fruitful relationship with the folks at NoveList in terms of helping to develop readers’ advisory tools that really are valuable,” said Trott, who also occasionally writes for NoveList. “EBSCO as a corporation does a really good job of listening to its users and making changes to resources based on user input. They’re very willing to listen to what works and what doesn’t work.”

Benefits & Results

Supporting readers has always been the primary role of public libraries, Trott said. In the early days, libraries concentrated more on telling readers what they should be reading rather than helping them find books that interested them. That began to change in the late 20th century, as readers’ advisories began to focus on the readers’ needs and interests. Trott pointed to a 1989 book written by Joyce G. Saricks called Readers’ Advisory Service in the Public Library, now in its third edition, which helped rejuvenate the idea of connecting readers with the books that match their interests.

“NoveList does a really good job of listening to the reader and identifying what it is about the book that appeals to the reader,” Trott said.

NoveList Select usage data shows that Williamsburg Regional Library patrons who use the catalog frequently click on the reviews, other books in a series, or similar titles.

 “I’ve had several readers come up and say that NoveList Select is a great tool,” Trott said. “When they were looking for one book, they were introduced to other books and authors that they had not been aware of. That’s really what readers’ advisory is all about. By providing people with things that they’re interested in reading and watching and listening to and by helping them to make connections between their current reading and new possibilities, the library remains relevant to its community.”

Barry Trott is Digital Services Director at Williamsburg Regional Library.

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