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OPACs, users, and readers’ advisory: Exploring the implication of user-generated content for readers’ advisory in Canadian public libraries
OPACs, users, and readers’ advisory:
Exploring the implication of usergenerated content for readers’
advisory in Canadian public libraries
Louise Spiteri, Dalhousie University
Jen Pecoskie, Wayne State University
Social reading, 1
Social media websites that allow for the creation and
exchange of user-generated content have exploded in
popularity and allow users to connect with each other over
various themes and topics. This popularity extends to the use
of libraries and books and reading-related culture.
Social reading, 2
Social media sites like GoodReads and LibraryThing provide popular
platforms for people to share and discuss their reading interests.
Corporate online booksellers such as Amazon include social
components within their online sales catalogues.
– Amazon customers can choose to include personalized reviews in the records
of books and other items, which can be read and possibly used by other
customers in their decision-making process to purchase reading material.
Book review landscape
The book review landscape has changed significantly
in the past few years:
“Reviewing is no longer centralized, with a few big
voices leading the way, but fractured among numerous
multifarious voices found mostly on the web. In turn,
readers aren't playing the captive audience any more”
Hoffert, B. (2010). Every reader a reviewer. Library Journal, 135(14), 22–25.
Social reading and public libraries
Various online public access catalogues (OPACs) are
integrating social discovery platforms such as
BiblioCommons and Encore that allow readers to
connect with each other through user-generated
contents such as reviews, comments,
recommendations, or tags.
Traditional readers’ advisory model, 1
Readers' advisory (RA) is a service that involves suggesting
fiction and nonfiction titles to a reader through direct or
Traditional readers’ advisory model, 2
The traditional RA model is based on a face-to-face
discussion initiated by the reader, or sometimes, by a
proactive librarian, and is based very much on the
reference interview, and on the premise that direct
interpersonal contact is the best way to give service
and encourage future interactions.
Social reading sites and RA
Book-centred social networking sites such as GoodReads and
LibraryThing have introduced a new RA model that is driven and
facilitated by the readers themselves.
Members of these sites use their own descriptors (tags) and reviews to
“express what they like about what they have been reading or what
they want to read. They are in a relaxed environment, they are
taking their time, they are enjoying looking for the right words, or
even using creative terms to describe what they like”.
Stover, K. M. (2009). Stalking the wild appeal factor. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 48(3), 243–246.
How social discovery models can
complement RA, 1
Readers can establish a social space where they share and
discuss common reading interests
Readers can provide a grassroots, democratic readers’ advisory
service, whereby they make recommendations for future reading, for
example, based upon shared interests
Readers can classify items in the catalogue with their own
terms (or tags), which may be more reflective of their language
and needs than the formal subject headings that are
traditionally assigned by library staff. These tags can serve as
added access points by which users can search for items of
How social discovery models can
complement RA, 2
Librarians and library staff can compile
recommended reading lists and make
purchasing decisions based on the reviews and
recommendations made by readers in the
Librarians and library staff can interact with
readers, learn more about their needs, and
become part of the online community, rather than
as potential authority figures.
Scope of our research agenda
To examine the contribution of social catalogues and user-generated
content on readers’ advisory services in Canadian public libraries:
– What information about books are users sharing in social catalogues?
– How does shared information reflect principles and themes of RA?
– How, if at all, are social catalogues used as RA tools by users? By
– What, if any, social connections are evident for reading purposes in
A content analysis of
content for a selection
of adult fiction titles in
libraries that use the
discovery systems to
address the following
• What kind of content do users contribute
about adult fiction titles, i.e., tags and
• What categories of access points do users
provide about the content of adult fiction
titles, e.g., location, subject, genre, and so
• To what extent do user-contributed access
points parallel those established for the
traditional face-to-face RA model?
Selection of library catalogues, 1
The Canadian Public Libraries Gateway, which lists all public libraries in
Canada, was used to determine which libraries use social discovery
systems that allow users to contribute both tags and review/comments.
Because we wish to examine user-contributed content generated
specifically by public library users, those social discovery platforms that
indicated they import reviews from private, non-library entities, such as
GoodReads were not considered.
Selection of library catalogues, 2
This examination revealed that BiblioCommons and Encore
are the social discovery platforms most used by Canadian
public libraries and that met our criteria. We will examine the
entire population of Canadian public libraries (n=4) that uses
BiblioCommons (n=33) and Encore (n=7).
Selection of fiction titles
The bibliographic records for 22 unique adult fiction titles will be
examined in the 40 social discovery platforms.
The 22 titles were selected from the shortlists of major literary prizes
(with duplicate titles noted), namely:
Giller Prize 2011 shortlist
Canadian Governor General’s 2011 Literary Awards
Man Booker Prize Shortlist 2011
Pulitzer Prize 2011 Fiction Finalists
Commonwealth Writer’s Prize 2011 Winners
Selection of reader tags
Unique user-generated content in the form tags and
reviews/comments will be extracted from the total number of
bibliographic records examined for the 22 unique titles to
determine what type of content users are contributing.
In the case of tags, spelling variations (e.g., labor/labour), and
single or plural variant of terms (e.g., dog/dogs) will be
considered as non-unique terms).
Content analysis of reader reviews
Using Grounded Theory method, two researchers will independently
extract factors (or codes) in this user-generated content that provide
information about the content the titles, for example, information about
the location of a story (e.g., Nunavut), or the emotional impact of the title
on the reader (e.g., boring, funny, etc.).
Each researcher will code inductively, grouping codes of similar content
into concepts, and then placing broad groups of similar concepts into
categories. A third researcher will take the two sets of categories and
examine them for overlap, clarity, exclusivity, and relevance.
Comparison of our categories to
traditional RA categories
The final set of categories will be compared by the two
principal researchers to the fiction access categories for
traditional RA models (see slide 32).
Assumptions of the traditional RA
The reader approaches a librarian with RA questions
The librarian approached is the correct person to provide assistance
Enough information is obtained in an interview to provide good RA
Quality RA service is possible, given time constraints
Face-to-face RA encounters are documented sufficiently to support
Possible limitations of the traditional
The reluctance of some readers to discuss their reading
interests with librarians, possibly due to shyness;
A lack of awareness that some librarians are trained to
provide this type of service
A perception of librarians as authority – and thus
intimidating – figures
Possible limitations of the traditional
Assumptions that a librarian of a different
age, gender, culture, and so forth may not
relate to them
A fear of having their reading interests
dismissed or judged, and so forth.
Challenges with bibliographic
Another challenge to the traditional model of RA provision is the
structure of the bibliographic records in library catalogues.
The assignation of access points to works of fiction can be problematic
for a variety of reasons: “claims to neutrality and inclusivity are
central to public libraries’ self-understanding.”
Bates, J., & Rowley, J. (2011). Social reproduction and exclusion in subject indexing: A comparison of
public library OPACs and LibraryThing folksonomy. Journal of Documentation, 67(3), 431–448.
Challenges with bibliographic
This attempt at neutrality is normally manifested in the careful
selection of subject headings that provide what is perceived to
be a balanced and unbiased opinion about the content of the
It is not clear, however, the extent to which neutrality and
inclusivity are possible via systems such as LCSH, which may
contain biases and assumptions that reflect certain sociopolitical or cultural norms
Is neutrality what readers want?
The provision of neutral, unbiased reviews is flying
increasingly in the face of the growing popularity of sites such
as GoodReads and Amazon, where readers freely add their
own reviews to supplement those written by professional
Can “neutral” bibliographic records meet the potentiallydifferent cultural needs of the members of library
Social discovery systems may help provide bibliographic
records that more closely reflect reader needs, since they
offer readers the chance to describe the content of works in
their own words, via tags or reviews/comments, which may
help reflect the diversity and range of Canadian society.
Spiteri, L. F. (2012). Social discovery tools: Extending the principle of user convenience. Journal
of Documentation, 68(2), 206-217.
Reasons for selecting reading
RA tools, 1
Tools such as NoveList and What Should I Read Next provide
valuable resources to advise RA librarians with ways to
connect readers to their reading interests.
RA librarians can make use also of social reading sites such
as LibraryThing, Good Reads, and Shelfari, which allow
readers to document, discuss, and share their reading.
RA tools, 2
LibraryThing for Libraries allows library catalogues to import
LT tags and user reviews. RA librarians can easily consult
social reading sites for reading ideas, regardless of whether
any data are imported to their catalogues
Librarians can mine GoodReads to create read-alike lists, and
can help show readers how to use GoodReads as a virtual
Our clients’ expectations
Social reading sites are creating “a Web nation of feral
readers’ advisors is being born, who in turn will
inform their friends and colleagues of good books to
read using the language we’ve provided in our
tags, bookshelves, reviews, and annotations.”
Stover, K. M. (2009). Stalking the wild appeal factor. Reference & User Services
Quarterly, 48(3), 243–246.
Creating shared spaces, 1
RA staff have competition from
services such as LibraryThing,
Shelfari, and GoodReads, and
they need to consider how best
to blend the concepts of reading
appeal with the idea of readers
tagging books with their own
“we are steeped in a society that
expects to interact, recommend and
share. But are we allowing our
readers to share?” Tarulli, L. (2012). The library
catalogue as social space: Promoting patron driven
collections, online communities, and enhanced reference
and readers' services. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries
Creating shared spaces, 2
Since the ultimate goal of RA
services is to create
conversations about reading
reader interaction in library
catalogues is an important
step forward for RA.
This interaction “connects the
collection and readers to each other in
original, flexible, and idiosyncratic
ways. It allows for reader-to-reader
conversations sparked by
interest, whimsy, and personal
knowledge. It makes greater use of
librarian expertise as well, offering
another way to interact and offer
suggestions.” Wyatt, N. (2007). 2.0 for readers.
Library Journal, 132(18), 30–33.
Relevance of this project, 1
Our study can help provide
library staff with a greater
understanding of how readers
connect to the catalogue, the
records, and to each other via
social discovery systems.
By examining closely the tags and
reviews/comments applied by readers to
fiction titles, the project can increase our
understanding of what readers think are
important for fiction, rather than those that
library staff, including cataloguers, think are
important; for instance, user tags produced
by readers may result in recommended
updates or changes to existing LCSH
headings for fiction.
Relevance of this project, 2
Can we determine the balance between providing enough access points
to enable a good understanding of content, but not so much that we
give away the plot?
What are the types of access points that readers believe are important
for fiction titles? Do these categories reflect those established in the
more traditional forms of RA service?
– Are the access points that have formed the traditional backbone of
bibliographic records sufficient for the needs of readers and library
professionals who wish to access and evaluate fiction sources?