Unfortunately, your access has now expired. But there’s good news—by subscribing today, you will receive 22 issues of Booklist magazine, 4 issues of Book Links, and single-login access to Booklist Online and over 200,000 reviews.
Your access to Booklist Online has expired. If you still subscribe to the print magazine, please proceed to your profile page and check your subscriber number against a current magazine mailing label. (If your print subscription has lapsed, you will need to renew.)
Free Trial, activate profile, or subscribe
Find more Notes from the Field
Savvy readers’ advisors will likely recognize the name Robin Beerbower—whether from a blurb on the jacket of an ARC (she’s a go-to source for publishers needing early quotes) or from one of her many appearances at book conferences. You can also find her on the monthly Twitter “Galley Chat” (she’s @robinsbooks). Robin recently tore herself away from her TBR pile of 2015 books to talk to me about her library career.
Tell us a little about yourself and your position.
Robin: I started at the Salem (OR) Public Library in 1973 as a clerk I and, over the next 10 years, worked my way to library assistant III, at that time the highest level available to staff without a library degree (since then, the classification of library associate was created, the position I now hold). For 8 years, I worked in the Circulation Department and then for 17 years was the bookmobile driver and “librarian,” where I honed my readers’-advisory skills. After budget cuts forced the bookmobile to stop service, I settled into home-bound services for half of my time, and for the other half, worked in various departments, until in 2012 I was offered my current position of readers’ advisor. This job involves coordinating author programs, creating read-alike lists, roving the library and helping patrons with any needs, and offering e-reading device assistance, as well as collection development for all print fiction.
I write a regular column featuring new books for the Statesman Journal, our local paper. I’ve also published articles on library topics and a few blog articles for various online sites including Readers’ Advisory Onlineand Bookreporter Network, and I wrote an article about my “best of” lists that I’ve compiled yearly since 1996. And six months ago I started a regular column for EarlyWord, summarizing the top books discussed during the monthly “GalleyChat.”
I’m also a regular presenter at our annual Oregon Library Association conferences (in 2006 I even chaired the entire shebang!) and have presented at PLA, BEA, and the Pacific NW Booksellers trade show. ALA remains the only major book conference that hasn’t been graced by my presence.
Over the years, I’ve been awarded the Oregon Library Association Employee of the Year, the Public Library Division’s OLÉ award, and in 2009, received the Oregon Library Association’s Distinguished Service Award.
You’ve been at the same library your entire career. How has your position there changed over time?
Robin: Whenever I think about my long stint at Salem Public Library, I think about the line from the Grateful Dead, “What a long, strange trip it’s been,” which is funny because it certainly hasn’t seemed very long, and it has never been what I would call “strange”—a little weird at times but not strange. In addition to all of the changes in routine I’ve described above, I would mention that, even though it comes as no surprise to anyone, technology has brought about the biggest changes in my career. I have basically gone from Gaylord charging machines (and its endless filing) and card catalogs, to iPads and all of the other technological wonders embraced by libraries today. I have no doubt that, if I stick around long enough, I will soon see those brain-embedded chips featured in M. T. Anderson’s Feed.
Tell us about how your library approaches readers’ advisory and collection development.
Our library has basically never had enough staff to have an assigned readers’ advisor—and for the record, our library has done an amazing job with the staff it has—so for more than 30 years, I have been the “unofficial” readers’ advisor and am often called on for patron questions. Back in the early 1990s, I had the opportunity to create a program that trained volunteers to help patrons in the stacks (early roving—and very different for its time!) and run the adult reading club, and it was a great success. A few years ago, one of the results of a city-wide survey was that patrons would like more help while in the stacks, which encouraged the library director to take me out of circulation and assign me a work station in the fiction area. Probably the biggest difference is that I have a “standing” station and spend most of my time roaming around the library, offering any kind of help (with lots of reading advice) to anyone who needs it.
As far as collection development goes, we’ve also never had enough time to properly “weed” so are in the process of working with CollectionHQ to update our collection and also remove what is needed before our migration to Sirsi/Dynix in December. Weeding is one of my favorite things to do, and I’m loving every minute of it.
What kinds of things do you find your collection is in need of most right now? What would you want, in an ideal world?
Robin: More funds for a holds ratio of 2:1—along with a method for getting rid of the extra copies once they’ve worn out their welcome. Right now it’s 5:1, and it’s a challenge to have enough copies so patrons don’t have to wait months to get what they want, along with the age-old balancing act of having enough remaining funds to purchase the lesser-known fiction we should also have available on the shelves. The ideal service would be to have whatever patrons want available when they want it (Lee Child!, Gone Girl!, James Patterson!) in any format they want, but I can’t think of any library that has that kind of service.
And, of course, unlimited funds (and while we’re at it, reduced prices) for e-books so patrons don’t have to wait months for a lesser-known book on Library2Go, a book that most likely has multiple print copies languishing on the library shelf.
For that pie-in-the-sky item that doesn’t yet exist, I would love to see some kind of device for e-books and audiobooks that is really easy to use for sight and/or physically impaired patrons, which would work off 3 or 4G (for those who don’t have Internet service), and would have the capability to instantly download anything desired by the patron. Oh, and it has to be at no cost to the patron and at low cost to libraries. And there should also be staff for in-home visits. I don’t think that’s too much to ask, do you?
You’re well known for your work with publishers, notably via Early Word, Library Love Fest, and other ventures. How did you become a “publisher darling,” and what advice would you give to a librarian looking to emulate the things that you do?
Robin: My involvement with publishers and reading early started in 2005 when I “virtually” met Carol Fitzgerald from Bookreporter Network, who then introduced me to Nora Rawlinson, then a library marketing rep for Hachette. I don’t think it was too long after that when I was blown away by Chevy Stevens’ Still Missing and became involved with Talia Sherer from Macmillan, and that was followed by the lovely reps from HarperCollins, Random House, and Algonquin sending me print galleys to preview. In 2010, I was one of the first to participate in EarlyWord’s “GalleyChat” and have only missed a handful of chats since. I’ve also attended four Book Expos and troll Edelweiss and NetGalley every day (yes, I’m rather addicted).
My advice is to get involved in whatever way you can with finding and reading forthcoming books. It’s incredibly fun and rewarding to predict what little-known gem will become a word-of-mouth best-seller, plus you’ll have a great feeling of satisfaction. And after you’ve read something you love, promote, promote, promote! Use Twitter, GoodReads (as long as the publisher doesn’t want you to wait until close to pub date), Edelweiss, and also e-mail the publisher reps (library marketing rep and publicist), and notify the author of your enjoyment (Twitter is a fab way to do it). And if you feel strongly about its popularity, take a chance and buy multiple copies for your library; even if it’s not a best-seller, you’ll always have something at your fingertips to recommend.
Also participate in EarlyWord’s “GalleyChat,” even if you don’t have anything to add (we love lurkers!). It’s a great way to see what’s getting an early buzz, and many of the books are available as e-galleys, plus the marketing reps participate and are always willing to grant permissions for e-galleys or even send a print copy. And speaking of print copies, don’t hesitate to contact marketing reps and ask for whatever you want. It may not be available, but they will try to grant your request whenever possible.
In addition, try to attend conferences where publishers exhibit, and introduce yourself to the marketing reps. Talk to them about what’s new and forthcoming; they love to talk about that stuff. Go to the book buzz sessions (or watch them online) and then try to find the digital copy or ask for it in print. Join Edelweiss and read reviews. In other words, try to do everything you can to familiarize yourself with what’s arriving in the next six months. It also helps with collection development and your patrons will love being “in the know” about what’s new.
The only difficulty with reading ahead is that it’s hard to answer when someone wants to know what you’re reading and loving, as the book you want to rave about isn’t due for another few months!
Speaking of Early Word and “GalleyChat” in particular, what are some upcoming titles or authors you are most excited about for fall?
Um, how much space do we have?? Quite frankly, I’m way into 2015 but do have a couple of favorites for this fall. Caitlin Doughty’s Smoke Gets in Your Eyes was a favorite of mine when I read it back in June, along with other GalleyChatters, so we are happy to see that it is doing so well. It is definitely a remarkable book, and the author’s insights into how we treat the dead are fascinating and timely.
I am a huge fan of memoirs—especially of rock stars—and Aerosmith side man Joe Perry’s memoir, Rocks, was one of the better ones I’ve read in a while. Another rock memoir I’m anxious to read is Billy Idol’s Dancing with Myself, and Martin Short’s I Must Say looks funny and touching. Fans of Into the Wild, by Jon Krakauer, will love The Wild Truth, by Carine McCandless, the “rest of the story” that was only hinted at in the Krakauer book.
I’m always looking for the next big word-of-mouth title, a book by an unknown author that could hit the big time, and The Magician’s Lie, by Greer Macallister, has the potential to be very popular with readers and book groups. The eerie tone reminded me of A Reliable Wife, by Robert Goolrick, and the storytelling was, well, magical. Also teeming with gothic intensity is Fiercombe Manor, by Kate Riordan—who reminds me of a combination of Victoria Holt, Sarah Waters, and Kate Morton.
Book groups are always asking for recommendations so I’m excited that Lois Leveen’s Juliet’s Nurse just came out. Her first book, The Secrets of Mary Bowser, has been so popular with book groups that I’m thrilled to have another to recommend, especially since it’s a retelling of Romeo and Juliet, and Shakespeare is big here in Oregon.
For psychological suspense, I just finished Before He Finds Her, by Michael Kardos, told from the viewpoints of a bunch of unreliable narrators (my favorite kind), and The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins, has some twisty surprises.
And last but not least, two favorite authors have books due soon. Diane Chamberlain always writes a good family drama, and The Silent Sister is due in October, and Stewart O’Nan’s West of Sunset, a novel about F. Scott Fitzgerald in Hollywood, has already received rave reviews on “GalleyChat.”
Free Trial, activate profile, or subscribe