Adventures of Knittinmama

Library Student, Knitter, and Mama

Nancy Pearl and Reader’s Advisory 2.0 March 30, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — mryknx @ 6:01 pm
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I went and saw Nancy Pearl speak at St. Kates today about reader’s advisory and she spoke a bit about the use of library 2.0 tools.  Her emphasis was on how to talk with readers about why they love a particular book.  For Pearl, it is not about plot points, but the way a reader relates to a book.  “When people love a book – they do not love it because of its subject .  the love the experience of reading it.” 

She described four ways to connect with,  or experience, a book.  She calls them ‘doorways’.  They are Story, Character, Setting, and Language.  Of course all books contain all of these elements, but different books will stress one over another.  For example, a book with an emphasis on story would be The DaVinci Code.  For character, she mentioned the books of Anne Tyler.  Her example for setting was E. Annie Prouix’s The Shipping News and for language; Michael Cunningham’s The Hours.  Books have multiple doorways, but readers usually have one or two ways that they enjoy connecting with a book. 

Her issue with 2.0 resouces such as LibraryThing’s Book Suggester and NoveList, and  are that she thinks that they compare plot points and not this more subjective experience.  Her example was this: If you like the spy novels of Tom Clancy because of the fast moving and exciting story, you might not enjoy the more character driven John LeCarre, even though it is also a spy novel.  She said that she would use these resources when a person wants a suggestion for a book with similar plot points, but even then you must match the ‘doorway’ within the recommendations, which these resources will not give you.

 While I really like her way of creating a way to compare book experiences, I’m not sure that her criticism of LibraryThing is totally valid.  I do not have any experience with NoveList, so I can’t speak to that.  If I’m a person who likes books with strong and interesting characters I probably won’t rate a Tom Clancy novel as high as a John LeCarre novel.  The power of LibraryThing’s suggestions is that they are created from the data of many many people.  It seems like all the permutations of what individuals enjoy would create a rich tapestry, not many lists of subject headings.  I think this tool, used in conjunction with the interpersonal skills and knowledge of a librarian, can be valuable. 

 By the way, here are LibraryThing’s recommendations from The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy. 

  1. The sum of all fears by Tom Clancy
  2. Debt of honor by Tom Clancy
  3. Flight of the intruder by Stephen Coonts
  4. Flight of the old dog by Dale Brown
  5. Final flight by Stephen Coonts
  6. Red Phoenix by Larry Bond
  7. Blind man’s bluff : the untold story of American submarine espionage by Sherry Sontag
  8. Vortex by Larry Bond
  9. Team Yankee : a novel of World War III by Harold Coyle
  10. Day of the Cheetah by Dale Brown
  1. The spy who came in from the cold by John Le Carre
  2. Run silent, run deep by Edward L. Beach
  3. I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream by Harlan Ellison
  4. Tinker, tailor, soldier, spy by John Le Carre
  5. Sid Meier’s Civilization II [computer file] : the ultimate version of the best-selling strategy game by Sid Meier
  6. Ringworld [computer file] : revenge of the patriarch by Larry. Ringworld Niven
  7. Force 10 from Navarone by Alistair MacLean
  8. Myst : the official strategy guide by Rick Barba
  9. Myst III : Exile : Prima’s official strategy guide by Rick Barba
  10. The California voodoo game by Larry Niven
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2 Responses to “Nancy Pearl and Reader’s Advisory 2.0”

  1. Tim Says:

    Hey, this is the LibraryThing guy here. I thought I’d leave a comment on this.

    First, I hesitate to criticize Ms. Perl from a second-hand source–or to doubt that you got it right! That said, I am somewhat taken-aback.

    Ms. Perl is a national treasure. Importantly she is a skilled librarian and a smart woman. How LibraryThing’s (five) recommendation systems work is public knowledge and not hard to understand. Few people are better equipped to understand what we do. But if that’s how she described it, she could not have spent the time to understand the object of her criticism. She’s was criticizing LibraryThing, but a figment of her imagination.

    In fact, the strongest factors are the simple, powerful math of “people who have X also have Y.” (We have three such algorithms, with slightly different tuning.) One of the five is based on tags, but this is given less weight in the case of fiction, and also partakes of people-who-tag-X-also-tag-Y idea, which isn’t quite the same as a subject system or an anlysis of “plot points.” The last and least weighty is based on a statistical analysis of the book’s position within the LCSH, LCC and DDC systems; it’s basically there for when the others fail. In the case of the HFRO, tags reinforced some other Clancy-es, and contributed the non-fiction _Blind Man’s Bluff_ at number 7 (a good suggestion and a good book). But the largest factor are simple statistics. In this way, LT is doing what Amazon does, but using people’s libraries not just what they bought at Amazon.

    I certainly agree that algorithms have weaknesses. LibraryThing’s recommendations are randomly brilliant and randomly dunderheaded. Their strength comes from the fact that they’re based on lots of humans, not on inhuman analysis (cf. BookLamp and perhaps Google Book Search). I think there is a lot of room for improvement, but also severe limitations. It’s particularly hard to suggest new books, which haven’t accumulated have enough data, and very popular literary fiction tends to suggest nothing more inspired than other popular literary fiction.

    I’d love to hear her analysis, your analysis or anyone’s analysis of these problems. But can Ms. Perl talk about what she’s talking about?

  2. Tim Says:

    Perl -> Pearl. Too much Perl programming on the brain…


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