Readers’ advisory is still important despite the existence of Amazon and Goodreads. Although these services provide reading recommendations, NoveList has an ongoing role in helping readers find books via their public library. Smith explains:
Every community and every reader operates in a reading landscape. That landscape has three components: discovery, discernment (deciding), delivery (obtaining). Readers have always operated in a landscape, discovering books from conversations with family and friends, trusted reviewing sources [e.g., The New York Times], or browsing the library’s shelves and talking with library staff. Today’s reading landscape is much richer than the one that was around when NoveList first got started. … The result is that for many readers, the library’s role as a place to discover new books and decide whether or not they are right for the reader has been diminished, leaving the library’s position in many [readers’] minds as a delivery service—the place where I obtain the book I want. NoveList is important in today’s reading landscape because we are focused on the library and empowering the library to reclaim its position in book discovery and be a participant in helping readers decide what book to read.
NoveList’s goal is to make the library an essential part of the reading landscape by offering products that are designed to support readers through the use of the library.
Product Strategy: Creating and Delivering Content; Proving Libraries’ Value
“The key to our quality is our staff and contributors,” Smith says. “Humans are the secret sauce of our recommendations. Not only when they use their personal reading knowledge and expertise to create recommendations for a specific title, author, or series, but when they assign our detailed subject headings and appeal factors to a work, author, or series. Our algorithms allow us to achieve scale by leveraging this librarian expertise across many more titles than an individual or team of individuals could. In addition, we also provide a rationale for every recommendation we make introducing readers (and staff) to our thinking about why and how titles, authors, and series are related.”
There are three drivers behind NoveList’s product strategy: commitment to creating content that connects books with readers, delivering content where it has maximum value, and elevating a library’s ability to prove its value to readers and other community members. The following are the main products in its portfolio:
- NoveList Plus and NoveList K-8 Plus evolved from the original NoveList, which featured only adult fiction titles. The NoveList Plus products cover fiction for all age groups (including picture books) as well as nonfiction titles and audiobooks. This database of content features in-depth subject and appeal factor analyses created by NoveList’s staffers that will help librarians answer the most frequent readers’ advisory questions, such as, “Can you find a book at the right reading level for my sixth-grade son?” or “Can you find me another book like the one I just finished?”
- NoveList Select came out of a desire to reach patrons who weren’t necessarily asking librarians for help. Putting the NoveList database into the OPAC was a natural next step. This API allows libraries to deliver NoveList content, including reading recommendations and series information, to the library’s catalog (as well as to self-check systems such as bibliotheca’s and to library mobile apps). “We in essence took the book display concept digital by turning every title record in a library’s catalog into a virtual book display,” says Smith. This way, patrons can find books they were not originally searching for and easily decide what to read next.
- LibraryAware “continues our theme of taking our content and delivering it where it has the most value, but in this case we are giving our customers the tools they need to push that information out to their users in a variety of ways,” says Smith. With this product, libraries can create bookmarks, posters, and fliers, as well as embed widgets, create enewsletters, and post to social media sites to help readers discover not only new books, but also all of the services the library provides.
- The NextReads enewsletter service is part of LibraryAware. NoveList staff librarians create themed content each month for topics such as mystery and romance, featuring both newer and older titles. It “has been shown to increase holds on the new titles they contain by 50%—and more importantly increase holds on older titles by 75%. This service pushes genre and topic-oriented booklists to subscribers on a monthly basis and pulls these readers back into the library,” says Smith. Librarians can use it to create their own enewsletters to showcase their own collections and expertise.
- “One of the things that we’ve heard forever is the challenge around librarians not only wanting to discover books, but being able to tell their users and for users to find the books that are in right now,” says Smith. The On The Shelf feature shows in real time whether a book discovered in NoveList Plus or NoveList Select is available in the library. This way patrons can get recommendations and find a book that the library knows is ready for checkout.
NoveList and Linked Data
Smith says the initiative he is most excited about is working with linked data, which will be a major focus for NoveList in the coming year and in the future. “I think it is the capstone of what we have been striving to achieve here at NoveList,” he says. “It is the latest and most significant way we can help libraries reach readers and deliver the services that will move them to the center of their community’s reading landscape and inspiration infrastructure. Through linked data we are going to make libraries and their value more visible, and as a result transform more lives.”
The open web is where most people (including library users) go for content, so libraries need to make their collections, services, resources, programs, and staff expertise visible there, says Smith. NoveList is a partner of Zepheira and a reseller of its linked data product, and the two companies are working together to create the Linked Library Service. “The number of linkages associated with an item contributes to that item moving up the result list. Early estimates indicate that adding NoveList’s content to a library’s linked data collection increases the linkages contained in that collection by at least 2.5 times. That is a tremendous value add,” he says.
Reading Books to Change the World
Smith uses an example from Part of Our Lives to emphasize the value libraries have to communities. “In Wiegand’s book, we learn that Thomas Edison learned about electricity by reading every book he could find on the subject at his public library. He knew to go to his local library because it was a part of his reading landscape and its physical location was visible to him. What would our world be like if Edison hadn’t known about his local public library?” This could be true of people trying to solve today’s problems, he says, such as climate change, diseases, and government issues—they need to be aware of what their public libraries have to offer if they want to learn what they need to do to change the world.