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I Bribed a Librarian to Pick Out Books (The Best of Book Riot)

Kim Ukura

Staff Writer

Kim Ukura is a book lover, recovering journalist, library advocate, cat mom, and lover of a good gin cocktail. In addition to co-hosting Book Riot’s nonfiction podcast, For Real, and co-editing Book Riot’s nonfiction newsletter, True Story, Kim spends her days working in communications at a county library system in the Twin Cities area. Kim has a BA in English and journalism from a small liberal arts college in Minnesota, and a master’s in journalism from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. When not getting to bed before 10 p.m., Kim loves to read nonfiction, do needlework projects, drink tea, and watch the Great British Baking Show. Instagram: @kimthedork Twitter: @kimthedork

Much of the good ship Book Riot is off at Book Expo America this week, so we’re running some of our best stuff from the first half of 2013. We’ll be back with reports from BEA next week and our usual array of new book-nerdery.


Earlier, fellow Book Rioter Jeff O’Neal observed that “discoverability” isn’t really a problem for the readers he knows, making new sites like a solution looking for a problem. Curious about what some less-connected readers thought, I asked my Facebook friends (most of whom are not deeply connected to the “book world”) how they find books to buy and how they decide to what to read next. While most of the answers seemed pretty standard — friends, bloggers, Goodreads, the new book shelf at the library, and various mainstream media sources — one of the answers struck me as totally awesome:

True story: I bribed a librarian (after a brief conversation about my general reading interests) to constantly stick new/interesting things in my hold queue. Best. Thing. Ever. It’s like Netflix for the library, now!

I am in love with this idea. How fun would it be to task a well-read person to develop a personally curated queue of books that will arrive for you to borrow intermittently, at no charge, based on what is new or exciting that seems to fit with your general reading tastes? It sounds almost too good to be true!

Most readers already find ways to build their own “librarian” for recommendations, finding friends or bloggers or book reviewers who seem to have similar tastes then seeking out their recommendations. But that system still has an element of choice — this Frankenstein’s monster of a librarian may cobble together a list of books that seem interesting, but you as the reader still end up making the choice of what to buy/borrow/bypass.

Having a real-life personal librarian could be so much better. Once the relationship was built, and with enough feedback about which books were interesting and which books fell flat, you could almost guarantee that your personal librarian would pick out some things that would be of interest to you. And since it’s a queue of library books, the decision about whether to spend money on an unfamiliar book is eliminated, making the barrier to trying something new really low.

My local library already offers a similar program (on a very limited scale) through book deliveries to people in the community who are home bound for a length of time. Participants fill out a form talking about their general reading tastes and interests, then every couple of weeks a librarian brings them a small selection of books. One of the librarians I talked to said she tries to bring two books from familiar authors or genres and one book that is new to help expand the books that are available. Although the participant pool is small, I get the sense that those involved really enjoy it.

Does this sound like a cool idea, or am I just being crazy? Would you be willing to turn over your library queue to a librarian in exchange for personalized book recommendations?


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