Housewife Theologian

The Gospel Interrupting the Ordinary

A New Kind of Librarian

Written By: Aimee Byrd - Jan• 23•13

138345019772843077_APwWBRFc_cI read an interesting article yesterday by Laura Hazard Owen claiming that although more people are buying their books online, there is a disconnect between where they are making their purchases and how they are discovering their books in the first place. She claims that even the popular sites like Pinterest and Goodreads do not show much fruit that leads to actual book purchases. Here is an excerpt from the article:

Sixty-one percent of book purchases by frequent book buyers take place online, but only seven percent of those buyers said they discovered that book online, while physical book stores account for 39 percent of units sold and 20 percent of discovery share: the stats come by way of new research from Peter Hildick-Smith, the founder and CEO of the Codex Group, which tracks frequent readers’ book-buying behavior. At the Digital Book World conference in New York on Thursday, he said that discovery and availability are being “decoupled” online. In other words, readers are likely to go online to buy a book after having learned about it elsewhere.

Book discovery seems to be a prevalent issue now with the decline of physical book stores. Owen gives three suggestions for publishers, the last one seeming to be the best. She says we need more online reviewers. I couldn’t agree more about that. I rely pretty heavily on online reviews to help me with new book discovery. After a while, you develop a certain level of trust in discernment with some of the bloggers that you read. It is wonderful to hear their take on books you haven’t read. Readers need to rely on other readers. And this is why I think that bloggers who do book reviews are a new kind of librarian.

In fact, I think anyone who enjoys reading should take up their amateur librarian responsibilities. You don’t even need a blog. More and more authors have been asking me to post my reviews on Amazon because it has become a crucial piece to book marketing and discoverability. So I have been trying to take the time and copy and paste my reviews over there after I post them here (and would have participated sooner if it weren’t for the crummy star-rating system). Why not take the time to take this step when you are done reading a book? It is helpful to both the author and potential readers.

It also helps you. Writing a review sharpens your reading experience. It helps you to organize your thoughts about what you may have learned and the conversation that you were having with the author, as well as exercise your discernment skills and memory.

But these reviews are mainly helpful for already committed readers. I have a passion to bring more into this category, especially for good books on theology, history, and Christian growth. I have plenty of friends who are not readers. It bothers me because they are good thinkers. There are plenty in my church who add to the discussions in small group and Sunday school, but admit that they hardly ever read a book. How do we reach these people? I have found it beneficial to briefly verbalize reviews of good books. This also takes being a good listener. When someone comments on a theological subject with a question, I want to also provide a book for them to spend some time with in deeper thought. It’s also good to have that book available for them to put in their hands.

My friend Shari has picked up on this and made a clever play of words from the iPhone commercial. She says my motto is, “There’s a book for that.” Perhaps I’ve taken it too far. I don’t ever want to replace good conversation with throwing a book advertisement out, but I do want to discuss good books with other readers. I’ve also written about my book club idea for discovering new books that you can read about here.

What do you think? How has the internet changed the way that you find books? How might we be able to be more intentional about drawing in more readers with the market changing the way it is? Should we start having book commercials? What do you think about becoming a new kind of librarian? How can we help connect people we know to good books?

 

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18 Comments

  1. I actually use Amazon as a sort of “book discovery” system. If there’s a particular book that I was looking for, I then look down at the “Customers Who Bought This Also Bought…” and I’ve found many, many books that way. I do rely heavily on reviews to decide whether or not it’s worth buying.

    And I agree about the benefits of writing reviews…I’ve found that if I know I’m going to write a review about it, I pay more attention to the content and process it in a deeper way. If I know I’m going to be explaining it to others, I always make sure that I understand it clearly enough to communicate about it.

    • Aimee Byrd says:

      I try to use this “If you liked this book, maybe you should try this” strategy when a conversation partner is raving about a book (usually a best seller) that is not very good theology. Instead of just putting down their book (and insulting their discernment skills), I try to direct them with something more edifying or challenging.

  2. Kim Shay says:

    Like my very smart friend, Elizabeth, I also use Amazon’s suggestions. I don’t rely an awful lot on blog reviewers unless I am really familiar with them. The ladies I blog with at our group blog are the women I trust most :) The place where I continue to get the most book ideas is the footnotes, endnotes, and bibliographies of the books I’m currently reading. When it comes to fiction, I turn to my daughter who reads oodles of fiction and knows what is good. The biggest difference between how I read now and say, ten years ago, is that I don’t go to the library as often because I can check availability here from home.

    • Aimee Byrd says:

      I check the footnotes too! That’s how I have found many great books.
      By the way, that is one powerful post over at Out of the Ordinary today!

  3. Doc B says:

    “How has the internet changed the way that you find books? How might we be able to be more intentional about drawing in more readers with the market changing the way it is?”

    Of course it has. When I was a kid, I was a voracious devourer of science fiction. I found most of my books via the Science Fiction Book Club magazine and my school library. In college, I became as interested in history and theology as I was in science fiction, and learned to find good books in bibliographies from my course syllabi, and from browsing the shelves at the campus bookstore or the local Christian bookstores. (That was back when Christian bookstores still carried Christian books.)

    Now, I find my books almost exclusively by reading blog recommendations from people I trust.

    And that is a great lead-in to the second question you asked: drawing more readers. The best way to do this is to be authentic about the reviews we write, and not give in to publisher’s benefits in promoting books. Bloggers like me need to actually read the books, and then write a real review with warts and all. Having bought a few (not many, just a few) books based on blog recommendations, I’ve come to the conclusion that not all bloggers are actually reading the books they recommend.

    FWIW, Aimee, I’ve bought three books based on reviews you wrote, and all of them were exactly as you advertised, so I’m not picking on you! Most recently, I read Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, and enjoyed it a great deal.

    As the others mentioned, I also use the ‘others bought’ feature in Amazon.com, but I don’t buy those without reading the on-site reviews and seeking off-site reviews as well.

    So it comes down to the old saying that the more things change, the more they stay the same. I buy books based on what others recommend.

    • Aimee Byrd says:

      Glad to hear that my reviews line up with your reading experience. I would never review without reading, that’s just crazy. But I try to do more than just give a summary of the book. And I try to keep the author’s intentions in mind during my review. After all, they’ve put a lot of care into it. Secret Thoughts was a great book!

  4. Laura says:

    I met Dana Tuttle, and that has changed the way I find books (and blogs like yours!).

  5. Tim says:

    I like that concept of bloggers taking on the role of librarian, Aimee. I can think of a couple of books I read last year from blogger recommendations, but as Doc said I have to make sure these are bloggers I trust. and even then I still go to other online review places like Amazon for more info.

    Did you read Laura’s piece over at Enough Light on Sunday about reading? She has some good insights on how one can acquire a taste for reading – and the benefits of it – if not naturally inclined that way.

    Tim

    • Aimee Byrd says:

      Thanks, Tim. Good tips on how to get more reading in.

      • Laura says:

        Thanks Tim for mentioning my post.

        Good post Aimee. I really agreed with this: “It also helps you. Writing a review sharpens your reading experience. It helps you to organize your thoughts about what you may have learned and the conversation that you were having with the author, as well as exercise your discernment skills and memory.” – I have learned this lesson the last several years and it is so accurate! You will “own” the contents of a book in a much deeper way when you take the time to write a review or interact with it through a series of posts. Writing a review can be hard work, but is so worth it in the log run.

  6. Tricia says:

    Great article and great idea for your “eclectic book club”! I get most of my book recommendations word-of-mouth. Secondmost, I’d say like most of the others, from the footnotes and recommendations within a book I’m reading. And then thirdly I’d say blogger and Amazon reviews. I pull less from reviews because I enjoy hearing other people’s reflections on books without feeling like I need to buy/read them for myself. So I love your idea for the book club! Thanks for the food for thought.

  7. susie born says:

    There is a website and radio broadcast I have listened to for many years called White Horse Inn. At this site there is always trusted recommendations for wonderful books on solid Christian theology and doctrine.It will be a great asset to your Christian walk and life. I heartily recommend tuning in to White Horse Inn.

  8. Melissa says:

    When it comes to books on theology, church history, etc., I usually choose books based on what other (certain) bloggers are reading. I’ve used Amazon’s features for fiction, as well as recommendations from friends.

    I don’t have many “3-D” friends who are readers, and that does sadden me. People seem too busy with other things to make time to read.

    I love the book club idea, though I’m trying to stick to a specific reading plan this year. I’ve got far too many books I haven’t read yet to be adding more!

  9. Bibliography has been an avocation of mine for over 30 years. I wonder how many out there are aware that WorldCat.org has been available on home computers since 2006?
    When searching for information on a specific subject, author linked searches are one strategy as has been mentioned above. Find an authority and then look at whom they refer to. And when the leading authorities are found, an author search on their names in WorldCat.org will bring up all theie other works.
    Keep in mind, of course, that a library system, librarian, bibliographer, search engine, and so forth who is biased against some controversial subject might either exclude the works from the library/database, or in some cases will use the cataloging and indexing system to hide the works from researchers. One case in point is http://www.lettermen2.com, which was “downgraded” by Google in 2005, reducing the daily hits by 75 percent. Some of the greatest works ever published are obsured and deeply buried in cataloging and indexing systems.

  10. Dana Tuttle says:

    …and don’t forget reviews on goodreads. I love that site!

  11. As the manager of a small Christian university bookstore, this decoupling of discovery and availability concerns me. A lot of students brazenly browse our shelves, scanning barcodes with their smart phones, then buy elsewhere, buying little or nothing in store.

    At the same time, I’m hopeful. The book is not dead. Last July we provided an onsite bookstore for a major denominational conference. We thought people might look at the books in our booth then go back to their rooms and order online, but were pleasantly surprised that they lined up to buy. We had guesstimated sales of $10,000 and sold $11,700! People do want physical books and, often, when the book is in front of them they’ll buy it on the spot, even when they have to cart it home in a suitcase.

    We just have to find ways to recouple discovery and availability. It’s related to timeing but it’s something beyond price point. I just haven’t figured out what that is …

    • Aimee Byrd says:

      Great insight, Colleen. I would love to have a local Christian bookstore that sold the type of books I read. Unfortunately, I don’t think there are enough readers of those kind of book so my area to keep them in business.

What do you think?