Read Smarter Indeed: Booklist Online Now Available

By Teresa Koltzenburg | [UPDATE: The title has been corrected from the original publishing of this post.]

Booklist Online, as of the beginning of April, is ready for your library staff members' (and your patrons', if you so desire) perusal. To facilitate the browsing, the newly launched online version of Booklist is available via a free thirty-day trial.  

At Length with... is a Web-exclusive feature offered at Booklist Online. Although officially announced on the ALA Web site during National Library Week earlier this month, Booklist Online has been creating a buzz since at least last year's ALA Annual Conference in Chicago, when its editorial staff celebrated Booklist's 100-year birthday, and Booklisters were showing conference-goers how the tool worked between the excited attendees' bites of birthday cake at the Booklist booth.

"It's been a long road," says Keir Graff, Booklist Online Senior Editor, and author of "Likely Stories," Booklist Online's accompanying blog. "When we first started talking about Booklist Online, I wasn't even a parent yet—and now I have two sons!"

Once you've checked out Booklist Online—which Graff notes is still being tweaked, "I anticipate making improvements for the next year or two"—via your free trial, you'll likely then wonder how this highly functional readers' advisory and collection-development tool (with more than 110,000 reviews and 1,500 feature articles at launch time) was created and launched in under two years. Additionally amazing is the fact the project came to fruition with ZERO staff added to Booklist's bottom line. "Although my position is new, we refigured positions within," Graff adds. "We combined two other positions to basically open up a new position."

As Always (But Better)
Graff and his fellow Booklisters are, for good reason, very excited about Booklist Online's information-gathering/parsing functionalities (produced as result of the development work by Coe-Truman Technologies, from the vision of Booklist editor/publisher Bill Ott and Booklist Reference Section Editor/Booklist Online Project Manager Mary Ellen Quinn). But Graff is careful to point out that the online version hasn't fixed what wasn't broken. "The most important thing—this was absolutely number one—was that Booklist Online had to allow librarians to use our reviews in the same way they were used to using the print [issue]."

The power of the online version is clear when it comes to looking at ways a library could use it to facilitate collection development. "Especially for things like retrospective collection development," explains Graff. "Of course, we've got those 'old' reviews, so with Booklist Online, you can sort through older reviews. Say you're buying gardening books, and you want to look at new and old gardening books to evaluate whether a new one is worth purchasing or not. With a couple of clicks, you can look at all the gardening books we've reviewed in the last fifteen years."

Library staff members who, at times, may be in need of collection-development quick fixes—but still want to augment their libraries' collections with highly pertinent, specially selected material—can go about it by utilizing Booklist's much sought-after starred review as a limiter in the online tool. "If you are buying mysteries, but don't have time to read all of our mystery reviews, but you do want to order a crop of good, new mysteries, you can just limit the reviews you're looking at in the new issue to 'starred reviews.' Then you've got a pretty powerful list right there," Graff notes.

Booklist Online's 'Read-alikes' feature helps libraries and readers find similarly themed material. Another really powerful feature of Booklist Online is the readers' advisory facility that the print version has always provided; now, it's amped up with technology. "The really brilliant thing about Booklist Online is the way we expand on the (print) Booklist 'Read-alikes'—'If I like this book and I've already read it, what else do you have for me?' type of thing—which is the key element to readers' advisory. In 'Read-alikes,' we, of course, don't include the whole review, we just include an annotation," says Graff. But in a digital realm, hyperlinks perform, in a click, what previously, in an analog process (physically fetching former issues), could have taken hours, days, even weeks. "If you want to read more than the annotation, you can jump to the full review in a 'Read-alike,'" he explains.

"And," he continues, "we have these things that we officially call 'Read-alikes,' but the 'Booklist Editor Recommend' lists—which will be growing exponentially this year—effectively amount to hundreds of unofficial 'Read-alikes.' So anybody can start with a book that he or she already likes or is interested in—the user, then, has a number of ways to jump to more stuff like that." Graff refers to the fact that materials reviewed in these features are "all hand selected." He notes that Booklist Online also offers a subject-heading search utility, "which does use an algorithm to return the items most relevant (and you can tweak the relevance pretty extensively on your own), but our 'Read-alikes' and our 'Booklist Editor Recommend' lists are all hand selected," Graff adds.

Trying It Out
The nuances of Booklist Online's search capabilities are far too many to list in a blog post (I'm not sure how those book reviewers consistently get their reviews in under 300 words); besides, that free thirty-day trial enables you to test its features and power all on your own. But here are a few of the things that middle-school librarian (West Ottawa Public Schools, Holland, MI) Cindy Dobrez, a Booklist Online beta tester and a member of the publication's advisory board, says about:
  • Quick Search—"I liked how the user profile allows me to save settings in the quick search—for instance, I can have it automatically search just the 'Books for Youth' section unless I change my settings. The feature that I really found exciting in Quick Search is the ability to keyword search just the review content. I was able to solve several student 'stumpers' for books they couldn't remember the titles for by using this search feature, and I was able to get some ideas for a bibliography I'm building by using this search feature."

  • Making Booklist a Visible, Usable Tool for Patrons Too—"I've always thought that the witty and intelligent writing of the Booklist staff would be marketable to the general public—the online product is a perfect way to deliver it. Bill Ott's 'Back Page,' Will Manley's and Michael Cart's essays, and new features like, 'He Reads' and 'She Reads,' will build a loyal following, and library patrons will appreciate the access to the top ten lists, read-alike columns, and other readers' advisory features. Librarians are notoriously stingy with our review journals; rarely are they available for the public to read, much less check out. I've often thought that an extra subscription to Booklist would be a popular browsing item in a library. I think that libraries will find that providing access to Booklist Online will be a welcome patron service."

  • Keir Graff's "Likely Stories"—"With Keir Graff writing the book blog, I'll be tuning in and so will other readers. If he could make me laugh out loud with his 'Reference on the Web' columns in Booklist, imagine what he can do with a blog?"

  • Review of the Day—"Since non-subscribers will have access to the landing page...the 'Review of the Day' will be a feature they will appreciate, and perhaps it will generate requests from the public for libraries to provide access to the site."

  • Other Special Features—"It'll be great to have archived access to the special features like the top ten lists, read-alike recommendations, and other features and to be able to get even more recommendations from the linked reviews to similar titles."
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