Photo of books on a cart by Kennedy Library on Flickr

Written by Karen Lauritsen on March 26, 2012

A contemporary fiction junkie

At Kennedy Library you can find plenty of people who love books (regardless of their form). What’s not to love? Jan Kline, who works in the Acquisitions Department, is one of those people. She keeps a blog of book reviews and is part of a committee with Brett Bodemer (CLA librarian) and Kristen Thorp (night circulation supervisor), who have re-envisioned the Browsing Collection, which is now named Good Reads. These are books that you want to read on spring break, for fun.

Their work has been a huge hit! This year, students accounted for nearly 50% of the Good Reads checkouts compared to 20% in the previous year. And, students have already checked out more books for fun (556) in the first six months of Good Reads than they did the entire previous year (526). There is also an online community for the collection, which you’re invited to join on goodreads.com!

With the smashing success of Good Reads, the group is now launching a survey for Good Mags. You can let them know what magazines you like to read by taking a survey. Your preferences could become part of the Kennedy Library collection!

Back to Jan, who is a self-described book evangelist (that’s her in the photo below). Here’s a string of emails we shared about authors, working in a library and different kinds of book clubs.

***
Photo of Jan KlineKL: You have a blog, Sensible Shoes, in which you write book reviews. What kind of books do you like to read and why?

JK: I confess to being a contemporary fiction junkie. Occasionally I read a memoir, but mostly new literary fiction. I think part of my reason for not being much of a nonfiction reader is that I may have reached my nonfiction quota while doing a BA in history decades ago.

The books I like best have an element of humor in them, but say something serious as well. A few of my favorite authors who (in my humble opinion) nail the funny/serious vibe are Lorrie Moore, T.C. Boyle, Brady Udall, and Richard Russo.

KL: I love Lorrie Moore! I need to read more of her work. Both Doug and I just read Miranda July’s new book, It Chooses You, which is non-fiction. We loved it! I think you recommended it – right?

JK: Though I’d be happy to take credit for the recommendation, I haven’t read the Miranda July book yet! I loved Me and you and everybody we know — what a great movie! But I think raves from both you and Doug are going to force me to rethink my rigid stance on nonfiction, if only temporarily. In fact, I should go nab it from upstairs while I’m thinking about it.

Also glad you love Lorrie Moore! Have you read Gate at the Stairs yet? Actually I have only “read” it as an audiobook. I’ve got it in paperback and hope to get to it again soon — and I rarely read things twice. It’s that good (according to me, anyway).

KL: I’ve only read Birds of America, actually. I loved it and am not sure why I haven’t sought out more LM. Okay, next question. Can you say a little bit about your role at the library?

JK: Here’s a sampling of what I did today:

- Unpacked two boxes of new books I’d ordered a while back, selected by college librarians
- Exported bibliographic records from WorldCat to Polycat for books and ebooks requested by college librarians, sent them electronically to our vendor for fulfillment
- Scanned NY Times Book Review, Amazon Omnivoracious blog, NPR books page for book news
- Looked at the brackets in Morning News Tournament of Books to look for latest winners
- Processed two new Good Reads books and added them to the display racks on 2nd floor
- Accepted 12 gift books from a community donor – screened for possible addition to collection (no — too old)
- Continued decision work on a large truck of books that need mending: sort into groups (bind, withdraw, look for newer/similar books)

It’s a mixed bag — and a fairly typical day for me.

KL: And you keep a blog! How do you decide what goes on there? Why the name, Sensible Shoes?

JK: Sensible Shoes was just a riff on those librarian stereotypes:

I work in a library.
I’m single.
I have cats.

Do I need to draw you a picture?

I like keeping up my blog. It’s “homework” but fun homework. I include anything I read that I want to get other people to read, so really the only things I intentionally leave out are books that I have a “meh” reaction to.

I’m kind of a book evangelist, so rather than knocking on doors and leaving my selections on the porch, I put them in the blog. I find I get bitten by dogs a lot less that way. :-}

KL: There is such a thing as “fun” homework! What about goodreads.com? How does that fit in?

JK: I dragged my feet about getting established [goodreads.com], but now am finding it very fun and useful to get friends’ takes on books, find out what they’re reading, etc. Another interesting feature is comparing your books with someone else’s to see how many books you have in common.

KL: I was in a book club in Santa Monica when I lived there, and I miss it. It seems like goodreads.com could fill that void, do you think?

JK: Yeah, it does kind of have a virtual book club feel to it!

KL: So you’re on there and so is Kennedy Library.

JK: I’m just beginning to learn about all that’s on this site. In addition to my favorite feature, the “to read” shelf (or the Netflix queue of books), and the no-brainers like book recommendations (similar to Amazon’s “customers who bought this item also bought…”) there’s a tool that allow you compare your titles to another reader’s in a Venn diagram to see what titles you have in common.

There are author interviews, recommendations of books by your favorite authors, trivia quizzes, author events, where you can submit questions beforehand, lists of all kinds… I could get lost in here for a long time.

KL: Then there is Good Reads, the book collection on the 2nd floor, near Julian’s.

JK: I’ve always worked with this group of books, formerly known as the Browsing Collection, since I began working here, back in the Pleistocene. In the past year, Library Administration formed a committee: Brett, Kristen and me, and charged us with re-envisioning (yes, that is a word!) the collection.

Early on, I labeled us Highbrow, Middlebrow, and Pop Culture — I’ll let you guess who was who. This was a very rewarding collaboration: we brainstormed, did a survey, renamed, moved and brought our very different outlooks to bear on making the collection more appealing to students.

And — not to brag — we succeeded: undergraduate use of the collection has nearly doubled in percentage from what it was before. And the sheer number of circulations for undergraduates has doubled as well. We’re continuing to experiment with genre and other factors to see what people like and want to read.
***

Thanks, Jan! Find her book reviews on her blog at Sensible Shoes. UPDATE: We had so much fun that Jan turned the tables and interviewed me!

Photo by Kennedy Library.

– Karen Lauritsen

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