Readers’ Advisory: OPAC

One of the services we provide our patrons as a library is readers’ advisory, which is just a fancy way of saying we help people find new books to read. (And just personally speaking as the person responsible for readers’ advisory, it is one of my favorite things to do at work!) We have worked to provide a number of readers’ advisory resources on this blog and at the library, but you might not be aware of a newish tool we have that will let you help yourself.

Last December, we changed our library system from Polaris, which we had used since 2008, to Atriuum. As part of that change, our catalog that is accessible to the public is now called OPAC.

In both systems, searching for items in the catalog would yield descriptions and information on which branch has them and whether or not they were in. But OPAC goes a step further and includes title and author suggestions related to the item you are looking at.

Because it is based on algorithms, it’s not going to be as curated of a list as yours truly will write for you 🙂 , but overall, I’ve found the recommendations to be pretty solid, and I think it is a pretty good tool for quick readers’ advisory work.

So, how do you access this feature?

First, go to OPAC.

This is what the home page looks like:

Type in a book you recently read that you enjoyed. I decided to go with Casey Cep’s Furious Hours, which I read a couple of years ago, but it’s stayed with me.

OPAC immediately knows what I am talking about and wants to autofill the title. Good job, OPAC.

This is what the search results will look like:

Before we click on the title for more information, I just want to point out that I like how the search results show covers, which can help ensure you are clicking on what you are looking for, and that it also has a reminder prompt about searching Overdrive, so you can check our digital holdings too.

After clicking on the title, the first bit of information is pretty standard as far as library catalogs go. In fact, if you were familiar with the Polaris catalog when we used it, you’ll recognize a lot of the same information here, such as the plot description and the categories.

You have to scroll down quite a ways—past critical acclaim for the book and the book’s opening to find the meat of the readers’ advisory content. One of the reasons I wanted to highlight the readers’ advisory aspects is that they are so far down the entry that I know it can be easy to miss this feature, even if you have been using OPAC quite a bit.

First up are specific book recommendations:

Immediately below that is a list of suggested authors, with some overlap between that and the recommended books:

One of the reasons I picked this book is I wanted one I hadn’t looked for before on OPAC, so I wanted to have this experience reflect what it would be like for a patron doing this, rather than some canned example that I already knew was going to work. I had no idea what was going to come up. But I like what I see!

As the Berryville Library’s resident history buff and queen of true crime recommendations, I immediately second the suggestions for the books by David Grann and Patrick Radden Keefe. I’ve read and blogged about Furious Hours, Killers of the Flower Moon, and Say Nothing and highly recommend all 3. Furthermore, I do think that if you enjoyed one, chances are you will enjoy the others because they all are a great intersection between true crime and historical nonfiction. I’ve not read I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, but I also think it is a reasonable suggestion to make.

The other results seem further afield from the genre and tone of Furious Hours (though I can see how Erik Larson might appeal to folks who enjoyed the historical element of Furious Hours more so than the crime aspect), but 3-4 solid recommendations based on 1 book is a pretty good readers’ advisory haul. When I am writing and researching these for patrons, I try to find at least 5 books that would appeal to the patron.

Let’s try another one.

Rather than true crime adventures, let’s try a more specific genre. I didn’t blog about it, but last year, I really enjoyed Allie Brosh’s Solutions and Other Problems, a graphic novel memoir.

Again, I’m just picking random titles I liked that I haven’t pre-vetted as effective examples for using OPAC. I’m flying blind here!

Here’s what comes up for Brosh’s book as suggested reads in OPAC:

This is a genre I will admit to being less familiar with than I am true crime and historical nonfiction, though, again, OPAC immediately presents some good recommendations. If you read Brosh’s book without being aware of her first book Hyperbole and a Half, I would immediately suggest you read that first, and OPAC concurs.

I was also pretty impressed it generated Kate Beaton and Hark the Vagrant as a recommendation because that one is comparatively more obscure, but it is a very good suggestion. If you like Brosh’s style, which combines some pretty heavy themes with self-deprecating absurdity, then chances are you’ll also love the way Beaton meshes up historical and literary references with silliness. I am not familiar with Welcome to Nightvale, but the friend who initially introduced me to Brosh’s work was a fan, so that recommendation also seems promising for shared sense of humor at least.

Again, just typing in 1 title automatically yields at least 2-3 really promising recommendations. (Some of the others may be good as well, but I’m just focusing on ones that I immediately recognize as good recommendations, not ones I have to research to verify as that.)

Is this foolproof? Of course not. I’ve found that newer books tend to yield better suggestions. Likewise, less obscure books generate better results. I’ve also found that the first recommended books or authors tend to be the most on point and that some books/authors are over-represented as suggestions, even when they don’t seem to be especially relevant. (I think some of that may be influenced by one’s own viewing history, though I have not had the chance to extensively test this theory.)

Still, if you are wanting something new to read and want a quick answer to your question, hopping onto the OPAC and using this feature to type in some titles you’ve recently enjoyed is a great way to find something else you might want to try.

And of course, if you are one of our local patrons and would like a more specialized list, please just contact the library to ask for me to create a recommendation list for you. Within a week, you will get a list that suggests specific titles and/or authors in our system, tailored just for you. You can browse examples of lists I’ve done in the past here, and you may even find some good suggestions while doing so. And, of course, the blog itself is a great readers’ advisory resource. Check out tags and categories for genres you enjoy to find something new.

Have you tried OPAC as a readers’ advisory resource? What other questions do you have about OPAC? In need of some readers’ advisory suggestions? Let us know in the comments!

Author: berryvillelibrary

"Our library, our future"

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