Your Next Great Read:

Another reason to love the Tulsa City-County Libraries

I‘m lucky enough to have a friend who is an avid reader and has a similar taste in books. If she makes a recommendation, chances are, I’ll love it, with very few exceptions. So it’s not often that I’m at a loss for what to read next–but that doesn’t mean I don’t love getting reading recommendations from other sources as well, and one great resource for this is the Tulsa library system.

By now, we’ve probably all rolled our eyes at and/or angry-posted regarding that (now-deleted) Forbes article saying that libraries are irrelevant in this modern age. The Tulsa libraries offer so many valuable services to our community, I am still frequently surprised by them–despite, as I’ve pointed out before, my familiarity with all the classes and programs offered, thanks to my role as TulsaKids’ calendar editor. Just a few weeks ago, I learned that Central Library’s recording studio not only allows users free access to recording equipment–it also has two guitars, a bass and a keyboard that aspiring musicians can use while recording. What?!?


But my low-key desire to be a rock star or, at the very least, a podcasting rock star, is not the focus of this post. Another service I learned of recently is Your Next Great Read, a Reader Advisory service in which library users answer questions about their reading habits and preferences via an online form; a librarian then takes this form and uses it to make personalized reading suggestions. The form itself is pretty in-depth, so give yourself at least 20 minutes to fill it out. It asks about recent reading history, favorite authors, least favorite reads, elements you specifically want to avoid (like sexually explicit scenes), etc.

When asked to describe my “perfect book match” in three words, my answer was: cozy, feminist, fantasy. This was a hard question to answer! After completing the form, I received an email saying they’d received it and I would have my personalized reading suggestions emailed to me in a couple weeks.

When I received my Personalized Reading Recommendations document, as compiled and written by librarian Carissa K., I was impressed by how much information was included! First, it summarized my reading preferences. Then, it listed some authors I might like, and why. For example,

“Libba Bray
(Based on your interest in Maggie Stiefvater) Award-winning American author Libba Bray writes books for mature teens on a wide-ranging array of subjects and genres, from historical fiction to fantasy. Regardless of the genre, readers are in for an astonishing smorgasbord of complex, compelling characters, intricate plots and wide-ranging, big themes. Infused with her irresistible and often dark humor, her satirical works crackle with delightful dialogue. Start with: The Diviners.”

OK, so I’m not exactly a “mature teen,” but I like YA fantasy, ok?! 🙂

Finally, it listed 12 titles I might enjoy, and why. The most exciting part was that, with a few exceptions, the author and title recommendations were new to me. And those that I had read before, I enjoyed, giving me confidence that I will indeed like the remaining suggestions.

After receiving my reading recommendations, I emailed librarian Peter Klein a few questions about Your Next Great Read. Here are his responses:

SOTW: How long has TCCL offered this service?

PK: The service started in 2011, and was inspired by a similar service offered by the Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia.

SOTW: About how long does it take a librarian to put together the Personalized Reading Recommendations list?

PK: The time commitment can vary quite a bit, depending on the answers provided to the survey. If the reader enjoys genre fiction written by popular authors and is not picky, putting together a guide for them may only take an hour or two. If they have more particular tastes, or perhaps use formats that make up smaller portions of catalog (for example, someone looking for large print books or downloadable audiobooks, as opposed to regular print books), we’ll need to spend more time on those to find the right fits. We’re always happy when people provide more details in their answers though, because that gives us a better idea of what they want and helps us to find better matches for them.

SOTW: How many people have taken advantage of this service so far?

PK: According to the information I have, we’ve completed around 1500 adult surveys since the service began. We also have a teen version of the YNGR that began in 2015 and has had nearly 200 surveys since then. [SOTW Note: Parents, don’t miss the fact that they have a version of the Your Next Great Read form just for tweens/teens!]

SOTW: How does the book selection process work, once the librarian has the survey data? Is it based more on the librarian’s individual expertise/literary interest, or is there just a giant database that they can search using keywords?

PK: We have some different library resources we use to put together the reading guides. One we use extensively is called Novelist, which provides a wealth of book, series, and author information, including giving some ‘appeal factors’ (genres, tone/mood, pacing, writing style, settings, etc.) that are handy when trying to select books that line up with the patron’s survey answers. We also use our library catalog and some outside websites such as to get ideas for what to choose. Of course, each staff member that works on the YNGR guides has readers’ advisory training, so that is it an essential part of it as well. We have some very good tools, but we also have the training to use them properly, so that the guides aren’t simply a report generated by an algorithm. When we can, we try to match up a survey with a librarian who has similar reading tastes, but with our resources and experience, any of us on the YNGR team should be able to put together a guide for just about any reader.

Peter Klein was also kind enough to send me an article published in Library Journal on October 15, 2013, and written by librarians Rebecca Howard and Laura Raphael (who writes most of the literacy-focused articles in TulsaKids’ monthly magazines!), explaining how and why they initiated the Your Next Great Read service.

Hearkening back to that unfortunate Forbes article, here are a couple favorite quotes from Howard and Raphael’s article:

“Your Next Great Read is not about the form, the survey tool, or even the guide itself; it is about people connecting to people and a generating relationship around the act of reading. This relationship is a powerful and positive one–for reader and librarian alike.”


“We are admirers of the ‘life cycle librarianship’ model that Bill Crowley developed, which emphasizes the role of public libraries as supporting reading and lifelong learning. He argues that libraries will remain relevant and valuable by addressing the ‘human learning needs from lapsit to nursing home.’ Our experience with Your Next Great Read has borne that out.”

Take that, Forbes.


Have any of you used Your Next Great Read? What did you think of the results? Did you discover a new favorite author or book? Let us know in the comments–or simply comment with your favorite books/authors–because, as you know, I am always on the lookout for my next great read!

Categories: Spaghetti on the Wall