Ask a Librarian: Charmaine Atrooshi

Putting your titles in the hands of librarians is an important part of any book’s success story. Librarians build collections for their library branch, pick titles for their own reading groups, and were the original comp-title recommendation engines before the age of algorithms. Librarians are book advocates in their community and beyond!

In our Ask A Librarian series, we ask librarians on NetGalley about what makes their community special, what they read, and how they stay up to date with the best new titles for their patrons.

Ottawa Public Librarian Charmaine Atrooshi describes her community of patrons who visit North America’s largest English/French bilingual library and use its Homebound Services program. She also gives us an inside look at how she uses NetGalley, and which resources she uses to keep up with new titles that she can recommend to her patrons.

What resources do you use to find new books to recommend, or to add to your library’s collection?

I use NetGalley and BNC Catalist to find new books to recommend to customers, as well as the Loan Stars lists! I love that library staff all over Canada can vote for their favorite upcoming titles, and that these lists are released monthly!  I also like to browse our catalogue (BiblioCommons) for items on order, and I try to browse some of the staff lists within for ideas.

In addition, NoveList and Books & Authors [formerly What Do I Read Next?] are great databases to use when looking for read-alikes, reviews, and recommendations.

*BNC Catalist is a NetGalley Partner. If a book is in both systems, the NetGalley link automatically appears in Catalist.

What’s your strategy for finding new books on NetGalley?

I have some favorite publishers and auto approvals so that is often a first place I check when quickly searching for new books.  Depending on what mood I am in, or what area of readers’ advisory I am looking to strengthen, I will search by categories for a specific genre and browse the options available.  

What catches your eye when you are on the hunt for new books?

The cover and title are certainly something that draw my initial interest. I admit, I am guilty of judging a book by its cover! If looks good I will read the description to see if it is something that would appeal to me or to library customers.  The cover of The Smiling Man by Joseph Knox was one that really appealed to me, as well as The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides. I read and really enjoyed both of those and can see why both have such strong appeal!

Even if I don’t end up requesting a title, reading blurbs and looking at covers helps to keep me abreast of trends in publishing, read-alikes, and new releases, which is always helpful!

Even if I don’t end up requesting a title, reading blurbs and looking at covers helps to keep me abreast of trends in publishing, read-alikes, and new releases, which is always helpful!

Tell us about your library’s community, and the patrons who use your services:

My permanent position is in the Homebound Services department of the Ottawa Public Library.  We select and deliver library materials to customers who have difficulty accessing a library branch on a regular basis.  Our customer base consists primarily of older adults, and customers with disabilities.

Currently, I am working temporarily as the adult librarian at the Nepean Centrepointe (NC) branch.  NC is the second largest branch of the Ottawa Public Library, and it is located in the Ben Franklin Complex, which is also home to Centrepointe Theatre, and a City of Ottawa Client Service Centre. It is also just down the street from Algonquin College.   

On average, NC sees between 900 and 1,300 customers a day; a mixture of children, teens, adults, and older adults. Nepean Centrepointe offers a large range of programs from book clubs, to storytimes to Dungeons and Dragons evenings!  It also houses materials in Arabic, Russian, Chinese, Hindi – in addition to –English and French, which is reflective of the languages of the community (world language collections are based upon census data).

What resources or programs make your library unique?

Homebound Services is unique in the sense that it literally brings the library into your home and provides a team of staff who are well-versed in readers’ advisory and spend the majority of their time in the realm of readers’ advisory and materials selection.  One more unique fact is that we talk with the majority of our customers via telephone!

Nepean Centrepointe houses OPL’s Imagine Space where customers can come to create and collaborate using 3D printers, laser cutters, photo/video editing stations, green screens/video gear, as well as various hand and electronic tools.  NC also houses the Sunlife Financial Musical Lending Library, along with our main branch.  Customers can borrow instruments such as keyboards, guitars, banjos, mandolins, bongos, ukuleles, violins etc.

Fun fact about the Ottawa Public Library– it is the largest bilingual (English/French) library in North America!

Based on what they’re checking out, what kinds of books are your readers most interested in?

Popular areas of interest for Homebound customers are family sagas and mysteries, as well as biographies of ‘the average person’. We get many requests for Danielle Steel, James Patterson, Kristin Hannah, P.D. James and Anne Perry to name a few.

At the NC branch, nonfiction materials circulate the most (more than double general fiction and mysteries put together!).  Staff have really great displays in the nonfiction section which make it hard to walk by without grabbing one (or two). Currently, my favorite displays are “Vintage Hollywood,” “Dropping Names,” “faerie tales are Grimm” and the new cookbook display that offers a quick pick option.

What percentage of your patrons check out digital books versus print?

In terms of Homebound customers, the majority are print material users. There is an increase, however, in questions about downloadable materials, with tablet devices such as iPads becoming more popular and customers starting to explore the possibilities within these devices.  We have had an increase in requests for assistance in setting up their devices in order to borrow library e-materials.

The Ottawa Public Library offers various online resources for customer use such as Overdrive (e-books and audiobooks), CloudLibrary (express e-books) and RB Digital (magazines and audiobooks). We also offers appointments for customers looking for assistance with downloading library materials.

Based upon a snapshot from this past June at Nepean Centrepointe, approximately 20% of NC customers borrowed digital materials, 70% borrowed print, and 10% borrowed both.


Read the rest of our Ask a Librarian series, plus learn more about librarians’ use of social media with The Librarian Twitterverse.

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