Stephen Sposato: Curating for 1.7 million patrons at Chicago Public Libraries

Anyone who works in the book industry is, in a sense, a content curator. But a curatorial eye looks different for different segments of the industry: for agents, marketing departments, booksellers, critics, and influencers. 


Chicago Public Library – Harold Washington Library Center

Stephen Sposato, Manager of Content Curation at Chicago Public Libraries told NetGalley Insights how he and his team think about their roles as curators for their community, and which resources they use to make sure that they are best meeting their patrons’ needs. 

Unlike an independent bookstore, which caters to the current interests of a neighborhood, librarians need to consider a wider demographic and a different set of needs. With 80 locations, over 2.6 million books in circulation, and 1.7 million patrons, Sposato and his team are curating for a massive and diverse community.  

Sposato told Insights, “We’re expected to provide access to books for a lot longer (sometimes even after they’re out of print). We also tend to offer materials people need for short term help but don’t particularly want to own, such as resume books, SAT prep books, or books on dieting and fitness. The public expects us to offer access to all books in perpetuity, but the reality is we have limited resources and must make choices every day about the collection, and so librarians are curators in this sense.”

Here are the resources that Sposato and his team use to curate the offerings for Chicago Public Libraries.

Data

“We actually order most new mainstream books because we serve a large city and we can count on wide demand. For us the trick is to correctly anticipate the level of demand and to order the right number of copies. We check the previous track record of the authors of new books and look at the performance of similar books. We are committed to stocking a collection that is “current, diverse and responsive,” as it states in our library’s most recent strategic plan, and at the same time we need to be fiscally responsible with our funding.”

Industry recommendations

“We stay on top of the coverage of forthcoming and new books pretty well. Aside from the opportunities I just mentioned, publishers work with library distributors like Ingram and Baker & Taylor who helpfully create lists of forthcoming titles each month. And librarians across the country also discuss forthcoming titles on social media and contribute to the monthly LibraryReads list of the top 10 titles recommended for readers each month.”

*Librarians from NetGalley can nominate books for LibraryReads directly within their account!

Library Marketing teams 

“We don’t have as much direct contact as we could ideally, but the bigger publishing houses and some of the mid-size publishers have staff devoted to library marketing, and we receive regular email newsletters from them, as well as notices about forthcoming books, including some access to advance copies. When we can attend professional conferences, there are often opportunities to see them present forthcoming books in person and meet with them in exhibitor booths. We also receive some catalogs by mail. Our publisher reps also tend to be extremely helpful when we contact them with requests by email.

We’ve had great success with publishers sponsoring author visits, and we’ve even started experimenting with “book buzz” events for the public as when Penguin Random House came and pitched new books directly to our patrons or we invited smaller local publishers to showcase their newest titles. We also had the opportunity to partner with Macmillan recently who worked with a mystery book club at one of our branches to promote some new mystery titles.”

Sposato hopes to expand his collaborations with publishers. “With the demise of some big [bookstore] chains over the last couple decades, there are fewer physical places for people to discover new books, movies and music.  We see libraries playing an increasing role in discovery, and we think that’s of long-term benefit to publishers, so more dialogue would be great. I’d also like to see more proactive inclusion of libraries when launching books of local appeal: we need to know about big Chicago books before anyone else. And while book stores tend to be found in the wealthiest neighborhoods in order to have the best chance of survival, we have a presence in more diverse neighborhoods. We love it when publishers are open to discussing the needs we see throughout our entire society.”


How do you or your marketing team work with regional librarians? Email us at insights@netgalley.com. We’d love to feature your strategies!

Stephen Sposato is the manager of Content Curation at Chicago Public Library, overseeing selection and readers’ advisory. He has over fifteen years of experience in collection development and readers’ advisory. He has written for Library Journal as a reviewer and as a contributor to the Reader’s Shelf column. He has provided extensive RA training, given presentations at BookExpo, the Illinois Library Association and the American Library Association, and currently serves as a member of the Board of Directors for LibraryReads. You can find him on Twitter at @stephensposato.

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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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Ask a Librarian: Mandy Peterson

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.

Mandy Peterson, a Library Media Specialist at a high school library in Schuyler, Nebraska, fills us in about her work below:

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

Schuyler is a small town of about 6,300 in an area of Nebraska known for farming, ranching, and packing plants. Within the last fifteen years, our community has changed from mostly Caucasian rural folks to a vibrant mix of Hispanic immigrants, African and Middle Eastern refugees, and its original inhabitants. This rather sudden change has led to a community struggling to figure out who they are together. Since I work in the high school with around 650 of the area’s youth, my patrons range in age from 14-21 and speak a variety of languages. Our students are coming of age and finding their identity in a new home, in a new country, and within a community that is finding its own identity. It’s a very exciting time to serve them!

What resources or programs make your library unique?

I’m not sure how unique it is, but we have a Spanish section with both nonfiction and fiction materials. We also mark High Interest Low Ability books with a small black dot and shelve them with the rest of the library’s collection so students who struggle with language, ability, or desire to read can identify books that may serve their needs without being singled out. After a student survey, I spent the end of the school year reorganizing our fiction section by genre. Over 96% of our students voted for the change!

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

Quick reads, no matter the level, are popular in my school. High school students are spread thin with homework, activities, and jobs. They want quality material without a bunch of extra. These are books we need more of. Often, our students like longer books but simply don’t have the time to finish them. Realistic fiction (gritty or romance), science fiction and fantasy, and mystery are the most commonly read genres right now, but every book has its reader. I’m completely open to recommendations!

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

Although our district provides an iPad for school use to every teacher and student at the high school, our eBook check out is not very high. Students have mentioned that they prefer physical books. Reading on paper helps them retain the information and shows their teachers that they aren’t messing around when they should be working. 98% of my circulation is physical books.

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

NetGalley is one of the primary resources. I also follow Epic Reads and many publishers on my library’s Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Amazon’s Coming Soon section has saved me a few times from missing sequels or new releases from authors my patrons love.

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

I head straight for the Teens and YA section, sort by Publishing date, and start looking. If I see books my patrons will like (for example, from an established author), I screenshot the cover and release date and drop it into a folder on my desktop to remind myself to order the book later. If it’s an author I haven’t heard of or an author I love in particular, I will request books that interest me. About 90% of the time, we wind up purchasing those for our library. We love supporting independent authors that we have found through NetGalley, too!

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

I am a cover junkie. My students are, too. (Someone please update covers for classics!) It’s very difficult for me to circulate a book without an appealing, genre-appropriate cover. Descriptions are important too. Most patrons look on the back of the book for descriptions, not the inside flap. I see a lot of books put down if the description isn’t on the back.

If you’re looking for ways to engage librarians like Mandy on NetGalley, remember to auto-approve all members of the ALA, and include your titles in the NetGalley newsletter: Librarian Edition. And, be sure your cover art is eye-catching! Check out our Cover Love winners for inspiration. You can nominate your own title for Cover Love here. The promotion is free if your title is selected. And, check out the rest of our Ask a Librarian series!

How have you successfully engaged librarians? Email insights@netgalley.com with your story. We look forward to featuring your successes on future Insights posts.

*Interviews have been edited for clarity and length.

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The Librarian Twitterverse

Librarians are an enthusiastic and digitally savvy bunch, which means that many of them are on Twitter, talking about their libraries, and talking to each other. They tweet about their favorite new titles, and about the daily life of working in a library. Librarians on Twitter highlight their community programming, while publishers’ library marketing teams announce their new releases and chat with individual librarians directly or via hashtag conversations. Pay attention to the vibrant librarian Twitterverse to get a better sense of what librarians are looking for, what resources they’re using to find new books, and to gain inspiration for new ways to connect with these important influencers.

Follow individual librarians on Twitter. Some librarians, like Gwyneth Jones and Shannon Miller are vocal, enthusiastic, and plugged into the wider world of pop culture and media. This kind of librarian recommends titles not only to their own library patrons, but to the rest of their digital community as well. Take note of who they are retweeting and which media sources they are linking to to get a sense of which authors they are reading, and whose opinions they trust. If they’re not already on your radar, add those media sources to your pitch list! Looking at these accounts will give you a more personal understanding of who these librarians are and what they are looking for.

Follow trade organizations and publications that librarians use to stay on top of news and trends. The ALA is a great resource for librarians, and for you, to stay up-to-date with national legislation, funding opportunities, and trends that impact the librarians across the country. Review journals like School Library Journal or Booklist offer insight into which kinds of stories librarians are hankering after, and can give ideas about how to most successfully position your titles for librarians.

Many publishers have dedicated library marketing teams who are focused on serving this specific community. Pay attention to publishers’ library marketing presence and see how they are engaging with libraries and librarians on the platform. For example, W.W. Norton’s library marketing department reached out directly to librarian and pop culture critic, Margaret H. Willison, to ensure that Norton would still send her galleys after she changed addresses. It was a casual, friendly, and mutually beneficial interaction. Penguin Random House periodically runs a Twitter chat, #AskALibrarian to engage multiple segments of their audience. Librarians get to champion their favorite books across a range of interests, and readers get personalized recommendations from highly trained and enthusiastic professionals.

Look at hashtags to see conversations around different topics that are important to librarians. Librarians use hashtags like #libraryreads and #readersadvisory to talk about what they are reading at their libraries and what they are recommending to their community. Get a sense of what kinds of stories librarians are excited to read and recommend. #librariesareforeveryone lets librarians demonstrate the diverse programming available at their libraries, for different ages, demographics, and reader types. You can use it to used to keep up with how librarians are thinking about  inclusivity, diversity, and representation in the library space. Use these hashtags to see what kinds of books different librarians’ communities are craving, and use that information to shape the way you market your titles to individual librarians.

How have you interacted with librarians on Twitter? Who do you follow on social media to keep up with new library trends? Email us at insights@netgalley.com. We hope to feature your success stories in future posts!

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Ask a Librarian: Amanda Buschmann

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.

Amanda Buschmann, an elementary school librarian in Houston, shares some insights about her community below:

Tell us about your library’s community, and the patrons who use your services: I work in a Title I district in a Title I elementary school, where I see approximately 850+ students on a rotating basis. The school services grades one through five, and the school is a bilingual school with a majority of Hispanic students.

What resources or programs make your library unique? We were one of the first libraries to routinely use a 3D printer and a Makerspace, and we are also the only school with a Gadget Girls club – a club designed solely for girls interested in STEM to explore science and tech in a stress-free environment. Our collection reflects these practices; we have a STEM resource section is that very popular, with a mixture of non-fiction and fiction books geared towards STEM.

Based on what they’re checking out, what kinds of books are your readers most interested in? Graphic novels are the most popular, including graphic novel versions of non-fiction subjects like electricity and biographies. Graphic novels are an effective way to grab a student’s attention and then supplement with additional texts.

What percentage of your patrons check out digital books versus print? Nearly all of my students use print resources, as very few have tablets of their own.

What resources do you use to find new books to recommend, or to add to your library’s collection? The largest and most effective resource I use is other librarians. I am part of a few different Facebook groups geared towards Future Ready and elementary librarians, and they are beyond helpful. So many fabulous ideas! I also love to use School Library Journal and Kirkus Reviews.

What’s your strategy for finding new books on NetGalley? Firstly, I peruse the Most Requested titles to see if there is anything pressing that I am missing out on. Then, I scroll through the offerings and look for titles and covers that catch my eye.

What catches your eye when you are on the hunt for new books? Cover? Title? Description? I will admit I am a sucker for a beautiful cover, and lately books have been coming out with gorgeous covers. A strong, not overly lengthy title is also paramount to catching my attention. Then I delve into the description.

If you’re looking for ways to engage librarians like Amanda on NetGalley, remember to auto-approve all members of the ALA, and include your titles in the NetGalley newsletter: Librarian Edition. And, be sure your cover art is eye-catching! Check out our Cover Love winners for inspiration. You can nominate your own title for Cover Love here. The promotion is free if your title is selected. And, check out the rest of our Ask a Librarian series!

How have you successfully engaged librarians? Email insights@netgalley.com with your story. We look forward to featuring your successes on future Insights posts.

Interviews have been edited for clarity and length.

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