As soon as I tell anyone I’m a librarian, inevitably one of the first questions people ask is, “Can you recommend a good book?!” The short answer is: Yes! S. R. Ranganathan created five principles of librarianship (and yes, this is the kind of thing you learn in library school). One of these principles is, “Every reader, their book” and “Every book, their reader.” Connecting patrons to books that match their interests and needs is one of my favorite parts of being a librarian. We in “the biz” refer to this as Readers’ Advisory.
At Brooklyn Public Library, we’ve taken readers’ advisory to the next level through a service we call Bklyn BookMatch. Using an online form, people can tell us what they like/dislike in their reading, and a librarian will put together a customized list of five to ten book recommendations just for them. This service isn’t just for Brooklynites — it can be accessed by book lovers all across the globe! BookMatch is one of our most popular services, and this August, BookMatch celebrated its 5th anniversary. For five years Brooklyn librarians have been hard at work helping people discover their next favorite read.
But this isn’t the first time in BPL history librarians have been committed to helping patrons find books they’ll love. While looking through the Brooklyn Collection archive, I came across a collection of booklists distributed by Brooklyn Public Library, and the oldest dates back to 1886.
These lists had a broad range of functions. Some focused on new books, leisure reading for all ages, or all the works by a specific author. They were also used to advertise new books being added to the collection.
Other lists pull together in one place all the resources BPL had in the collection about specific topics. For example, if someone in 1941 developed an interest in photography, they’d have a concise list of resources to check out from their local branch. Today we do this in the form of booklists.
As exciting as getting someone started on their photography career is, the lists that I found most interesting are the ones that focused on social and political issues of the time. In 1956, BPL distributed a list entitled, Read-Then Vote! The list includes books on the history of the presidency and elections, and campaign issues-concerns over nuclear war, communism, the civil rights movement, as well as questions about the use of natural resources were all on the minds of the voters in ’56. That year, soon-to-be President Dwight D. Eisenhower ran with Richard Nixon as his running mate. Two notable sections in this pamphlet are the “Political Personalities” and “They Speak for Themselves” sections, which list books by and about the candidates. This list was likely used by Brooklynites to inform their decisions before the big election.
My favorite discovery by far was a pamphlet entitled America is Many People. This is a booklist put together to celebrate the diversity of the people of New York City and their amazing accomplishments. Diversity and inclusion have always been at the core of Brooklyn Public Library’s mission. It warms my heart to see that Brooklyn has always strived to make its services accessible to everyone, regardless of their identity, experience, or background.
To me, these lists demonstrate the enduring need for the field of librarianship and Brooklyn Public Library’s mission to center expanding access to the diverse makeup of people who rely on us — wherever, whenever, and however it’s needed.
If you’re interested in having a customized booklist made for you, fill out the BKLYN BookMatch request form and one of our librarians will help you find your next favorite read!
Get the latest updates from BPL and be the first to know about new programs, author talks, exciting events and opportunities to support your local library.Sign Up