Cold Enough For You?

By Mary Kelly and Holly Hibner
Posted on January 11, 2016 

Winter is one of my favorite seasons to do reader advisory. Yes, you read that correctly. Bad weather, especially snow and ice, are good for reader advisory. I can sell any book or video when the weather is bad. Weather is my go-to subject for ice breakers. This, at least, gets the conversation started and can lead a librarian right toward the patron’s information need. For those of us in the northern parts of the Midwest, we share with our patrons the long suffering experience of long, grey winters, and all the problems that can bring. Even if you love winter, by February things are looking pretty sad. Winter, where I live, can sometimes stretch right into May. It’s not the cold temperatures; it is the seemingly endless days of dark and grey. By late January, most of my customers coming into the library look like they are on a casting call for The Walking Dead, and misery loves company.

So what does this have to do with reader advisory? Just about everything. In understanding patrons, you have to share a common experience. For Midwesterners, the weather is always a good bet. Winter is always worth a comment from even the shyest patron. Everyone in my community complains about the snow and ice. I would guess that probably 90% of my patrons walking through the door (or calling the library) will invariably start commenting or questioning with me on some type of winter problem:

  • Traffic backups on the highway and local roads
  • People from the south that don’t know how to drive on snow
  • Snow shoveling issues: (including debates on equipment, parents mad that their kids are not shoveling properly, arguments about shoveling, etc.)
  • Snow tires
  • Quantity of snow
  • Possibility of cancellation of activities/school
  • People resenting when friends and/or family members are able to get a vacation to a warm climate (the injustice of it all!)

My own personal winter pet peeve and complaint that I have made every winter since becoming a librarian, is that one vendor that calls to say “How’s the weather up there in Michigan? I guess I am lucky to be in (insert southern state of choice).” Pro tip: Don’t expect any business from me if you say that. I am usually bitter and resentful by mid-January.

Every library in America has topics that are universally shared experiences. A librarian in Louisiana will hear about hurricane preparation and evacuation problems. In California, there is earthquake preparation. (Is weather really a problem in southern California?) Regardless, libraries and librarians share the pain that is common among everyone in the community. Just like the neighborhood bartender, a librarian can make conversation and a book recommendation from just about any conversation topic.

Before you rush to get that beach read or cheerful good time book as a counter action to winter doldrums, consider those who wish to wallow in misery with their fellow winter warriors or whatever is problematic in your community. So with a winter storm warning coming my way, let’s take a look at those dark or foul weather books. Not everyone wants to be cheered up, so keep in your reader advisory back pocket some nice cold weather themed book from Thorndike’s roster of titles.

Wallow away in some of these winter themed best sellers available through Thorndike Press:

  • Snowblind by Christopher Golden (2014) ISBN: 9781410468482
  • Winter Chill by Joanne Fluke (2015) ISBN: 9781410478115
  • Winter of the World by Ken Follett (2014) ISBN: 9781410475503
  • Cold Storage, Alaska by John Straley (2014) ISBN: 9781410470188
  • Siege Winter by Samantha Norman and Ariana Franklin (2015) ISBN: 9781410478610
  • Cold, Cold Heart by Tami Hoag (2015) ISBN: 9781594138737
  • Blood on Snow by Jo Nesbø (2015) ISBN: 9780804194884
  • Blue Labyrinth by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child (2015) ISBN: 9781455530182

Reading moods and matching books is a fundamental job for those of us in the book business. Good reader advisory begins with knowing your patron or customer, and that means trying to understand their life, their problems, etc. Is this possible? It is. The library is where average people look to find answers to problems, or at the very least, find a willing listener. Think about those common experiences in your community (that are not necessarily tied to controversy).

Even the mundane daily problems of normal life are fodder and ice breakers for getting your relationship with patrons on track. Who doesn’t have some experience with in-laws, parenting, co-workers, car repairs, and other irritating detritus of living? Share and commiserate with your patrons, because a relationship founded in good reader advisory will eventually go beyond simply getting a book recommendation. Patrons invest in their library for the long haul when the relationship goes beyond just a place to provide a book, which is worth remembering when another millage vote comes around.

Those conversations that we have daily are part and parcel of good reader advisory. This gives you a place to start and get a good impression of moods and personality. You want to be advising your patrons? Start watching the weather channel and learn the small talk.


HollyMaryAbout the Authors

Holly is the Adult Services Coordinator at the Plymouth District Library in Plymouth, MI. She has a mild obsession with collection quality (ok, maybe not so mild) and can be found at the Readers’ Advisory desk dreaming up read-alikes.

Mary is the Youth Services Librarian at the Lyon Township Public Library in South Lyon, MI. She, too, is obsessed with collection quality and has taken it up a notch with never ending shelf lists, spreadsheets, and inventory. Mary has a special knack for linking books to readers of all ages.

Together Mary and Holly are the authors of “Making a Collection Count: a holistic approach to library collection management.” They also tweet at @awfullibbooks and blog at

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