Building Book Recommendation Lists

I’ve been compiling booklists since I started out as a librarian. Currently, the two biggest lists I work on for school are our Holiday Reading/Gift-Giving Recommendations, and Summer Fun Reading Recommendations. How I compile the lists has morphed over the years, and I thought I’d share how I do it now, and would love to hear about others’ methods, too.

We divide our lists into three levels. Formerly we used Middle School, Upper School, and Adult, but changed that to Middle School (grades 5-7), Crossover (grades 7-10), and Upper School/Adult (grades 9-12/adult). We further divide each level by genre/category, which can be somewhat flexible; for instance, one year I found so many wonderful new short story collections that I added that as a category. Sometime genres that fit well for Middle School don’t fit so well for Crossover and vice versa. I use “Romance” as a category only in the latter, along with “Supernatural.” “Humor” as a category I use only in Middle School. MS and Crossover have eight t0 nine genres/categories, whereas we divide the Upper School lists into Fiction, Nonfiction, and Graphica. MS and Crossover genres/categories include six books each; US lists can run longer in each category.

As to how I build the lists, I start with last year’s lists, and do my utmost not to repeat a title. I have a database spreadsheet with columns for genre, main character gender(s), and diversit(y/ies). For each genre, I strive to balance the genders of main characters, and make it at least half diverse, preferably more to reflect our school population. I also strive to ensure the titles represent a diversity of diversities, including religious, disability, race/ethnicity, and LGBTQ.

When possible, I prefer to populate the lists with new or new-ish books, starting with titles from our new books lists. When I’ve exhausted those, I move to my wishlist database, best-books lists, library catalog, etc. Sometimes I struggle to find good, diverse books in every genre, and I do end up re-using older titles—occasionally even old favorites still in print—if I can’t find newer books to fill the lists.

We post our lists on our LibGuides, in tabbed boxes. Recently we’ve stopped creating new guides each year, instead shifting the older boxes to a general “Reading Recommendations” page and building the new lists in the same guides. Using our judgement about what will circulate, we buy many of the titles in eBook format. We also display print titles in the library, and advertise the lists through parent and faculty communications, among others.

How do you build your recommended-books lists?

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