Andrew Eynon’s Library Blog

A blog about librarianship in Further Education

Archive for September 1st, 2008

Using Amazon in Reader Development

Posted by andrewey on September 1, 2008

Whichever definition of Reader Development you prefer they all entail broadening the reading experience – many readers stick to a very limited range of writers and one of the main challenges of reader development is to widen this range.

Although there are websites specifically designed to promote reader development in this way eg Reader2Reader and Which Book you could also achieve the same sort of result using a website the reader may already be familiar with ie Amazon. The other advantage of Amazon is that it also includes academic material so can also be utilised in an academic context for general subject enquiries of the type often encountered in FE.

Although Amazon enables you to search for works by the same author with ease it is its other features which I’m going to highlight for use in reader development. A good starting point is to identify a book the reader has read recently which they found enjoyable (or useful in an academic context). As an example I will use Vasily Grossman’s novel Life and Fate, which is a contemporary fictionalised account of the battle for Stalingrad in World war II.

1) ‘frequently bought together’ link – which gives you the most likely complementary title. In this case it is an obvious one – a collection of Grossman’s own writings of the period as a reporter with the Red Army.

2) ‘Customers who bought this item also bought’ – this usually gives you a wide range of similar titles. In this example there are over 80 titles in this category. The nature of this book means you have fiction and non-fiction titles including works of Russian literature, Russian History and Stalinism. 

3) ‘Customer reviews’ – there is some concern over review sections on websites in that they may be impartial (Amazon does give authors and publishers the option of reviewing titles openly). My main concern with review sections, whether it be Amazon or iTunes or other similar database, is that it seems reviewers give 5 stars to everything they like rather than just to outstanding works. Therefore reading the reviews is probably the best way of gauging how impartial the review is and why that person thinks the item is so good or poor. Amazon does give you a quick tally of ratings – in this case Life and Fate has thirteen 5 star ratings, one 4 star rating and nothing any lower – so a pretty impressive range of scores.

4) ‘Product description’ – often no more than the blurb from the back cover but still more information that you are likely to find on an average library catalogue

5) ‘Search inside’ – offers you the chance to actually read part of the book online (this usually includes at least the contents page and index for academic titles)

6) ‘Customers who viewed this item also viewed’ – this gives you some more possible titles beyond the 80 plus identified above. 

7) Tags – customers can now add their own tags to supplement the subject index already created by Amazon

8) Comments – there is a discussion forum and there can be comments posted on individual (book) reviews

9) ‘Listmania’ – these can often take you to obvious choices eg other great works of Russian literature or to lists which are more personal in their selection – of works that readers have enjoyed or think complement each other.

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