This has been, without a doubt, an excellent summer for New York’s libraries. In Manhattan, the Stephen A. Schwarzman branch set up a beautiful outdoor reading room that was open for the past two weeks before closing on the 22nd. A group of seafaring book lovers announced that they’ll launch a floating library aboard the Lilac Museum Steamship for a month come September. And now, in a less temporary and totally genius move, a group of hardworking librarians across the Brooklyn Public Library system will make you a personalized reading list. You don’t have to leave the house, dress yourself, or talk to another human being to put in a request for one. The future is here, and it is glorious.
The BookMatch program launched quietly about two weeks ago. It’s completely free: just fill out the online form telling the nice librarians what you like to read, and they’ll come back to you in about a week with a list of five or six recommendations. You can even specify what type of format you prefer: ebook, for example, or a nice paper book if you’re a normal, civilized human being.
At this point, though, getting your recommendations might take just a little bit longer than a week, says Sheila Schofer. She’s been a librarian for the past 18 years and is the BPL’s Director of Neighborhood Services. The 35 librarians working on the BookMatch program have been deluged with requests, she says, more than 600 in the first two weeks alone.
“There was just an outpouring of responses,” she says, especially on Friday, when they first announced the program in an email blast. “My phone wouldn’t stop buzzing. I was thrilled. This is the work we do, but sometimes the world doesn’t always know.”
The BookMatch librarians are experts across a range of neighborhoods and reading levels, Schofer says. “Some focus on children, some on teens, some on adults. It’s a very diverse group of people answering the questions.”
When you’re putting in your own request, Schofer says, “Give us as much information as possible. People can share another book they liked and if they know why. People don’t always know why they enjoyed a book. Sometimes that’s up to us to figure out.”
After the BookMatch recommendations are completed, they’re displayed as public lists (though the person who requested them remains anonymous, of course.) You can see all the completed lists here, if you’re curious about, say, clean and kosher young adult books or what to read after you’ve finished 50 Shades of Grey.
Schofer says that even with the enormous initial response, the BookMatchers are still aiming to get people their reading lists within a week, or maybe just a tad longer.
“I’m a little nervous,” she says. “The more publicity we get, the more slammed we are. But we’re busy in a good way.”
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 26, 2014