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Celebrating 20 years of booktalk sharing with Nancy

Booktalks are an art form.

They are low-key, personal commercials that encourage children (and other potential readers) to connect with books. They are teasers, designed to sell a book. After a powerful grabber, they might include simple summaries, dramatic readings, a presentation in the voice of a character, a sharing of a dramatic moment. They may be randomly gathered or connected to themes, genre or curricula.

And when you do them effectively, in front of a class, they can inspire book stampedes, or serious waiting lists.

Librarians have been talking books, formally or informally, forever. We learned about effective booktalking in library school.  Many of us now engage, sometimes with young readers, in the creation of booktrailers, a media-rich subgenre of the talk.

Nancy Keane has, pretty much, been talking books forever.  A few days ago, she posted this message on Facebook.

1900!  That’s a lot of podcasts, a lot of reading, and a lot of generous sharing.  Chatting with Nancy reminded me of the old days before all this sharing was common or possible.

Nancy started her booktalk website way back in 1995.   I asked her if she would be willing to reflect a bit on that journey.

She’d been an academic librarian since 1976 and was ready for a move from academic librarianship.  While she was teaching at University of Vermont, someone suggested, “You’d really have more fun as a school librarian.”  The rest was history.

After taking a position in a high school library for about a year, Nancy found herself at the middle school, filling in for a friend and colleague on medical leave.

A teacher walked in and said, “The former librarian always booktalked for me. Will you do it too?  And will you do it today?”  With her AppleIIe and state-provided dial-up, Nancy searched a relatively primitive web for booktalks. She found little  support and faked her way through that first command session. Fortunately, the talk requested was on classics and she recalls pulling from her movie, as well as her book memory.

After that experience, Nancy committed to getting up to booktalk speed.  She recalls retyping her little file from library school and posting those talks using html, on the new website she bought her own through the local phone company. (No WYSIWYG editors had been invented that point.)  She got ten hits and was surprised and delighted that other people looked at her stuff.

And so, with the first 300 talks, Booktalks Quick and Simple was born. New to booktalking, Nancy credits the great Joni Bodart, whose books we likely all have on our professional shelves, as her early inspiration.

So, how does someone keep up this booktalking pace over the course of twenty years?

She reads like crazy, of course.  Nancy has a particular fondness for dystopian literature and fairytale retellings.  Though she will read just about anything, she is a little  bit horror-averse.  She keeps each booktalk to no longer than two minutes.  If they’re longer, you lose the kids.

Logistically, she struggled with an index for her growing website. In 2004, she started blogging. She now leverages Diigo and its tagging system as a staging and storage space for the blog.  She uses another service to blast the podcasts to social media–Twitter and Facebook.  She’s also gathered her talks into several books.

Though Nancy is grateful for the contributions of students, teachers and other librarians, she continues to do so much of the heavy lifting, attempting to do a podcast each day(!). She gets between 20 and 25,000 hits a day from all over the world.

Why does she do it?

Nancy shared: 

The teachers love it.  Kids see you as an enormous resource.  All day long I hear “Dr. Keane! Dr. Keane!” It’s nice to be able to get to know your students’ habits and get them to stretch and change genre.  Kids love suggestions.  I try to imagine what they feel like when they enter a library.  It’s daunting. You have 7000 options. We’re do you begin?

Which other booktalker/book blogggers does Nancy admire? Among her faves are:

You can browse Nancy’s archive, listen to talks about the newest titles, or subscribe to the RSS feed.

Nancy’s blogs and sites:

Or you may contact and thank Nancy for 20 years of hard work @


Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza

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