As we lurch on past the holiday season and put away stray decorations, etc., your local librarians are getting busy thinking about what books they are excited about for the new year BUT ALSO are revisiting the best books of the prior year. As I walked into the library this morning (seriously, literally this morning, my lackadaisical approach to deadlines being what it is) I saw the Ashland Library’s “Best of 2023” display front and center, featuring titles like the new Jordan Peele-edited collection of horror short stories “Out There Screaming” amongst other titles that staff have been talking about as favorites of the year.  

As an exercise in keeping staff up to date on the coolest new books, in mid-December I asked everyone to pick JUST ONE favorite book from 2023. I did this knowing what you may not: the truth, universally acknowledged, is that when asked to pick just one favorite book, any librarian worth their salt will hedge. Or maybe renegotiate the parameters of the query. To wit:  

Me: Thanks for picking up an extra shift, I owe you one. 

Them: Oooh, can my “one” be one extra title in the best-of list? 

Me (and this is a direct quote): “Man you drive a hard bargain. LOL. I think it’s a more interesting exercise if we have to keep it to one. BUT you legit made me LOL, and I’d be hard-pressed to say ‘no’ after that!” 

The product of this and many other firm-ish negotiations is a strictly “only one per person” list from many of JCLS’s most prolific readers. To me it’s a fascinating list because you can see in its scope and breadth the diversity of our reading preferences from genre to literary to classics, and I love the snapshot in time such lists are. But I also think what we’ve created is a nice browsable list of book recommendations that doesn’t stand alone but does stand as a JCLS-specific reflection of lists such as New York Time Notables and NPR Books We Love, which are longer and more comprehensive. (NOTE: I’ve linked straight to NPR Books We Love because we can’t replicate the browsability of their list, but the New York Times Notables List goes straight to the JCLS catalog where you can place holds on titles easily). I later gave staff the option to create a list of titles they really enjoyed they weren’t seeing on best-of lists that they wanted to draw attention to, so everyone eventually got to share all their extra-bonus picks as well. You can find that list here

We’ve established that librarians DO NOT LIKE being told to pick only one. I am a librarian. You will see here that I have not allowed myself to be held to selecting only one end-of-year list to rule them all. I think that’s OK. Part of what makes library work fascinating is the vast scope of material we have to work with. AND the vast scope of the customer bases we serve. We also recognize that we have patrons who do not read as many titles a year as JCLS staff (per Goodreads, my books read for 2023 stands at 242 books…it is not a competition, and I don’t necessarily recommend trying to replicate my results). Many of those readers would prefer to know what’s most popular…and I’ve compiled those titles too. Specifically, we’ve put together the most circulated titles from JCLS for the year.   

If you want to see more of me pondering all things “best of” book lists, check out the reintroduction of our “Read This” video series!

Our plan is to bring this feature back monthly on our JCLS Beyond YouTube Channel, so keep an eye out for more bookish videos coming your way soon!