As librarians, we are often faced with requests to track down books with very vague details (i.e. "It has a blue cover...it was about...science?").

The reality is, rarely do we actually find success in tracking down these ambiguous titles. Sometimes the requestor is confused about the subject, or in fact whether it was a book or movie that they are recalling (true story). However, we have good days too, and last week was one of those. 

Robyn and her father at the library.Robyn (pictured with her dad, and her favourite photo filter, because, why not?) came to the information desk on the hunt for a book that had a dark cover, had a word starting with "e" in the title, and involved teen characters. Eight deeply determined minutes later, we struck gold!

So when subject fields in the catalogue fail you - what other methods can you use to track down a hazy description with an ill-defined set of parametres? Here are my favourite resources:

1. Goodreads

This is a great option when the title in question is related to another title, such as "The one that's with Jack Reacher, but the sad one...". With endless lists and reviews, this website is a goldmine for finding that specific needle in the literary haystack.

2. Book Browse.

Similair to Goodreads, but a bit less noisy. The readalikes tool here is a gift when someone is looking for, well, you guessed it, a read-a-like. They are searchable and organized by title or author, so you're sure to get a hit fairly easily. And often, even if you don't find the specific title you're looking for, this website has a tendency to lead us to a bunch of other tempting reading options within minutes of browsing.

3. Amazon 

Most frequently, books that are described by their cover (i.e. "it has a pencil on the cover") are ones that customers have recently seen displayed somewhere (the library, Indigo, an advertisement somewhere). The simplest method here is to go over to Amazon's book page, and take a look at the first page of featured titles. Nine times out of ten, they spot the book by sight.

4. NoveList and Novelist K-8

Sometimes, the toughest inquiries are the simplest: "What book should I read?". Don't panic. Novelist and Novelist K-8 (the latter is designed for younger readers) are the perfect tools for painless reader's advisory. This resource also offers read-alikes, and offers rich browsing categories. This is a terrific option for parents who want to explore reading options for their children. 

5. Google

Finally, the almighty Google. While some think that librarians are anti-Google, I am here to say that we definitely are not! Smart searching is always useful, and simple searching is sometimes necessary to begin honing in on a target. So, when faced with Robyn's request (dark cover, young adult characters, E in the title) - I took to the user friendly search engine to begin chipping away at the possibilities, sometimes jumping over to the images page to see if anything stood out. A few moments into the search, while discussing Young Adult fiction, Robyn remembered that the book took place underground. Well, then we had it! With that term added into the mix, The City of Ember jumped right out at us, and was promptly put on hold.

Box set of the Book of Ember SeriesRobyn was thrilled to find the book, and also discover that it is part of the Books of Ember series. What a thrill (admittedly, if you're a librarian)!Also, Jeanne DuPrau's series is an absolute must-read, for young adults and adults alike, if you hadn't already decided to read it yourself. Happy Searching!

Back to Top