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Sci-fi Survey Preliminary Results

I have preliminary results from the science fiction readership survey. Cheers to everyone who participated!

You should be able to see Google Form’s summary by going to

For my fellow quant nerds, I started a repository with the raw data and my preliminary statistical analysis

Over the next couple weeks I will be figuring out what it all means and writing a report, which I will also post. I did notice a couple of things right away, though:

1) More than half the respondents self identify as librarians. Apparently, librarians like to take surveys about libraries…

2) Series related factors are the most important to the majority of readers. People want to continue reading series they have started or start new series with lots of books available at the library.

3) The respondents cluster rather neatly into two groups, which we can call “Heavy Readers” and “Moderate Readers”. The heavy readers seem to skew female and be more educated–though probably not as much as it seems from the raw data, since we have so many librarians responding (librarians also skew female, and most of them have masters degrees). This seems to agree with the academic literature, such as this article which I found after the survey had already started.

More to come. Thanks again!

How do you choose which books to read?

Hello all, I’ve been volunteering at my local library, trying to help them improve their sci-fi collection (their acquisitions have been pretty random in recent years). As one aspect of the project we came up with a short survey, which I hope you will take, about what factors are important when people check out speculative fiction books.

The survey can be found here:

It only takes about 5 minutes and all questions are optional. The survey will stay open until at least the end of May 2018.

ps. Please note that this is a non-profit project in cooperation with a public library.   I’ll release the results in a few weeks and post a link here.


Quiz Night

When we think of librarians, we often visualize a prim old woman behind a reference desk who shushes us when we try to talk. I myself have often fallen victim to this stereotype even though I have been dating one of them for over a year. My girlfriend Danica scarcely fits this picture. She was a professional actress and circus performer before entering UCLA to study Library Science. Still, I had always assumed that she was an atypical member of the profession. The other night, however, I attended “Library Student Quiz Night” at UCLA. It challenged my assumptions about librarians.

As we approached the building we could hear loud rock music from inside and see flashing lights through the windows. Passing through the front door we saw a small table with name tags and felt markers. We wrote our names and attempted to unstick the tags.

“So far, getting the name tags unstuck has been the hardest part of the night. Hi, I’m Lindsey.” I looked up to see a youngish woman in a low-cut party dress. I knew Lindsey by reputation because she often does group assignments with my Danica. She had volunteered to organize the night’s festivities.

It took several tries to release the recalcitrant name tags. “I got them at Office Max. I think they’re really old,” explained our hostess. Once we had properly identified ourselves, Lindsey led us on a tour of the party.

First, we entered a university classroom. “This is where we have all of our classes,” Danica explained. It looks much like any university classroom with its rows of tables, white-board, and computerized podium. A bookshelf along the long wall was packed with reference books. I recognized the Encyclopædia Britannica among the rest by its brown covers. Basically, the room appeared exactly as I would expect a Library Science classroom to look.

Tonight, however, it had been decorated. Fancy red tablecloths with Chinese characters and tassels covered every tables. A table in front nearly overflowed with tissue wrapped prizes surrounding an immense trophy in the shape of a human brain.

The glorious brain trophy was at lease eighteen inches from hemisphere to paper-mâché hemisphere. It glistened with gold spray paint. Its base stood blank, ready to receive the names of the winning Quiz Night team.

Incongruously, a substantial pile of lacquered chopsticks rested to one side in fancy silk cases. Later, I learned that decorations and chopsticks were left over from Lindsey’s wedding.

As the tour continued we passed another classroom where young librarians played a “Rock Star” video game on a big-screen TV. Clearly, this was the source of the music we heard on our way in. They looked so young. Even though I knew they were all at least graduate students, most of them barely appeared old enough to be in college. The majority had made some effort to dress up for the party, but clearly there had been no coordination. I saw cocktail dresses, sport coats, tight “Emo” style jeans, and one young woman who would have been more suitable dressed to go square dancing than for a party in Westwood.

The last room we visited was the student lounge. I commented that it was one of the biggest, nicest I have ever seen. My girlfriend replied that it was not that nice; most of the furniture is from the 1980’s. Clearly, she has never seen our old engineering lounge at the University of Idaho, where the furniture looks like it is from the 1880’s.

This lounge was well supplied with crackers, cheese, and the usual party foods. Another table was covered in various alcoholic drinks. Like many graduate schools, UCLA’s Library school is a “wet” building. Avoiding a bottle of Boon’s Farm and a case of cheap beer, I poured myself a paper cup of generic-brand Merlot from a bottle with a plain black and white label. The first sip revealed it as far too sticky-sweet for a Merlot. It had that undefinable aftertaste which means a wine will produce a horrible hangover. The lady next to me chose the Boon’s Farm. “Ick! It’s greasy.” She filled another cup.

I was positioning myself to advance on the cheese table when a young woman in dramatic tortoise-shell glasses appeared at the door holding a megaphone. “Attention, attention. Quiz night will begin in five minutes. Everyone move to the other room and form teams.”

I snagged another cup of bad wine and shuffled down the hallway. As we entered, some of Danica’s friends waved to her. They had saved us spots on their team. Quickly, we huddled and tried to come up with a team name. The “Library Lions” was rejected as too cliché. They decided on “Team Bingo”. “Why Bingo?” I asked. “He’s Bingo.” They pointed at the man sitting across from me. “He’s our ringer.”

It turned out that Bingo (who’s real name is not Bingo) had actually been on Jeopardy a couple of years before. Getting him on our team was a real coup.

A young man with wild bleached-blond hair and a teeshirt that had been printed to look like an evening jacket was introduced as our moderator and competition began. He asked each question three times in a dramatic voice. We wrote the answer on a piece of paper. Discussion was allowed, but we had to keep our voices down so the other teams would not steal our answers. The questions were obscure. Many of them seemed drawn from the pop culture section of some out of print edition of trivial pursuit. Others were library oriented: “Which of these is not an official library of congress subject heading:. ‘Domestic Ass Industry’ or ‘Jello shots'”

At the end of the third round there was a break while teams passed in our first sheet of answers. The girl who had used the megaphone earlier leaped to her feet. “OK, so who wants a librarian tattoo?” one hand she clutched a packet of temporary tattoos with librarian-related themes, in the other a damp rag. The first one I saw had “Dewey” in the center of a heart. Librarians immediately began rolling up their sleeves.

Things did not look good as the scores were announced. Our team, Team Bingo, was in fourth place which was second from last. A team called the “Cobras” was in the lead. We had only three more rounds in which to redeem ourselves. To bolster our morale we began a chant “B – I – N – G – O, B – I – N – G – O, and Bingo was his name-o!”

“Looks like the beer is starting to kick in,” observed the announcer dryly. Glancing around, I realized that he had a point. One nearby contestant had six empty cans in front of him. “I think I need to go to the bathroom,” he muttered and walked off with exaggerated caution. We did not see him again.

Still, if the alcohol was affecting my team’s performance, it was hitting the others even harder. By the time the scores were again tallied, we had shot up to second place. The Cobras still won, of course. They had the honor of signing their names to gold foil seals which were affixed to the base of the brain trophy. It now sits in the student lounge, dominating it with its benevolent golden presence.

As the party broke up and the guests filed out with camaraderie and good will, I heard Lindsey say, “Everyone remember to take some chopsticks.”

I had fun that night. I also realized that librarians might by a little nerdy, but they really know how to party if you give them a chance.