Women in Horror Month Interview: Becky Spratford

Becky Spratford, MLIS

Becky Spratford is an informed and passionate advocate of fiction (particularly horror fiction). She trains librarians to match readers with books they’ll enjoy — an amazingly important job, if you ask us! Becky maintains a magical presence on Twitter and a blog that gives great insight into the importance of the work she does.

We’re proud to feature Becky in this special Women in Horror Month interview.

(Interview conducted by Sadie “Mother Horror” Hartmann)

CEMETERY DANCE: Hi Becky! Thank you for joining me today. Let’s get right into it. What does a typical weekday look like for you?

BECKY SPRATFORD: Well that’s a loaded question because the nature of my work is anything but typical. I post on my library worker training blog every weekday. I try to only preschedule when I am super busy so that I can respond to issues in the world of Readers’ Advisory (serving leisure readers at the library) as they come up, but I have some regular features and post my reviews so those can be set ahead of time.

Then I always have something I was hired to write due each week. I write for Library Journal, Booklist, and NoveList (an EBSCO database) regularly.

And finally, my consulting work. I train library workers all over the world on how to better help their leisure readers. That means I travel in person and provide webinars. Some months I am on the road for a day or two every week, other times I am home doing webinars. It depends on the time of year. 

You are such a busy and important lady! Just for people who might not know, does a lot of what you do center around advocacy for horror or is that a small part of what you do?

I would say the horror advocacy part is over 50 percent, maybe closer to 60 percent at this point, of my work. My reviews and columns for Booklist and Library Journal are 99 percent horror. When I give a presentation to library workers about being a better book talker, I give example “book talks” using horror books. And I work horror into my other training programs. I am also the author of the definitive horror reference book for library workers —  The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Horror. The 2nd edition is out now and I am working on a brand new, fully updated 3rd edition. ALA Editions is the publisher.

I didn’t know about those books! Does the general public also have access to those or are they private?

It’s sold on Amazon. Expensive though, because it’s a textbook. The third edition is going to be completely new material. The second was more of an update. It is due to the publisher September 2020.

That is absolutely amazing. Do you find that library workers are generally supportive and knowledgeable about horror?

Oh, well….. They are supportive but if you look at the piece I wrote for DeadHead Reviews, I included a chart showing that it is one of the genres they “fear” the most. They want to be more knowledgeable especially now that it is so popular.

All library workers know that they can’t know everything but they need to know where to find information about everything, so they look to me as the horror resource. I take that job very seriously. I know I have to make sure my suggestions will work for the average public library audience. I make sure to cast a wide net in my suggestions. I need the titles and authors I write about and promote to be easy for libraries to obtain (available in Ingram and Baker and Taylor). Most libraries have trouble adding self-published titles. Also, the books have to stand up to multiple checkouts. I am constantly balancing wanting to talk about all the books, and understanding that I need to be focused or they will ignore me.

So this goes much deeper than just reviewing horror titles for you, this is really about taking a deep dive into horror and seeing how you can better put the right books into the right reader’s hands through library workers, is that accurate?

Yes. I am their main resource for their horror collection development, and as someone who did collection development for an adult fiction collection at a library for 15 years, I know how hard it is. I want to make their job easier to make sure that horror gets on the shelves, but I also have a responsibility to make sure that my choices represent all voices of authors and types of horror. 

That’s awesome! What can we do, as readers who love horror, to be more proactive about horror at our local libraries?

Request titles for them to purchase. Most libraries have a “suggest materials” option on their websites and they definitely all have it in paper in the building. Libraries take resident suggestions very seriously because we are paid by our residents’ tax dollars. Also, if you are a horror fan or author, go to your local library and ask the programming librarians how you can help. Can you offer a program about horror, show off a collection, provide a roundtable of authors to come in, host a book discussion…..We always need fresh programming ideas and horror is hot right now. 

Those are all great tips and I’m going to try some of those ideas. Would you say horror is so popular/hot right now because of the movies being made based on horror novels?

There are many reasons why it is popular now.

First, whenever people are feeling unsettled in the real world they turn one of two ways. The first is to go to entertainment that is more gentle. See the explosion in popularity of the Hallmark Channel.

The second is to find something even worse so that your real world fears don’t feel as bad — hence horror. 

The movies and television shows that are horror and/or horror-esque are of a very high quality, something that is also new. They are excellent examples of storytelling for any genre. Also, horror was an early adopter of podcasting. A lot of that has to do with the fact that scary stories are fun to listen to. Welcome to Nightvale was one of the very first original story podcasts that exploded. It is quality entertainment, but also because it speaks to our emotions directly — a primal emotion of fear — it is alluring and intriguing.

People are drawn to it even as they are scared by it. 

Yeah, I like to tell people that I’m naturally a timid person but horror books are spicy. It’s where I feel like I can be dangerous and risky.

It is a safe way to explore dark and dangerous thoughts.

Well said. Lastly, I did want to ask you about Summer Scares and Librarian’s Day coming up in May. I’m excited to be on a horror panel with you talking about reviewing horror. Can you tell people about Summer Scares? It’s purpose and your plan for it going forward?

Sure. Summer Scares was the brainchild of myself and authors J G. Faherty (also the Horror Writers Association (HWA) Library Committee Chair) and Grady Hendrix. We were sitting around at a Stoker Con and trying to figure out how we could more formally promote horror in libraries. We were especially interested in capturing the youngest readers. Knowing that “Summer Reading” is a HUGE thing in libraries we built off of that idea to create a curated list of Librarian Approved titles for all ages. This goes back to the point that library workers are nervous about suggesting horror because they aren’t huge fans, as a whole.

We assembled a team of librarians and partners — United for Libraries, Book Riot, and Library Journal/School Library Journal and got a big name author spokesperson, someone libraries would know about already — Grady the first year and Stephen Graham Jones this year. 

We meet to pick three titles at each reading level — adult, teen, and middle grade. We want living authors who can participate and interact with the libraries. And this year we tightened it up a bit and said the books need to be 2-5 years old.

We have a resource page with all of the details

The idea is to promote a wide range of reading options for every reading level but also fear tolerance level. We are also conscious of offering stories and graphic novels and titles from a variety of publishers. All have to be easily obtained by libraries. We think Summer Scares is good for ALL horror authors because it gets horror on the library’s radar and we encourage our HWA members from across the country to contact their local libraries to help provide Summer Scares programming. We are creating book discussion guides that authors can use to lead discussions on the Summer Scares titles. Again, helping their local library out with programming. It gives them a chance to promote themselves too. 

Becky, Summer Scares sounds like you are succeeding at exactly what you set out to accomplish. I hope you realize that you are doing important work for the genre and for literacy. I’m in awe of all you do. Let us know any ways we can help support you, Summer Scares, our local libraries from even a social media standpoint — where can we find you online?

I have two blogs. They are for library workers but authors enjoy them too– RA for All and it’s evil twin RA for All: Horror.

Thanks so much! And thank you for taking an hour to sit down and chat with me, you are a woman in horror absolutely killing it.

Thanks Sadie. I can’t wait to be on stage together on Librarians’ Day in May. Signup will go live on 3/2. I have seen the poster and it is monstacular!

Eeek!! That’s so cool! I can’t wait to see it.

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