Small Demons Gives Booksellers a New Reference Tool

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A Los Angeles-based company has launched Small Demons, a new web resource that enables readers to “go where the story takes them.”  For booksellers and librarians who were among the site’s first users, it has proved valuable in helping them respond to patrons seeking a title, or a list of titles, in which a particular person, place, or thing is mentioned. As the site continues to grow, company vice president Richard Nash said, there will be more opportunities for bookstores to take advantage of its resources.

Valla Vakili, the founder of Small Demons, was reading Jean-Claude Izzo’s Total Chaos, part of the Marseilles Trilogy (Europa Editions), when he soon found himself adopting many of the interests of the book’s protagonist. To better appreciate the story, Vakili downloaded the jazz and bought a bottle of the scotch mentioned in the novel. When Vakili went so far as to rearrange his European vacation around his desire to visit Marseille, the setting of Total Chaos, he realized he was not alone in wanting to become completely immersed in a particular story.

“The inspiration for Small Demons was to help make it easier to go where the story takes you —to continue after the story is over — because in a certain sense, the story is never over, it lives inside of you,” said Nash. Upon visiting the site, Small Demons welcomes first-time users to the “Storyverse,” which, said Nash, is “a term we’ve coined to describe what we think the site is helping readers to explore.”

With the pairing of technology and literary tourism, Small Demons allows readers to access a list of the music, movies, products, and places that are referenced in a particular book. Conversely, books can be discovered by entering the names of people, places, or things.

Jenn Northington, events manager at WORD in Brooklyn, New York, told Nash about a customer who came in asking about books that include a Greyhound bus.

“After wandering fiction for about 10 minutes together, I said, ‘You know what? I know where to look this up,’” Northington wrote to Nash. “And lo and behold, Greyhound is a ‘Thing’ on Small Demons, and we had a few of the books on the list, and that customer went away very happy.”

Similarly, a high school librarian told Nash about a parent of an autistic child who “will only read books with Paul McCartney in them.” After typing McCartney’s name into Small Demons, the librarian was able to suggest a list of titles.

“There are a lot of possibilities,” said Nash, including using Small Demons to find fiction to add to themed displays or tables. As an example, he noted that in preparation for the World Series booksellers might create a display consisting of 90 percent nonfiction. “If you use our site, you’ll find novels that you can add, like Don DeLillo’s Underworld, and a number of other titles.”

Small Demons also presents opportunities for other programming and partnerships, Nash said. In the U.K., Foyle’s is discussing hosting mini-film festivals at a nearby art house-style theater featuring films referenced in specific books.

Small Demons has indexed about 6,000 books so far and plans to add another 3,000 per month. Users also have the opportunity to add to the site, and to send feedback and suggestions.

From October 2011 to February 2012, access to the site was by invitation-only. As of now, anyone can register by entering an e-mail address or by way of a Facebook or Twitter account. In about two weeks, Small Demons will be available to anyone, without the need for registration.

“We’re trying to expand ways to connect,” said Nash, “and these little gestures are ways we can be more comprehensive about the experience in the bookstore.”