The KUBigRead16 Algorithm

Staff and students were asked for their suggestions which produced a list of more than 100 books. “It’s not practical to ask people to read 100 titles and to choose just one so we decided to come at this from a completely different viewpoint and use a scientific solution to address the problem,” Dr Baverstock said. Working with the University’s IT department and local data analyst Jackie Steinitz, who has collaborated with Dr Baverstock on previous research projects, a formula was created that would generate a list of suitable titles which could then be presented to a final book selection committee. Amazon is famous for its use of algorithms to create suggestions for future purchases based on customers’ previous buys, and this worked in a similar way.

A group of eight students and two staff members worked with Ms Steinitz to draw up a list of criteria against which each book could be considered. These included the length of book, the cover design and the availability of the author to be involved in specific Big Read activities. To avoid picking a book which had already been studied, novels could also not have been previously set for GCSE or A-level syllabuses.

“Each book was assessed against the criteria drawn up and then, for some of the more critical measures, weightings were added before being fed in to the algorithm,” Dr Baverstock said. “The programme then analysed all the information in the database and gave us the six titles on the shortlist.” The book selection committee, comprised of students and staff members from across the University, will now read each title before agreeing which should be the Big Read novel for 2016. Current staff and students are also being given the opportunity to join in discussions online to help inform the selection committee’s final decision. Copies of the chosen novel will be sent out in August with activities being launched in September and October.

Pleasingly the resulting shortlist was a very good outcome. We had a diverse selection of titles, each one of which would be an excellent book choice for the entire community.

"The KU Big Read has really reached across the institution, joining us all up."
Matthew Hilton, Deputy Vice Chancellor, Kingston University