A Site about Libraries, Information Technology, and the Random Questions You'll Encounter Along the Way
As a reference services librarian, one of my main responsibilities is providing reader’s advisory services. Reader’s advisory or RA, which at this point is more of an art than a science, is the process of connecting patrons with materials they’ll enjoy. There are two kinds of reader’s advisory, direct and indirect. Direct reader’s advisory is having a patron come up to you asking for help while indirect reader’s advisory involves the reaction of displays and readlists. Today, however, I’ll be focusing on direct reader’s advisory.
Even with on the job experience and a strong knowledge of popular titles and authors, it can still sometimes be difficult to determine what kind of materials to suggest. Here are some insights and tips from my own experience that might help you if you’re just starting out providing reader’s advisory services.
One: Knowing What You’re Looking For
At this point in the reference interview, you’ll want to use open-ended questions to get a better sense of what the patron is looking for. Questions like “what kind of genres do you like?” or “what was the last book you read?” helps to narrow down their tastes and might provide you with an author’s name you can use in a readalike list.
Two: Ask for Specifics
Once you’ve gotten a general idea of what the patron is looking for, start to ask more specific questions. If they’re looking for a fiction book, ask what they liked in a book:
Three: Use Your Tools
Having a good knowledge of what is in your library’s catalog is great, but being a librarian mean using all the tools at your disposal to connect patrons with the information, or in this case books, they’re looking for. Here are a few of my favorite resources:
Public Library of Anniston-Calhoun County – This is one of my favorite readalike lists. It has readalikes for a number of authors from M.C. Beaton to Anita Shreve, as well as lists of readalikes based on author’s works in different genres including chicklit, cozy mysteries, and techno-thrillers. It also have a very, very long list of readalike for different series.
Library Thing – Library Thing has a ton of useful information for librarian engaged in readers advisory. It has a faceted search feature allowing users to search by author, title, subject matter, and user generated tags. Each entry includes work details, reviews, images of alterative covers, and links to similar works. Additionally, Library Thing also provides quick links to different access points including Google Books and Project Gutenberg.
The Readers Advisory Online – Including a blog detailing upcoming titles, trends in the field, and opportunities for ongoing professional development in the area of RA, this is a resource I wish I’d heard about sooner! Readers Advisory Online also provides resources for providing RA services for patrons who are interested in different subjects, from African American frontier literature to romance, with each entry containing an overview of the genre, a breakdown of its appeal, themes, and links to additional resources. The site also has a fully faceted and very useful search feature that helps you connect patrons with materials basted off their answers during your RA interview.
NoveList – You’re library will probably have a subscription to Novelist, but if it doesn’t or you’re new to the field and haven’t had a chance to use it yet, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve used it during a reader’s advisory interview! Novelist provides a few different products, from NoveList k-8 to Library Aware, but each has some basic features. Each one has a faceted search by author, title, publication date, and appeal factor, and includes recommendations, reviews, articles about upcoming titles, and lists of similar works.
With the rise of the Internet, it was initially thought that Reader’s advisory would decline in importance, but the reverse turned out to be true, with a survey conducted by RUSA/CODES Reader’s advisory Research and Trends Committee finding that half of libraries surveyed responding that the RA increased in importance in the last three years. Providing RA services to patrons is a great way to connect with the community and it’s important that we’re able to provide it in an effective manner.
I hope that these tips and tools help, and if anyone wants to comment on a RA experience they’ve had or add some more resources or interview techniques I left out, as always feel free to add them in the comments section.