trials of a student librarian: readers' advisory, the library thing i love best

Of all the aspects of librarianship that I know about, the piece I'm most excited about is readers' advisory.

Readers' advisory is the library term for answering that important question... "What to read next?" Questions like, "Do you have any more books like this one?", "I'm tired of reading mysteries, I need something different," and "I loved this book, I want another just like it," are all about readers' advisory.

I was surprised to learn that adult readers ask library staff for book recommendations all the time. In my own reading, I am guided by almost exclusively by book reviews. It never occurred to me that people ask librarians about pleasure reading. But they do, in droves.

In the childrens' department, readers' advisory is a constant need. More than half the questions I hear from our young customers and their parents are a search for pleasure reading, and few things are more important. The key to childrens' educational (and life) success is good reading skills, and the key to developing good literacy skills is reading material that engage the reader. Just what will engage the reader is the big question.

Readers' advisory takes many forms. If your library has a "new and notable" table, a "staff picks" section, or a "How many of these great books have you read?" sign, that's readers' advisory. When a book is displayed face-out at the end of a stack, that's readers' advisory. If you see a sign with "If you enjoyed Very Popular Book, you might also enjoy... Similar Book That You May Not Have Heard Of," that's readers' advisory, too.

Readers' advisory websites like Booklist, Your Next Read, and Kids Reads have made library staff's job easier and faster. But the advent of these websites doesn't prevent people from asking librarians what to read next. A good thing!

The most active and intense form of readers' advisory is booktalking - giving a brief presentation to try to interest an audience in a book. Good booktalking is an amazing skill, something to aspire to. One excellent booktalk website is Be a Better Booktalker, written by Andrea Lipinski, a YA librarian.

I've been doing informal readers' advisory pretty much all my life - recommending books for my mothers' long-running book club, or having titles on hand to match people with books, and of course, the what i'm reading posts on wmtc. Now I'm realizing that this is my primary interest in librarianship: excellent readers' advisory is where I want to focus my energies, for a start.


johngoldfine said...

I don't teach lit, don't want to teach lit, but even in writing classes like mine that avoid reading anything except former-students' essays, I occasionally find myself giving readers' advisories.

I had a student this fall reading James Ellroy and Jim Thompson: "What about Charles Willeford? Have you read anything by Richard Stark?"

Very rewarding to see him write the names down. Another day he was pecking away at Boswell's Johnson before class, and I mentioned Pepys. Again he wrote the name down!

laura k said...

Yeah, Pepys! He can go to the Diary online!

It is very rewarding to turn people onto books. To do this large-scale - with a whole collection to learn about, then try to match book to person - is an exciting challenge.

deang said...

I had never thought about that side of librarianship, but what a great thing to be able to do!

There was a teacher in the Library and Info Science school at a university I used to work at who once sent me a list of the perfect books for some young relatives who were having family problems. Every one of them was excellent for the kids' very specific situation. I was impressed.

laura k said...

Deang, I had never thought about it either, never even realized it was a part of the profession. It was like the old light bulb going off.

Nice work of that LIS instructor, connecting books with the people who could benefit from them.

Amy said...

Wow, now that sounds like a fun job! I used to dream about owning a book store and helping people select books, and I remember my mother asking the children's librarian for recommendations when I was a child. (My mother took my sibs and me to the library every week to pick out books---what a wise mom she was/is!) I never do that myself, preferring to read reviews and get recommendations from other readers whose taste I trust, but I'd love to help others pick out books.

Maybe I can do that in some volunteer capacity at our public library when I retire...

laura k said...

Your mother was definitely wise to take you to the library every week - and to ask the librarian for recommendations!

Hopefully your library will not let a volunteer do readers' advisory. I'm a student librarian and I'm not even allowed to do that yet. But libraries definitely need and depend on volunteers, for other stuff.

Also, I wonder, is there a passionate reader anywhere who has not dreamed of owning a bookstore?! So many people I know say that. :)

Amy said...

Maybe I can volunteer to read to children or do some literacy work with adults. (As you can see, I am thinking about retirement more and more these days.)

Owning a bookstore, especially a small, independent bookstore, is probably not the best business plan these days, sadly. I wonder what young passionate readers dream about these days---working for the Amazon Kindle department? :(

laura k said...

Literacy work is almost all volunteer, because it's one-on-one, very people intensive. It's very much needed for people of all ages. Super important, too!

Owning a bookstore, especially a small, independent bookstore, is probably not the best business plan these days, sadly.

Understatement. I'm not sure it was ever a big money-maker. But these days, my guess it's only slightly more lucrative as typewriter repair and newspaper editing.