Reflections on Readers Advisory Services

16 Jul

Readers Advisory Services, like Reference Services evoke a traditional idea of the librarian that prompts many of the uninitiated to say things like, “Librarians just read all day long.”  In truth, there isn’t time to read all day long because we’re busy continuing our education by learning new technologies, understanding new sources, helping our community, and promoting the library.

Like many, though, my idea of Readers Advisory before reading Chelton’s essay was that face-to-face interaction with a patron who asks, “what should I read next?” Like many librarians that Chelton mentions, I might panic.  I primarily read fiction, and occasionally a memoir.  Within that subset, I only like particular types of fiction and authors. How am I supposed to know what to recommend to someone who wants a good non-fiction book about energy conservation or a medieval fantasy novel?  As Chelton points out, there are plenty of questions we can ask and resources we can refer to in order to fill in the gaps of our own personal knowledge – and my personal ignorance is not an excuse to not help the person asking for a suggestion.  Most importantly, I shouldn’t make vague assumptions such as the person wanting to read a book very similar to one they enjoyed.  Questions that help get to the bottom of the request are: what was a book that you liked about?  What did you like most about it?  Do you want to read something similar or by the same author?  What kind of book are you in the mood for?

"Dancing with the Stars" Display at the Greenpoint Public Library in Brooklyn, NY. Photo credit: Miss Heather,

The other surprising thing about Readers Advisory is that extends well beyond this face-to-face interaction into passive methods of suggesting materials.  The idea behind this is that not everyone may ask a librarian for a suggestion, but everyone, at one time or another wants a suggestion of what to read next.  Or, many times something may catch the interest of someone seeing something they may not normally encounter.  Some ways to do this include lists or bibliographies.  I actually subscribe to a couple of lists that are emailed monthly by Brooklyn Public Library.  More than once, I have read a book described in an e-mail that I would not have heard of otherwise.

Another idea is creating a display such as the one pictured to the left.  That display was very light-hearted and difficult to miss within the library space.  Other than these library-minded suggestions, several other techniques reflect those used in retail – placing interesting items toward the front of the library, adding displays at the ends of stacks, which everyone passes, utilizing high traffic areas or the circulation desk to highlight content are all methods you might see in a department store that can be just as effective in a library.

(Written in response to: “Chapter 14 – Readers Advisory Services: How to Help Users Find a ‘Good Book’” by Mary K. Chelton in The Portable MLIS: Insights from the Experts[2008].


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