Unfortunately, your access has now expired. But there’s good news—by subscribing today, you will receive 22 issues of Booklist magazine, 4 issues of Book Links, and single-login access to Booklist Online and over 180,000 reviews.
Your access to Booklist Online has expired. If you still subscribe to the print magazine, please proceed to your profile page and check your subscriber number against a current magazine mailing label. (If your print subscription has lapsed, you will need to renew.)
You must be logged in to read full text of reviews.
> Logged-in users can make lists, save searches, e-mail, and more!
> Click My Profile to create a username & password
> Try a free trial or subscribe today
April 15, 2017 BOOKLIST
Find more Every Book Its Reader
The period from the late 1980s forward is often called a renaissance for readers’ advisory. During those years, we finally put the library fiction question to rest, embracing popular materials and the benefits of helping library users find the next story. This renaissance has flowered: spring’s been popping out all over! In most libraries, advisory is now a fundamental part of the service model. Contemporary practitioners have more than 25 years of reference books, articles, best practices, training methods, and online resources from which to draw, tools and services forged lovingly by a generation of librarians and other bibliophiles.
But if our renaissance was a birth, we have to admit that we aren’t kids anymore. We can squander the youthful enthusiasm and creativity of the RA Renaissance and get stuck in awkward adolescence, or we can find a graceful passage into adulthood. To extend the historical metaphor, we can let religious squabbles and turf battles destroy our cultural expansion, or we can use our noggins to find the path to RA Enlightenment. In that spirit, let me humbly suggest a few steps needed to prevent the stagnation of advisory service in a time when so many are reexamining the role of libraries.
1. Measure our work.
Library statistics are crude things that often fail to measure our collective worth, but rough tools have a purpose. When decision makers choose where to commit resources, judgments are based on quantitative and qualitative measures. We’ve talked for years about measuring the value of advisory, but with little result. It’s time to find ways to count the materials that circulate because of our suggestions, to log our RA transactions, to chart the differences in use created by thoughtful advisory. We must compare the satisfaction of users who get advisory help with that of those who don’t. Without benchmark numbers, we cannot prove that changes in advisory practice are truly improvements.
2. Spread RA practice throughout the library.
In too many libraries, reader services become the domain of a specialized department or a sidelight of reference, but patrons don’t follow the distinctions we draw between library roles. They expect every worker to understand basic librarianship as surely as where the bathroom is located and how to work the printer. If they finally take the chance to talk to any employee about books, a failed contact will make it less likely that they will try again.
Identifying subject experts, genre fans, and staff users of each format and collection can give us reference points when we encounter users with tastes different than our own. Though ideally we would train every staff member in advisory, we can start smaller, within the context of everyday work. For instance, shelvers should know the advisory value of orderly and continuously stocked displays. Circulation clerks should be able to talk positively with users about favorites, without indicating judgment. Every employee and volunteer who works in public spaces should know where lists and finding aids are located in the library and on the website, and what reader services are available. Behind-the-scenes employees can also contribute. Tags, descriptions, and links in catalog records hold great potential for RA at a point of frequent contact. Programs should be mapped to related collections. Speaking of the collection, if attractive copies of the right materials aren’t kept available, advisory is always an uphill slog.
3. Go where the readers are.
We can stuff our mental filing cabinets more full than the mixed-up files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler with read-alike suggestions, prepare 1,001 tantalizing little booktalks, but it’s pointless until we share that knowledge with readers. Very few are going to climb the mountaintop and say, “Oh great guru of reading, advise me!” but if readers’ advisory has a dirty secret, it’s that we often perch behind cumbersome desks, waiting for the perfect client who never arrives.
Going to readers means engaging them as they explore our collections. It means building varied displays and finding aids that extend advisory to every physical and virtual corner of the collection, whether the patron approaches us or not. It means making advisory meaningful to users of all ages, genders, orientations, and ethnicities. It requires us to engage not only those who are just beginning to explore books, films, and music but to add value to the library experience for veteran book-group members, genre aficionados, and lifelong learners. We should extend our aim with social media, online RA forms, and other methods of outreach.
4. Celebrate our humanity.
In this digital age, it’s easy for a librarian to feel like John Henry in the folk song, hammering spikes by hand while the steam drills get ever faster. But while digital tools keep improving, adding amazing aids to advisory, the algorithms don’t seem vastly better than they were 10 years ago at making great book recommendations. The human touch of a skilled advisor still wins the day and will continue to do so because the desire to experience and share great stories is inherently social. Use those power tools to enhance your skill, but never forget your craft: the meeting of two humans is what makes each interaction unique and important.
Within each of my four points are dozens of skills and ideas to unpack. I look forward to exploring them in this column in the coming years. On to an advisory Enlightenment!
> Try a free trial or subscribe today