Readers Advisory to the Rescue: Become an RA Superhero

Megan Knapp /

Superman Ben with his own comic via Cockburn Libraries on FlickrReaders Advisory is a hallmark of library service. Introducing patrons to a new author or title, helping them select works from a particular genre, or even first setting them on the reading path, librarians use their powers to identify and guide customers to the stories they seek. Whether you are new to the library profession, or you’ve answered the question, “What do I read next?” countless times, this month’s resources can kick start (or reboot) RA activities, and assist in providing a super service to patrons.

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Reading. Librarians are known readers, and it can help with RA to be personally familiar with a range of titles, which you can suggest confidently to others. However with RA, reading people can be as important as reading material. The Ohio Library Council offers some great pointers for understanding customers, and delivering top-notch RA service in the Ohio Reference Excellence series. They explain that much can be learned by watching patron behavior – how patrons browse, and even browsing alongside them – and by asking simple questions to gather essential clues that will allow you to successfully suggest new works. Questions like: “What did you like about… the last book you read… the last film you saw… the last TV show or series you watched?” can all elicit valuable information about style, content, pace, setting and more. Even if a reader is more reserved in their response, they may provide you with the details you need to begin your RA process. You may want to ask follow-up questions if a customer says, “I like romance novels, but I don’t want any cursing in my stories…,” but even this brief statement gives you direction: start this reader with “gentle reads,” rather than Danielle Steel novels.

Research. As you research items, using tools like NoveList or Goodreads, which suggest readalike titles, authors, and content, book reviews available on blogs and websites (and in print resources), can serve to narrow your selections. Reader reviews in particular can provide the details that some professional literary summaries may not. Look for reviews on retail websites, in the library database, or through sites like LibraryThing. What a reader shares about the particulars of a book may help you get closer to the content a patron is looking for, or looking to avoid. Sites like Common Sense Media can help provide context around content for children and teens, including movies, cartoons, and apps. A rich collection of resources for children and young adults is also available through the McIntyre Library, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Other resources for Readers Advisory are available on WebJunction.

Superman 75 Years via Pesky Librarians on FlickrReaching out. Readers Advisory can extend far beyond patron interviews—into reading lists, displays, and other creative combinations of books and interests. RA done well can spark new ideas and connections, as seen in this recent Library Journal article on how the Wilmington Memorial Library in Massachusetts is pairing RA with farm shares: “Farmer Dave Dumaresq called the program a ‘win-win situation’ and he said it is great to combine the CSA [Community Supported Agriculture] with a library because both organizations ‘promote a healthy mind, body, and soul.’”

Connecting readers with the right books and materials is indeed powerful… super powerful. For expert techniques on using the latest generation of advisory resources, as well as new ways to serve readers in libraries large and small, tune into the upcoming WebJunction webinar, Serving readers, beyond the basics.  

As we share RA best practices with one another, we create more opportunities to serve our communities. Tell us about your ideas for Readers Advisory in the Comments section. Have you had success with a recent RA project or practice? Do you know of an RA hero we should feature in an upcoming story? Tell us more… we’d love to hear from you!

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