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A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy
Inside A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy

Readers’ Advisory?

One of my favorite things about being a librarian is Readers’ Advisory. Readers’ Advisory (or RA) can mean many things — it can be the obvious, “what book can you recommend.” It can be creating resources for the person who doesn’t come up and ask the question but still is looking for a book to read: displays, booklists, online booklists. It also involves knowing what books are available, from the books being published the coming season to what was published years ago. That knowledge includes what is on the shelf at the library, so weeding and collection development come into play. A lot of this is self-taught, with trial and error, workshops, reading books — not so much in library school.

Since it is one of my favorite things, every time I hear “librarians have insisted that the work of our profession is not reading books” I cringe a little. Wonder what my next profession will be, then; what profession that thinks books matter?

That quote is from Library Journal’s article, “Redefining Readers’ Advisory”: Kissing Cousins. I started working in libraries in 2001, in children’s and youth services. RA is big in those areas. You need a knowledge of what books are available, how to match a book to a child or parent or teacher who comes in, looking for suggestions. As we all know, someone may like Harry Potter and hate fantasy. What book do you suggest?

I’ve also seen people who are passionate about RA at every age level. At my state’s annual library conference the programs that the Readers Advisory group put on are always popular and well attended.

One of the reasons I love blogging is I view it as RA. I blog about books I enjoy, and my favorites, but I also blog about books that I think other people may enjoy reading. A book may not be my cup of tea, but I know it will be someone else’s, so I write about it and why someone would like it.

The LJ article helped explain to me the attitudes I’ve seen towards RA in my going on nine years in the field. I’ve heard the stories of the candidate who wasn’t pursued because she mentioned books and reading as a strength. I’ve seen adult RA being handled by the library assistants, with the librarians told (implicitly or explicitly) that such work is not for professionals. Tough reference questions and the ability to answer them are respected; but RA, not so much. While the LJ article talks mainly about Reference v Readers’ Advisory, I’ve seen a similar split for technology. The technology that creates the catalog? It gets more respect. The LJ article offers various reasons why Readers’ Advisory is viewed as it is: it’s less serious work, information is more important, an anti-fiction bias, it doesn’t need degreed staff. It has really helped me understand the bias I’ve encountered. I’ll also add the belief that “anyone can do it” impacts the respect. It’s a bit sad, as the truth is not just “anyone” can do it. It’s a skill set, it’s a knowledge base, and it takes work and dedication.

Melissa at Librarian by Day also discusses this article.

Anyway, I was wondering. If you’re a librarian, what type of formal training did you have? What resources have you used to learn about RA and work on your skills? Is it something you think is important?

And if you use libraries, what has been your experience in asking staff about what to read next? Are the displays and booklists helpful? Do you know if these things are done by librarians, staff, or volunteers?

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About Elizabeth Burns

Looking for a place to talk about young adult books? Pull up a chair, have a cup of tea, and let's chat. I am a New Jersey librarian. My opinions do not reflect those of my employer, SLJ, YALSA, or anyone else. On Twitter I'm @LizB; my email is lizzy.burns@gmail.com.

Comments

  1. Liz, thanks for posting this. So tired of seeing reader’s advisory, such an essential part of youth librarianship, being pushed to the background in favor of technology. Both pursuits can and should coexist to really serve kids and teens in a meaningful way. I teach an YA RA course at Pratt, using genre as a lens to perform reader’s advisory. As texts, I use The Reader’s Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction by Saricks and Serving Teens through Reader’s Advisory by Booth, and suggest The Teen Reader’s Advisor by Honnold as a supplement. Library school courses do exist, but as you say, it is a skill best learned in the field. I require my students to perform an R.A. interview w/ a teen for one of their assignments.

  2. Stacy Dillon says:

    Hands down, the thing that I get the most appreciation for is RA…whether it’s from the kids, their parents or other educators. Staying on top of what is going to be published as well as finding overlooked titles and being well versed in classics is critical to my job.It’s where trust is earned, for sure.

  3. sharon says:

    Lately most of our reference work is in RA. Homework has changed in our area and it’s really become a trend…they’ll come to the library for help in the really hard questions (who discovered the planet earth? we decided copernicus was a good start) and for books. I’m so grateful my library takes reader’s advisory seriously and that we continually train staff including professionals…

  4. sharon says:

    what i forgot to say is I am fortunate enough to work in the library that Joyce Saricks and Heather Booth worked at when they wrote those books Jennifer mentions above!!

  5. Shelley says:

    As someone always happy for new readers, may I say: congratulations on the lovely new home of this website. May you have much success here.

  6. Jennifer W. says:

    I did have a class on adult reader’s advisory in my coursework at UIUC, which was very good although I’ve forgotten the instructor’s name – I think she worked at Urbana Free, but I don’t recall RA ever being mentioned in my youth services classes. Then again, I may have been asleep that day! I have been doing RA for kids since I was about 12 and started recommending books to friends. I moved on to creating tailored reading lists for homeschool families as a teen and never looked back. I’ve always felt comfortable doing RA for kids and teens, although of course there’s always room for improvement! My library is small enough that staff can call me out from my office if I’m not on the desk and a kid wants something special – or I’ll snag the adult services librarian if I can’t come up with something.

  7. Robin says:

    I just finished taking the course that Jennifer referred to above — Adult Popular fiction at UIUC (using Genreflecting, The Reader’s Advisory Handbook, and The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction, in addition to other readings and reading a variety of types of genres). I love reader’s advisory and think it is at the core of what a librarian does. I’m a youth services librarian, and from my experiences youth services does place a higher emphasis on RA than others — courses in children’s literature and ya literature are required, and there are sometimes genre offerings and courses in non-fiction/informational literature as well. As this week’s NYTimes article pointed out (http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/08/02/summer-must-read-for-kids-any-book/), it is reading for pleasure that effectively helps prevent “summer slide.” Helping a child find a book he/she is interested in, not necessarily on a reading list or at a certain AR level, is often the highlight of my day.

    So I have had some training in RA, but what I have learned is that I do need to read, as much as possible, and also to listen and watch my patrons to see what they are reading. Providing good RA is a continual learning experience. The children’s section of the library has several displays, all are done by librarians.

  8. DogEar says:

    Hey Liz, my graduate studies at Syracuse University focused on Digital Libraries. The technical training it has given me has proved very valuable as a YA / Children’s Librarian but the need for RA skills is equally, if not more, valuable in the Public Library setting. Though I have never taken a class that involved RA, my Bachelor degree in English Literature has helped. But all of my YA/Children’s RA knowledge was self-developed and absolutely necessary.

    So, how important are statistics? They are very important at my library and so, RA becomes important. Partnering with local schools to help avoid the ‘summer slide’ helps our stats and helps the kids. Of course, allowing kids to pick their own books, or from a variety of books from a list created by both the school and public Librarians, has helped in the success of our summer reading program.

    As to RA phasing out, anyone who has done a lot of reader’s advisory know the persuasive power of a great booktalk and Novellist simply can’t compete to quality face to face interaction, in my opinion.

  9. Sondy says:

    Hi Liz, great post! I was just thinking about how much I love RA, because I’m interviewing for a Youth Services Manager position this coming Monday. I think of RA as my greatest strength. And I got it because I love to read. In other jobs, I like to leave work at home — but what I do in my spare time is read books (for all age levels) and blog about them. It’s definitely my passion. And I think that makes me a better youth services librarian.

    And my co-workers (at the librarian job I was just RIF’d from) always seemed to appreciate it. Like Jennifer W, they’d come get me in my office for ideas of books for kids to read.

    I did take classes on Library Service to Children and Library Service to Teens in library school, but there’s no substitute for continuing to read the books and continuing to stay on top of what’s new.

  10. Angela Carstensen Liz B says:

    Jen, part of the reason I love technology is because it offers such new, great ways to do RA. And I’m adding those titles to my “to buy for home” list.

    Stacy, trust is such a key part of RA. One thing I’ve always found is great way to build trust is to ask what a reader recommends, and then read it and discuss it with them. So it’s a mutual, equal relationship, not all “read this!” one way.

    Sharon, wow, what a great library!

    Shelley, thanks!

    Jennifer, my kids/teen lit classes were more becoming familiar with the books, genre, how to use, censorship, evaluation, book talking, I don’t remember a big RA compenent (but I could just not be remembering!) When I sat in on my first adult RA workshop and they began saying things about RA being style, place, etc., I was “wow! of course!” but don’t recall it being taught that way.

    Robin, the favorite part of my job is hearing back from someone that they liked a book I recommended. When I suggest titles, I always try to suggest at least 3 to 5 with the caveat “not all of these may work..only one may, and that’s OK”

    DogEar, the booklists and things like that — definately RA, IMHO. It’s RA for the kid who isn’t going to talk to an adult, or who isn’t at the library when you are, or the parent who has no time so just uses the website. One of my pet peeves is other librarians who don’t get that creating booklists is a professional skill set.

    Sondy, good luck with the interview! Loving to read helps so much with RA and I think that’s one reason some people don’t give RA the proper respect, because “anyone” can read and if anyone can do it … Actually, that just gave me an idea for another post. What about doing RA in areas a librarian doesn’t read? Or for books/genres a librarian doesn’t like?

  11. Angel says:

    As a response, I ended up blogging about this article and adding some thoughts. Feel free to visit over there (http://gypsylibrarian.blogspot.com/2010/08/on-librarians-who-may-or-not-read-and.html).

    The one thing that stuck with me was the attitude as well. I do find a lot of librarians who flat out do not read (some even take pride in it), and that concerns me.

    Best, and keep on blogging.

  12. Sarah says:

    RA is such an important part of youth services and it’s my favorite part of the job. I used to work in children’s and now I split my time in YA and adult. I’m the only YA librarian at my branch, so I do all the YA RA. I make booklists, displays, and send e-mails notifying staff of upcoming releases, read alikes. But at the adult desk, RA isn’t something that’s really pushed. Yes, we answer RA questions, but it’s not a big push at my library-and that drives me crazy! Isn’t that part of our job?? We’re librarians and we shouldn’t be ashamed that we like to read and that we know what the popular books are and what hidden gems are on our shelves. We have a staff training for various genres and a general RA training, but honestly, I’ve learned more from reading blogs and library journals that at our trainings. They’re so basic that they don’t really help at all. We offer a four week children’s lit course that actually goes into more depth than the adult two hour sessions and we supposedly offer a YA RA training for four weeks, but in my almost four years of working here it’s never been offered. I read blogs, I write a blog, I read books, I network, I read journals, I talk to other librarians via listservs, e-mail, Facebook and Twitter, I talk to authors, and that’s how I keep up with my RA and make sure my RA skills are always sharpened. And I do it because I love it and because to me, that’s my job.

  13. Angela Carstensen Liz B says:

    Angel, thanks for the link.

    Sarah, I agree with practically every word you say about how important RA is and what to do to keep up on it. It’s funny — usually something that takes all the time you describe is given more respect, yet RA gets less!

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