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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 email@example.com.
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