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Is Readers’ Advisory Something that All Staff Can Do?

Post by Duncan Smith
Posted December 30, 2013 in NoveList Plus, Readers' Advisory News

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I have been working with a public library whose goal is to embed readers’ advisory service throughout its organization. One of their challenges is how to move readers’ advisory service from the province of the passionate few to something that all staff can do well. This is certainly not the first time I’ve been involved in a conversation about this topic. But this time we not only talked about the staff barriers, we discussed the road blocks that prevent readers from receiving quality reading guidance.

When the library is one of many sources of reading suggestions it is not surprising that many readers come into the library already "knowing" what they are going to take home. But this isn't the main reason libraries don’t get more readers’ advisory questions.  The real reason is that they don’t expect reading suggestions from it. If you doubt me, try this experiment at your next non-work gathering.  When someone asks what you do -- say that you match people with the perfect books for them. When your astonished conversation partner asks, “Where do you do that? -- Tell them!  You will probably hear something like, “I didn’t know the library did that!”

The library I mentioned earlier is reframing readers’ advisory service as a conversation instead of modeling it on ready reference. The idea is to create a model that separates the service into levels of interaction. This might mean simply asking the reader to describe a book, or suggesting that the reader sign up for library newsletters, or telling them about an upcoming book-oriented program. Each case communicates to readers that the library can enrich their reading experience. Their library isn’t just a place with books the reader already knows about. It is a place where the person who walks out of its door has the "perfect" book and is confident that the library's staff will help him or her find the next one.

-- Duncan