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What’s in a Name?

Post by Duncan Smith
Posted February 28, 2012 in Readers' Advisory News

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What do you think comes to mind when library users encounter the phrase "Readers' Advisory"? Do they imagine a warning similar to the ones sent out by the National Weather Service -- maybe alerting them to either uplifting or bleak content? Does this phrase conjure up images of lying on a couch and talking about our issues with our favorite author's writing -- something like a bibliotherapy session?

While we might not know the answer to the above question, there are a few facts that we do know for sure. OCLC has documented that the library's brand is books. We also know that one of the primary reasons for visiting a public library is to borrow a book.

There are many things that are still a mystery to us. How often is library staff asked readers' advisory questions -- because most libraries don't differentiate between readers' advisory and reference questions. I'm aware of one or two cases where this information is tracked and the percentage of readers' advisory questions received appears to be well below what one would expect. For example, at Downers Grove Public Library (IL), they represent only about 3% of questions received. Why so low if a primary reason for visiting the library is to borrow a book?

There are many reasons for this disconnect between book borrowing and book question asking. I'm wondering, however, if one of the reasons we get so few RA questions is that our readers either don't understand what we mean by this service OR our name for this service makes the service sound like something a reader wouldn't want or need.

At ALA-Midwinter, Rob Cullin from Evanced Solutions and I were talking about this topic, and he suggested that the library profession might consider renaming the cluster of services we currently call Readers' Advisory to something such as Reader Discovery. He thought this name might convey more of what we were really delivering; services that help readers discover new authors, new titles and new things about themselves.

I would be curious to know what other names you might either currently have (or would like to have) for this service that we all care about so much -- please send them my way.

P.S. If you are keeping track of readers' advisory questions in your library (as separate from reference/information questions) -- please send me those numbers as well.

-- Duncan