“Can I help you find anything?” A Few Thoughts On Reader’s Advisory

by Emma Pinault, Head Editor, INALJ Delaware

“Can I help you find anything?”  A Few Thoughts On Reader’s Advisory

Emma PinaultYou’re walking through the stacks, offering a friendly, helpful smile to every guest you see. Perhaps pausing, beside a particularly perplexed-looking patron with a question: “Can I help you find anything?”

“I’m looking for a good book!”

Recommending books to patrons can be one of the most fun and rewarding aspects of working in a library. Making a connection through shared love of an old favorite, introducing someone new to a beloved story – these are always wonderful moments. However, there are other times when your reading interests and a patron’s don’t align.

You love romances, and your patron is looking for a good mystery. You’re a devoted science fiction fan, and your patron only reads westerns. Or, worse, you have been so busy working and keeping up with the professional literature in your field that you haven’t had time to read an actual book for pleasure in months. What do you say then?

Thankfully, there are some time-tested strategies for providing successful reader’s advisory services even when you haven’t had time to catch the latest thriller or you can’t stand graphic novels or your patron is looking for something in a genre you know nothing about. Here are some ideas:

First, get to know your coworkers’ reading tastes. If you love fantasy and paranormal romance, you can help out your coworker who only reads mysteries when he’s assisting a patron who reads in that genre. If your boss loves science fiction, you can ask her for recommendations to give your scifi-loving patrons.

Second, be familiar with your library’s collection. Take time to look at the new books as they come in. You might not want to read all of them, but a glance at the inside cover and the blurbs on the back can give you an idea of what’s available so you’ll know what you can recommend.

Third, be aware of the reader’s advisory resources at your library. These could include reference books listing classics of each genre, or electronic databases offering readalikes for popular authors. If you know what your library has, you can use these resources to recommend titles outside your interest area – or teach your patrons to consult these resources themselves.

Fourth, know your community and what kinds of titles are popular with your patrons. Know which authors circulate most frequently at your branch. Then consult your reference sources or your coworkers and come up with lists of authors whose work is similar to those popular writers. If time and budgets allow, print up bookmarks or flyers with recommendations in each genre, or with read-a-likes for each popular author; these can give you a place to start when faced with a patron looking for books outside your area of interest.

Everyone loves bonding with other people, whether patrons or coworkers, over stories they love. But as library professionals our priority is finding what our patrons will enjoy, and that requires being aware of books outside our own group of favorites. It’s important to know how to find good books in genres you are not as familiar with. It’s good customer service – and you might just discover your own new favorite book where you least expect to find it!