Readers’ Advisory

By Shannon Viola, Maricel del Campo, and Hal Butler

Patrons of public libraries may not know that librarians are trained to help them find their next favorite book. For patrons, readers’ advisory services help them find books tailored to their tastes. For librarians, readers’ advisory services strengthen the library’s bond with the community and allow some of the dustier titles in the collection to be unearthed, read, and loved.

A readers’ advisory interview is a discussion about what a patron finds appealing about their favorite books. For example, “The Sound and the Fury” and “Southern Charmer” are both books about the American South, but would a reader of one like the other? Even though they might be under the same subject heading, “The Sound and the Fury” and “Southern Charmer” were written for readers with different literary tastes.

In a readers’ advisory interview, the patron and librarian are discussing reading experiences. What does the patron like in a book? Flowery prose? Moody atmospheres? A multi-layered plot? A patron may not have a clear idea of what sort of book they’d like to read next, or what exactly they like in a story. The librarian must ask open-ended questions to help the patron discover their reading preferences, and to inform their search for a successful title.

Readers’ advisory can also happen online. Most public libraries have web pages with links to a new titles list, book-browsing websites like Goodreads, or even the email of a readers’ advisory librarian who conduct the readers’ advisory interview remotely. Librarians can use these tools to support their search, but should not rely on these tools alone. A knowledge of their collection is the most important tool in determining the perfect read.

Librarians can also reach patrons for readers’ advisory through social media. The Toronto Public Library runs a blog that posts reading challenges and book suggestions. They also post reading suggestions on their Twitter page. Unlike online reading guides, however, social media reaches patrons who aren’t actively searching for readers’ advisory. An online reading guide may be hidden on a library’s website and can’t be found unless a reader is determined to find a guide.

You can try your hand at readers’ advisory by hunting for your own next read on these websites:

What Should I Read Next?
Literature Map

Read the Ontario Library Association’s report on readers’ advisory here.

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