Readers’ advisory is the process of matching readers with books and books to readers. It is answering questions that have more to do with the patron’s leisure reading than their informational needs. Readers’ advisory deals with both fiction and non-fiction titles and a specific request may require both kinds of materials to meet a need.
The job of a readers’ advisor is to suggest books, as opposed to recommending books. Patrons should be given what they want and what they are comfortable with, not what the library staff think they should have.
One of the most common questions to staff from patrons in libraries is “Do you have any more like…?” This question is especially important after the reader has “read out” an author, for example, all of Robert Ludlum’s books or Jean Auel’s books.
Other types of requests include:
- Determining the name of a novel on which a certain film is based.
- Identifying the author who wrote books featuring a certain character.
- Determining the order of a series.
- Finding novels written about a certain time period or in a particular genre.
- Finding biographies about a particular individual.
Readers’ Advisory Interview
The interview should be an informal conversation between the advisor and the reader about books, audibooks, movies, and eBooks. The aim of the interview is to get readers to articulate what they want to read or view next.
A readers’ advisory interview is often less specific than a reference interview. Often the request begins with: “Can you give me something I would like?” or “Can you give me something similar to other titles I have already read?”
To help with the interview, many of the same communication skills required for conducting reference interviews are used. For instance, open questions such as “Is there a special book you are looking for?” or “May I suggest something to read” can be used. Restating the answers shows the reader that they have been heard.
The readers’ advisor tries to get a general picture of the type of books the reader enjoys. In this way, the patron’s interests can be matched to a particular type of fiction (a genre) or a thematic category. For instance, “Tell me about a book you really enjoyed” or “Have you read anything lately that you particularly disliked?” If that line of questioning does not work, try describing the characteristics of books. For instance, “Do you like…
…foreign or local settings?”
…stories set in the past or present?”
…books with a fast-moving pace?”
…old-fashioned stories or contemporary?”
…sad or happy endings?”
…stories that inspire?”
…stories about people overcoming adversity?”
Another way to interview readers is to ask them to explain why they liked a particular book.
If possible, suggest three titles, giving the patron an overview of each one. Talk about what is best in the book, special features that might appeal to readers, or what others have said about it. Describing several titles reinforces the idea of readers’ advisory.
Questions to ask During the Readers’ Advisory Conversation
Once you have established who the book is for, any special requirements about format, and what they’ve already done to find a book, it is time to start asking open questions to learn about what kind of book your client would like to find.
Your questions should help you learn more about your client’s reading interests. The conversation is not about you and your reading preferences. Good questions to ask at the beginning of the interview include:
Tell me about a book you’ve read that you really enjoyed? What especially did you like about it?
This question begins a conversation about genre and appeal. You can share your knowledge of these terms to help your client better describe their likes and dislikes.
What kind of reading experience are you in the mood for today?
This question helps you identify if your client is looking for a book that will make them feel a certain way, like scared, happy, romantic, or if your client would like to learn something from the book. They may enjoy reading books that take place in specific locations or in different time periods.
What kinds of books do you not like or do you not want to read today?
Asking this question ensures you eliminate books from certain genres or with specific appeal elements.
Becky’s Ten Rules of Basic RA Service – Betty Rosenberg’s 10 rules include, never apologize for your reading tastes, suggest don’t recommend, use resources and find ways to get your in building stuff online and your online.
Collection Knowledge – Definition: Understanding of, and familiarity with, the depth and breadth of materials and resources in the branch and/or system, including material in all formats and media, both fiction and non-fiction.
Connecting Patrons with Library Materials: A Readers’ Advisory Crash Course – Learn about active vs. passive reader’s advisory, engaging readers and RA newsletters.
Ontario Public Library Association (OPLA) Readers’ Advisory Committee – The OPLA’s Readers’ Advisory Committee develops and promotes adult readers’ advisory service in public libraries. One of the principal functions of the Committee is to raise the standards and strengthen the guidelines for readers’ advisory services province-wide. The Committee’s toolkit offers a wealth of information on the RA function and the documents will assist both new and experienced staff to develop and enhance their skill sets. The toolkit consists of four skill set: Collection knowledge, reader service skills, readers’ advisory conversation and reader development.
Public Library Association Readers’ Advisory Resources – A collection of links to publications and resources to assist front-line staff with RA services.
Reader Service Skills – Definition: Developing and maintaining a system for exchanging information in a nonjudgmental environment for the purpose of suggesting reading materials that support the reading interests of our customers.
Readers’ Advisory Conversation – The readers’ advisory conversation takes place between a reader and a library staff member about books and reading. This conversation includes the readers’ advisory interview, the determination of appeal factors, reading suggestions, and the follow-up, both immediately and
over the long term.
Reader Development – Reader development increases customers` awareness of their own reading interests, ability to articulate why certain books appeal, and skill at making connections to similar books.
The NJ Regional Library Cooperatives present: Handouts from Reader’s Advisory: The Complete Spectrum – A Focus on Fiction Event – Handouts include How to Write a Readers’ Annotation, RA to-do and NOT-to-do List, Appeal Factors: How People Choose Books to Read and Tips on Self-Training for Readers Advisory Work with Adults.
How to Read a Book in 5 Minutes (or maybe ten) – Hints on evaluating the usefulness of books so you can suggest them to customers.