Readers' Advisory: The Most Important Class for New Librarians
By Jessica Moyer
I graduated with my M.S. in LIS in 2003 and based on my experiences and those of my classmates I think one of the most important classes you can take in library school is one about Readers Advisory. Before I even discuss why I think it is so important, I want to make sure everyone understands what the term readers' advisory actually means. (I didn't really understand it until I took a class on Adult Popular Reading). According to Diana Tixier Herald, author of Genreflecting, readers' advisory is: "the act of putting people together with the books they love." (Herald) Joyce Saricks, author of Readers Advisory Service in the Public Library, defines readers' advisory as: "[a] patron-oriented library service for adult fiction readers. A successful readers' advisory service is one in which knowledgeable, nonjudgmental staff help fiction readers with their reading needs." (Saricks and Brown 1997)
Readers' advisory takes place at school libraries and at children's and adult's service desks in public libraries. If you have spent any time in a public library or are a patron yourself, you probably know that most people come to the library to get a book to read, a movie to watch, or a music CD or an audiobook to listen to, for their own enjoyment or leisure. Patrons who come to libraries need to be able to ask and be provided service to help them in picking out these materials, thus any librarian interested in working at a public library needs to be able to help patrons discover leisure materials, which is the core of readers' advisory services. School librarians are not exempt from readers' advisory. Many school districts do not match with public library districts making students only access to leisure materials through the school library. Readers' advisory happens everywhere and every librarian needs to be prepared to assist with readers' advisory questions.
If you are still in school or are able to take a class the best way to prepare is to take a class which covers readers' advisory in depth. Many reference classes will mention readers advisory, but the coverage in the major reference textbooks is limited and not nearly enough. Classes in adult public services may also discuss readers' advisory, but it depends entirely on the class and the instructor. The best option is to take a class devoted to readers' advisory and/or adult popular reading, if it is offered at your school. (Moyer and Weech 2005) If your school does not offer a readers' advisory class, it may be possible to take an readers' advisory class online through another school. If you are interested in being a YA or Children's librarian then make sure to take a YA lit and/or children's lit class. The perspectives and point of view may be slightly different, so if you have the option you might want to consider taking both, as it also gives you more flexibility on the job market. In some public libraries, YA services are incorporated into adult services so even if you only want to be an adult librarian, you may find yourself answering leisure reading questions from teens as well. Lots of teens read adult books too so if you want to be a YA librarian, a class in adult reading may be really helpful.
Taking a class is not an option for everyone, so below I've prepared a list of options and resources for learning more about readers' advisory outside of school.
Learning about Readers' Advisory outside of graduate school:
- Get a copy of Joyce Saricks' book, Readers' Advisory in the Public Library, third edition 2005 and read it cover to cover. It will be the single most useful work you can read on how to provide readers' advisory services.
- Get a copy of Genreflecting (sixth edition, 2004) by Diana Tixier Herald. If it's the only reference readers' advisory book or resource you or your library can afford, this is the best choice as it covers all areas of leisure reading. Use it to help your patrons find new books. Use it yourself to learn about unfamiliar genres and get ideas of books to read. It will help you in learning how to think about connections between books.
- If your library already has access to Novelist, learn how to use it. Read all the materials in the "For Librarians Section" and contact Novelist if you want additional help. This one of the earliest, longest lasting and best online resources for readers' advisory. Your library may have access to Novelist and not know it, check your EBSCO subscription. Novelist is often an inexpensive addition to an existing EBSCO subscription through the state library or regional consortium. It is worth the money. It is a good source for answering questions like, "I've read the first Evan Evans book, Evans Above, which one comes next?" and next month's follow-up, "I've read all the Evan Evans books now and really liked them, can you suggest another series?"
- Look for readers' advisory associations. Many metro areas have readers' advisory groups such as the Adult Reading Round Table (ARRT) in the Chicago area. For a small annual fee you can join these groups. Many provide training materials and have regular professional development training sessions. For example, right now ARRT is in the middle of a two year long study of nonfiction. If there isn't one in your area, you can still benefit from the materials on various groups websites. ARRT's webpage can be found at: http://www.arrtreads.org/. Check out the Fantasy Genre Study page at: http://www.arrtreads.org/fantasygenrestudy.htm.
- Join the Fiction_L mailing list. "Fiction_L is an electronic mailing list devoted to reader's advisory topics such as book discussions, booktalks, collection development issues, booklists and bibliographies." (From the Fiction_L webpage, http://www.webrary.org/rs/flmenu.html). Fiction_L is an active list so be prepared for as many as 50 messages a day. I find the best way to follow lists like this is to use the rules and folders option in your email program and filter all messages directly into a list folder. I find gmail to be the best program for keeping up with active lists like Fiction_L as it does a great job keeping all messages in the same thread together.
- Read! Read! Read! And read some more! Read as much as you can in all areas of interest to your patrons. Nothing replaces personal knowledge of books and authors when talking with readers. Advanced tip: learn how to read a book in 10 minutes.
Diana Tixier Herald, Genreflecting: Readers Advisory, http://www.readersadvisoronline.com/
Saricks, Joyce and Nancy Brown. Readers Advisory Service in the Public Library, ALA Editions, 1997 (second edition).
Moyer, Jessica E. and Terry L. Weech. "The Education of Public Librarians to Serve Leisure Readers." New Library World, vol 106, no. 1 (2005): 67-79.