This post isn't prompted by just one question, but rather several that came in via e-mail over the weekend. Can you suggest good books for my 8 year old grandson? Where are the older lists of Best Books for Young Adults? Is there a set of biographies of all the presidents? So, even though the ALA Library is a special library, we get our share of readers advisory (RA) questions!
Answering the first is easy: please meet with your local librarian who can help you identify a range of materials he might like. We have RA resources available to us, but we don't have the easy ability to continue the interview. Nor is RA our strength; it is the forte of librarians in all sizes and types of libraries across the country. Also, encouraging use of the local library is an important role for ALA--good service locally can be the first step in developing a library advocate.
So is answering the next, as the YALSA website has 15 years' worth of the Best Books for Young Adult lists--along with a note about the evolution of the list into its new form, Best Fiction for Young Adults. The young adult lists are just one of the several "recommended reading" resources prepared by member committees across the Association.
The third also happens to be easy ... for me. And that's because I am able to bring personal knowledge to the question. My sister has embarked on a project to read a biography of each president--and there are a few where the choices are limited, and the biography from a series intended for students fits the bill better than an old, verbose biography requiring interlibrary loan. That kind of personal knowledge, coupled with reference skills, is what feeds into the readers advisory (RA) services our publics expect from us.
Our wiki page on this topic notes that ALA assists by providing tools for guiding librarians to the resources--in the form of reviews, targeted reading lists, or through the selection of winners and notable books that are part of our media awards--that can help them provide this service to their patrons. ALA has been in the business of helping librarians identify material for library users for well over a century, when Booklist was established. I knew this, of course, but was reminded that ALA staff and members have developed bibliographies for use by librarians when the RSS feed from our library catalog (sorry, only available internally) noted that we had just "added" Adventures in flower gardening a pamphlet from 1928. The title was added as part of a project being undertaken by Emily Johnson, a student at the University of Michigan School of Information, joining us for this week as part of the U-M's Alternative Spring Break. (Emily is adding records for historical materials in a non-circulating reference collection to our catalog.) Nowadays, of course, we put similar guides on our website, such as Recommended Book Lists from ALSC.
There may have been a time when a librarian really knew every book in the library in his or her charge. But I suspect most have relied on finding aids--such as the catalog, personal notebooks--or various published tools.