Ode to Readers’ Advisory

Tonight I was chatting w/ some colleagues about whatever is to become of traditional readers’ advisory services, when we have an ever-growing number of tools, many of them online, to help us identify items we’d like to read (or at least know about). Will people choose the recommendations of strangers, acquaintances, colleagues, and friends over … the librarian? If you think only about the technology, then you might say YES!

But consider that it’s in this current, technology-enhanced, recommendations-galore environment that Nancy Pearl has just published two book-length works based on a lifetime and career of good-old-fashioned-librarian-style readers’ advisory. I heard a few weeks ago that someone else is publishing “Movie Lust” (or was it film lust?). I’m not sure how well these books are selling outside of our profession, or Seattle, for that matter, but my impression is that they are selling well. At least well enough to justify a sequel, and what’s sure to be the first of a long line of copycats. XXX Lust. Who knows where that could go…

To tell you the truth, I’ve never once read a book that a librarian referred me to. (I know, and I call myself a librarian.) I have asked a thousand librarians a million questions, but they were never along the lines of “what should I read next, or in this mood, or that’s like this other thing?” I’m not sure why or how I missed that boat. I love libraries. I love books. I even love librarians. I just never thought to ask them what book I should read next. I think of them more as experts on technologies and resources ~ and so I’ll go check out recommend’s on Amazon, or (increasingly) WorldCat, or even check out Library Thing (though I’ve never added any books of my own there) before I ask a librarian.

I’m not sure where this leaves us, but I’m starting to think that there needs to be a meeting in the middle here. What would happen if – when we thought of readers’ advisory – we didn’t think “Nancy knows what I should read next” but instead made a connection that Nancy taught us how to make – with a tool – with other people – with online resources – whatever. Are there patrons who would miss the relationship they have with a librarian who ‘just knows’? I am so sure of it that writing the question out seems silly. Perhaps we could figure out how to keep the librarians who *know* readers’ advisory using the tool (along with other people who ‘just know’) ~ making it an even more valuable resource ~ but still shift the perception about what it is that librarians do. Or can do.

Either way, it would be nice to explore the collision of these two ideas. Perhaps they are not mutually exclusive. What if … in the future … a librarian could walk with a patron over to a public access station, search (with a known title) one of the readers advisory databases, link to a record in their catalog, which is connected (1) to a local social network of others who have read, borrowed, or owned the title and their comments on that title (2) a broader social network of others who have read, borrowed, or owned the title and their comments on that title (WorldCat?). ‘Look here,’ the librarian might say, ‘I read this book and reviewed it. You can too!’ The patron would then have access to the book, the collection, other collections, and a wide range of reviews, recommendations, and … they’d get it all from the starting place of that f2f with Nancy.

Are we already doing this sort of thing in ways that I don’t know about? Would this be more “community building” than traditional reader advisory? Does your library connect readers to their communities, online or otherwise? How?



  1. Fiona, 9. February 2006, 19:16

    More lust… Nic Harcourt’s Music Lust

    The National Library in Singapore has a computer for Readers’ Advisory, I didn’t take a close look at it but it may be worth investigating.

    But to me, the essence of readers’ advisory is and always will be face to face. That said, I do make use of reviews and recommendations online, and haven’t asked a librarian for reading advice since I was a kid.

  2. Chrystie, 10. February 2006, 11:41

    Thanks Fiona, good to hear from you. I’ll check in to the National Library in Singapore. I think I know what you mean about the *feeling* that readers’ advisory is essentially face to face between a library and a patron, but the flip side is that we’re not really using that service, even as librarians. That’s not to say that some patrons do and will continue to benefit from this relationship / service. I just wonder how to reach the other readers in our community with some kind of peer-based referral or recommendation service …

  3. Laura, 11. February 2006, 12:39

    Hmm. . . I don’t think I’ve ever asked a librarian for a book recommendation, but then, I never asked librarians anything until I started library school and was sort of forced into it. Some people like face-to-face interactions and human advice; some of us prefer to wander the stacks (or virtual equivalent thereof) and poke around for ourselves. The library could–and should–be and remain a place for both kinds of seekers.

  4. Chrystie, 11. February 2006, 16:21

    Hey Laura, another confession! 🙂 I like your point about physical browsing, something I didn’t even consider when I wrote this post, but good to keep in mind. Thanks for posting your comments – I really appreciate everyone’s feedback on these thoughts.

  5. Ann Perrigo, 12. February 2006, 15:17

    One thing we’ve done is to compile a notebook of readers’ reviews. To be eligible for a prize in our adult reading program, readers need to fill out a little review form. Our adult services librarian pulls these together–now we have quite a list of titles that local readers have enjoyed, which others can browse for ideas.

    Also, we are just beginning to use Fiction Connection through BIP online. Have you all seen that yet? It’s pretty new, and very slick!

  6. Chrystie, 13. February 2006, 11:06

    Hi Ann, nice to see you here! I love this idea of the readers’ notebook. Are the reviews posted anonymously by patrons? Or do they sign their names? I would be interested to hear if patrons who had similar reading or review interests actually ever found each other through the reviews. I’ll check out Fiction Connection – have not seen the latest.

  7. Brenda, 13. February 2006, 11:25

    Before I found the library world, I was in the bookstore world. It’s always interesting to me to compare the recommending that we do as librarians and the recommending that booksellers do.

    I think reader’s advisory is one of those areas where the 80/20 rule works for us. 80% of the people read 20% of the stuff. They think we’re amazing because we know about “all” of the books, but we actually just interact with a lot of readers and see the trends and patterns. There’s something organic and synergistic about it that I just have not seen replicated by any sort of technology… yet.


  8. Chrystie, 15. February 2006, 11:08

    Hi Brenda (and thanks for stopping by!)

    I think you make a great point about technologes (so far) not being able to replicate (or replace) a face-to-face interaction when one is desired. I think it’s true across the board, for many services beyond readers’ advisory. Maybe the key is trying to figure out where they work together, and where they don’t. On the spectrum between F2F and W2.0, perhaps patrons should be able to place themselves, based on experience, personal comfort, and then it’s our job to help them navigate from that landing point, if they’d like, towards one direction or the other.

  9. Jessica, 15. February 2006, 15:56

    There’s a very interesting article in the new LJ (2/15), Readers’ for every shelf that focuses on electronic readers’ advisory, highlighting Williamsburg PL’s online form based RA program. It also talks about some of the e tools like fictionconnection.

    It’s an interesting article that is really making me think about the future of RA and its role in the community.

    In Europe libraries are doing some interesting programs to attract singles. Belguim libraries host singles speed dating by book. Patrons bring in books they like and are matched for speed dates with other readers who brought similiar books. Some English public libraries also host singles nights on Fridays. I think what some of the public libraries in Europe are doing with sommunity building is really interesting and almost completed ignored in the US. But that’s my two cents, which I am always glad to share 🙂


  10. Chrystie, 15. February 2006, 20:43

    Hey Jessica, I had heard of the singles nights too and I think it’s a super-cool idea for building community (and creating clear value – right where the heart is!). I’ll check out the LJ issue you mention – as I mentioned in an earlier (or would it be later?) post, I am very much tied to my print copy (i know, i know…). Thanks again for the tips – nice to see you again.

  11. Ann, 20. February 2006, 9:39

    No the reviews aren’t signed–that’s an interesting thought, though. Guess our reasoning has to do with confidentiality. Where do we draw that line?