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?

-CRH