Monday, March 5, 2012

Reader's Advisory Evolution or Revolution (Special Topics Paper)

Reader's Advisory Evolution or Revolution
Jeanette A. Sherfield

Let me start out by defining some terms for you. Is reader's advisory experiencing an evolution, defined as the gradual development of something, esp. from a simple to a more complex form or is it experiencing a revolution as defined as a sudden or momentous change in a situation. Some might say it is indeed gradual while others may say it's sudden. And what exactly are we evolving or revolving into at this point? Is ti something good or something bad? Let's explore this idea together.

A lot has happened in the world of reader's advisory over time. Meeting in a quiet room and having an interview with a patron finding out interests and current knowledge may seem like a thing of the past. In our fast paced society in many ways it is a thing of the past and may even seem inconceivable to some. However, this doesn't stop many from walking up to an adult services or circulation desk for assistance in finding a "good book". Or does it? The world of social media, including chat, blogs, and reader's advisory online has created a totally different atmosphere in the world of reader's advisory. I wouldn't call these "anonymous" forms of reader's advisory but there is somewhat of a barrier between the reader advisor and the reader advisee. For some this may seem a more comfortable way to explore different genres outside their social mores norms or for discussing and exploring areas of interest without a unconscious facial expressive feedback from the librarian behind the adult services or circulation desk. Something else that these social media tools provide is a sense of security in not seeming obtrusive to the librarian by walking up to the desk and asking a question. If you're asking a question via chat or e-mail if may bring more of a sense of , you can answer my question at your leisure. These services also seem to be helpful for those that may be home bound and unable to visit a brick and mortar building to have their questions answered.

I consulted with Carmel Clay Public Library, Allen County Public Library, Indianapolis Marion County Public Library and Monroe County Public Library to see just how much reader's advisory was performed via Ask-a-Librarian chat services or e-mail services. I received responses from each library and discovered that they did receive some questions asked via those mediums were general reference questions rather than questions specific to reader's advisory. Allen County seemed to receive the most with 25 questions between January 1st and February of 2012. Something else interesting is that some of these services provided instant answers and others said they would have an answer back within 48hrs. Unfortunately more often than not you have to dig deep into a library's website to even find these chat or e-mail services that can be an access point for patron's needing reader's advisory services.

Something else that may be helpful with the use of these online tools is the fact that it gives the reader's advisor time to reflect on how they can help the person asking the questions. This is something that Barry Trott, Adult Services Director at the Williamsburg Regional Library, discusses in his article Building a Firm Foundation Reader's Advisory over the Next Twenty-Five Years. Barry says, "As we look toward the future of reader's advisory with the goal of becoming reflective practitioners, there are numerous areas that offer us both challenges and opportunities to expand our practice into new areas and to do so in a thoughtful way, responding to new opportunities by considering past practice and applying the lessons learned there to our future practice. Doing so will certainly assure us of the continued success of reader's advisory services."

Even if you don't have library chat or e-mail services, what about reader's advisory tools available on you own library's website. I know that we used to have a reader's advisory link on our library's website linking patrons to sites like Fantastic Fiction, Stop You're Killing Me, Genreflecting and Novelist but it seems to have disappeared. Why? Is it because the reference librarians are now assuming everyone is getting their advice from Amazon? Do they feel it's an under used service? According to Barbara Hoffert in her article Taking Back Reader's Advisory she says "librarian: unite, It's time to take back reader's advisory from the online behemoths, which can sell stacks of books at a click but can't necessarily say what's in them or why you might like them." Mary K. Chelton, a professor at Queens College, CUNY, is even blunter. 'We can all buy from Barnes and Noble online, she warns, ' but libraries have one very valuable thing going for them, which is local support and interest. If they don't establish a local identity, how are they ever going to ask for money?' David Wright a Seattle Public Library librarian observes, "Indeed, the delicate act of connecting reader and book in some respects a type of counseling, cannot easily be mechanized, and librarians make a big mistake when they abandon it to Amazon." Wright also goes on to say, "Reading an online recommendation from your librarian or a neighbor is a great angle for us, It's a way to remain viable in the community."

There are some communities that are taking this advice to heart and promoting active reader's advisory services and links on their websites. These links are available right on the main page of their websites rather than being buried under several layers never to be found. If you go to North Carolina's Charlotte Mecklenburg County Public Library website, right on the front of their webpage you'll find a link to "reading recommendations." Once you click on that link it takes you to a page where there are 3 major links at the top of the page. The first link is called "The Book Hive" which has book reviews and reading related activities for children birth to 12 years. Another link called "Reader's Club" contains adult and teen book reviews by staff and celebrities. Finally a link called "Boy's Rule, Boys Read" a place for boys to find terrific books and tell other boys about great reading. There are several other links on this page to lists and online book clubs. Hennepin County Library in Minnesota also has a link on their website called BookSpace which is prominently displayed. Once you click on BookSpace you can sign up for an account which appears not to require you to be one of their library users. You have opportunities to write reviews or comments on what you're reading. You also have access to book lists and have the opportunity to be e-mailed when your favorite author has a new book available. There's a link to research books and authors giving you access to multiple reader's advisory materials. Having resources like these allow patrons to access valuable resources without having to stumble around the internet wasting valuable time.

So are we experiencing evolution or revolution? From what I can tell it's a little bit of both depending sometimes on your locale one is more prominent than the other. While we are not necessarily always experiencing face to face reader's advisory we are coming up with different tools, sometimes patron driven, to assist our reader's with what they might be wanting to read. We need to be exploring other library websites to see how they are marketing this service if they are marketing it at all. If libraries are not marketing this service we should be asking why. There is definitely more than one medium being used in order to inform our patrons of what they might enjoy reading.

Works and References Cited

Trott, B. (2008). Building on a Firm Foundation: Readers' Advisory over the Next Twenty-Five Years. Reference & User Services Quarterly,

Hoffert, B. (2003). Taking Back Readers' Advisory. Library Journal (1967), 128(14), 44-46

Petersen, C. (2009). Readers' Advisory on the Run. Alki, 25(1), 22-23

Allen County Public Library

Carmel Public Library

Charlotte-Macklenburg Library

Hennepin County Library

Indianapolis Marion County Public Library

Monroe County Public Library

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