Tips for the Reluctant Readers’ Advisor

Today’s guest blogger is Julie Backer, a librarian at the West Vancouver Memorial Library.

What do you do if providing readers’ advisory service is part of your job, but you don’t actually, um, read? It’s true confession time. In a good year I’m lucky if I read 10 books. Here are a few tips so you too can provide great recommendations without having to, you know, read a novel (not that there’s anything wrong with that!)

1. Read the What Are You Reading? blog
See, you’ve already done step 1! Isn’t this easy? I find I always discover something here—a new author, a genre I’ve never heard of, an upcoming continuing education session that sounds promising. If this blog just isn’t enough, add others to your weekly reading: the Reader’s Advisor Online blog and the RA for All blog are just a couple.

2. Try RA CE [that’s Readers’ Advisory Continuing Education—no exercise required!]
Maybe the usual hat you wear at the library isn’t a readers’ advisory one. If you’re lucky enough to attend a library conference—especially a general one such as the BCLA or CLA conference–go off book (!) and instead of attending your usual systems, website, cataloguing or administrative sessions, go to one author reading or RA session.

The BCLA RA Interest group (which hosts this blog) also has fabulous RA in a Half Day sessions. I learned more in 3 hours during the 2012 program than I did in a year’s worth of reading.

3. Use that catalogue
Many libraries now include subject headings in the fiction records in their catalogue. If you have a patron who likes novels set in a certain time or place, try that subject heading followed by the subdivision Fiction. Not sure of the exact subject heading? Try keywording it along with the word “fiction.” Try “Henry VIII fiction” or “Ancient Egypt and fiction.”

(Fine print: Depending on your library’s system and/or discovery layer, search strategies (do I need to use “and”?) and results may vary between libraries.)

4. Know the RA e-tools your library has and how to use themnovelist logoWhether it’s NoveList, a discovery layer, Library Thing, or another product, find and figure out how to use the Similar Books or Similar Titles functions. Maybe there are lists and tags that will help. Your library pays good money for these services so you might as well use them.

image of eavesdropping woman5. Eavesdrop
I learn so much by listening to my colleagues answer questions, everything from technique (“Tell me about the last book you read that you loved”) to authors (“If you’ve read everything by John Grisham, have you tried Greg Iles?” I’d never even heard of Greg Iles … but now I have!). If you really want to challenge yourself, try answering the RA question your colleague had. This works particularly well if your colleague goes off with the patron find some great books. When your colleague returns, compare answers. This is way less stressful than those role-playing RA scenarios!

This eavesdropping technique also works in cafes and on buses when you hear others asking for book recommendations from friends. Hmm, how would I answer that question? Just don’t be too obvious in your eavesdropping.

6. Take a Look at Weekly Best Seller Lists
My favourite are the weekly lists in The Vancouver Sun. In addition to having a BC best seller list that covers titles often not included in national best seller lists, the Fiction and Non-Fiction lists are annotated so you at least have an idea of the genre if not a bit of the plot. To get a feeling for the national scene, I usually glance at the lists compiled by either The Globe and Mail or Maclean’s magazine. If you’re feeling adventurous, take a gander at a third, non-Canadian list such as The New York Times Best Sellers or Publishers Weekly.

7. Listenlogo for CBC radio programme "Next Chapter"
Don’t have time to read the entire novel? I love listening to CBC Radio’s The Next Chapter, hosted by Shelagh Rogers. Her interviews with authors give insights into plot, character and all sorts of other RA-related information. Listening to the hour-long program is like reading four books (well, sort of). No need to make time to do this. Listen to the podcast while doing the dishes or walking the dog.

Even better, The Next Chapter has an occasional readers’ advisory feature called “If You Like That, You’ll Love This” in which after discussing a popular book, the guest panellist has to suggest to Shelagh a similar title—with the added criterion that the suggested title must be Canadian. As host and panellist discuss the initial book, I pretend it’s an RA game show and yell suggested titles at the radio. I’ve been inspired by the readalikes where the suggestions cross the fiction/non-fiction divide like Paul Quarrington’s novel Whale Music for someone who liked Keith Richards’ autobiography Life. Other times I’ve thought the recommendations a little too, well, wrong. I can’t imagine suggesting Chester Brown’s graphic novel Louis Riel to anyone who really loved Hilary Mantel’s Bringing Up the Bodies. Even the not-so-good examples hone your RA skills.

Give these tips a try. Not only will you become a better readers’ advisor, you may even be inspired to actually read a book!

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